Introduction to Philosophy (Geisler and Feinberg)

This is a systematic philosophy text.  Like a systematic theology, it explains and evaluates the loci of philosophy.  It is probably the best intro text on the market, at least from a Christian perspective.

A good philosophical system will achieve three things: (1) internal consistency, (2) external comprehensiveness, and (3) correspondence (Geisler and Feinberg, 72).

The authors do a fine job rebutting the pietistic charge that studying philosophy violates Colossians 2:8.  For one, Paul is warning against false knowledge, not all knowledge.  Moreover, the definite article could actually indicate a specific teaching at Colosse (i.e., most likely gnostic angel-worship).  Even more, one cannot beware of false philosophy unless he is first aware of it (73).  And though Geisler does not mention it, these same pietists themselves give a logos about theos and have no problem with using Aristotelian concepts like being, quality, quantity, and motion.

The first locus the authors cover is knowledge and the various options with justifying belief.  My only concern is that I wish they had spent more time on foundationalism.

What is Knowledge?

Problems with skepticism:

1) Skepticism is rationally inconsistent.  Assertions that we cannot know anything are themselves claims of knowledge (94ff).

2) Skepticism is practically inconsistent: skeptics trust their sense perceptions when they cross the road.

Foundationalism

Foundationalism is the view that there is a structure of knowledge “whose foundations, though they support all the rest, are themselves in need of no support” (152). We have directly justified beliefs “and they are topped with indirectly justified beliefs.”

In response to criticisms, the foundationalist maintains his position does not end in an infinite regress. It is possible that there are immediately grounded propositions.

Coherentism

Coherentism is one alternative to foundationalism.  Geisler notes a distinction between coherentist theories of truth and coherentist justification for truth (161). The coherentist justification asserts that there are no basic beliefs, only webs of belief. 

What is Reality?

Is reality One or Many?  Geisler does a fine job explaining the power of Parmenides’ argument for monism (168). It looks like this:

1) Reality is either one or many.

2) If reality is many, then then many things must differ from each other.

3) But there are only two ways things can differ: either by being (something) or by non-being (nothing).

4) However, two (or more) things cannot differ by nothing, for to differ by nothing means not to differ at all.

5) Neither can things differ by being (or something), because being is the only thing that everything has in common, and things cannot differ in the very respect in which they are all the same.

6) Therefore, things cannot differ at all; everything is one.

It’s clear that the problem is his univocal use of the term “being.”  The solution can’t be an equivocal use of the word “being,” for then our knowledge of reality is now suspect.  The only solution, and one Aristotle and Aquinas would later formulate, is an analogical use of being.

The pluralist options are as follows:

Atomism: “Things Differ by Absolute Non-Being” (170ff).

Platonism: Things differ by relative non-being

Aristotle: Things Differ in their Being (Which is Simple)

Aquinas: Things Differ in their Being (which is composed of Form and Matter)

Trinity, One, and Many

Can the Trinity solve the problem of the One and Many?  Short answer: No. The Trinity does not address Parmenides’ concern.  Parmenides wants to know how things can differ in their being.  The Trinity, however, only seeks to posit plurality in the persons, precisely not in the being.

God and the Ultimate

We must not confuse “belief in” with “belief that” (269). I do not need a reason for faith in God.  It is entirely legitimate, though, to stress reasons for belief that God exist.

Some Thoughts on Deism

The Deists’ line that miracles are a violation of natural law no longer works.  Science today is as likely to speak of “models” and “maps” than laws (277).  Moreover, natural physical law does not actually “cause” anything.  It merely explains it.

Problems with Panentheism and Finite Godism

Panentheism cannot claim an infinite god with “finite poles.” It does not make sense to speak of a contingent and necessary God.  Even more problematic, “can God actualize his own potential?” This problem is even more damaging for finite godism.  As Geisler notes, “A finite god needs a cause.”  That new cause is now God (or at least has a better claim to be God).

Paul Tillich’s Symbolic Language

It does not do to say that God is the ground of ultimate Being and that language about God is symbolic. Such a person believes there is at least non-symbolic entity, being.

Analogical God-Talk

1) There is only a basis for “analogy when there is an intrinsic causal relation” (314). For example, as Geisler notes, hot water has an extrinsic relation to the hardness in the boiled egg, but it has an intrinsic relation to the heat in the egg.

2) The effect does not need to resemble the instrumental cause, only the principal efficient cause (315).

3) Likewise, the effect need not resemble the material cause, only the efficient one.

4) Terms like “being” are univocally defined, but analogically applied (317).

What is Good or Right?

Kantianism: will it to be a universalizable law.  Existentialists have asked why should we prioritize the universal over the particular?

Utilitarianism: greatest good for the greatest number.  There are numerous problems with this claim. Only God can be utilitarian, since only he has the foresight to know which actions will be the best for the greatest number (393).  There is another problem: the utilitarian subtly analyzes results in terms of ‘the Good,” which means results cannot be the deciding factor.  Perhaps the greatest practical problem: how long-range must the results be in order for them to be good?  If it is only short-range, then this justifies a number of evils.  Too long a range, on the other hand, makes it worthless.

Classical theistic ethics: the Good is self-evident. The main difficulty with the classical view is whether it can overcome the “is-ought” fallacy. There are several lines of response.  “If ‘ought’ is a basic category that cannot be reduced to ‘is’ or anything else, then one must understand it intuitionally, since there is no way to break it down further” (383). We still haven’t justified natural law ethics.  We have, however, provided a source about what we believe.  We should point out, though, that concepts like “The Good” cannot be analyzed in terms of a higher concept.

Conclusion

This book was a joy to read.  Geisler provided us with an accessible, yet rigorous text for the introductory to mid-level college student.  

Big Book of Christian Apologetics (Geisler)

Geisler, Norman.  The Big Book of Christian Apologetics.

 I read the original “Baker Encyclopedia” in college.  I’m partial to that one for nostalgic reasons.  This one is good, too (and is the same thing, more or less).

When Geisler sticks to Evangelical Thomism, few can compete with him.  His take on causality, analogy, and being is one of the few essential takeaways from this book.

Geisler’s “Twelve Points” is the outline of his apologetic thrust.  They are helpfully outlined here.:

  1. Truth about reality is knowable.
  2. Opposites cannot both be true.
  3. The theistic God exists.
  4. If God exists, then miracles are possible.
  5. Miracles can be used to confirm a message from God.
  6. The New Testament is historically reliable.
  7. The New Testament says that Jesus claimed to be God.
  8. Jesus’ claim to be God is confirmed by miracles.
  9. Therefore, Jesus is God.
  10. Whatever Jesus (who is God) teaches is true.
  11. Jesus taught that the Bible is the Word of God.
  12. Therefore, it is true that the Bible is the Word of God (and anything opposed to it is false).

Analogy, Principle of. Analogy is based in causality. A cause communicates itself to the effect.  Being communicates being. “The cause of being must be a Being. It cannot give what it don’t got.” Analogy between God and creation is based in efficient causality. We are like God because Actuality communicates actuality, but unlike God we have limiting potentiality.

Principality of Casuality

  1. Every effect has a cause.
  2. Every contingent being is caused by another.
  3. Every limited being is caused by another.
  4. Everything that comes to be is caused by another.
  5. Nonbeing cannot cause being.

No potency for being can actualize itself, for it would have to have been in a previous state of actuality.

Edwards, Jonathan.  Used a good cosmological argument.  Some problems concerning panentheism and an overly rigid view of free choice.  No one is moved to act unless God acts on him.  We act according to our free desire.  This self-destructs when applied to Satan and the angels, for it seems God would have to have given them their desire for sin.

First Principles

These are so good I am probably going to write them in the cover of my bible.
B means being;

Bn means Necessary Being;
Bc means contingent being;
-> means causes;
-/> cannot cause;
Act means actuality;
P means potentiality (or potency).

  1. B is or exists (principle of existence)
  1. B is B (principle of identity)
  2. B is not non-B (principle of non-contradiction)
  3. Either B or non-B (principle of excluded middle)
  4. Non-B -/> B (principle of negative causality)
  5. B-/Bc (principle of contingent causality)
  6. Bn-/>Bn (principle of impossible causality)
  7. Bn->Bc (principle of positive causality)
  8. Bc is (exists) (principle of contingent existence)
  9. Bn is (exists) principle of necessary existence)
  10. Act is Act (with no potency) (principle of pure actuality)
  11. Bc is act/potency (principle of potency)
  12. Act ->act/potency (principle of analogy
  13. Act is similar to act
  14. Act is different from potency
  15. Bn is not (principle of negative attributes)
  16. finite (= is infinite)
  17. changing (=is immutable)
  18. temporal (=is eternal)
  19. multiple (= is one)
  20. divisible (=is simple)
  21. Bn is (principle of positive attributes)
  22. actual
  23. intelligent
  24. personal
  25. good
  26. truth
  27. Beautiful

Geisler’s take on creation/flood is interesting.  He holds to Old Earth (or rather, the strongest argument for YEC don’t obtain because there are gaps in the genealogies).  On the other hand, he holds to a global flood.

Hardening of Pharaoh

This isn’t as against Calvinism as it might seem.  Our scholastic fathers held to free choice and that God doesn’t work mechanically against our wills.  If that is true, then we shouldn’t have to big a problem with Geisler’s conclusion that God doesn’t harden initially, but subsequently; not directly, but indirectly; not against free choice, but through free choice; not as to the cause, but as to the effect.

Hinduism. Some comments. The only way I could know that all is an illusion is by using my senses.  These same monists tell us to use our senses to listen to their lectures or read their books.

If illusionism is true, how could I know it?

Gospel witnesses:  The gospels couldn’t have been myths because not only do myths not develop in under a generation, but myths also do not develop while the eyewitnesses are still alive.

Bart Ehrman on the manuscripts’ having errors: if we apply the same reasoning to his own books, we note that his first edition had sixteen errors.  One hundred thousand copies were pritten.  This means he made 1.6 million errors, but that is silly.

First Law of Thermodynamics.  The point isn’t that energy can’t be created or destroyed.  It isn’t making a statement about the origin of the universe.  Energy remains constant, albeit the usable energy decreases.

Van Til. We’ll end the review with his critique of Van Til.    CVT says that for Aquinas God’s existence is only probable, whereas Aquinas said it was rationally necessary (ST 1a., 2, 3). Aquinas would believe with CVT that truth depends ontologically on God.  Yet CVT never fully realized that finite man must ask how he could know.  CVT confused the order of knowing with the order of being.

Even worse, if the unbeliever experiences everything with a “jaundiced eye,” how would he ever understand Van Til, since the rules of logic and grammar are being experienced differently?  CVT seemed to see this tension (IST, 15).  It gets worse, though. If the unbeliever with his jaundiced eye cannot account for creation, then he’s off the hook since there is no way for him to suppress a truth that he doesn’t even understand.

Criticisms

Unfortunately, Geisler holds to some form of the subordination of the Son.  To be honest, I think he is just confused, for he first anchors the subordination in the economy.  However, he does use the unstable category of “function.”  There is no evidence, though, that he is using this model to drive a particular view of male-female relations.  He might in other books, but not here.  What makes it more frustrating is that his overall Trinitarianism and Doctrine of God is so good.

Geisler’s Systematic Theology vol. 1

Geisler, Norman.  Systematic Theology: Introduction, Bible. Bethany House.

This book would be perfect if it were divided into two separate books.  The first half would be a book on prolegomena, foundations, and apologetic method.  Had I read such a book before I went to seminary, I would have been spared 8 years of wrong thinking (most of which would have been my fault).  The second half is a survey of issues relating to inerrancy, bible survey and introduction, and the like.

There is quite a bit of repetition in this book.  Numerous quotes by Albright, J. A. T. Robinson, and others appear over and over.  Moreover, much of this book can be found in The Big Book of Apologetics/Baker Encyclopedia of Apologetics.  It’s still good material, though.

Preconditions of theology:

  1. Mind capable of sending a message (encoder)
  2. Mind capable of receiving message (decoder)
  3. There is a common mode of communication shared by both persons.

God: The Metaphysical Precondition

Geisler defines metaphysics as the study of being.  

Theism posits an Infinite, Personal God that exists both beyond and in the universe. After surveying various forms of dualism and monism, Geisler posits a form of Thomism, noting that all finite beings are composed of act and potency in their very being.  Potentiality limits a finite being’s actuality, as opposed to God, who is Pure Act.

In a move somewhat rare among systematic theologies, Geisler actually defines being. It is that which is, either a mix of potency and act or a pure actuality. God is, other beings have.  From here Geisler moves to his arguments for the existence of this Pure Act.

Cosmological

Horizontal argument.

(1) Everything that had a beginning had a cause. 

(2) The universe had a beginning. 

(3) Therefore, the universe had a Cause. 

The second premise needs defending, which those from Bonaventure to William Lane Craig have done:

1) An infinite number of moments cannot be traversed. 

(2) If there were an infinite number of moments before today, then today would never have come, since an infinite number of moments cannot be traversed. 

3) But today has come. 

(4) Hence, there were only a finite number of moments before today (i.e., a beginning of time). And everything with a beginning had a Beginner. Therefore, the temporal world had a Beginner (Cause).

Vertical Form of the argument:

This argument begins with “present contingent existence.” It argues from effect to Necessary Cause.

(1) If everything were contingent, then it would be possible that nothing existed. 

(2) But something does exist (e.g., I do), and its existence is undeniable, for I have to exist in order to be able to affirm that I do not exist. 

(3) Thus, if some contingent being now exists, a Necessary Being must now exist, otherwise there would be no ground for the existence of this contingent being.

But granting the arguments, would this even prove the Christian God?  It will get closer than you think.  Such a God would not be the one of finite godism, “since the cause of all finite things cannot be finite.”  Nor can it be the god of polytheism, since there can’t be more than one unlimited being.

Miracles: The Supernatural Precondition

The problem of definition: 

Weak sense: something that is not contrary to nature, only our knowledge of nature (Augustine). On this view an event doesn’t even have to be supernatural to be a miracle. This is obviously inadequate.


Strong sense: an event beyond nature’s power to produce (Aquinas, SCG 3).

A miracle doesn’t have to violate natural law. It is simply a new effect produced by a supernatural cause.

Answering objections

Spinoza: standard objection of “violating immutable natural laws.” Response: He begs the question on immutable laws.  He also operates in a closed system. 

Hume: Miracles are in-credible. Uniform experience is against miracles.  Response: He begs the question in advance by claiming to know uniform experience. He can’t know all possible sense experiences. Moreover, as Geisler notes, “he never weighs the evidence on miracles.  He simply adds evidence against them.”  Even worse, Hume’s method of “adding evidence” eliminates any unique experience in history, even natural ones.

Revelation: The Revelational Precondition

The possibility of divine revelation depends on the reality of God.  If God exists, which he does, then divine revelation is not only possible, but actual. The only real challenges today concern whether humans are capable of receiving this revelation (postmodernism) and whether the medium is reliable.

Geisler correctly notes that “In order for an infinite Mind to communicate with finite minds, certain things must be possible. To begin, there must be a common  principle of reason that both possess.” Language and being are analogical.

Geisler’s charts are really good.

While some like to say that man’s thought sinfully distorts general revelation, and at one level that is true, general revelation is still essential to human thought. And while it is true that “Scripture determines what we believe on general revelation,” we still use general revelation (e.g., laws of logic) to make that statement.

That doesn’t fully answer the existential question: when our understanding of general revelation and our understanding of special revelation clash, who wins?  Geisler says the interpretation with more certainty. Sometimes this is general revelation, sometimes special.

Logic: The Rational Precondition

Geisler summarizes here his other writings on logic.  At their most basic they are:

1) Law of non-contradiction
2) Law of identity
3) Law of excluded middle.

In order to help us think better, Geisler has given a nice summary of categorical propositions:These should be written on the inside of all study bibles.

(1) There must be only three terms. 

(2) The middle term must be distributed at least once. 

(3)Terms Distributed in the conclusion must be distributed in the premises. 

(4) The conclusion always follows the weaker premises(i.e., negative and particular ones). 

(5) No conclusion follows from two negative premises. 

(6) No conclusion follows from two particular premises.

 (7) No negative conclusion follows from two affirmative premises.

Most evangelicals will go with him this far, but what is the relationship between Logic and God? According to Geisler, Logic is subject to God ontologically. “God is prior to logic in the order of being.”  Nevertheless, God is rational by his very nature. On the other hand, logic is prior to God epistemologically.  As Geisler notes, the statement “God is God’ makes no sense unless the law of identity holds (A is A).”  The statement “God exists” isn’t true unless the law of noncontradiction is true.

Meaning: The Semantical Precondition

Thesis: all true statements must be meaningful.  Geisler identifies three different types of schools: conventionalism (Wittgenstein), essentialism (Plato), and realism.  Conventionalism is self-falsifying, for when it says all linguistic meaning is conventional, it, too, is relative.

Truth: The Epistemological Precondition

Thesis:  Truth is that which corresponds to its object.

Exclusivism: The Oppositional Precondition

Thesis: Christianity’s truth claims entails that other religious oppositions are wrong (or at least cannot be correct at the same time as Christianity’s).  Much of this is standard fare in evangelical apologetics, but Geisler hones in one of John Hick’s questionable presuppositions.  Hick says an undifferentiated Real is known in all faiths.  The problem is that an undifferentiated Real doesn’t have any definable characteristics, which means it can’t be identified. It can’t be known in any faith!  Even worse, if it is undifferentiated, then no symbol can represent it.

Language: The Linguistic Precondition

Thesis: How do our concepts relate to God?  They can’t be equivocal, for that would be self-defeating.  They can’t be univocal, since God is infinite.   Analogy makes the most sense. It allows for both similarity and differentiation.  Similar to Parmenides’ dilemma, Geisler notes: “Either one’s principle of differentiation is inside of being or it is outside of being. If outside, then things do not differ in being; they are identical in being, and monism is true. The only way to maintain a pluralism essential to theism is to insist that things differ in their very being. Yet how can they differ by what they have in common? The answer is that they cannot, if being is univocal. But it isn’t.”

We’re not done yet, though.  We can say that we have univocal concepts but analogical predication. The definition is the same between God and creatures, but the application is different.

Interpretation: The Hermeneutical Precondition

Contra Heidegger, Geisler asks how he can say Being is unintelligible. How could he know this about Being unless he understood it?  Moreover, Heidegger’s denial of correspondence assumes that his denial corresponds to the way things are.

Heidegger correctly notes that man is a contingent being, yet he draws back from affirming the logical conclusion: there is a Necessary Being.

Contra Derrida, his statement that all meaning is limited by language tries to get outside those limits in order to establish them.  (The rest of the criticisms flow from this critique).

Savage Burn: “it is fruitless to turn to poetry to avoid metaphysics. Metaphysical questions still exist, and they cannot be answered in anything but metaphysical language. Any so-called poetical protest is nothing more than an exercise in ventilating one’s tonsils.”

The Alternative

Can we know things objectively? Yes.  The metaphysical precondition, God, has made it possible.  Geisler: “The objective basis for meaning is found in the mind of God.” Much of this chapter is standard fare in grammatical-historical hermeneutics.  The following is a long quote, for which I indulge the reader’s forgiveness, but it is worth noting:

Applying the six causes to meaning will help explain the point. Following Aristotle, scholastic philosophers distinguished six different causes: 

(1) efficient cause—that by which something comes to be;

 (2) final cause—that for which something comes to be; 

(3) formal cause—that of which something comes to be; 

(4) material cause—that out of which something comes to be; 

(5) exemplar cause—that after which something comes to be; 

(6) instrumental cause—that through which something comes to be.

 Remember the example of the chair? A wooden chair has a carpenter as its efficient cause, to provide something to sit on as its final cause, its structure as a chair as its formal cause, wood as its material cause, the blueprint as its exemplar cause, and the carpenter’s tools as its instrumental cause. As we have seen, applying these six causes to meaning yields the following analysis: 

(1) The writer is the efficient cause of the meaning of a text. 

(2) The writer’s purpose is the final cause of its meaning. 

(3) The writing is the formal cause of its meaning. 

(4) The words are the material cause of its meaning. 

(5) The writer’s ideas are the exemplar cause of its meaning. 

(6) The laws of thought are the instrumental cause of its meaning. 

In conclusion, we use the laws of logic in biblical hermeneutics.  Anything else makes rational meaning impossible.

Historiography: The Historical Precondition

Method: The Methodological Precondition

The Evangelical method begins with an inductive basis in Scripture, which involves an abductive step.  It will also deduce truths from Scripture and make use of analogies.  He puts them all together into what he calls a Retroductive Method, worth quoting in full:

1. The Inductive Basis: 

(a) God cannot err. 

(b) The Bible is God’s Word. 

2. The Deductive Conclusion: 

(c) The Bible cannot err. 

3. The Use of Analogies: 

(d) Just as Christ was divine and human yet without sin, even so the Bible is divine and human yet without error. 

(e) Just as nature (God’s general revelation) presents difficulties with possessing errors, so does the Bible (God’s special revelation). 

4. The Use of General Revelation: 

(f) The earth is not square. 

(g) The sun does not move around the earth.

 5. The Retroductive Method: 

(h) The biblical teaching is fleshed out in view of facts known from general revelation and the data (phenomena) of Scripture.

 (i) There are errors in the manuscript copies.

 (j) The Bible uses figures of speech and other literary devices, round numbers, everyday (nontechnical) language, paraphrases, etc.

 (k) The deductive conclusion (point c) is understood in the light of the retroductive enhancement. For example: (1) The Bible is without error only in the original text, not in all the copies. (2) Round numbers, observational language, figures of speech, and paraphrased citations are not errors.

The rest of the book is a summary and defense of inerrancy, inspiration, and the like.  Some things to note, like Geisler’s chart between accommodation to error and adaption to finitude.

Note: To the everlasting embarrassment of Bible critics, at least those who claim to be followers of Christ, Jesus affirmed exactly the opposite of what much of negative “higher criticism” teaches.

Christian Ethics (Geisler)

Geisler, Norman. Christian Ethics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.

Geisler’s work is divided into two parts: a survey of the different positions (including a defense of his own, graded absolutism) and a treatment of different issues in ethical reasoning. While one can quibble with some of his exegesis, his larger arguments are compelling. His treatment of defective ethical positions, such as Joseph Fletcher’s Situationism, is masterful.

Situationism

The situationist has the one law of love, the many general principles of wisdom, and the moment of decision (Geisler 45). Fletcher repeatedly asserts that the rule of Christian ethics is “love.” So what do I do in a specific situation? The “what and why” are absolute and the how is relative.

Geisler does note a number of legitimate strengths of situationism, but nonetheless there are gaping inadequacies.
*One norm is too general (57).
*Unless there is advanced cognitive content to what “love” is, then one doesn’t really know what I am commanded to do!
*There can be many universal norms.
*Fletcher hasn’t given any substantial reason on why axioms deduced from other axioms can’t be universal.
*A different universal norm is possible.
*Why do we privilege Christian love and not Buddhist compassion?
*On what basis do we choose one single norm as binding?

Utilitarianism

Greatest good for greatest number.

Problems and ambiguities:
(1) who gets to determine what “good” means?
(2) Offers no protection to minority viewpoint, since by definition they will never been in the “greater” number.
(3) The definition of “end” is unclear. Do we mean a few years? Lifetime? Eternity? In that case, only God could be a utilitarian and he is not (77).

Unqualified Absolutism

premise: all moral conflicts are only apparent; they are not real (79). Held by Augustine, Kant, Charles Hodge, John Murray, and Puritanboard.

hypothetical problem: Lie to the Nazis at the door?

Augustine: cannot gain eternal life by temporal evil.

John Murray: Sanctity of Truth and Truth is the essence of God. However, he does not believe every intentional deception is a lie (e.g., a general’s movements in war).

Negative Aspects

Disputed premises:
(1) Are sins of the soul necessarily worse? Perhaps, but the Platonic premise here should at least by acknowledged. On this view, a “white lie” is worse than rape.
(2) Can the lie to save lives be separated from mercy? “God blessed the mercy but not the lie.” But is this really coherent?
(3) Will God always save us from moral dilemmas? 1 Cor. 10:13 only promises victory from temptation, not deliverance from moral dilemmas.

Fatal qualifications

Even one exception to this rule kills Unqualified Absolutism–and Augustine allows for exceptions in the case of Abraham and Isaac/Jepthath and his daughter.

*John Murray doesn’t believe we should be truthful in all circumstances (Murray 145).

“Punting to Providence”

God does not always spare his children from moral dilemmas. In fact, obedience often puts the believer in dilemmas!

“Third Alternatives are not always available.”
e.g., Tubal pregnancies

Conflicting Absolutism

Premise: (1) Real moral conflicts do occur in this fallen world.

(1.1) Yet when faced with this conflict, man is morally accountable to both principles. In other words, sucks to be you.
(1.2) Yet, sin is conquerable through the cross.

Popularized as “Lesser-evil” approach. Best seen in Lutheran Two-Kingdoms. Also, Lutherans will (correctly) praise Bonhoeffer’s attempt to kill Hitler but also say it did violate a norm.

Criticisms

As Geisler notes, this position is basically saying “we have moral duty to sin,” which is absurd (Geisler 103). Another problem, whatever God commands is ipso facto good, so it can’t be a “lesser evil.”

Here is Geisler’s own position, Graded Absolutism:
Explained:
(1) There are higher and lower moral laws.
(2) There are unavoidable moral conflicts
(3) No guilt is imputed for the unavoidable.

Illustrated:
(4) Love for God is more important than love for man.
(5) Obey God over Government
(6) Mercy over veracity (Nazis at the door).

Options and Applications:

Issues

The second section of the book deals with problems in Ethics.

BioMedical Issues.
(1) Nothing groundbreaking here.
(2) Most of the criticisms against utilitarianism can be employed against secular humanism on this point.
(3) Nota Bene: Geisler doesn’t come out and affirm birth control. However, he does note that birth control methods that kill a fertilized ovum are murder. Condoms, however, do not kill fertilized ova. And whatever the merits of NFP, the couple is still in the “controlling” aspect, so it is a form of birth control.
(4) He is against cloning.

He defends capital punishment by asking the question: Is punishment supposed to be “retributive” or “rehabilitative?” The Bible clearly supports the former. Punishment is to punish the offender. Nothing more, nothing less. And common sense shows how tyrannical the latter can be. If the offender is just a patient, then when he is “cured?” (Hint: whenever (if at all) the state says he is).

Geisler gives good responses to the opponents of capital punishment. In fact, if “rehabilitative” models of justice are necessarily suspect, then capital punishment wins by default.

Geisler defends the possibility of just war, including tactical nuclear strikes. A tactical nuclear strike against a larger army is not the same thing as launching thousands of ICBMs and will not destroy planet earth.

Civil Disobedience

Makes a helpful distinction between “Antipromulgation” and “Anticompulsion” (241-242). The former advocates rebelling against the government when it passes a law that permits evil or limits freedom. Schaeffer took this position in A Christian Manifesto. Not only is it unworkable, it is negated by much of Christian history. The latter position means disobeying the government when it commands you to do evil. Geisler categorically condemns armed revolution.

Marriage and Divorce:

As marriage is more than sex, so sex is more than procreation. Its purpose is threefold: (1) propagation (Gen. 1:28), unification (Gen. 2:24), (3) recreation (Prov. 5.18-19).

His take on divorce is a bit complicated.
(1)It is always wrong
(2)That does not mean remarriage is not permissible under certain circumstances.
(3) There can be situations where it is allowed (abuse, desertion)

Unfortunately, Geisler’s “Graded Absolutism” doesn’t save his position. (1) and (3) are contradictory, unless you add another premise:

(3*) Where the necessary situations obtain, divorce is not wrong.

Except Geisler doesn’t actually say that. That’s my position and I think if you pressed him, he would agree, too.

Conclusion:

This is a fine intro to Christian Ethics and will serve nicely in a college or seminary classroom

Geisler vs Fletcher on ethics

1 Cor. 10:13 only promises victory from temptation, not deliverance from moral dilemmas.  In fact, the very fact of martyrdom means the martyr isn’t delivered from at least one bad consequence.

Degrees of Absolutism

Explained:

  1. There are higher and lower moral laws.
  2. There are unavoidable moral conflicts
  3. No guilt is imputed for the unavoidable.

Illustrated:

  1. Love for God is more important than love for man.
  2. Obey God over Government
  3. Mercy over veracity (Nazis at the door).

 

  1. Can one really define agape-love without recourse to revelation? Why can we privilege the term agape, itself drawn from revelation, while saying the rest of revelation is off-limits?
  2. Unless there is some cognitive content to what “love” is, then one doesn’t really know what I am commanded to do.
  3. Fletcher says we can’t “milk universals from a universal” (Fletcher 27). What he means is we can make principles from “the law of love,” but not rules. But why not?
  4. who gets to determine what “good” means? Fletcher himself? From where does he get this knowledge? From Jesus and the Bible? That sounds like literalism. Even worse, his position offers no protection to minority viewpoint, since by definition they will never been in the “greater” number.

An Ethics Bibliography

With some autobiographical vignettes.  One theologian I have repeatedly came back to over the past ten years is Oliver O’Donovan.  His command of Scripture, Theology, and the Western Philosophical tradition is awe-inspiring. He forms the backdrop of this post.  The following texts are generally from easier to harder.

Section 1

General text: Holmes, Arthur.  Ethics.  Basic, but covers the issues from an Evangelical perspective.
Classical Text:  Augustine, Confessions.  With special attention to book 10 and following.
Classical, contd.  Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics.  Almost every ethical treatment derives from and presupposes him in some fashion.

Section 2

General Text: Davis, John Jefferson.  Evangelical Ethics.  A bit more thorough than Holmes but same general vision.
Classical text: Clifford, “Will to Believe.”  Essay.  Holds to the skeptical position that we can’t believe or act on a belief unless we have sufficient reason for that belief.
Response:  James, William and passim.  Clifford’s thesis has been destroyed in every generation since he wrote it, but liberal philosophy of religion profs are still impressed by it we have to keep responding to it.

Section 3

General Text: Geisler, Norma.  Ethics: Issues and Options.  Surprisingly good.  Holds to the (probably correct) position of graded absolutism and gives fairly good treatments on abortion and capital punishment.  Annihilates Fletcher’s “situation ethics.”
History:  MacIntyre, Alasdair.  Greg Bahnsen recommended this work.  MacIntyre had just converted to Christ from Marxism, so there are some inaccuracies in this work.  But…probably the best succinct treatment of the history of ethics without sacrificing depth.
Classical: Augustine, City of God.  This will take a while but it is the best thing ever written on ethics.

Section 4

General Text: Murray, John.  Principles of Conduct.  Classic Reformed primer.  Mostly outstanding.  Fumbles (and ultimately contradicts himself) the chapter on “lying.”
Specialized: Moreland and Rae, Body and Soul.  Some very technical conversations, but the best thing written on anthropology and defense of pro-life.

Section 5 (These are more difficult)

General text: O’Donovan, Oliver.  Resurrection and Moral Order.  OO isn’t trying to give answers to “what should I do in _______?”  Rather, he is showing you the Augustinian vision and letting you apply it.
History.  O’Donovans.  From Irenaeus to Grotius.  Readings on Christian politics in church history.  The O’Donovans’ introductions are worth a graduate course in themselves.
Specialized.  O’Donovans, Bonds of Imperfection.  My favorite text. They take some major themes in the above text and develop them in larger essays.

Section 6.

General text:  Budzizewski, J. Written on the Heart.  I’m not sure of his natural law conclusions, but there are some excellent discussions of Locke, Bentham, etc.
History:  Budzizewski, J. Evangelicals in the Public Square.  Lucid treatments and critiques of different “transformational” options in modern Evangelicalism.  Covers Carl Henry, Schaeffer, Kuyper, and Yoder.
Specialized.  MacIntyre, Alasdair.  After Virtue.  Explores the role “virtue” played in ancient societies and how it might play in post-Nietzsche ones.

Section 7 (Difficult)

General Text:  O’Donovan, Oliver.  The Desire of the Nations.  Explores the role of “political theology” from ancient Israel to the modern liberal nation-state. Peerless. Contrary to popular thought, he is not advocating “Christendom.”  He is simply noting that “Christendom” is a historical effect of the church’s witness to power.
Specialized: O’Donovan, Ways of Judgment. Continues some themes in DoN and clarifies some ambiguities.  Shows how moderns use terms like “judgment” and “representation” without knowing the convoluted genealogical mutations of those terms.  Very difficult read but worthwhile.

Honorable Mention

Hauerwas, Stanley.  Resident Aliens and passim.  Very accessible introduction to the neo-anabaptist option.  Kind of smarmy and really doesn’t deal with any challenges to his position.  Hauerwas has more substantial essays elsewhere that are quite fun and rewarding.

Frame, John.  Passim.  I don’t know which Frame text to recommend.  They are kind of all the same.  His “perspectivalism” is important but I am unsure on how far to take it.

O’Donovan.  Space, World, and Time.  This is a more accessible treatment than RMO.  I have not read it so I can’t comment further, aside that it will probably be outstanding.

Milbank, John.  Theology and Social Theory. Probably the last thing you should read.  Advanced treatments of Augustine, Foucault, Nietzsche and others.  Still, the sections on Augustine are illuminating.

Markus, R. A.  Saeculum.  Tries to make Augustine out to be a modern neo-liberal on international order.  See O’Donovan’s essay on Augustine for a decent critique.  However, Markus does successfully argue that Augustine “shifted” from a theocratic imperialism to a softer “realism” by the end of City of God.

Feinberg, John.  Ethics for a Brave New World.  Soft dispensationalist treatment of ethics.  Very thorough discussions on sexual ethics and bio-ethics.

Nietzsche, Fr. Genealogy of Morals.  Classic critique of godless bourgeoisie from a godless perspective.  Suggests “ressentiment” as a category of modern ethical thought.

Plato.  Republic.

Analytical Outline Geisler’s Ethics, pt 1

Begins with a survey of different ethical options, briefly noting their shortcomings (Geisler 17-22).

Christian View of Ethics

  1. Based on God’s Will
  2. Is absolute
  3. Based on God’s revelation
  4. Is prescriptive
  5. Is Deontological

Antinomianism

Not simply that there are no norms.  Also includes that norms aren’t real, but just in the mind.

Nominalism is a form of antinomianism.  If applied to ethics, it’s hard to see how there can be a concept of justice independent of the human knower.

Situationism

The situationist has the one law of love, the many general principles of wisdom, and the moment of decision (Geisler 45).  Fletcher repeatedly asserts that the rule of Christian ethics is “love.”  So what do I do in a specific situation?  The “what and why” are absolute and the how is relative.

Geisler does note a number of legitimate strengths of situationism, but nonetheless there are gaping inadequacies.  

  1. One norm is too general (57).  
    1. Unless there is advanced cognitive content to what “love” is, then one doesn’t really know what I am commanded to do!
  2. There can be many universal norms.
    1. Fletcher hasn’t given any substantial reason on why axioms deduced from other axioms can’t be universal.
  3. A different universal norm is possible.  
    1. Why do we privilege Christian love and not Buddhist compassion?
    2. On what basis do we choose one single norm as binding?

Generalism

Utilitarianism

Greatest good for greatest number.

Problems and ambiguities:

  1. who gets to determine what “good” means?
  2. Offers no protection to minority viewpoint, since by definition they will never been in the “greater” number.
  3. The definition of “end” is unclear.  Do we mean a few years? Lifetime? Eternity?  In that case, only God could be a utilitarian and he is not (77).

Unqualified Absolutism

premise:  all moral conflicts are only apparent; they are not real (79).  Held by Augustine, Kant, Charles Hodge, John Murray, and others.

hypothetical problem:  Lie to the Nazis at the door?

Augustine: cannot gain eternal life by temporal evil.

John Murray: Sanctity of Truth and Truth is the essence of God. However, he does not believe every intentional deception is a lie (e.g., a general’s movements in war).  

Negative Aspects

Disputed premises:

  1. Are sins of the soul necessarily worse? Perhaps, but the Platonic premise here should at least by acknowledged.  On this view, a “white lie” is worse than rape.
  2. Can the lie to save lives be separated from mercy?  “God blessed the mercy but not the lie.”  But is this really coherent?
  3. Will God always save us from moral dilemmas?   1 Cor. 10:13 only promises victory from temptation, not deliverance from moral dilemmas.  In fact, the very fact of martyrdom means the martyr isn’t delivered from at least one bad consequence.

Fatal qualifications

  1. Even one exception to this rule kills Unqualified Absolutism–and Augustine allows for exceptions in the case of Abraham and Isaac/Jepthath and his daughter.
  2. John Murray doesn’t believe we should be truthful in all circumstances (Murray 145).

“Punting to Providence”

  1. God does not always spare his children from moral dilemmas.  In fact, obedience often puts the believer in dilemmas!

“Third Alternatives are not always available.”

  1. Tubal pregnancies

Inconsistencies

  1. We leave our lights on when we aren’t home to trick robbers.
  2. The unqualified absolutist often commits unmerciful acts.
  3. Tendency to legalism (e.g., Puritanboard).

Conflicting Absolutism

Premise: (1) Real moral conflicts do occur in this fallen world.

(1.1) Yet when faced with this conflict, man is morally accountable to both principles. In other words, sucks to be you.

(1.2) Yet, sin is conquerable through the cross.

Popularized as “Lesser-evil” approach.  Best seen in Lutheran Two-Kingdoms.  Also, Lutherans will (correctly) praise Bonhoeffer’s attempt to kill Hitler but also say it did violate a norm.  

Criticisms

As Geisler notes, this position is basically saying “we have moral duty to sin,” which is absurd (Geisler 103).  Another problem, whatever God commands is ipso facto good, so it can’t be a “lesser evil.”

Graded Absolutism (This is Geisler’s and my view)

Explained:  

  1. There are higher and lower moral laws.  
  2. There are unavoidable moral conflicts
  3. No guilt is imputed for the unavoidable.

Illustrated:

  1. Love for God is more important than love for man.
  2. Obey God over Government
  3. Mercy over veracity (Nazis at the door).