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Saturday, March 05, 2005

Election as Morally Arbitrary

This conversation is likewise excerpted from an interesting discussion on IRC, this time with an atheist who was arguing that God may have been morally arbitrary in his choosing his elect:
"Yes, he [God] could be doing that [choosing his elect by some criterion other than one's worthiness of heaven], but the problem then is that it concedes to the criticism that God is deciding that some go to heaven on criteria that are irrelevant. That IS arbitrary."
It does not concede to that, actually. One's 'worthiness' of heaven is not relevant to whatever happens to be God's criteria, this much is true. But it does not follow that somehow, therefore, whatever happens to be God's criteria is itself irrelevant.

"I'm not sure how that doesn't concede that the criteria God uses [for choosing his elect] are irrelevant. What are the criteria he uses? What criteria besides worthiness of heaven could even be relevant to who he lets into heaven? Presumably God is being fair here, not morally arbitrary. Now, if he's being fair, what are the criteria that make it fair to put person A in heaven and person B in hell? This isn't a question about how we know what his criteria are -- that might be beyond our ability to know -- it's a question of how it could ever be fair and morally non-arbitrary if none of us are deserving of heaven yet only some of us are permitted to go to heaven."
Three things I would note, here -- the first as sort of a brief but important interjection, the other two as a more direct response.

First, before there can be any agreement about God's criteria being judged as "irrelevant," some hidden assumptions need to be exposed -- that is, it needs to be understood what is being meant here. Irrelevant (or "not relevant") to what, exactly? Depending on how this is answered, it may very well be that God's criteria are indeed irrelevant. Consider the following. If our moral worthiness of heaven is not part of his criteria for choosing his elect, then whatever happens to be God's criteria are indeed irrelevant -- to our moral worthiness. But this does not then somehow mean that the sum of his criteria is irrelevant in itself.

Second, the need to know what God's criteria are in order to determine the morality thereof -- and the fairness of God -- is to implicitly suggest that God is or ought to be responsible to some moral order which is external to him. However, since my position is such that moral order is grounded in God's eternal nature, this response is not relevant to my position and therefore fails to address it.

Third, it is fair and morally non-arbitrary that, although none of us are deserving of heaven, some are permitted to go because it is God that is making that decision, and moral order is grounded in his eternal nature (i.e. it is not something external to him).

"See, the question is about moral relevance. It's not enough that God has some reason or other or some decision procedure. The question is whether his criteria are morally relevant. God could use 'eye color' as one criterion, for example. That wouldn't be arbitrary in the sense that it's random, but it would be morally arbitrary since he could just as easily decide that blue-eyed people get in instead of brown-eyed people (or vice versa). Simply having a criterion [for choosing his elect] doesn't imply that God's criterion is a morally relevant one. The problem isn't that God can't make up his mind but that he has no moral grounds for admitting some into heaven and not others if, by hypothesis, none of us deserve to be admitted at all."
In order to make an argument that his "simply having a criterion doesn't imply that God's criterion is a morally relevant one," one has to first presuppose that moral order is in some respect external to God, but simply presupposing your position is not an effective argument against mine. The argument works only if God is responsible to a moral order that is external to him (wherein it was asserted that "he has no moral grounds for..."), which my stated position rejects. Ergo, this response here is not relevant to my argument.