Monday, August 2, 2010

Bradley vs Flannagan at Auckland U. (NZ)

Ray Bradley comes not to praise God, but to bury Him. He does a bang up job of it, slowly grinding through the worst bits of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures and demonstrating the total depravity and utter ruthlessness thereof. He lectures phlegmatically onward, building up a towering Argument from Evil firmly rooted in scripture and history. He characterizes the God of Abraham as “that than which no viler can be conceived” and does a fairly decent job of backing up his thesis.

Bradley then lays out the following statements for consideration (paraphrasing):
  1. What God proposes for our beliefs and actions are what we ought to believe and act upon

  2. In His Holy Scriptures, God commands various atrocities
    (e.g. killing witches, gays, Canaanites, etc.)

  3. It is morally wrong to command, cause, or condone such atrocities

  4. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good (definitional premise)

  5. A morally perfect being wouldn’t order us to do anything which is morally wrong

Bradley contends that sincere theists have to deny at least one of these premises, for the sake of logical consistency, and then unpacks the consequences of denying any of these premises. At the end of his opening, he challenges his interlocutor (and the audience member) to deny one of the five premises and deal with the consequences.

Matt Flannagan, for his part, defends a version of divine command theory (DCT), and claims that premise (3) assumes to the contrary that God is a moral agent having moral duties, rather than being a moral lawgiver whose commands are moral no matter how arbitrary or harmful they seem to us. He sort of paints himself into a corner here, falling firmly upon one horn of the Euthyphro dilemma. He also tries to reframe the genocidal and homicidal divine commands of the OT Scripture as wholly hyperbolic, and the NT references to a “Lake of Fire” as mere metaphysical metaphor. Nice try, Matt, but that's a no-go unless you can produce evidence that these passages were indeed taken as metaphors by their original audience in the relevant cultural context. For example, did the early Church Fathers who read the NT books in original Greek see it as a metaphor or parable? If so, who did so and in which epistle do they make this clear? Instead of taking such an honest approach, Flannagan cites to modern scholars who have an obvious motivation to soften the harshness of these ancient passages.

During their respective rebuttals, both men do a fine job of contending that the other debater fails to engage with their own particular conception of God and ethics, which seems about right. This is the only notably weak feature of this debate: Each man has defined the words “God” and “morality” in different ways, and thus they talk past each other a bit when arguing about the putative relationship between the two. Overall, though, this is a MUST SEE DEBATE.

Share and enjoy!

No comments: