Saturday, October 24, 2009

Of Parrots, Pablum and Pap


Introduction

Meta-Ethicists have argued over the meaning of “moral culpability” or “moral blameworthiness” for eons (not really eons – a hyperbole, really), and there are probably as many understandings of “moral culpability” as there are meta-ethicists. We have heard of simple emotivistic (and hence subjectivistic) understanding that P, where P is “moral culpability,” for example:

Moral culpability (P) = An agent X is morally blameworthy for performing action A iff it is appropriate for a blame emotion – resentment, indignation, or guilt – to be felt toward X in response to X’s A-ing.

Or perhaps some of us have stumbled upon definitions by ethical objectivists (realizing that there are numerous versions of objectivism), including some theists, who believe in the existence of objective moral truths. For instance:

Moral culpability (P) = An agent X is morally blameworthy or culpable for performing an action A iff it is morally wrong for X to perform A.

Here, culpability or blameworthiness is not associated with what the agent believes or thinks is wrong, but with what is in truth objectively wrong, independent of subjective opinion. Notice that in the aforementioned proposition or definition of P, culpability is distinguished from wrongness.

Judgments of wrongness and judgments of blameworthiness or culpability have very different implications. Even where a moral wrong was committed, it does not follow that an agent X should be blamed or be culpable for the wrong. This is for the reason that there are factors that lessen or remove blame from X for a morally wrong act, but that cannot in any way make the wrong act right.

For instance, Tommy suffers from a factual ignorance: he doesn’t know that the bowl of soup contains arsenic. Jane, a very good friend of Tommy, has deceived him into believing that the bowl of soup was indeed nutritious and tasty. Out of good will and love, he gave the soup to his mother; and since there is only one bowl of soup left, he even thought that he was being modestly self-sacrificial in giving what he wanted to consume to his mother. In offering that bowl of soup to his mother, Tommy killed his mother! Assuming that this scenario constitutes non-culpable factual ignorance, Tommy is not culpable for murder. [1] But does this non-culpability make the action of Tommy right? Non-culpable factual ignorance only exculpates the moral agent; it does not make wrong acts right.

Or maybe we would have encountered a relativistic rendition of P, where:

Moral culpability (P) = An agent X is morally blameworthy for performing action A only if X has the belief that it is wrong for her to do A and this belief plays an appropriate role in X’s A-ing.

It is not our intention in this short post to discuss the various existing definitions of “moral culpability.” Nevertheless, we do owe a reply to Daniel Chew Huicong’s spanking new defender or apologist – Mr Jason Loh – who calls himself Augustinian Successor, and who had decided to answer Ming Liang on Mr Chew’s behalf.

Augustinian Successor Succeeds in Failing

From the above introduction, we realize that there are several conceptions of moral culpability. But I have yet to see a defense of the proposition that P1, where P1 is “moral culpability,” that is, according to Mr Jason Loh:

Moral Culpability (P1) = “to be accountable for one's actions”

Or rather,

P1 = An agent X is morally blameworthy or culpable for performing an action A only if X is accountable for A-ing.

It is truly amazing (and possibly culpable) that Mr Jason Loh, a self-professed “Prayer Book Anglican” – who is at the same time a member of the Lutheran Church in Malaysia and Singapore (LCMS) – believes that P1.


In his reply to Ming Liang, we recall that he wrote:

“Ming Liang and friend(s) are trying to argue that God must be morally culpable is [sic] the Creator of evil. God is not for the simple reason that God is not answerable to anyone but Himself. To be morally culpable is to be accountable for one's actions.”

So according to Mr Loh, “to be morally culpable is to be accountable for one's actions.” (P1). But P1 begs the question; in fact, P1 begs several questions, as we shall soon see.

What does Mr Loh mean when he allege that X is “accountable” for A-ing? From his previous statement, “God is not [culpable] for the simple reason that God is not answerable to anyone but Himself,” we can see that Mr Loh would understand “accountability” as referring to “answerability.” Hence, for Mr Loh, to be accountable is to be answerable.

But this begs the next question, “Answerable to what or who?”

If he were referring to the secular law of the land, then he would be submitting himself to the relativistic view of “moral culpability.” There are different secular laws with different values, sometimes even within the same country; for different moral agents (i.e. X1, X2, X3, etc) to be answerable to different standards of law would require moral relativism. This is not what Mr Loh as a theist desires, I believe. [2]

There are several fairly ridiculous options e.g. being answerable to your parents, to various authorities, or even to household plants, which we wouldn’t consider – unless Mr Loh chooses to differ with us on this.

As a theist, Mr Loh would probably mean this: being answerable to God. So, we can refine P1 to mean:

P1 = An agent X is morally blameworthy or culpable for performing an action A only if X is accountable or answerable to God for A-ing.

We had helped Mr Loh in defining his definition of moral culpability, and assisted him in teasing out his thoughts from his aforementioned statements. Even so, besides begging the question concerning the truths of Theism (e.g. the existence and character of a theist’s God), we can see that P1 is quite deficient, and lacks further thought.

Is Jason Loh, then, morally blameworthy for doing charity only if Jason Loh is accountable to God for doing charity? According to P1, he is. In fact, according to P1, he would be morally culpable or blameworthy for marrying a woman or even worshipping God, and P1 is also why he is morally culpable for even blogging (reductio ad absurdum).

In his understanding of P1, he has failed to distinguish culpability from wrongness (see my introduction above); this is the most fundamental error in his discussion with Ming Liang. The questions he begs also require further argument and analysis.

Denying the Law of Non-contradiction

Interestingly enough, according to P1, God would also be culpable for things He does! This is because God (agent X) is still answerable to God (Himself) for A-ing. [3] Therefore, his previous statement, “God is not [morally culpable] for the simple reason that God is not answerable to anyone but Himself” contradicts the latter, “to be morally culpable is to be accountable [to God] for one's actions.” If his understanding of P1 is such that, “to be morally culpable is to be accountable [to God] for one's actions,” then Mr Loh has just denied the Aristotelian Law of Non-contradiction. God cannot be P1 (morally culpable) and not-P1 (not morally culpable) all at the same time!

It is also noteworthy that Mr Jason Loh follows in the footsteps of Daniel Chew in denying the Law of Non-contradiction.

Augustinian Successor Succeeds in the Further Denial of Logic

We now peruse Jason Loh’s statements in his other reply to Ming Liang.

Jason: Circular reasoning is not neccessarily [sic] illogical.

AT: This is a bare assertion. Circular reasoning is a logical fallacy. That's logic 101. Here are some exercises in logic that might be helpful.

Jason: Atheism is based no less on circular reasoning.

AT: Firstly, we didn't say we are atheists. Secondly, even if we are, your "argument" is a classic tu quoque fallacy. Fallacy again.

The Un-Provability of Non-Existence

The following illustrates how some theists resort to the common logical fallacy of “proving the non-existence” of something ad nauseam.

Jason: There is no God because there is no evidence of God. It begs the question, how do you know? How do you know that God has chosen not to reveal Himself to you (through His Word)?

AT: Another fallacy: you’re asking us to prove the negative i.e. that there is no God. It’s like the following scenario:

Jason: An omnipotent freakish squirming jellyfish exists.

AT: Prove it does.

Jason: Prove it doesn’t. There is no omnipotent freakish squirming jellyfish because there is no evidence of an omnipotent freakish squirming jellyfish. It begs the question, how do you know?

Here is what the The Objectivist Newsletter (April 1963) had to say on the logical fallacy of proving a negative:

“Proving the non-existence of that for which no evidence of any kind exists. Proof, logic, reason, thinking, knowledge pertain to and deal only with that which exists. They cannot be applied to that which does not exist. Nothing can be relevant or applicable to the non-existent. The non-existent is nothing. A positive statement, based on facts that have been erroneously interpreted, can be refuted - by means of exposing the errors in the interpretation of the facts. Such refutation is the disproving of a positive, not the proving of a negative ... Rational demonstration is necessary to support even the claim that a thing is possible. It is a breach of logic to assert that that which has not been proven to be impossible is, therefore, possible. An absence does not constitute proof of anything. Nothing can be derived from nothing. If I say, “Anything is possible” I must admit the possibility that the statement I just made is false. (See Self Exclusion) Doubt must always be specific, and can only exist in contrast to things that cannot properly be doubted.”

Jason: How do you know that God has chosen not to reveal Himself to you (through His Word)?

AT: Yet another fallacy – the plurium interrogationum. How do you know that you haven't stopped beating your wife yet?

Jason: Because you are confusing logic with contents.

AT: Bare assertion. No, we are not.

Jason: Scripture alone gives the information necessary to know the one true and living God.

AT: Bare assertion. Barely asserted, not argued for.

Conclusion

There were a couple of things that we perceived as being odd, to say the least.

Firstly, why would anyone use the picture of John Calvin for his own blogger profile? For a moment we almost thought that Jason Loh looked like John Calvin, or does he?

Secondly, Jason Loh calls himself “Augustinian Successor.” But in what way does Jason Loh succeed the early church patriarch, Augustine of Hippo? Was it in his logic, analysis and thinking? Or was it in the flatus, fetor, and flamboyance?

But what impressed us the most are the similarities between the venerable Watchman Daniel Chew Huicong and Mr Jason Loh, his new apologist. Both are males. Both have plenty of free time to blog and to comment on blogs. And both are adept at using logical fallacies and senseless rhetoric to answer their opponents.

It is little wonder that George Bernard Shaw coined the term “theological parrots” in “The Quintessence of Ibsenism,” and Wayne A. Detzler used the same expression to refer to the liberal, albeit unthinking, rationalistic Christian scholars of the nineteenth century. [4]

There is only so much the theological parrot is capable of. Beyond the regurgitation of their alma mater’s dogmas, or the restatement of content from handbooks they have read, we would expect to see little independent thinking.

And that is exactly what we have received from these gentlemen.

References

[1] It is not within the scope of this post to discuss the matter further. The simple illustration serves the purpose of explaining that there are factors that lessen or remove blame from X for a morally wrong act.

[2] This view also commits the is-ought fallacy i.e. what is (the current law of the land) does not mean that it ought to be. For example, the law could be unjust, and that which ought to be morally good might be called bad in the current legislation.

[3] It is acknowledged that there is much to be discussed concerning God and free will, and/or moral agency. For a Judeo-Christian theist, the belief in P1 = “An agent X is morally blameworthy or culpable for performing an action A only if X is accountable or answerable to God for A-ing” would lead to a theological absurdity in philosophical theology. God the Son as Man is to be understood as a moral agent, and is subjected to P1. If it would have been impossible for Jesus the Son of Man to choose sin or to go against the will of the Father in the obedentia activa and obedentia passiva of Christ, or if Christ did not have free will in His Incarnation i.e. in conjunction with the two components of the obedentia Christi, then this Christ as the Second Adam in Covenant or Federal Theology would be theologically unsound and inconsistent. Therefore, with P1 as defined by Jason Loh, Christ the God-Man is then morally culpable, which is absurd for Christians – a reductio ad absurdum.

[4] These are paradoxically rationalistic, yet lack independent thinking, unlike “Hengstenberg, Tholuck and Neander.” Cf. Wayne A. Detzler, “Inerrancy and Revival in Germany,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 28, no. 3 (1985): 327-333.

7 comments:

The reader said...

"Secondly, Jason Loh calls himself “Augustinian Successor.” But in what way does Jason Loh succeed the early church patriarch, Augustine of Hippo?"

He could be thinking of Augustine of Canterbury...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augustine_of_Canterbury


Good post, by the way...

Anonymous said...

Daniel's Bulldog just became a miniature poodle. Great post!

Anonymous said...

Hi AT,

Jason Loh's full name is:

Jason Loh Seong Wei

FYI :)

When some folks couldn't argue, they sue.

จอห์นนี่ (Chon Ni) said...

If Jason thinks he is the successor of Augustine of Canterbury, then he must be the next Archbishop of Canterbury, after Rowan Williams.

But according to facts, he is more likely to succeed Rowan Atkinson.

FishHawk said...

"Antithesis" has been included in this weeks A Sunday Drive. I hope this helps to attract even more new visitors here.

http://asthecrackerheadcrumbles.blogspot.com/2009/10/sunday-drive_25.html

An observer said...

An interesting post on Mr Loh:

http://3rdmillennium.blogspot.com/2009/04/letter-to-jason-loh-augustinian.html

First Daniel, now Jason. Seems like birds of a feather flock together ... :)

These are a shame to Christianity.

The reader said...

To AT and all readers of this excellent blog,

Have you folks read the latest post/comments on the Credo500 blog?

Any comments on the dogfight between Augustinian Successor and Daniel Chew?

A reader