googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: April 2014

Monday, April 21, 2014

Utilitarianism: A poor substitute for morality

A compelling argument for the existence of God is the near universal belief in absolute morality. People seem to instinctively understand there are such things as right and wrong yet absolute right and wrong can only exist if there is a universal standard that transcends men's opinions. People often use the example of Hitler's Germany as an example of a true evil. The Holocaust may be evil by our standards by what makes our standards more correct than Hitler's? It is only because there is an immutable standard, one given by a supreme Lawgiver, that we are able to know what is always right and what is always wrong.

Because the idea of absolute right and wrong seems to exist and is acknowledged by so many people, some non-believers seek ways to explain how it can exist without a transcendent Judge. One ethical theory is utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is basically the idea that whatever provides the most benefit to the most people is “good.” It's a sort of pragmatic approach to morality that says whatever maximizes pleasure or most greatly reduces pain is “right.” Stealing from my neighbor might benefit me, but it doesn't benefit him. Therefore, it would produce more benefit to both of us if we cooperated. Because the benefit to society derived from not stealing seems to align itself with the universal understanding that it's wrong to steal, utilitarianism seems to explain why we could consider stealing to be immoral.

There are a couple of problems with such a concept. First, what makes this the correct standard by which we can measure good/evil? In other words, why benefit the most people instead of working primarily for the benefit of myself? It is only because benefiting the most people sounds reasonable? This philosophy suffers from the same weakness as many other theories in that it is not objective. There is no compelling reason to adopt this belief unless I just happen to agree with it. I could say, “Screw you. I'm only looking out for myself.” You have absolutely no unequivocal grounds to rebut my position except to appeal to my reason and hope to persuade me to your side.

I'm also curious why adherents to utilitarianism would prefer a belief that seems antithetical to a belief in evolution. Natural selection (a driving force behind evolution) is sometimes characterized as the survival of the fittest. Richard Dawkins, for example, wrote an entire book called, The Selfish Gene, where a organism is considered “successful” if is maximizes the chances of its genes being passed along to posterity. This exhibits itself in varied ways. A male lion, for example, earns its right to reproduce by killing or driving off the current male leader of the pride. One of its first acts as the new leader is to kill all the cubs of its former rival. This actually helps the pride in the long run since it ensures the genes of only the strongest males are passed along. How would utilitarianism condemn this behavior if a similar practice were exhibited among people?

Which brings me to still another point. How do we know what response will bring about the most benefit in any given situation? There are various strategies for helping the poor, for example. We could just give them food and shelter, which might sustain them but it will only perpetuate their poverty. It also drains the resources from productive citizens. Or consider a more extreme example: Suppose a person is permanently disabled. He may not only require food and shelter, but may also require extraordinary medical care. Such a person is not able to contribute to society (nor even care for himself) but instead creates a burden on everyone else. His very existence diminishes the prosperity of society in general. If the objective of morality is to provide the most benefit to to the most people, then it should be justifiably moral to euthanize the infirm and chronically poor.

We see then, that utilitarianism fails in many ways to provide an objective, immutable standard for what is good or moral. People seem to instinctively know there is a still higher, moral standard where it is wrong to summarily execute a group of people even if it is for the benefit of many more people or wrong to kill weaker persons for the sake of improving the gene pool. On the other hand, the Bible provides the best solutions to the moral ambiguities not answered by utilitarianism.

In the case of the lions, the Bible makes it clear that we are not like the animals. Out of all creation, only man was created in the image of God and we are accountable to Him. Therefor, we should not behave the way animals behave but we should behave in the way commanded by God. See? Isn't that simple? Mental gymnastics aren't necessary when one directly applies the ultimate standard of morality. Jesus also commanded us to care for the poor, the widows, the orphans, and the infirm. We help them in spite of the cost to ourselves; not because helping them necessarily brings about the greatest benefit to the most people but because it's the right thing to do.

There's an old saying, “The ends justify the means.” Does anyone really agree with that? People just know that certain things are always wrong no matter what good might seem to come from them. It's this very instinct that drives humanists to seek a natural explanation for the self-evident existence of universal morality. Utilitarianism is simply another failed attempt to explain goodness without God.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Should I go to see Noah?

The new Noah movie has been out for a while and I've debated with myself over whether I should go to see it. On the one hand, I hear it's no where near a fair representation of the Genesis narrative. On the other hand, what's wrong with seeing a movie that's not really Bible based? After all, some other movies I've seen lately include The Hobbit and The Hunger Games. Those weren't biblical movies either.  I went to see them simply to be entertained. As I pondered this dilemma, it occurred to many that other people are surely considering this same question. So why not share my thoughts to help them decide?

I first heard about the Noah movie being made about two years ago and I blogged about it then (read it here). In that post I wondered, “will the movie bring out the real message behind Noah? Will it be about a righteous God Who judges sin? Will people know that God has provided salvation to those who believe in Him? Will they see the Ark as a picture of Jesus?” What was I thinking? I mean, I know I doubted it then but did I seriously even think it might? Of course it wasn't going to. In the movie, Noah is not a righteous man at all. He's an ultra-liberal who thinks it's his job to save the “innocent” animals of the world and insure the global-warming causing, human race is terminated. He even wants to murder his grandchildren. Radical environmentalism? Check. Abortion? Check. Straw man caricatures of the Bible? Check. Yep, it's all there in this movie. I must said I nailed it when I said, “I guess it's not always about money for liberals. They have their standards too. Some just can't bring themselves to make a movie portraying the Bible in a favorable light no matter how successful the movie might be.”

But like I've already said, I don't just go to see movies that are biblically themed or biblically accurate. Maybe this fictional story will be interesting. Maybe the special effects will be exciting. Maybe the action will be intense. However, judging by what I've heard from people who have actually seen the movie, this movie has none of that. Instead, it has a weak story that isn't saved by dazzling special effects – kind of like the second Matrix movie.

The majority of the people who've seen the Noah movie didn't like it. In typical, Hollywood style, the movie is loved by professional, liberal movie reviewers who hate anything Christian, while hated by the public at large. In this screen shot from “Rotten Tomatoes,” it shows how 76% of reviewers liked it yet only 47% of movie goers felt the same.

What bugs me the most is that this movie, which bears only a remote resemblance to the Genesis account, is still held out as a being a fair representation of the Bible. When I heard the movie advertised on the radio, it was followed by a disclaimer. The disclaimer I heard was a little different but the official text is as follows:

The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis. (source)

So there is the rub.  It's not just that it's not a biblical film; it's that it pretends to be a biblical film. Rather, it deceptively holds itself out as a biblical movie even though Aronofsky knows the movie is antithetical to the lessons of judgment and mercy taught in the biblical account. Let's face it, did God really want Noah to murder his grandchildren to insure the extinction of the human race? Is that a “value” which is a cornerstone of Christian faith?

Let's sum up: weak story, antithetical to christian-values, liberal propaganda. Should I go see the movie? I think the answer is obvious.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

I'm Back. Sorry for the delay.

I could say it's been a while since my last post but not only does that sound terribly clich̩, it's just a poor way to describe that it's been 7 months since my last post. Here is the part where I'm supposed to say I was busy, the kids were sick, things are hectic at work, blah, blah, blah. Well, I won't say all that. There have been a lot of things Рvery trying things Рgoing on in my personal life and blogging has simply not been possible. I'm not sure how long it will be until things will settle back into a normal routine but, in the meanwhile, blogging will perhaps provide a pleasant distraction so here I am. I'm back.

During my absence, I have checked in every now and then just to publish any comments that visitors may have left and to keep an eye on my blog traffic. It's a little discouraging to see how bad things have gotten. After a lot of work and several years of blogging, I had built a site that was consistently drawing over 5,000 visitors each month. After so long a period of inactivity, that number has dropped to just over 3,000 per month (3,337 in the last 30 days). I could look on the bright side: over 100 visitors each day still sounds like a decent amount of traffic but I guess I'm just a “half empty” kind of guy. I want more people to hear my word (that is, God's word) and I maybe could have been at over 6,000 visitors by now if I had continued blogging. Now, no matter how much longer I might blog or how much I might grow my traffic, I will not be able to stop myself from thinking, “what could it have been if I hadn't taken seven months off?”

There are some people who regularly visit blogs. Once they find one they like, they will keep returning and reading new posts. After a while of no new posts, these regular visitors stop returning. I'm sure I've lost many of those. But even more than that, most of my visitors are people looking for specific information using search engines. These search engines (like Google or Yahoo) use the date of the material as one criterion to determine the order they display their results. That's why a search on something like “plane crash” shows recent crashes first as opposed to plane crashes from 5 years ago. By not posting new content, I lose visitors on the grounds of timeliness. Unfortunately, the amount of traffic is another criterion that search engines use so, as less people visit my blog, the less likely it is to show up on future results. It becomes a vicious cycle. Finally, the more content I add to my blog, the larger a target it becomes for search engines. Let's face it, the more I write about various topics, the more likely it is that I will include something that someone is looking for. My strategy then, is to write as often as possible. Hopefully, more content means more hits, more hits means more traffic, more traffic means better results in future searches, and more opportunities for people who stumble on to my blog to become regular visitors.

I've found that writing, like most other things, becomes easier with practice. For the last seven months, though, I've been out of practice. Even these few short paragraphs have been a struggle. I hope that it won't be long until I'm able to regularly post 2-3 times each week. Also, I'm not sure how good of a writer I've ever been but I would like to at least get back to the same level I was.

But I see that I'm saying, “blah, blah, blah.” I'm sorry to ramble on. Please keep me in your prayers. Please keep visiting. Thank you all in advance.

God bless!!