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Thorny Moral Chestnuts, Pt. 1

Catchy quotes and sayings — “chestnuts” — can undergo slight mutations over time.

Sometimes, those chestnuts are proverbs or rules. And sometimes, those gradual mutations can modify those proverbs or rules so much that their original wisdom is completely destroyed, converted into non-wisdom.

Today, we’ll talk about “The Ends Can’t Justify the Means.” In the next post, we’ll talk about “Ignorance is No Excuse.” Both of these are false chestnuts.


“The Ends Can’t Justify the Means”

I’m sure you’ve heard this one a billion times.

It’s usually uttered by the hero of a story, against some villain who’s decided to bring about some praiseworthy conclusion by means of a horrific plan.

“But I’ll create a better world!” cries the villain, Viktor.

“No,” responds the hero, Herbert. “The ends can’t justify the means.”

We cheer the Herbert at this point, right?

Okay. Now let’s take these characters and transplant them into a different situation.

Viktor and Herbert are shop owners in Nazi Germany. For months, they’ve been harboring a Jewish family in a secret attic above their shop. This morning, they’ve heard that Nazi investigators will be going shop to shop and asking for information about harbored Jews in the area.

“We should lie to the investigators,” says Viktor. “A little dishonesty will bring about a greater good by saving lives.”

“No,” responds the “hero,” Hubert. “The ends can’t justify the means.”

Notice how in both cases, Viktor wants to do something considered morally wrong in order to bring about a greater good. But in the latter situation, we can all clearly see that it is no longer Viktor who is the villain — rather, it is Hubert who we all rebuke as morally askew.

We’re quite practiced at cheering duty-bound heroes and chastising “good ends / ill means” supervillains. What we forget is that there are plenty of “good ends / ill means” heroes as well, from Oskar Schindler to Rahab, who we (alongside James) recognize as righteous for heroism that required deception.

The Better Chestnut

The answer to the puzzle is that “The ends can justify ill means.”

The question is, when?

Well, ends are more likely to justify ill means when:

  • The ends are really, really good…
  • … and you’re really, really sure that they’ll come about.
  • The ill means aren’t that bad…
  • … and you’re really, really sure that there won’t be horrible unintended consequences, neither for those in your local area, nor for the world in general, and neither for things right now, nor for things down the road.
  • There aren’t safer, more praiseworthy ways to seek those good ends.

Similarly, ends are less likely to justify ill means when:

  • The ends are good, but not that great.
  • You’re not sure they’ll come about.
  • The ill means are pretty bad.
  • You aren’t sure that there won’t be a bunch of horrible unintended consequences.
  • There are safer, more praiseworthy ways to seek those good ends.

Decisionmaking is Complicated

Consider the following diagram, where the ill dark-red “bad” circle is committed, while intended to make the green “good” circle come about.

cons1

Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that simple? We could say, “You can’t use bad things to make good things happen.”

In reality, those “circles” need moral weight/gravity/intensity assigned to them according to what we value.

cons2

Suddenly, that seems okay. Once we account for the moral weights, a tiny moral ill can indeed be acceptable in service of a huge moral payoff.

But it still isn’t that simple! We need to account for the likelihood of that good consequence coming about!

cons3

If there’s only a 20%, or one-fifth, chance of that big payoff happening, it might still be a good investment, but it’s “worth less” as a prospect. In decision theory, we call that “net worth” our “expected value” or “EV.”

But it still isn’t that simple! We haven’t accounted for any of the consequences that are foreseeable but unintended!

cons4

Ew, gross! This decision is looking pretty ghastly now, isn’t it?

But…

… wait for it…

… it still isn’t that simple! That’s because there are all sorts of unforeseen consequences lurking in the shadows of human unknowability.

cons5

It turns out that we, as humans, are so bad at considering the unintended and unforeseen consequences — often when a bee-line prospect looks very tantalizing — that “blind rule-following” has a certain consequential strength or fitness. This is especially the case when, in the shadows of human unknowability, habitual ill behavior can translate into numerous personal erosions of character and will.

And that’s why “The ends can’t justify the means,” is a decent “rule” for folks who can’t handle the complications of decision theory, or who think themselves wiser and/or more knowledgeable than they really are — which is almost everybody.

But it’s not really true.

That’s what makes it thorny.

And so when we’re engaged in lofty discourse about how morality “works,” we need to be careful not to treat that thorny chestnut as fundamental or sacrosanct.


For more about how deontology (“morality is about rules”) and consequentialism (“morality is about consequences”) “converge” on the practicalities of human weakness, take a gander at the Angelic Ladder.

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A Theological Payoff of Meaning’s Funny Foundation

As we’ve talked about before on this blog, the determination or judgment of a right decision — a “should” — is made up of what is valued (preferences, interests, goals, etc.) and what thing(s) would happen as a result of various decisions.consequentialismBoth of the above pieces are required.

  • If you’re not looking at prospective results, you’ll have nothing to gauge.
  • If you’re not looking at what is valued — at least implicitly — then you’ll have no metric (like weighing a bowl of cereal without any reference to “grams” or “ounces”).

The following illustrates how goofy it is to weigh things while lacking one or the other:

scales

This isn’t some stretched analogy, as if this double contingency is a requirement for cereal-weighing but not for decision-gauging. Try to build a decisionmaking A.I. without both of these. It can’t be done without building a pure deontological A.I. (what’s called an “expert system,” which blindly follows a pile of “If this do that” rules).

Most of us understand that prospects are important. Unfortunately, we forget that the value definition is equally as important. It’s just that we normally define that value implicitly and ambiguously — it’s usually some vague amalgamation of things like happiness, satisfaction, contentment, fulfilled aspiration, liberty, delight, and nonsuffering.

That we think these things are “good” does not require some ultimately rational appeal. In fact, if we go groping for a rational “justification” for “liking satisfaction,” we’ll end up making appeals endlessly. That’s because each value justification must, in turn, have a justifying value, giving us a disaster like this:

infinite

The Funny Solution

The strange, unsatisfying solution is to admit that our decision judgments, while containing rational and objective components (“What thing(s) would result?”), also necessarily contain non-rational parts that represent values we “just have.”

You could say that they’re “part of us” or “part of our nature,” but because we’re causal and contingent and mutable beings, we have to remember that “who we are” is dynamic and can change.

So, at the end of the day, we’re stuck with this: There’s stuff we just like, and some of it can be changed, and some of it can’t, and it cannot be ultimately rationally justified.

It’s — ultimately — non-rational.

Is That Biblical?

Ecclesiastes tells us that there is no ultimately objective meaning, and that this is an “upright and true” teaching.

We dealt with this before:

But the fact of the Bible teaching us about a certain philosophy does not mean that this philosophy is useful to us as we develop and criticize theology. It might just be a ball-and-chain we must “endure.”

In my experience, this is one of the most common reactions to the Bible’s existential view of meaning.

“Sure, the Bible says it,” one might admit. “But all that means is that we’re now burdened to deal with this sad, useless, but true philosophy.”

But what if the non-rational basis of value was theologically useful? What if the Bible told about the ultimate non-rationality of meaning not just to burden us, but to help solve some of our most vexing problems when thinking about God, his will, and his plan?

It’s Theologically Useful

The essential non-rationality of meaning serves as a reductionstopper, which aids us significantly toward solve questions of God’s interests, theodicean problems, and maintaining the difference between God’s direct and indirect orchestration.

Let’s talk about two examples of reductionstopping that we employ for the every-day concepts of:

  • Appreciating pets
  • Recognizing altruism

Appreciating Pets

I know that my dog is material. He is a complicated machine, a collection or colony of cells.

In turn, those cells are colonies of organic molecules, which are in turn bundles of atoms. My dog is, thus, a bundle of atoms when we fully reduce.

I also know that a dirty napkin is also, at its fundamental level, a bundle of atoms when we fully reduce.

Given these facts, are these my only two options?:

  • Treat my dog and a dirty napkin equivalently
  • Deny that they are both, ultimately, collections of atoms

No, of course not.

The third option is reductionstopping.

I love my dog. I interact with him, and like doing that. He does all sorts of things that resonate with me, in good ways and bad. He keeps me occupied and energized and satisfied.

A dirty napkin, by contrast, cannot do those things I like.

As such, I can stop that radical reduction as it suits my interests, and proclaim, “My dog is quite meaningfully different from this dirty napkin.”

Where did that meaning come from? My interests. Do I need to justify those interests? No; such a justification is ultimately impossible (as we discussed), and it’s moot. The fact is that I have those interests and, as such, a meaningful distinction is appreciated.

Recognizing Altruism

There are selfish motivations and altruistic motivations.

But I know that even altruistic motivations are driven by my own interests. In a very real sense, even sacrificing my life is an egoistic act, since it is a product of self-satisfaction, where the part of myself interested in preserving others is taking control over that of which is interested in preserving myself — but it’s still my interest!

Some folks say, then, that we can practice “eliminative egoism” and call all willed actions “selfish.”

But do we have to do this?

No, because we are also interested in a meaningful difference between actions that are grossly in self-service, often at the expense of others, versus those that overflowingly serve others!

It’s true that both are merely “actions in the world” and that both “proceed from self’s interests in the self’s brain,” but we appreciate the difference such that we stop that reduction, and proclaim, “Some actions are selfish, others altruistic.”

Direct and Indirect Orchestration

Those of us who “bite the bullet” on God’s complete sovereignty realize the difficulty in admitting that God is superordinately responsible for the “bad stuff” — Heb. raah.

We take some comfort in the fact that, when we parse out the different senses of “wanting” and “willing,” God creates evil only in one very limited and special sense, and does not create it in the 5 other, more common senses.

We talked about this a few weeks ago in the following article:

But even if we accept this approach (and I think we should), there’s still a problem of the reduction of orchestration. After all, the above argument only “works” if God finds value in being “hands off” — that he loves his creation, but prefers that it develop mostly naturally, in a “chaotic garden bloom” of emergence.

This yields the “bloom vestiges” of trivialities and non-instrumental evils (or, instrumental, but only insofar as it satisfies that “mostly hands-off” interest). It also explains God’s preference to remain invisible but be sought, explains his indirection through prophets and the like, and syncs-up very well with Scripture’s holistic picture of God’s activity (which, as it so happens, doesn’t involve a high frequency of public miracles).

But what’s the difference, if God ultimately orchestrates it all?

After all, under this theory, God set up the initial “rules,” as well as the initial conditions, of the “garden.” His sovereign “paint” covers the Earth and, as such, even indirect products of his plan can be reduced to “it was up to him.”

In other words, direct action and indirect actions (often through what’s termed “permissive will”) can both be reduced to “orchestration,” like how a napkin and my dog can both be reduced to “a bundle of atoms.”

This is where God “just preferring” to be mostly hands-off becomes useful. When we don’t require some ultimately rational justification for that interest — which, again, is impossible — this frees us to say, “God just prefers it.”

And this serves as our reductionstopper.

God’s omniscience and omnipotence know no boundaries, and as such, his sovereign plan encompasses everything.

But just as God can appreciate the difference between a napkin vs. a dog according to his interests, and altruistic motivation vs. selfish motivation according to his interests, he can also appreciate direct intervention vs. indirect teleology according to his interests.

What a payoff! The “non-rational” foundation of meaning empowers reductionstopping in all three cases.

By biting the bullet on the impossibility of “ultimately rational meaning,” a truth the Bible teaches anyway, we’re no longer (as theologians trying to understand and share the reality of God) burdened to justify — in an “ultimately rational” way — the point at which a reduction is halted.

And this allows us to say, “God is mostly hands-off because that’s what he prefers. And this preference, alongside his other interests (like to intervene when absolutely vital), yields everything that comes to pass.”


This topic was later revisited, in a grander form, in The Sun Also Rises (or, the Heterophroneo of Everything).

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Video Introduction to “The Angelic Ladder”

I recommend reading every post on this blog!

But one of the posts I’d especially recommend is the one entitled “The Angelic Ladder.” It articulates the intersection between deontology — “morality is all about the rules” — and consequentialism — “morality is all about what works.”

For us Christians, this affects:

  • Theodicy.
  • Theories of justice and responsibility.
  • Applied morality under the New Covenant.
  • And many, many more topics of theological vitality.

To help make it as easy as possible, I’d like to offer the following video introduction.

After watching the video, definitely follow-up by reading the article, “The Angelic Ladder.” It contains diagrams, extra details, and some more examples to really impart the importance of building our meta-ethics on the “ladder.”

 

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Correlation & Causation Pt. 2: Undead Philosophy

This is the second in a two-part series on correlation and causation, and how conflating the two can dramatically distort our perceptions and thinking.

The first part was about the exploitation by media, and the second part (below) is about the related philosophical and theological “bugs” that we must work to root-out.


Commission & Omission

undead1

Jimmy Fallon’s “Your Company’s Computer Guy,” about to recommend omitting action.

 

You’ve noticed that when confronted with a situation in which you must either commit action or omit action, you often take the omissive route due to a lack of information.

Acting recklessly beyond what is known can create all sorts of problems, which you know.

As a result, omissive action becomes generally correlated with “more correct” action.

But does this make omission less morally intense than commission? Is it always slightly more grevious, for example, to kill by commission than by omission?

No.

But it can feel that way due to those correlative “lessons.”

 

Retribution & Remediation

undead2

Corporal punishment from the movie, “Catching Fire.”

 

You’ve noticed that when faced with the bad decision of someone over whom you have authority, you want to react in a way that teaches that person a lesson and corrects the problem, now and for the future.

This is the remedial prospect of assigning judgment.

But you’ve also noticed that, often, the response is something punitive — frequently, Pavlovian behavior modification that requires only that the person be repaid in proportion to how much you were wronged.

As a result, justice becomes generally correlated with “retributory” action.

But does this mean that this is the “point” of justice? Is the prospective “goal” merely to repay?

No.

But it can feel that way due to those correlative “lessons.”

 

Assigning Responsibility

undead3

Gaius Baltar from “Battlestar Galactica”: Very blameworthy.

 

You’ve noticed that bad results can often be attributed to a single person making a single bad decision.

Usually, we’re all working as hard as we can for productive results, and when that goal is undermined, it’s usually because someone screwed up. If the cofactor was something mindless — like a broken pipe for which nobody has responsibility — then we often say, “Nobody is responsible.”

Thus, finding responsibility becomes generally correlated with finding a single, blameworthy decisionmaker.

But does this mean that this is how responsibility “works”? Is there always a single person solely responsible? And is it useful to limit responsible cofactors exclusively to decisionmakers? And is responsibility always about blameworthiness, never about creditworthiness?

The answer to all three is, “No.”

But it can feel like “Yes” due to those correlative “lessons.”

 

“Finding” Value

undead4

An invaluable gold statue of Michael Jackson.

 

You’ve noticed that when you look at an object of value, you think of the value “living inside” that object.

You also value things without consciously valuing them; you value food not because your rational mind is convinced of its utility, but because without food you feel hunger. That feeling is out of your control, and so it further feels like the food “contains” value.

You’ve also noticed that an object “becomes” more valuable the more work it would take to acquire or reacquire, which is not something over which you have arbitrary control.

Finally, you’ve been taught that certain things are valuable — even those things, which, if you hadn’t been taught as such, you wouldn’t value.

Thus, this constant bombardment of correlative lessons can make you feel like an object can have “intrinsic value.”

But can it, really? Would gold be valuable if there were no valuing things — that is, minds with interests — to respect it? Is value purely objective?

No.

But it can feel that way due to those correlative “lessons.”

 

Objective Taste

undead5

A veggie pizza from Maurizio’s.

 

We all agree that taste is a matter of taste. Some people are going to prefer Armanno’s Pizza on 12th and some people are going to prefer Maurizio’s Pizza on Washington.

You’ve just been hired, however, to head up local marketing for Maurizio’s. What do you do, given that taste is a matter of taste?

You could run a blind taste-test in service of finding the “aggregate taste,” such that you could boast, “Most people prefer Maurizio’s!”

Unfortunately, the results indicate that most people, in fact, prefer Armanno’s.

Uh oh.

How about this.

You put together a campaign that proclaims Maurizio’s is just better. It just “tastes better.”

It’ll be true for some people, right?

And by wrapping it in objective language, you’ve divorced it from fickle personal preferences and given it the mystique of objectivity. Its superiority has been enshrined on a pedestal that no filthy human hands have touched.

If you weren’t the marketer, someone else would be. And they’d eventually start playing around with objective language. That’s because there’s selective memetic momentum toward enshrining things preference-based as objective, preference-less facts.

Pretty sleazy, right?

But, what if the success of Maurizio’s had some huge, higher-order payoff for everyone? What if that connection was hard to show, or hard to articulate, but nonetheless 100% true? What if, in the here and now, it’s absolutely vital for society that folks be convinced to go against their personal impulsive pizza tastes and gravitate toward Maurizio’s?

Suddenly, wrapping the marketing of Maurizio’s pizza within incomplete, “objective” language, however sloppy and technically erroneous, starts to have utilitarian merit.

The language “bug” becomes useful.

But does this mean that it isn’t a bug? Does this selective momentum suggest that these things really are a matter of purely objective worth and purely objective “rightness”?

No.

But it can feel that way due to those correlative “lessons.”

 

Correlative Bugs

Each of these examples have been of myths, driving persistent philosophical questions, from ancient debates to contemporary contemplation.

Is commission more morally intense than omission? No. Omission is just more often correct, because it usually is less reckless (but is sometimes more negligent).

An exciting philosophical debate is resolved with boring nuance.

Is justice about pure retribution? No. Justice is about fixing a person or that which he represents in the abstract, but retribution is a very common, intuitive, and historically effective way of employing such fix attempts (even if the “fix” is “repair that which a murderer represents by locking him away forever”).

An exciting philosophical debate is resolved with boring nuance.

Is assigning responsibility about finding a single blameworthy decisionmaker? No. Assigning responsibility is about finding all causal cofactors in service of what needs to be fixed or encouraged. This just, very often, points to a single person’s behavior in need of repair.

An exciting philosophical debate is resolved with boring nuance.

Is there “intrinsic value”? No. Value is imputed by evaluators with interests. But there are all sorts of complications that make value seem, conceptually, “within object.”

An exciting philosophical debate is resolved with boring nuance.

Are there “objective interests”? No. “Subjective-as-objective” language errors are just very often useful for behavior modification, and behavior modification has been historically effective — perhaps even necessary — for social stability.

An exciting philosophical debate is resolved with boring nuance.

 

But the Undead are Entertaining

There’s a natural selective bias toward things that are exciting. It’s more fun to chatter than to sit in silence. Controversy is more entertaining than complacency. Story arcs sell better than story flatlines.

Remember that popular philosophy, just like anything else with the “popular” qualifier, is much more a product of memetics than of coherence or truth.


More reading:

 

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Correlation & Causation Pt. 1: Exploitation by Media

This is the first in a two-part series on correlation and causation, and how conflating the two can dramatically distort our perceptions and thinking.

The first part will be about the exploitation by media, and the second part will be about the related philosophical and theological “bugs” that we must work to root-out.


Let’s take a look at event patterns in the world.

When we notice, through some study, that pattern A is correlated with pattern B, what does it tell us?

  • Does it mean that A makes B more likely?
  • Does it mean that B makes A more likely?
  • Does it mean that a third pattern, C, makes both A and B more likely?
  • Or, was the coincidence of A and B simply random noise?

The sad fact is that we don’t know which of these causal possibilities (and a non-causal possibility) is actually true. This is why we say, “Correlation does not equal causation.”

It turns out, though, that the brain is very eager — dopamine stimulated — to jump to causal conclusions. Furthermore, we’re most excited at the possibility — of the above four — that is most startling and weird.

It “feels” like new revelation.

And Commercial Media Knows This

Let’s say there’s a study that correlates non-married cohabitation with a higher incidence of physical abuse. What is the most sensible, boring explanatory possibility?

The most sensible, boring explanatory possibility is that there is a third factor C — likely something to do with socio-economic status, and population density, and the cultural byproducts therefrom — that makes non-married cohabitation and physical abuse rise in tandem, without being causally related to one another with any statistical significance.

But that’s “boring.” It doesn’t sell tabloid newspapers and doesn’t serve as social clickbait.

The more “exciting” possibility is that being non-married causes abuse.

This would have us conclude, “To lower partner abuse, those partners should get married.”

Which is, of course, precisely the opposite strategy one should employ.

The problem is, again, that we love counterintuitive revelations. There’s a measured “second opinion bias” that has us feel excited about having the “privilege” of being an honest devil’s advocate. As soon as we’re tricked into thinking that some bizarre claim is merely misunderstood, or deceived into thinking it has statistical backing, its “bizarreness” becomes extra fuel to fight on its side with conviction.

Whenever you read, or hear from a friend, about a study showing some A-to-B causation, do the following in your brain:

  • Un-cause the causation. Separate the two parts into “A” and “B.”
  • Run through the four explanatory possibilities mentioned before.
  • Evaluate which possibility makes the most sense. Extra points if it’s also boring, which is a memetic weakness.

But Remember: Common Sense Isn’t Infallible

At the same time, remember that certain systems in the world really are very complex, and can yield causal relationships that are both counterintuitive and true. Common sense gets you past the exploitive headlines, but it’s no replacement for an actual, knee-deep understanding of complicated systems.

In other words, common sense isn’t “common,” but it also isn’t always “sense.”

And Remember: Studies Can Be Awesome or Crap

When I did product management for social games, one of my jobs was user experimentation and data analysis in order to make design decisions that optimized the interests of the customer and company.

The reality is this: Data is absolutely vital for getting a correlative, and ultimately causal, understanding of how the world works.

At the same time: There’s no shortage of ways to screw it up, and even maliciously fudge the data, and perhaps even get away with it. We’ve seen this happen with the “vaccines cause autism” fiasco, where an atrocious study catalyzed a tragic memetic bloom that, today, continues to threaten the health of our children.

Conclusion

I think, if we all get a healthy scrutiny against urban myths about causal claims, and fight hard for the “boring,” we’ll go a long way toward killing memetically strong falsehoods, which is necessary to optimize peace, wisdom, virtue, and charity in the world.

For more about memetics and how to avoid the value pitfalls therein, rewind to the four-part series we ran earlier this year.

 

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Survey of Reddit’s Christian Community on Homosexuality

I surveyed the Reddit community /r/Christianity on the topic of homosexuality. /r/Christianity contains mostly Christians, but also people of all faiths (and lacks thereof). It has nearly 80,000 subscribers at the time of this post.

Here are the results.

  • The survey received 2704 responses.
  • It’s not a random sample, not scientific, etc.
  • Responses with duplicate IPs after the first instance were deleted. There were 16 such submissions.
  • Most concerned about apparent bias in the verbiage thought I personally leaned anti-gay, which is incorrect. I did not respond myself, but my responses would have been: B, C, C, D, B, B, A, A, United States, G.
  • My paraphrasing used in the graphs, for brevity, do not 100% sync up with the question responses. Be familiar with the questions/answers before you skip to the graphs.

The first section lists all of the questions, the criticisms I received and, upon retrospect, gave myself, as well as the one-dimensional data.

The second section contains a list of cross-referenced responses I thought were interesting.

 

Question 1

1. What best describes your opinion on the propriety of homosexual intimacy?

  • It is always sinful and/or immoral.
  • Like with heterosexual intimacy, there are contexts in which it is — and contexts in which it is not — sinful and/or immoral.
  • There is no context in which consensual sexual intimacy is ever sinful or immoral.

Criticisms:

  • Many wanted more granular options as to the things that could make it immoral. For example, a person might believe adultery is immoral but promiscuity is not.

c1

Question 2

2. What best describes your attitude about non-active (that is, not having sex) homosexuals in the church?

  • Non-active homosexuals should not be welcome in the church at all.
  • Non-active homosexuals should not hold any office of authority.
  • There should not be any sort of special prohibition given to non-active homosexuals.

Criticisms:

  • Later, question #4 has both “any offices of authority” and “some offices of authority,” but that isn’t broken-out here.
  • Also, a person might answer the second option while believing the issue is (a) can’t marry, plus (b) lack of married qualification. This person might want a specific option for them.
  • Finally, “welcome in the church” is ambiguous; it could mean welcome in service, or welcome for membership.
 c2
Question 33. What best describes your attitude about active (that is, having sex) homosexuality in the church?

  • Active homosexuals should not be welcome in the church at all.
  • Active homosexuals should be welcome in the church, but must be actively urged to stop their homosexual intimacy.
  • Active homosexuals should be welcome in the church without any special risk of indictment.

Criticisms:

  • Many wanted more granularity on “actively urged.”
  • Also, “welcome in the church” is ambiguous; it could mean welcome in service, or welcome for membership.

c3

Question 4

4. What best describes your attitude about active (that is, having sex) homosexuals seeking offices of authority in the church?

  • As I said above, active homosexuals should not be welcome in the church at all.
  • Active homosexuals should be welcome in the church, but should not be able to pursue any office of authority.
  • Active homosexuals should be welcome in the church, and should be able to seek some offices of authority, but not others.
  • There should not be any sort of special prohibition given to active homosexuals in the church.

Criticisms:

  • Many wanted more granularity on “offices of authority.”
  • Also, “welcome in the church” is ambiguous; it could mean welcome in service, or welcome for membership.
  • Finally, “welcome in the church” is ambiguous; it could mean welcome in service, or welcome for membership.

c4

Question 5

5. Do you think popular acceptance of gay marriage will affect society negatively?

  • Who knows?
  • I think it will improve society, actually.
  • Probably not.
  • Maybe just a tiny bit.
  • I think it will affect it negatively somewhat.
  • I think it will have a major negative impact on society.
  • I think it will ruin society.

Criticisms:

  • Some wanted an option for “the government should not recognize any marriage.”
  • Some wanted the “certainty” on an orthogonal gradient.
  • Some wanted to clarify the negative impact as being a product of sin in general.
  • Some wanted more granularity on the “improve” end.
  • Some inferred unintended overtones from the use of the word “Actually,” when it was meant simply to unload the question; it should have been reworded.

c5

“Bad for society” aggregated:

c5b

 

Question 6

6. Do you think that the negative attention given — by the church in general — to active (that is, having sex) homosexuality is warranted?

  • No; active homosexuality is never sinful or immoral, so it should not receive negative attention at all.
  • No; there are many bigger fish to fry.
  • Yes; it has received its fair warrant of attention.
  • Yes, but it should be even more of a focus.

Criticisms:

  • The second option should have been worded in such a way that active homosexuality not be presumed to be a “fish to fry” at all.

c6

 

Question 7

7. Do you think that being homosexual (that is, the orientation or preference) is a choice?

  • No, or mostly no. Formative factors (whatever they might be) most likely dictate a person’s sexual orientation to a nearly-irresistible degree.
  • Yes, or mostly yes. A person can elect to sexually prefer those of the opposite sex, even if it takes some effort.

Criticisms:

  • The explication was too bifurcating. This question assuredly deserved more granularity, especially because many believed that it is a choice for some, and not for others.

c7

 

Question 8

8. Of the following two attributes typically given to God, which do you most try to emulate in your life?

  • His merciful love.
  • His discerning justice.
  • I try to emulate both equally.
  • I don’t believe God has these attributes.
  • I don’t believe in God.

Criticisms:

  • Some disputed the notion that mercy and justice cannot be expressed simultaneously, which is a notion I held as survey author.

c8

 

Question 9

9. What country are you from?

  • 87 Skipped
  • 2072 USA
  • 190 Canada
  • 102 Australia
  • 100 UK
  • 23 New Zealand
  • 15 Netherlands
  • 11 Germany
  • 11 Sweden
  • 9 Ireland
  • 6 Denmark, Philippines, Singapore
  • 5 India, Indonesia
  • 4 Brazil, Norway, Poland
  • 3 Czech Republic, France, Russia
  • 2 Finland, Mexico, Puerto Rico, South Africa, South Korea, Zimbabwe
  • 1 Argentina, Austria, Bahamas, Bulgaria, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Ghana, Iran, Italy, Lebanon, Liberia, Nigeria, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Venezuela, Vietnam, Zambia

Question 10

10. Which of the following best describes the cohort to which you most belong?

  • Catholics
  • Orthodox
  • Mainline Protestants (an American term that lumps together “older” denominations like Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, etc.)
  • Evangelicals
  • Charismatics
  • Mormons
  • Christians that cannot be considered part of the above 6 cohorts
  • Religious or spiritual people, but non-Christian
  • Non-religious and non-spiritual people

c10

 

Interesting Cross-Referenced Responses

Percentage “Country, >4 responses” against “Morality/immorality of gay intimacy.”

fix1

 

Percentage “Country, >4 responses” against “Social effect of gay marriage acceptance, clamped to ‘Unknown/Neutral/Improve’ vs. ‘Bad.'”

fix2

 

Percentage “Emulating God’s attributes” against “Negative social effect of gay marriage acceptance.”

cross1

Percentage “Countries, top 8 + skipped” against “Subscriptive cohort.”

cross5

Percentage “Countries, top 4,” against “Subscriptive cohort.”

cross12

 

Percentage “Subscriptive cohort” against “Countries, top 4,” inverted.cross7

Percentage “Emulating God’s attributes” against “Homosexuality chosen?”

cross8

Percentage “Homosexuality chosen?” against “Response to inactive homosexuals in church.”

cross10

 

Percentage “Subscriptive cohort” against “Emulating God’s attributes.”

cross11

 

Percentage “Subscriptive cohort” against “Homosexuality chosen?”

cross14

 

Percentage “Subscriptive cohort” against “Morality of gay intimacy.”

aux1

 

Percentage “Morality of gay intimacy” against “Effect of acceptance of gay marriage on society, ‘bad effects’ clamped.”

aux2

 

Percentage “Subscriptive cohort” against “Church response to active homosexuals.”

aux3

 

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Appellate Prayer, Sovereignty, and Superstition

For us Christians who believe in absolute sovereignty in the classical sense — that is, a God with an optimal predetermined plan for everything — we see appellate prayer not as a way to derail God’s plan of action, but to express ourselves and establish a conduit by which a communicative connection can be made between ourselves and God.

1 John 5:14

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.

That is, when we pray for something in service of his will, and that thing comes to pass in startlingly, apparently significant ways, it’s not as if we think those prayers surprised or jarred God into action.

With All of Our Hearts

We who reject such a “surprising God” paradigm say instead that, by praying for something, we engage in two important Graces.

First, we’re given a release to express our tensile poverties and weaknesses.

Philippians 4:5b-7

The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Second, we’re establishing a “flagpost A,” and when the thing comes to pass as “flagpost B,” we ostensibly have communicative evidence and, as such, appellate prayer is a vital “faith-helper.”

Jeremiah 20:13, 33:3

[To the exiles in Babylon:] You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. … Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.

1 Chronicles 16:11

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.

That’s what it means to say that God answers prayer, even while being completely sovereign (in the classical sense) and non-contingent. This is also why we echo Christ and say in our hearts to the Father, after every appeal, “Yet not my will, but yours be done.”

We temper and humble ourselves also because we know that we’re really bad at asking for what we really need

Sometimes this is due to selfishness, but other times it’s merely due to our woefully volatile and corrupt interest sets, combined with our pathetic faculties of discernment and foresight.

James 4:3,8a

You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions… Come near to God and he will come near to you.

As a result, “Flagpost B,” is very often completely unexpected, very often shrewdly timed, and very often startlingly profound, because the Spirit transforms our subpar vocalizations into secret prayers that conform to the Father’s sovereign will.

Romans 8:26-27

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

With All of Our Minds

At the same time, if we’re to have the kind of faith that is reasonable, we have to be self-critical and temper our faith with careful scrutiny.

It’s all-too-easy to go from what we Christians consider healthy faith into destructive superstition, over-attributing every little thing to miraculous divine intervention. You’ve seen this happen when reckless Christians claim God’s miraculous stamp of approval for every decision they make, and when certain Christians, like modern-day Dr. Panglosses, arrogantly and sinfully make false prophesies about the specific reasons for natural disasters and the like.

We have all sorts of skeptic’s considerations to keep our judgments prudently humble which we must diligently employ.

  • Littlewood’s Law. Given enough time, weird stuff is bound to happen naturally and without discernible purpose. (Be careful with this one; “enough” is an ungrounded antecedent.)
  • Confirmation bias. We tend to recklessly rush to conclusions when we’d prefer them to be true.
  • Placebo. Thoughts and attitudes can have recursive psychological and physiological effects on ourselves. This isn’t inherently bad or good; there are healthy and unhealthy ways that this can affect us.

That said, there may come a threshold, in an individual’s experience, after this healthy scrutiny, at which it can be reasonable to conclude “God.”

Counterintuitively, this can be reasonable even if God doesn’t exist or doesn’t answer prayerReason (in the Kantian sense) proceeds from fully-considered experience tempered by fully-employed logic, and is not synonymous with “truth,” because an appeal is made to an individual’s corrupt faculties of observation and contemplation.

At the same time, we’re not Solipsists in practice, and so we come to conclusions given imperfect evidence. We do our best prep, then make our best guess. Relentless skepticism is not a religion, but relentless skepticism risks an opportunity cost, just like any religion.

Between Heart and Mind

Prayer is our tether to an interactive God, who is nonetheless “He Who Is Unseen.” It’s a prerequisite for reasonable faith, essential for genuine humility, and a conduit to unload our anxieties to he who is in complete control of the global situation.

But his activity is subtle and shrewd, and the wisdom underpinning it — beyond human understanding or dissection — warrants humble, diligent seeking and sifting, and not reckless prophesying.

 

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