Sunday 15 August 2021

What does it mean to consent to evil? The danger of generic-abstract thought experiments

As Christians, we can be sure that God will not put us into a position where we can be 'made evil' against our consent. 

But if we consent to evil and do not repent; then we can make ourselves evil. 

One way in which people consent to evil is by entertaining generic-abstract thought experiments; and by concluding that is such a thing happened, they would capitulate to evil (or even that it would be better or right to capitulate to a specific evil as less than the alternative).  

Lets take a specific example - the birdemic peck. You know the kind of thing...

If somebody really recognized it as an evil, he would not consent to it. But then somebody suggests a thought experiment - 'supposing that' you found yourself in such-and-such a position, and if you did not take the peck then something terrible would happen (maybe threatening your loved ones)... Wouldn't it be okay to consent then? 

Or, if there were some thugs in white coats who credibly threatened to wrestle you to the ground and force the peck into you - then you might as well go along with it. 

My first point is that there an open-ended number of possible scenarios of what 'might' happen - and once you take any one of them seriously, then you open-up the possibility of being confronted by one after another without end - with the expectation or obligation that you examine and explain each. 

But my main point is not to examine any such scenarios; nor to recommend a 'reasonable' course of action for them. But instead as to point-out that this whole way of thinking represents a lack of faith in the goodness and power of God

Not (of course) because God 'would not let such things happen to anyone' in any kind of general way. But because God does not work in a general way

God's providence works on each individual person in the context of his own life and needs. God created and is creating this world moment-by-moment - and with the needs of each individual person in mind - because each is a beloved child of God. Thus he creates situations from-which each individual person is intended to learn. 

Such a God will not create any situation in which any person ought to be evil. 

But - I am not expected to take a God's eye view that encompasses the population of the world - and certainly I am not supposed to consider and pre-decide every abstract-generic possibility of what might possibly happen to anybody.

I am expected to attending to my own life and experiences and to learn from what actually happens to me in real life - especially here and now. That, specifically, I what I am supposed to learn-from. 

My job is to discern evil from good, and to know evil for what it is - not to consent to evil; but if I have consented to evil to recognize and repent the fact. That is, to be clear that what I did was evil, and that I therefore, for that reason, repudiate it.  

This is what a Christian must do to attain salvation and resurrection; because Heaven is a life without evil. For Heaven to be Heaven, all evil (no matter how small-seeming in the abstract-generic scheme of things) needs to be repented and discarded from the resurrected soul. 

We can therefore personally be sure that if we do not consent to the peck because we know it to be evil, then our salvation is secure. We can be confident that that is how our actual life will work out, somehow or another. 

But if we consent because we allowed abstract-generic considerations (e.g. based on thought experiments) to convince us that 'resistance is futile', all paths are evil, or whatever... then by thinking this way we have joined with The Enemy's agenda. 

We have decided, in advance of events, that God will allow our-selves to be put into a situation where evil choices are 'inevitable' - and therefore pre-empted actuality by probabilistic extrapolation: pre-empted divine providence with worldly calculation.  



I wasn't aware there were people who were justifying the peck using these laughably neurotic so-called "thought experiments".

Bruce Charlton said...

@GB - The examples are not meant to be taken literally, but are illustrative of a type of argument.

Doktor Jeep said...

This for all of the little endevilments of living in a collapsing civilization, I remind myself that we live in a civilization that kills the unborn and so to rail against other proclivities or punishment is pointless.

Lucinda said...

This relates back to your recent post about generalizing men and women and the one about sorting out the beliefs you would be immovable about. I think it's a very solid approach. And hopeful because of repentance and eternal life. I'm not good at it, but getting better.

Whether or not people talk about these kind of "thought experiments", they certainly think them. I know I've done exactly the one mentioned. But I don't claim to be UN-laughably neurotic.

Mark Nelson said...

I have been spending far too much time lately thinking about yellow stars and trains and"what-if's". This was exactly what I needed to read, right here and right now. Thanks Bruce.

Avro G said...

This reminds me of the so called trolley problem in which a trolley is barreling out of control. You can throw a switch to divert it. One choice will kill five people tied up and unable to escape. The other will kill a single individual. What do you do? Personally, I would tell the questioner to stick his sick, contrived and manipulative scenario in his ear and walk away. Such sinister games have no relationship to reality and are always intended to cloud the mind and discredit the idea of morality.

Ann said...

Hence Matthew 6:34 So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today.

Jacob Gittes said...

Profound in how it ties it all together. Ethics. Metaphysics. The nature of God. Funny how none of that should be separated.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Genie - Thanks for your comment. It can't be printed, however, because you do not use the coded terminology.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ Mark Nelson. "This was exactly what I needed to read, right here and right now"

Presumably that was why it got written.

A said...

I too think of "what-ifs." We are dependent on our neighbors to survive, rather rural or urban, no matter how well prepared we are for various systemic collapses - we wont succeed or survive materially without a large scale repentance and rejection of the current evil. It would have to be a full rooting out of all the nonsense that has completely overtaking our neighbor's minds. It appears impossible except for a miracle.

Australia appears to be the test-bed for how a modern "first world" population will react, how far the damnation game can be pushed - one or two made up attacks by Corvids and full-scale police prison/state where even the pecked can't travel more than a couple miles from home & must show their papers to armed guards. From what I gather the food shortages are already hitting.

It is clear though that they wont succeed in any material sense. Evil may succeed in harming many materially, and leading many to damnation, but that is an individual choice - the proposed totalitarian nightmare utopia is already falling apart.

I feel sorrow for many I see damned. Despite understanding and describing exactly where this was going, then watching it unfold, they are still led on by the nose like fools - the peck didn't save them, the "upgraded" peck wont save them, etc. The only thing that will save them is repentance and turning towarsd God.

JP said...

I understand the peck is evil - unnecessary, ineffective, harmful. I do not want the peck. I would never voluntarily consent to the peck.

The choice I face, in the next month or so, is get the peck or be fired. I know that getting the peck means I will undoubtedly have to accept additional future pecks.

If I am fired then I will have obvious difficulty providing for my family and protecting my children.

If I surrendered to evil and got the peck, how would I demonstrate repentance afterward? What is the proper process for individual repentance?

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - You do not know what will happen to you. You can't base your life on such 'probabilities'. The point is to deal with what actually happens - when it happens; not to hatch up plans for every contingency that fear can generate...