APOLOGIA is a column in which I address issues having to do with faith, science, and ethics, and in which I try to use careful reasoning and evidence to seek what's true. Undoubtedly I will end up disagreeing with at least a few people. And probably I will make a mistake here and there. My hope is that I will show respect to those with whom I disagree, that I (and others) will learn from my mistakes, and that we'll get closer to what's true, good, and beautiful. - Hendrik van der Breggen
By Hendrik van der Breggen The Carillon, February 4, 2016
Jesus famously set out the Golden Rule as
follows: "Do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums
up the Law and Prophets" (Matthew 7:12).
We Westerners tend to take the Golden Rule for
granted. Philosophically, though, the rule deserves close examination. Let's
look at three positive points, an important assumption, plus a problem.
First positive point: Jesus said it. Because Jesus
is God come to earth as a human being, the Golden Rule is hugely important,
Second positive point: the Golden Rule is hugely
important for doing ethics. To know that what you want for yourself is what
others want for themselves too, and thus what you ought to do, is important
Third positive point: the Golden Rule is not
just found in Christianity. Others such as Confucius and Rabbi Hillel have set
out negative versions of it. Significantly, though, the Golden Rule goes beyond
negative versions—don't do to others what you don't want done to yourself—to the
now-standard positive version—do to others what you do want them to do to you.
As important as these positive points are,
there's also an assumption that should be examined, especially if we are
looking at Jesus' statement of the Golden Rule. (I think this assumption is a
positive, too, but I'll let the reader decide.)
What's the assumption behind Jesus' Golden Rule?
The assumption can be discerned from Jesus' context, i.e., the worldview Jesus
The assumption is that Jesus is the God
described in Genesis, i.e., the God who created human beings in God's own
image. This means that the "others" described in "Do to others
what you would have them do to you" include all human beings. Everyone. Not just those in my tribe, and not just
those who share my religion. Everyone. Infidels included.
(If I understand Muhammad and the Qur'an correctly,
Muhammad's positive version of the Golden Rule applies only to those who are
Moreover, Jesus' worldview holds that "others"
include especially "the least of these." The least of these are human
beings made in the image of God yet who are hungry, thirsty, lonely, unclothed,
ill, or imprisoned—i.e., the poor and needy.
Today, the poor and needy include orphans, the
disabled, the abused, the unborn, the struggling single parent, the elderly,
the sick, the starving, the enslaved and trafficked, the refugee, tsunami
victims, the persecuted, the homeless, the lonely, the depressed, the sexually abused
and confused—the list is long.
In other words, the context of Jesus' espousal
of the Golden Rule presupposes the view that because people reflect the Imago
Dei, people—all people—have real and great moral worth, and equally so. This underwrites
universal human rights.
So what could possibly be the problem with the
Golden Rule? The problem arises from an ill-informed understanding of the
Golden Rule (an ill-informed understanding on our part, not God's).
The Golden Rule prescribes consistency between
my desires for myself and my actions toward others. So far, so good. But, as I
tend to forget, my desires could be defective.
The truth is that my desires often are defective. I could be a masochist,
i.e., a person who likes being abused physically. So for me to do to others
what I want them to do to me puts a stamp of approval on my self-abuse and
abuse of others.
Or I could I like adulterous (etc.) sex. So
because I like adulterous (etc.) sex, I should engage others in such sex.
Or I could want others to kill me. So I should
Get the picture?
The reality of defective desires shows that
Jesus' understanding of the Golden Rule presupposes a moral framework—i.e., the
moral law which the Golden Rule summarizes—to govern my desires. (Jesus also intensifies the moral law when He tells
us not only not to commit adultery or murder but also not even to indulge in thoughts about such things.)
To love self and others truly, then, we need God's
grace to transform our desires into holy
Enter the Good News: by accepting Jesus as Lord
we can be transformed by the Holy Spirit.
van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College.)
Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923) argues it's not reasonable to discern that a
miracle has occurred in history. But his argument fails.
to Troeltsch, on the basis of analogy to events known to us coupled with the
assumption that nature behaves uniformly, we apply what we know about the
present onto evidence having to do with the past, and thereby we extend our
knowledge into the realm of the past.
we have no knowledge (supposedly) of miracles occurring today (e.g., all dead
men stay dead), so when we are given historical evidence for a miracle (e.g.,
testimony that Jesus allegedly resurrected) we infer by analogy from the present
that no miracle occurred in the past (i.e., no resurrection of Jesus occurred).
use of analogy is an epic fail, however.
Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928-2014) correctly points out that Troeltsch confuses a
principle of method with a principle of content.
a principle of method, the appeal to analogy should work like this: To say that
a miracle didn’t occur requires positive knowledge of analogy of miracle
testimonies to testimonies for which we know no actual object corresponds,
whereas to say that a miracle did occur requires positive knowledge of analogy of
miracle testimonies to testimonies for which we know a real object corresponds.
The analogy should be between the testimonies per se, not that to which they
Troeltsch mistakenly uses analogy as a principle of content concerning what is
to be known (i.e., the object of knowledge) rather than as a principle of
method which works as a tool (i.e., the basis) by which we discern what is to
of it this way. For testimonial evidence to allow us to come to knowledge of
the past what we need is a positive analogy between past testimony and present
known-to-be-true testimony (i.e., their comparable characteristics or virtues
as credible testimonies/ sources); we do not need an analogy between the things
testified to (i.e., the testimony's contents). Significantly, if uniqueness of
what's testified to counts against a testimony, then nothing new would ever be
learned from others!
it is not the lack of a present-day analogy to the object of a testimony that
counts against testimony; rather, what counts against a testimony is its
positive analogy to present-day testimony to which we know no testified-to
object conforms—i.e., what counts against a testimony is its positive analogy
to known-to-be-false testimonies such as those of people who are known to
exaggerate or hallucinate or lie.
the case of reports of alleged miracles, to think that there must always be an
analogy between the things (objects) testified to is to assume that there is no
possibility of a special action by a supernatural cause such as God. But, if
the issue is whether such an action actually occurred, this is to beg the
question, i.e., assume as proven that which is at issue (a logical
Troeltsch's appeal to analogy presumes the nature of the object of a testimony
because it (his appeal to analogy) requires that all events must be non-miraculous events like the (allegedly)
non-miraculous events we see today. However, if the issue is whether all events are non-miraculous—which is the issue if we’re trying to
determine whether an actual miracle has occurred by investigating evidence—then
Troeltsch smuggles a predetermined outcome into an alleged investigation. He
puts the cart before the horse.
this juncture, one might follow philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) and object that
a miracle such as Jesus' resurrection is maximally improbable. But this objection
assumes either we know that God doesn't exist (so miracles are maximally
improbable) or we know that, if God exists, God's intentions are wholly revealed
by the laws of nature (so miracles are maximally improbable). But we don't know
this! These assumptions are question-begging, too, if the issue is whether a
God-caused event (such as Jesus' resurrection) has actually occurred and is
evidence for a God who sometimes engages in special actions.
this to say: miracles can be studied historically.
view of competing worldview claims—e.g., Christianity vs. Islam vs. Atheism—such
study should be done.
Hendrik van der
Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College.
As we live in a culture in which mere
feeling is the source of value (feelings that can change), it's important for
Christians to remember that the image of God—the imago Dei—is the factual basis for human dignity.
understood wholly literally or not, the biblical account of God's creation of
humankind makes it clear that human dignity—our objective moral worth—is part
of human nature: it's a built-in reflection of God. Therefore human worth simply is. And is huge.
to Genesis, God created humans out of dust from the ground and God gave us
"the breath of life."
to Genesis, the various beasts and birds also have "the breath of life."
Signficantly, however, humankind has such breath uniquely.
ESV Study Bible
commentator explains: "God breathes life—physical, mental, and
spiritual—into the one created to bear his image...While human beings have much
in common with other living beings, God gives them alone a royal and priestly
status and makes them alone 'in his own image.'"
advocate Joni Eareckson Tada and bioethicist Nigel Cameron add some helpful
Genesis 1 we read of God making the various 'kinds' of animals and birds and
sea creatures. They reproduce 'after their kind.' The implication is that
humankind is made 'after God's kind.' We are made within the confines of space
and time to image—to
mirror, to model—the nature of
God. That decides our view of human nature. All human beings are
created equal, and equally precious, in the sight of God... Every member of our
species, Homo sapiens,
are image bearers of God and thus reflect the dignity of God."
drive home further the significance of the moral status of humankind, Genesis
also tells us that just before humans come onto the scene, God proclaims that
the creation is good
(Genesis 1:25), and then immediately after humans are on the scene, God
proclaims that the creation is very
good (Genesis 1:31).
the creation contains many and various living creatures that all have worth,
Genesis clearly informs us that, unlike the other creatures, humans are unique
in their worth: humans are made in God's image, so humans are the moral
pinnacle of the creation.
There is more. On the
Christian view, as Eareckson Tada and Cameron point out, because God took on
human flesh in the man Jesus, "God has twice placed his stamp on human
The biblical bottom line:
Each and every member of the human species has real dignity—real intrinsic
moral worth—which is non-negotiable. We do not control human dignity itself by
our feelings, because each human life is sacred, period.
Thus, respect is due to every
human being—whether young or old, born or unborn, abled or disabled, black or
white, same-sex attracted or pedophilic, male or female or intersexed, Muslim or
Hindu or Atheist or Wiccan or whatever.
This doesn't mean that all
beliefs and behaviours are true and good (because they're not). But it does
mean that we should show great respect to those with whom we might disagree.
Best wishes to all for
recent years during my walks in Steinbach I often enjoyed short visits with a
90-plus-year-old gentleman named Alex. Alex regularly read my column
"Apologia," and he encouraged me. I learned about Alex's rich life,
and I quickly grew to admire him. In one of our conversations Alex mentioned he
was in the second wave of troops that hit the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. I
asked Alex how long that was after the first wave. He said six minutes. (Yes,
when I think of Alex I think of the extended battle scene at the beginning of Saving Private Ryan.) It also turns out
that Alex helped liberate the Netherlands, where my parents were living under
Nazi occupation. Alex, I salute you. And I will miss you. Rest in peace. Obituary: Alex Tarasenko (January 23, 1921 - December 26, 2015).
(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate
professor of philosophy at Providence University College.)