Not Trusting God

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Marla Swoffer shares her thoughts on what's sometimes called quiverfull thinking, i.e. that we should seek to have as big a family as possible. The discussion that follows raises a lot of good questions both against those who reject the idea of a big family and against those who insist that seeking to have some influence on the size of your family is wrong. What's really funny to me is that seeking to have as big a family as possible by not using birth control is seeking to have some influence on the size of your family. In our day when we can place some limits on the spacing of children, not using such methods is de factor deliberately influencing the size of your family to make it as large as possible. I'm not saying that's wrong. I'm saying it's deliberate.

The thing that really gets me about the main arguments for the view that we should maximize our family size is that it takes just a few examples of other arguments that take the same form to see why they're not good arguments. I've come up with ten arguments of that form (from my comment on Marla's post). Some are common arguments that many people hold, and some are so utterly ridiculous that no one would buy them. Someone who thinks some of these arguments might be good will need to explain why those arguments are good and not the ones that are utterly awful (and why they don't cut both ways, as some of the ones below do), and they need to do it without appealing to the notions that are present in all these arguments.

1. If we use birth control, we're not trusting God, because we're taking matters into our own hands and not letting his timing decide things.

2. If we try to spend time with people of the opposite sex in order to see if we should marry one of them, we're not trusting God, because we're taking matters into our own hands and not letting his timing decide things. (People who misunderstand Josh Harris actually say this. I've come in contact with too many male college students who endorse this argument. Josh Harris himself doesn't, but they claim his arguments led them to it.)

3. If a preacher is going to spend time planning a sermon, he's not trusting God, because he's taking matters into his own hands and not allowing God to guide his words as he preaches.

4. If I try to write my Ph.D. dissertation myself, then I'm not trusting God, because I'm taking matters into my own hands and not allowing God to construct the dissertation he wants written.

5. If I'm having sex with my wife in order to have children, then I'm not trusting God, because I'm taking matters into my own hands and not allowing God to conceive the child himself, as we know from scripture that he is capable of doing.

6. If we build houses to live in, then we're not trusting God, because we're taking matters into our own hands by constructing shelter and not allowing him to provide it for us.

7. If we learn Hebrew and Greek in order to understand the Bible better (or even if we read the Bible in English to gain understanding of it), we're not trusting God, because we're taking matters into our own hands by not allowing God to speak to us directly in the same way he spoke to those who wrote the Bible.

8. If we pursue controversial scientific research, e.g. what they're calling cloning and other genetic engineering, we're not trusting God, because we're trying to take matters into our own hands by not allowing God to develop life in the form he wants it to be in.

9. If we speak to people we know who aren't Christians about the gospel in order that they might believe it, then we're not trusting God, because we're taking matters into our own hands and not allowing him to save them himself.

10. If we homeschool our children, then we're not trusting God, because we're taking matters into our own hands and not allowing him to guide their education process himself.

26 Comments

One church I attended referred, with something of a smile, to their practice of having large families as "Reformed evangelism." I think they smiled because they recognized that they did kind of believe that way, that raising large, godly families was a way of helping further God's kingdom. Maybe it is not just those of "Reformed" persuasions who believe in this also.

In any case, you continue to raise provocative issues, Jeremy. Well done.

That might be a better reason to do it, though of course it is a bit presumptuous to assume your kids will follow what you teach them, and whether they do often depends on how you raise them. (Ultimately it depends on God, but certain kinds of bad parenting tend to reap what they sow.) So some Christians, given how they parent, may actually be lowering the percentage of people in the world who will not follow Christ by having more kids, while others may be increasing it.

You have missed the point entirely.
The QF (quiver full) mindset leaves family planning to God-where it rightfully belongs. QF couples are simply willing to have as many OR AS FEW children as the Lord happens to send them. While they are open to many blessings (i.e. babies/children/offspring) they are also open to a few or even none at all. It's simply about trusting God to give you the family He desires you to have.
What could possibly be wrong with that?
If you have an answer, please back it up with verses...and keep them in context.
While many QF couples do indeed have more than the average number of children there are also many who have only one or two-or even none.
The foundation of being QF is simply trusting in the sovereignty of God. Plain and simple.

This is so illogical....
It has nothing to do with presumption. But, I guess I could do the opposite and presume that my children will not follow in the faith of my husband and me....
(insert me shaking my head here-in amazement)
Have you ever read thru the Old Testament? God is all about making covenants with families-that the children WILL follow in the faith-God himself talks as if He expects this to happen. Jeremy dear, this is the NORM for the Christian life! I'm not going to take the time to look verses up but do a search for yourself and you will see that the God of the Bible is a covenant-keeping God whose will is for every child in a Christian home to grow up in the faith and to STAY THAT WAY. Since I know this then I also know that GOD IS ON MY SIDE and will do everything in His power to help make this a reality.
Again, like my previous post, it's all about FAITH. I have it in abundance in bringing up my covenant children.
You'de better work on yours before you ever become a parent.

Not presuming that your children will follow in your faith does not entail presuming that they won't follow in the faith, which would be equally presumptuous. God will do what God will do. Our duty is to be faithful to meet our responsibilities, not to expect his plan to be what we would like it to be. I won't assume my children are in the covenant when they clearly are not in the covenant until they enter it. Being a child of a Christian does not put someone in the covenant.

If it's God's will for every child of Christians to be saved, then why is it not the case that every child of Christians is saved? It's clearly God's ethical will for every child, from Christians or not, to be saved, but that doesn't establish your point. If that's enough to establish that every child whose God's will it is to be saved will be saved, then it establishes universalism, which is not your view you're defending. Yet it's clearly not God's sovereign will that every child born to Christians will be saved, because not every child born to Christians becomes a Christian themselves. I'm not sure what sense of God's will you mean, but it's not the two that most theologians distinguish between to explain the different ways the Bible speaks of God's will.

Why does faith in a person require particular faith that that person will do things he has not promised to do?

No, I have not missed the point, Joanna. I know what the point is exactly. The point is that you cannot be trusting God unless you fail to meet your responsibility in using the abilities God has given us to make wise decisions. It is to fail to avail ourselves of technologies we now have to make wise decisions as to how often we might make or more or less likely that we conceive.

If the point was simply to trust God, I would have no problem with it, but that's not the point. The Quiverfull website equates trusting God with not using birth control, and those simply aren't equivalent. If you really want to address my arguments on that, please do (and also see my more in-depth arguments regarding birth control). I haven't seen anything to tell me what's different about the argument about birth control compared with all those other bad arguments I gave. They're pretty much the same argument, the playing God argument, which I've critiqued in a more careful and philosophical way here. The argument assumes that we shouldn't make wise choices to do with technology and timing. It assumes that we should all unwisely try to have as many children as possible, because that's the effect of not using birth control. Maybe that's not what God wants for particular people, but maybe the way he wants to bring it about is not through making them infertile. Maybe it's through their learning wisdom, as is often the case. He doesn't make people infertile when they make bad decisions and have sex without birth control when they're not married. If the particular situation of a married couple is such that it would be unwise to have a child at that point in their marriage, then it's similarly a bad decision, and we shouldn't presume that God will always make people infertile in such times. We should expect that he will give natural consequences of bad decisions and give them a child when they're not in a good position to have one. Perhaps he will be gracious and not do so, but that's not something we should assume.

Note that I am not assuming having a child is ever intrisically bad. You seem to be assuming that because it's intrinsically good that it will also be instrumentally good, but that's not always the case. All I'm saying is that this intrinsically good thing can be instrumentally bad enough in some situations that it might be worth deliberately spacing your children more widely than maximum fertility would allow. If you have two high-needs developmentally delayed children among three, such that it's very difficult to handle the three as it stands, and it's genetically likely that more developmentally delayed children would come if more children come, then it may be flat-out unwise and immoral to try to have more children or even to allow the increase of the possibility of more children (it's always possible, but I'm talking about reducing that possibility) at least until the olders ones have matured a little more and become less dependent on constant care. I say it may be. I'm not sure of the ethical issues here. I don't think much of the view that we would be morally required in such a situation to seek to allow the maximum number of children at as quick a frequency as possible. I think it's quite possible that God would view such a view as bad stewardship.

Someone who can conceive but whose body is not in good condition to give birth may be wise never to conceive. If childbirth will assuredly lead to death of the mother (and some medical conditions seem to guarantee this), then deliberately having more children might be immoral because it will remove the already existing children's mother. Deliberately not guarding against that would also be immoral. Someone who is financially in dire straits but will be better off after some time might be best to wait. Someone who has been set apart by God for some task with respect to which children would limit the effectiveness of such a task might be violating God's plan if they seek to have children or seek not to be careful to avoid them. I'm not as sure of this, but it might be that someone whose genetic predisposition is such that they are overwhelmingly likely to produce severely damaged children might conclude that conceiving a child harms the child, and that may be wrong.

*Thank you* Jeremy! You have hit the nail square on the head.
I am a Christian woman who has been on many different Christian email lists where this "line of thought" is beaten into the ground, quite frankly. The QF "thought" is just what you're saying...to have as many children as possible to show just how "blessed by God" one is. I can't tell you how many women I have heard so mornful that they didn't have more then X amount of children. They were asking for advice on herbal help on conceiving, marking down dates when it would be a good time to conceive, etc. When one asks "how is that allowing/trusting God for children", you are attacked with ANYTHING but "Christian" behavior.
Again, I applaude you for speaking the truth.

I thought I posted this comment last night before I put it on my blog, but apparently I didn't. Thanks for a thoughtful discussion of this issue.

Jeremy,

I think you are right that some people carry the"quiver-full� idea way too far, but I think it is a reaction to the attitude that is developing rapidly in our society that says that children are basically expendable commodities that I can choose to have or not to have at my own convenience. Your arguments are ALL bad arguments. One of my arguments for limiting the use of birth control and sterilization (both of which I see used routinely, that is, without reflexion or prayer, in evangelical circles) would go something like this:

Because the Bible teaches that children are blessings and because I am not wise enough and do not have the foreknowledge to see all the consequences of my decision to have or not to have a child at any given time in my married life, I would choose to give birth to the children that God gives unless God shows me some good reason not to do so. I agree that there are good reasons not to have children, or not to have a child at a given time. �I don�t want to change my lifestyle� or �I don�t have enough patience� are, I humbly submit, not very good reasons for a Christian couple to turn down God�s blessings.

I would further say that God uses the gift of children, sometimes children spaced closely or children who are born at an inconvenient time, to help us to grow in the grace of our Lord. Again attitude is key. I choose to accept the children God gives with gratitude because I trust Him to make me a blessing to them and them a blessing to my life.

I don't have any problem with that view. It's not quite what I think is the correct view, but it's much closer to what I think than either the quiverfull view or the view that there's never anything wrong with using contraception. I do think this view is very much not the quiverfull view. The website in question makes explicit statements against any artificial contraception as immoral in principle.

A pivotal question I don't see addressed anywhere is: how often does the quiverfull couple have sex, and what determines that frequency?

I don't see it mentioned in the literature or any quoted Bible verses.

If they work hard and are tired all the time and only have sex once a month, is that fine? What if one wants sex often, while the other rarely does (which is not uncommon among all couples)? Who gets to decide?

How do they know how often God wants them to do it? That can certainly have a bearing on how many children produced.

That's a good point. The most obvious answer would be that they should let God decide, but then there's no easy way to determine that without assuming that God would demonstrate his will through their conscious use of the good reasoning abilities he's given them. But once you allow that, you've undermined the whole quiverfull argument, since it assumes that God can't work through human decision-making processes.

All of your arguments assume, of course, that conception is a purely natural event that can be used by God, and God is not a necessary element to accomplishing the event. In other words, God doesn't have to be involved in writing your PhD dissertation in order for it to be completed. He doesn't have to be involved in any of the issues you made as an analogy. You would have to prove Biblically that He does not have to be involved as a necessary component in the conception event. Therefore, your analogies are false until you do so. thanks

BTW, these are the same arguments used by abortion advocates. It's called begging the question. Do you believe abortion is OK? Would these arguments work with you if an abortion advocate made them to you?

Bryan, you're going to need more precision, or it won't be clear if you're saying anything at all. What do you mean by "purely natural event"? It can't be something occurring without God, because nothing does. Maybe you mean just occurring according to the natural laws set up by God. But if so, I'm not sure why anyone would think that conception couldn't occur in such a way. Do you mean to suggest that every single conception is a violation of the laws of biology? I find that sort of view highly unmotivated.

As for writing my dissertation, do you really think that I could write it without God? I wouldn't even exist without God. Of course I couldn't have the God-given and God-sustained abilities required to write a dissertation. I don't have to prove that God doesn't have to be involved with anything for the analogy to work, because the analogy explicitly relies on the fact that nothing could happen without God. The analogy is not because conception occurs without God but because everything that happens could not happen without God's permission, whether it's the sort of thing that seems miraculous or the sort of thing that seems natural.

I'm not sure how your supposed abortion argument is supposed to go. The argument I'm discussing is of this form:

1. If we use birth control, we're not trusting God, because we're taking matters into our own hands and not letting his timing decide things.

If I substitute abortion, we get this:

1'. If I kill an already living fetus, I'm not trusting God, because I'm taking matters into our own hands and not letting his timing decide things.

Since 1' is not the only argument against abortion (and is not even a very good one), I can't see how rejecting it on the grounds that I'm giving here amounts to thinking abortion is ok.

Now maybe you have something else in mind, but I can't fathom what it would be. I'm criticizing an argument against contraception, not claiming to have established that there are no arguments against it. Therefore, it's extremely strange to see you claiming that my argument shows not just the parallel thesis that a not-very-representative argument against abortion fails but the stronger claim that the not-at-all-parallel claim that abortion is ok. Nothing I've said could possibly lead to that result, since it's not remotely parallel to my conclusion.

Jeremy, what I mean by "natural event" is what you described as God setting us up with the ability to bring it about. A natural event therefore is that which is accomplished by those abilities God gives to us, not by God directly in some sort of creative process. My point is not that God is not involved in everything. My point is that He is not involved in the same way with everything.

When we speak of BC, therefore, you assume that conception is simply one of those abilities. Therefore, it is the same as writing a dissertation, or brushing your teeth, etc.
The Biblical view of God's interaction in conception, however, is that He directly is involved as an essential component in creating a child, not just the ability thereof. God is not directly involved in creating your thesis (unless you're claiming divine inspiration, and you want to call your dissertation scripture).

Therefore, your analogies are false unless you adopt a more Deistic view of conception: God makes the machine and then let's it run its course. We must then make up our own minds on how to run it. He gives us the abilities to make children. We must then decide for ourselves when we should use those abilities and when we should hold them in check.

My point here then is that if God is directly involved in creating in the conception process, and that if He makes an all wise and purposeful decision to do so according to His will, and God never does anything against His will, that to practice BC is not trusting in God. I would contend then that the point you are arguing against here is actually a good one with certain presupps.

My second argument concerned your reasoning. You seemed to be reasoning that those who say BC is not trusting in God are assuming that God doesn't make decisions through our decisions (assuming again the above).
We are therefore free to make the choices we wish and God works through them. This begs the question of whether something is moral or immoral. It assumes something to be neuteral or moral, and therefore up to our own discernment as to whether we do it. My point to you then, is that abortion advocates say the same thing.

If I say, abortion is not trusting in God because He is the one who directly gives children, apart from Him one cannot conceive a child, and therefore they think their decision is more reliable than God's, their answer would be similiar to yours:

"God gives us reasoning faculties to decide when is the right time to have a child. It would be irresponsible to not make these decisions for ourselves. It would be like saying that we shouldn't eat or write our dissertation because we must trust God. This is obviously absurd. God works through the means of our decisions [NOTE the absence of whether what we are doing is right or wrong]. Therefore, those who use abortion as a form of BC are being responsible and trusting in God by trusting in their own reasoning faculties He gave to them."

My point then is that abortion advocates beg the question they are trying to prove (i.e., "that abortion is OK for us to do") by using a more Deistic argument of the biological process (i.e., God is as involved in it as He is in anything. It is therefore not special and should not be treated as different than deciding whether we should drive a car to the store, etc.).

You said: "Do you mean to suggest that every single conception is a violation of the laws of biology? I find that sort of view highly unmotivated."

No, my point is that the laws of biology are not the only factors in bring about the conception of a child. My point is that God uses it as a creative means in the here and now, not just as some ability He bestowed upon man at creation.

In essence, therefore, I think your argument here is more a product of the syncretism we see in our culture between philosophic naturalism and Christianity.

The biblical view of conception is that we don't have absolute control over it. I can't see anything stronger than that, as if God needs to violate the laws of nature every time anyone conceives a child. There are some clear cases of people whose wombs God had closed, i.e. God had arranged for events to work themselves out so that they were infertile. Then God worked things out so that they were no longer infertile. But there's no metaphysical account in the Bible of how that took place. Was the infertility a violation of causal laws in nature? I don't know. Was the fertility a violation of the causal laws in nature? Again, I don't know. I could see either, both, or neither as miracles in that sense. What's clear is that it's a miracle in some sense, i.e. that God's intent stands behind it. But that's consistent with its fully resulting from the laws of nature as God had originally set them up.

Deism technically is about whether God has revealed himself. Deists denied any special revelation. Deism never had anything to do with any particular metaphysical view of how God interacts with nature. In fact, most of the deists took God to care very much about how we live our lives. But leaving that aside, I don't see how my argument involves what you're calling deism. You describe it as "God makes the machine and then let's [sic] it run its course. We must then make up our own minds on how to run it." The most obvious way to read that second sentence is as if God leaves gaps in what he determines, and we have to fill them in. I don't hold any such thing. A less natural way to read it is that God sets up the laws, including what we will do, and it is still our moral responsibility to do what is right. But I have no problem with that. That's in fact what I think goes on. So either your accusation is true and I affirm it as unproblematic, even biblically necessary, or it's not the position I'm presenting. Either way I'm not sure if you have a complaint against what I'm saying.

As I said before, the abortion argument is not parallel. Simply saying that God gives us the reasoning abilities and the Holy Spirit to help us to decide what is right does not mean that abortion is ever right. It just means that we need to think carefully about what to do and not just assume that we should be passive about everything in life. Actively reasoning through the morality of abortion will, if done right, lead to a conclusion that abortion is at least almost always wrong. I don't think the same is true of contraception. I do think contraception can be wrong, but reasoning through when it is wrong shows, as I've argued elsewhere, that sometimes it is indeed morally allowed and even sometimes morally required.

So I accept that one stage of the argument is parallel. Trying to absolve yourself from moral deliberation and reasoning by the passive sort of argument that I'm criticizing is wrong in both cases. But that alone doesn't tell you whether the action in question is right or wrong. You need to go through the moral reasoning process to see that. In the case of abortion, I contend that it will be wrong at least most of the time. In the case of contraception, I think the cases when it is morally permissible are much more frequent, and there are some cases when it is morally required (which I'm very hesitant to say about abortion).

So you can't claim that the parallel argument with abortion would make abortion ok. All it does is subject abortion to reason rather than leaving it as a passive allowance of anything that happens to us without considering ethical issues at all. I'd say the same of any action. If it's wrong, then you need to think through why and when it's wrong.

I would contend that my view is actually a distancing from naturalism. It is naturalism that encourages thinking of the natural world as distinct from God's providence, and I am calling for a return to the biblical view that what happens in the natural world is part of God's working out his sovereign plan. The idea that miracles must violate the laws of nature assumes naturalism as the standard operating procedure, with occasional works of God. Instead, the Bible presents ordinary human beings' decisions as part of God's plan, from the level of the sinful deceit by Jacob of his father and brother to the grand scale of the evil purposes of the kings of Assyria and Babylon in attacking God's people, from the outright intervention to speak to Moses to the natural-seeming elevation of Esther to queen by the natural-seeming desires of an unbelieving king.

God's plan can be carried out by laws of nature in a way that accords with nature as God set it up. There are different ways that God works, but I wouldn't bifurcate it in terms of humdrum laws of nature vs. special miracles of intervention. The real division is between (1) the parts of God's plan of providence that God does not endorse because they stem from evil desires (but still serve God's purpose because of his different purposes for them, as Joseph pointed out to his brothers) and (2) the parts of God's plan that involve nothing but good.

Now I think it would be wrong to try to justify the use of contraception in a case when contraception would be immoral. If it turns out every case of contraception is immoral, then my argument here would not allow for contraception ever. But I'm not dealing with the issue of whether it's ever immoral here. All I'm arguing in this post is that it doesn't do to say that it's wrong on the mere ground that you're not trusting God by using it, because that itself is begging the question against the possibility that a true trust in God is to trust that he will give you the proper insight to know when to use contraception and when not to. If it is always wrong to use contraception, there has to be some deeper reason why. Then it will follow that it's not trusting God if you turn to wrongful methods to achieve good purposes. But if contraception is neutral (and the trusting God argument doesn't prove otherwise), then the trusting God argument is itself what begs the question.

Jeremy, you seem to not understand the worldview of supernaturalism. You seem to think that if God does something, like a creative act, He is violating the laws of nature to do so. I never said such a thing. I think what we have here is once again a lack of ability to understand the way things work Biblically because philosophic naturalism sets up a false dichotomy (either natural laws set in place cause an event or these laws are violated for something supernatural to occur). You completely missed my argument because of this presupp.

I have to go right now. I'll pick up the argument in a few minutes. thanks for the dialogue.

OK, I've had more time to read your response. I think we are in agreement here,

"Now I think it would be wrong to try to justify the use of contraception in a case when contraception would be immoral. If it turns out every case of contraception is immoral, then my argument here would not allow for contraception ever. But I'm not dealing with the issue of whether it's ever immoral here. All I'm arguing in this post is that it doesn't do to say that it's wrong on the mere ground that you're not trusting God by using it, because that itself is begging the question against the possibility that a true trust in God is to trust that he will give you the proper insight to know when to use contraception and when not to. If it is always wrong to use contraception, there has to be some deeper reason why. Then it will follow that it's not trusting God if you turn to wrongful methods to achieve good purposes. But if contraception is neutral (and the trusting God argument doesn't prove otherwise), then the trusting God argument is itself what begs the question."

I totally agree. My point was that if one states that BC is not trusting God based on the argument that God is specially involved in a creative act using the means of the biological process to accomplish a sovereign act of good (I don't believe God is directly involved in evil acts, but rather is indirectly the primary cause), then the statement is true.

In others words,

1. No child can be made without God willfully choosing to make it.

2. God only does good, never evil.

3. He directly makes it through the biological processes of the woman.

4. God never does anything directly against His will.

5. The person who purposefully practices BC goes against His will and what is good.

6. The person goes against His will because they trust their own decisions over His (i.e., they do not trust Him over themselves).


To the rest though:

I think to say that BC or abortion is OK in any circumstance must therefore assume the naturalist position that the child is created by our biological functions and that God is not creatively involved in the process, thus making the decision to create a child. Hence, we must use our biological abilities at our own discretion.
If God is directly active in a creative way bringing about the conception in every case, then the argument for BC falls apart.

And as a side:
I don't see how in your view of conception how you would not believe that some children in the world are moral mistakes.

"Actively reasoning through the morality of abortion will, if done right, lead to a conclusion that abortion is at least almost always wrong. I don't think the same is true of contraception. I do think contraception can be wrong, but reasoning through when it is wrong shows, as I've argued elsewhere, that sometimes it is indeed morally allowed and even sometimes morally required."

I can't get to the page you've linked to here, but I'll simply say that you're left to situational ethics because of 1. Your view that humans create humans and that God is no more involved in that than He is when you drive to the store; and 2. You're unaware of why Biblically it is never permissible to practice either abortion or BC. But that's for another time, or when I can link to that page.


I actually think that you have more of a Deistic understanding of God (BTW, you described what I meant by Deism when it comes to this issue---God may be involved in sustaining natural laws, but He is not active in creating in a special way through them). We don't have the revelation sufficient to tell us on the subject, according to this view, so we must assume God's absence in the process (giving Him credit for only the initial ability and sustaining of those abilities), and argue based on the idea that we do the creating by ourselves. Hence, we are in control of it (BC), and must decide when it is right for us and wrong for us.

So God may be involved in the universe, but practically (since we don't have revelation to tell us how) we must argue as though He isn't directly involved in such and such an issue.

1. No child can be made without God willfully choosing to make it.

That I cannot agree with, at least not if any of the traditional responses to the problem of evil are correct, even ones consistent with Calvinism. IF you're going to maintain a distinction between different ways that God does things, I would imagine the reason for such a distinction is so that we can distinguish in ordinary language between God's doing something and God's allowing something. Even on a compatibilist Calvinist picture, we have such a distinction, although it looks different on the level of metaphysics than it does with libertarianism.

But once you've got that distinction, it seems to me that certain instances of creating children have to be on the allowing side of the divide rather than the doing side. Do you want to say that cases of creating a child who is extremely genetically deformed will be on the doing side rather than the allowing side? I think any strong view of God's sovereignty will need to admit that God allows such things, but if there's going to be any response to the problem of evil it will be the allowing side rather than the doing side, however that works out in the particular response to the problem of evil. At least much of what goes on in such acts of conception have to be on the allowing end of the spectrum, and the reason is exactly because of your statement 2: "God only does good, never evil."

Now the problem in your argument is that you equivocate on the meaning of God's will from premise 4 to premise 5. God never does anything against his moral will, although he allows things against his moral will as long as they are in his sovereign will. But you haven't established that contraception is within God's moral will. That's where I see no argument.

Where I think we are just in fundamental disagreement is over whether a worldview is naturalist merely because God uses natural causes to produce effects like conception. It seems to me to be utterly obvious that the naturalist perspective explains conception in natural terms. What doesn't follow is that a worldview is naturalist simply because it agrees with that. A naturalist denies the influence of God altogether, in principle. If God is working through natural causes, even if those natural causes were all set up in advance by natural laws created by God to accord with God's providential plan, then the worldview in question is supernaturalist by definition. This is the very point of the intelligent design debate. Someone who accepts that God has set up the world, including all natural laws, has already accepted design and has already assumed that miracles are taking place. The only place for disagreement will be over how to characterize particular events as ordered by God and in what sense of God's will they are ordained by God. But it is indeed supernaturalist.

I remain convinced that the biblical passages about God ordaining childbirth are of a piece with the biblical passages about God ordaining other things. The Proverbs are filled with statements about humans planning certain things but God ultimately getting his way. This applies to drawing lots, to planning out your life carefully, to careful teaching of children with an aim to produce wise children, and yes to the act of conceiving a child. I just don't see why the language of scripture requires treating these things differently.

The question is entirely whether God's ordaining of which children are conceived can involve the free decisions of human beings as to whether they use contraception. I contend that it must, just as it must include God's control over free human beings' choices as to when to have intercourse, when to intake certain food that will affect their fecundity in various ways (e.g. vaginal temperature), when they think sexual thoughts and thus provoke the production of sperm cells, and so on. It is thus a more supernaturalist view to see God behind all of that than it is to see God's intervention as merely miraculous in the stronger sense rather than seeing God's role as occurring only in the cases when natural causes are not involved, a view that concedes far more to the naturalist than my view does.

I don't see how in your view of conception how you would not believe that some children in the world are moral mistakes.

I would have found it obvious that some children are the product of moral mistakes. Some people get married for selfish reasons and then have children as a result of moral mistakes. Some people have sex for immoral reasons and then have children. Some people decide to have children for selfish reasons and then have children. All of those count as moral mistakes, and many children are the result of them. That doesn't mean their existence isn't part of God's sovereign plan, but it does mean that they came into existence as the result of immoral decisions, actions, motivations, and/or character traits.

I've fixed the link above, so you should be able to go there now. That was a result of a late-night response that I have was having trouble with, because I couldn't get my site to load properly, never mind to get the comment submitted. I went to bed thinking it hadn't been submitted, but obviously I was wrong.

What do you mean by situational ethics? In one sense a situational ethics is obviously true. It is wrong for me to pursue romantic relationships with anyone new, since I am married. It is not wrong for my single brother to do so, since he is not. Thus situational ethics. Some people mean something stronger by the term, but I think that involves confusion. My point is that some kind of context-relative ethics has got to be right, because some people have different responsibilities in different situations. There are very clearly actions that are sometimes but not always wrong. The questions is which actions are like that and why.

A good case in point is killing. Clearly murder is wrong scripturally, but killing is allowable, including killing in a holy war and putting someone to death for a capital offense. I think mere self-defense can arguably be ruled out based on the Sermon on the Mount, although some have argued otherwise. But that's my view of the implications of Jesus' statements there. I also think killing in defense of others can be permissible, both on the scale of a nation defending its people and a father, say, defending his children. It might turn out that abortion is a killing in defense of someone's life, for example to save the life of the mother and another child in the womb. That's why I leave it open that it's morally ok.

But clearly the example of killing is like this in scripture, and scripture's own statements require it. I would say the same of lying, since God even commands a prophet to lie once and certainly rewards others for lying in at least two instances, while allowing for deceit in others without condemning it. This is so even if lying is almost always wrong, just as killing is almost always wrong. I realize that this is a minority view among evangelicals, but I am convinced that it's the biblical one, and I have derived it from that even if I think there are excellent philosophical reasons for saying the same thing.

So what you are calling a situational ethics is correct and in fact implied by the various statements in the Bible on these matters. I want to be clear that this is not what was popularly called situational ethics in popular discussions a couple decades ago, since that is just a kind of moral relativism that I think is demonstrably false. But what you are calling situational ethics in my thinking, which assumes an objective basis for morality, is indeed biblically required for anyone who sees the Bible as authoritative.

Your view that humans create humans and that God is no more involved in that than He is when you drive to the store

Well, again, you need to make more careful distinctions than this. You're glossing over all kinds of important moral and metaphysical distinctions. If can drive to the store for immoral reasons, e.g. to buy a gun to kill someone I don't like or out of selfishness to buy something I want that I know we can't afford and that my wife has asked me not to buy. I can drive to the store to buy medicine that will save someone's life or to buy food to provide for my family. I can attempt to drive to the store but be thwarted by how God has worked things out. I can set out to do something else but end up driving to the store because of how God has worked things out. God could morally endorse my driving to the store or morally oppose it. But if I get there, it's in his sovereign will.

Then when we turn to contraception, why isn't the same true? I can see to use contraception, but God can certainly work around that and ensure conception. I can use no contraception because I want to conceive even if the context of the sexual act makes it immoral, and God can work around that. But the fact is that God does not normally do either. Most cases of contraception work. Most cases of intercourse during a fertile time without contraception do lead to conception. This is so whether the people having sex are married or not, and the rate of conception is similar for both. This is so whether the desire to have children is purely selfish or altruistic, whether it stems from a divine call or from fleshly desires. This is so whether the act of sex has intent to conceive or a desire not to conceive.

Similarly, I can imagine God suspending the laws of nature to prevent a conception that would otherwise occur, and I can imagine God suspending the laws of nature to allow or cause a conception that would otherwise not have occurred. But I can also imagine God using the laws of nature to guarantee a conception or using the laws of nature to prevent a conception. All of these possibilities are legitimate metaphysical interpretations of biblical statements that God opens or closes the womb. You seem to be ruling out the metaphysical possibility of God working through natural causes. You also seem to be associating the moral status of an outcome of an action with whether it had to do with natural causes. I insist that such an association is unwarranted.

You're unaware of why Biblically it is never permissible to practice either abortion or BC.

I am, but that's not because there's any statement in it on either. We have to derive moral principles from scripture, and I haven't seen any that make it absolutely clear that abortion is always wrong or that contraception is wrong in principle after reading the Bible through in a number of translations and thinking carefully about its moral implications.

We don't have the revelation sufficient to tell us on the subject, according to this view, so we must assume God's absence in the process (giving Him credit for only the initial ability and sustaining of those abilities), and argue based on the idea that we do the creating by ourselves. Hence, we are in control of it (BC), and must decide when it is right for us and wrong for us. So God may be involved in the universe, but practically (since we don't have revelation to tell us how) we must argue as though He isn't directly involved in such and such an issue.

That is decidedly not my view. I make no assumption one way or the other whether God's intention is deliberate ordering for moral purposes that make my action right, wrong, or neutral. I simply point out that sometimes God has left us to make decisions on matters based on right and wrong, and when we make wrong decisions we fulfill God's sovereign plan but not in a way that God can morally endorse. When we make morally correct decisions we fulfill God's will in both sense. This is the sense of the whole book of Proverbs, that we should know wisdom and be prepared to evaluate our actions and lives critically, developing good character traits and making decisions based on those character traits. This does not involve assuming everything is ok if there's no prohibition on it directly in scripture. It's not that everything is wrong either without a direct command in scripture. It's that some matters are left to us to make righteous choices about, and such choices won't always be the same for some things even in similar circumstances, because one difference may be enough to make a moral difference. Thus speaking to the fool according to his folly can sometimes be right and sometimes wrong (Proverbs 26:4-5). The difference has nothing to do with whether God has set up laws in advance to cause us to be in a situation as opposed to miraculous suspension of the laws of nature. The difference has to do with whether righteous motivations, character traits, and so on are involved in the act in question.

It is clearly also not "giving Him credit for only the initial ability and sustaining of those abilities", because God is very much behind not just the initial ability and sustaining the ability but the entire working through of the process of reasoning, including how one's motivations and affections lead one to act. If the Holy Spirit is guiding someone to make a decision, this involves more than giving an ability and sustaining the ability. It involves guiding the reasoning process. But from a human perspective we can't see how the Holy Spirit guides our reasoning, our motivations, or our emotional responses. So it's not that "we are in control of it" in a way that God must not be, and it's not that "we must decide when it is right for us and wrong for us" in a way that's divorced from divine guidance. You have unfairly taken some things I have said and assumed something very different. The question is not whether God is involved. God is very involved. The question is in what way God is involved and in what way God wants us to respond. I think that on this particular issue God wants us to think through a lot more factors than just the one that you think matters. That's the difference.

Jeremy, You said:

"Now the problem in your argument is that you equivocate on the meaning of God's will from premise 4 to premise 5. God never does anything against his moral will, although he allows things against his moral will as long as they are in his sovereign will. But you haven't established that contraception is within God's moral will. That's where I see no argument."

I was assuming you knew the Biblical data where God creates children and does not just simply allow them to be created by us, but I think you're assuming your naturalism again here. You would have to produce some Scriptural evidence that contradicts every other piece of evidence from Scripture that indicates otherwise.

"Do you want to say that cases of creating a child who is extremely genetically deformed will be on the doing side rather than the allowing side?"

Yes, I would. The Bible indicates that God makes the blind and the deaf, etc. What you would call a genetic defect is a creation of God for His purposes (which is also stated in Scripture).

"At least much of what goes on in such acts of conception have to be on the allowing end of the spectrum, and the reason is exactly because of your statement 2: "God only does good, never evil."

I'm not sure what you mean here. God isn't involved in the act of sex or artificial insem, etc. He's involved in producing through it. That's different than Him doing the act. So I see no evil here and therefore your argument that this must be the "allowing" fails.
If you mean that genetic defects are evil, then that something you would have to prove. It certainly is not a moral evil in my mind, and the Scripture indicates that He makes these defects for His own purposes.
BTW, when I say "indirectly involved" I don't mean "allow." I mean He makes something happen indirectly (i.e., using an agent rather than being directly involved).

"Where I think we are just in fundamental disagreement is over whether a worldview is naturalist merely because God uses natural causes to produce effects like conception. It seems to me to be utterly obvious that the naturalist perspective explains conception in natural terms. What doesn't follow is that a worldview is naturalist simply because it agrees with that. A naturalist denies the influence of God altogether, in principle. If God is working through natural causes, even if those natural causes were all set up in advance by natural laws created by God to accord with God's providential plan, then the worldview in question is supernaturalist by definition. This is the very point of the intelligent design debate. Someone who accepts that God has set up the world, including all natural laws, has already accepted design and has already assumed that miracles are taking place. The only place for disagreement will be over how to characterize particular events as ordered by God and in what sense of God's will they are ordained by God. But it is indeed supernaturalist."

No, it's not. This is essentially the problem. You are unable to see the difference because of the syncretism that has taken place. This is sort of like me going to South America and telling a Catholic there that their concepts are animistic paganism. They would answer back to me that they are Catholic, not pagans. They are unable to see the difference, and we have the same thing here.
I've tried to explain before that naturalism can assume the existence of God and His sustaining of the laws of the universe. Supernaturalism deals more with how you view each event in the world. Is God involved in each event? I think the Bible clearly teaches that He is, but in different ways. You want to say that He is, but in the same way (i.e., He makes and sustains natural laws that govern the world, which is what I said stems from naturalism---your view of God's interaction is only indirect). I don't see that Biblically. When David praises God for forming him in the womb and making even his innermost parts, that's far from stating that God simply made the biological process that formed his innermost parts and formed him in the womb. God really didn't make David then. He simply made what made David (i.e., indirectly---which seems to be your view of all things).


"Now the problem in your argument is that you equivocate on the meaning of God's will from premise 4 to premise 5. God never does anything against his moral will, although he allows things against his moral will as long as they are in his sovereign will. But you haven't established that contraception is within God's moral will. That's where I see no argument."

My argument stands simply because the Scriptural evidence indicates that God creates directly. If He creates directly, and He only does what is good (according to His moral will), then conception is always according to His moral will. So our whole disagreement is centered around whether or not the Biblical evidence indicates that God creates directly, or that He is only indirectly involved in that He simply sustains God-given human abilities to create.

"A naturalist denies the influence of God altogether, in principle"

I don't agree with this at all. A naturalist denies direct influences of God. Many naturalists, of the Agnostic and Deistic sorts, would be open to indirect divine influence in the world in the way that you have described.

"I remain convinced that the biblical passages about God ordaining childbirth are of a piece with the biblical passages about God ordaining other things. The Proverbs are filled with statements about humans planning certain things but God ultimately getting his way. This applies to drawing lots, to planning out your life carefully, to careful teaching of children with an aim to produce wise children, and yes to the act of conceiving a child. I just don't see why the language of scripture requires treating these things differently."

This is an assumption on your part and why I think you're begging the question here. God's ordination of childbirth is backed up with hosts of passages that show God directly, not indirectly involved. You can't say this of everything else you mentioned. You're reverting back to the original argument you made, which begs the question. You have to prove that from the Scripture, and your simply assigning to that category as a presupp.

"The question is entirely whether God's ordaining of which children are conceived can involve the free decisions of human beings as to whether they use contraception. I contend that it must, just as it must include God's control over free human beings' choices as to when to have intercourse, when to intake certain food that will affect their fecundity in various ways (e.g. vaginal temperature), when they think sexual thoughts and thus provoke the production of sperm cells, and so on. It is thus a more supernaturalist view to see God behind all of that than it is to see God's intervention as merely miraculous in the stronger sense rather than seeing God's role as occurring only in the cases when natural causes are not involved, a view that concedes far more to the naturalist than my view does."

Yes, I totally agree. You're not arguing against me at this point because you're no longer referring to God's moral will, but to His sovereign will (i.e., not what He desires to happen according to His good nature, but according to His decrees within in an evil world). I believe He brought about what He willed to bring about through the human choices of the Nazis. That has nothing to do with His moral will and what we ought to do as Christians. This is an argument from Sovereignty, which can NEVER establish morality.


"It is thus a more supernaturalist view to see God behind all of that than it is to see God's intervention as merely miraculous in the stronger sense rather than seeing God's role as occurring only in the cases when natural causes are not involved, a view that concedes far more to the naturalist than my view does."

At this point, I am convinced that you have no clue what I am saying. Once again, I can only conclude that this is the result of naturalistic influences (i.e., the false dichotomy of "either God directly works miraculously and natural processes are not involved, OR natural processes must create without God"). I don't hold such a dichotomy. I believe God is behind all that you said AND through it, planning when it all occurs, creates a child directly, not indirectly. Do you understand what I'm saying here?

"I would have found it obvious that some children are the product of moral mistakes. Some people get married for selfish reasons and then have children as a result of moral mistakes. Some people have sex for immoral reasons and then have children. Some people decide to have children for selfish reasons and then have children. All of those count as moral mistakes, and many children are the result of them. That doesn't mean their existence isn't part of God's sovereign plan, but it does mean that they came into existence as the result of immoral decisions, actions, motivations, and/or character traits."

This is faulty reasoning. Because a means may be immoral does not mean a result is immoral. Consider this argument according to that premise:

Adam disobeyed God. Adam was immoral.

Christ died for us as a result of Adam's sin. Christ dying for us was immoral.

It doesn't follow that whatever evil is done results in evil (especially if God brings about God through it). A closer example would be with Joseph's brothers:

Joseph's brothers did evil by selling him into slavery
That evil event brought about the saving of many lives.
That saving of many lives was therefore evil.

Can we admit that that is a bad argument?

"What do you mean by situational ethics? In one sense a situational ethics is obviously true. It is wrong for me to pursue romantic relationships with anyone new, since I am married. It is not wrong for my single brother to do so, since he is not. Thus situational ethics. Some people mean something stronger by the term, but I think that involves confusion. My point is that some kind of context-relative ethics has got to be right, because some people have different responsibilities in different situations. There are very clearly actions that are sometimes but not always wrong. The questions is which actions are like that and why."

This is confused a bit. Situational ethics doesn't refer to when you apply an ethic, but whether something is right or wrong based on the situation. In your analogy, you're saying that dating is wrong since you are married, but not for your brother-in-law since he is not. But why is it wrong? Because you are applying, not a situational ethic, but an absolute one: not to commit adultery. So take adultery. Is it ever OK based on the situation?
You're analogy with killing is false. Killing actually isn't wrong. Only a certain category of killing is. The Hebrew word in the commandment is rasach, not yamut or harag or nacah or qatal, which are more general terms for killing. The word rasach means specifically "murder," which refers to an unauthorized killing. Holy war and government executions don't fall under the category, since they are authorized by God. Can you tell me when murder is ever OK? Abortion is wrong for other reasons than just killing, so I still would say it is never OK (but I don't want to get into that at the moment).

I think the analogy you give of lying may misunderstand the idea of sin and the nature of progressive revelation, and the difference between craftiness with one's enemies and lying (as well as God's indirect interaction of things).
If you actually look at the command in Exod 20, which explains the command in Deut 6, then it is actually bearing false witness that would get someone in trouble, or be slandered, that is prohibited. Deception with one's enemies is seen more like a fake move in a football game. Can you tell me when bearing false witness in order to slander or condemn someone within the community of God is ever OK?

Actually driving to the store is neither good or evil in any situation. Intentions are good or evil. Moral or Immoral acts are good or evil. So intending to kill someone is evil. Intending to save someone's life is good. Killing someone is evil (not buying a gun). Saving someone's life is good. You again are lumping in everything surrounding an event as either all evil or all good. There's no basis for such a thing as I've argued above.

"Then when we turn to contraception, why isn't the same true?"
Because your begging the question that its a neutral act, only made good or evil by your intentions (once again only the intentions then would be evil) based on a naturalistic idea that we create the children in the same way that we drive a car or buy a gun. God is not directly involved in making those happen. So it is only the same when you assume your position.

AND

You seem to be making the argument that because things happen the way the would according to natural law that this proves your point, but I would argue that of course it occurs according to natural law, that's what God works through. That has nothing to do with His moral will and what we should do. This is another appeal to God's sovereignty in an evil world. You can't determine what is good based on what happens. God's desire is to make children. He is going to do that through the natural means He created in order to accomplish that goal, so He very rarely is going to miraculously make a child while the natural processes have been suspended in some way. Once again, I could argue for abortion the same way:
"Since God doesn't miraculously save a child from abortion, it must simply be a natural process we are hindering, and thus God's will must be accomplished through it.
If I put a gun to your head and pull the trigger, chances are you're going to die. God's not going to suspend natural laws. Sometimes, but not usually. This has nothing to do with whether or not what I've done is right or wrong, simply because God allowed the natural laws to take place and I was therefore able to end your life.

"Similarly, I can imagine God suspending the laws of nature to prevent a conception that would otherwise occur, and I can imagine God suspending the laws of nature to allow or cause a conception that would otherwise not have occurred. But I can also imagine God using the laws of nature to guarantee a conception or using the laws of nature to prevent a conception. All of these possibilities are legitimate metaphysical interpretations of biblical statements that God opens or closes the womb. You seem to be ruling out the metaphysical possibility of God working through natural causes. You also seem to be associating the moral status of an outcome of an action with whether it had to do with natural causes. I insist that such an association is unwarranted."

I would insist too. But as I've stated, this isn't what I'm saying. What I am ruling out is that God is working through natural causes in the case of conception in the way that you are presenting, i.e., indirectly.

"I am, but that's not because there's any statement in it on either. We have to derive moral principles from scripture, and I haven't seen any that make it absolutely clear that abortion is always wrong or that contraception is wrong in principle after reading the Bible through in a number of translations and thinking carefully about its moral implications."

I'm sure you have read through it, but two things hinder your seeing it. 1. We've discussed. There is clearly a naturalistic spin placed on the Scripture that no Christian before the 20th Cent would have placed on it, so you're worldview influences your hermeneutics, and thus your thinking through moral implications; and 2. Some is on the surface, but some isn't. You have to look more closely at some verses that most people run over without thinking as to why certain things are stated as wrong. (I know I'm being vague, but this has to do with another argument, and I want to stay on track here).

"It's that some matters are left to us to make righteous choices about, and such choices won't always be the same for some things even in similar circumstances, because one difference may be enough to make a moral difference. Thus speaking to the fool according to his folly can sometimes be right and sometimes wrong (Proverbs 26:4-5)."

I wonder now if you're getting your whole paradigm of situational ethics from this verse in Prov. You seem to refer to the book a lot. The verses you quoted aren't two different things to do in two different situations. Most people miss that there is a play on the preposition k there. One is "according to" in the sense that it means "in the way that it deserves," and the other is "like" or "similiar to." In essence, one means to answer a fool in the way that his folly deserves, and the other, not to answer a fool with similiar foolishness. So I still don't see that idea that absolute morals can be suspended in certain circumstances.

These last two paragraphs seem to resort to the "well the Holy Spirit and wisdom guides us" argument that is usually pulled out when the Biblical evidence does not tend toward the way one wants it. If God is directly involved in a creative act (not suspending natural laws---you seem to go back and forth on natural law: one minute God is involved in it and the next it goes on by itself and God must suspend it in order to create through it), as Scripture seems to indicate, then the Holy Spirit would not be guiding someone to practice something that moves against Him, and all wisdom at that point would be foolishness.
Suffice to say, this argument would only be appropriate after someone established whether something was morally OK, but it can't precede it (as you pointed out that the "not trusting in God" argument begs the question if not established first, the "trusting in God" argument does the same, does it not?).

"I think that on this particular issue God wants us to think through a lot more factors than just the one that you think matters. That's the difference."

I'm not sure what this statement means. I'm only discussing one factor of many (unless you're appealing to the situational ethics thing again). There are many arguments against BC. This is just one of them. And I believe that if something is wrong, it's always wrong. I've yet to see an argument that proves otherwise.

I can understand that you think I am being unfair, and claiming that these are not your positions. I wasn't saying that you cognitively hold these views. My point is that what you are arguing assumes some of the presupps that I'm sure you would absolutely reject when placed into propositional form. The same goes for the RC in South America. He would reject the notion that he worships any other God, but the Triune God of Catholicism. He would absolutely reject any propositional statement I made concerning paganism. He cannot see that his assumptions have guided his interpretation of Christianity. To him, what he assumes is Christianity. He doesn't see that certain ideas he holds are animistic in their worldview combined with Christian ideas and language. I believe this is why our current culture within the Church is so radically different than all generations before us.

Helpful definition:
Direct-- God directly makes something happen through means without the use of an agent. Since He can only do what is morally good, then He only directly does what is morally good.

Direct creative act-- God involved in a special way making something morally good occur through means without the use of an agent.

Indirect-- God indirectly makes something happen through means with the use of an agent (this usually occurs when evil is involved--Satan with Job, the evil spirit with Ahab, Satan with Judas, etc.).

These are perfect, but they may be helpful to start.

When people appeal to God's sovereignty in causing all things to occur, it could refer to any of the three above. In your case, Jeremy, I've used the word indirect to refer to what you believe, not because you believe Satan is involved writing a dissertation or something, but because you are using natural law as an agent that determines whether someone gets pregnant or not. God then is involved in bringing it about, but not directly. Otherwise, you would have to say that it is a morally good act against which those who practice BC are rebelling.

Thanks once again, Jeremy. I hope we can condense this conversation into whether or not God creates a child directly or indirectly in Scripture (and maybe apply the regulative principle to the discussion).


I meant these aren't perfect. whoops.

I know of nowhere in the Bible where God does not use sexual reproduction to create a human being besides the creation of Adam and Eve and the virginal conception of Jesus (none of which I would describe as natural phenomena in any important sense). God's provision of children, by contrast, is very clearly God's working through a natural phenomenon. This also seems to be very clearly indirect, since a human agent is involved in engaging in the actions necessary for conception, and that's by the definition you gave. I'm not sure why you're stipulating that it's usually going to be evil in indirect cases, though, because lots of human agents do things that God stands behind indirectly that are not evil.

This world is fallen. Bad things happen in it. Sometimes those bad things include some pretty devastating destructiveness to a human being's genetic code from the very outset. I agree that God creates such people, but I would insist that this is not ideal, and I cannot say that God endorses that the same way God endorsed creation as good in Genesis 1. It is part of God's plan in fulfilling his overall plan, but then so is my sin. So I can't see how this shows anything special about creating people any more than the other things the Bible says God does (e.g. influencing the outcome of a drawing of a lot or influencing events so that people's plans are either confirmed or denied).

I've tried to explain before that naturalism can assume the existence of God and His sustaining of the laws of the universe.

I don't think you've explained any such thing. You've certainly asserted that, but it just seems to me to confirm that you don't understand the definition of 'naturalism'. Naturalism allows no room for purposes in nature intended by a creator. Those are by definition supernatural purposes.

Where did I say that God works in the same way (metaphysically speaking) in every instance? I said no such thing and in fact denied it several times. What I said is that the metaphysics of how God work shouldn't be relevant to the moral issues. The different ways God stands behind something have to do with moral endorsement or not. They don't have to do with how it's caused.

If your argument is correct, then God could not have been working through Nebuchadnezzar in judging Judah. After all, it's not God doing it (in the sense you mean here) if it's indirect, right? But the Bible explicitly says over and over that God was judging his people in those events. Yet it must be indirect because we have a free emperor of Babylon who is making his own decisions for his own reasons. I can't see how your argument doesn't apply equally to that, which means God didn't really judge his people via the exile.

You keep on saying my argument is question-begging, because you think I'm relying on a premise that God is working indirectly in sexual intercourse to produce a child. I have not assumed that. I've tried to argue for that claim. Now that you've defined that term ('indirect') I think I've given an even clearer argument for that claim. But whatever else is true, I think it has to be true that you haven't argued that no agent is involved in the creating of a child. That just flies in the face of the facts. Sometimes people try to conceive a child and fail, and sometimes people try not to conceive a child and fail, but in call cases of conceiving a child besides the conception of Jesus there are human agents choosing to have sex (or one choosing to rape the other). Those are human agents, and thus it is indirect.

Now that I see what you mean by 'direct' and 'indirect', the following seems to be your argument:

1. God does not work through any agent, human or angelic, in creating children.
2. The creation of a child is always a moral good.
3. By the definition of 'direct', God thus directly causes the existence of this child.
4. When every instance of something God does is directly caused by God (in the sense you've defined), it is always wrong to try to prevent God from doing that thing.
5. Therefore, it is always wrong to try to prevent conception.

Am I right in representing your argument this way? I think it helps to get an argument out in front of us like this so we can see exactly which claims you're relying on, and then we can turn to your arguments for each claim once it's clear that this is your argument.

As it stands, premise 1 seems false to me for the reasons I've given earlier in this comment. There are several ways to read 2, and I'm not sure every way to take it would make 4 true. The trick is to be sure that whatever way is true of these cases also leads to 4 being true. I'm sure you think that is what happens, but I wanted to make sure this was the structure of your argument before pushing on with that. As I read your argument, those will be the two issues that really need a closer look.

I'm not sure how you think the regulative principle is relevant. I don't endorse every version of the regulative principle (it would actually have to be an extremely muted regulative principle for me to endorse it, and even then I'd be worried that it's going to verge into biblical positivism), but the versions of a regulative principle that I'm familiar with are not about ethics in general but about corporate worship. The general idea is that we should only do in corporate worship what the New Testament says the NT believers did in corporate worship. How would such a principle apply to this discussion?

Hi Jeremy,
You've misunderstood my argument and my definitions (largely because I didn't specify very well now that I look at them). I tried to state what I believe to be the Biblical view of supernatural causes/direct influences of an event. When I say that God works directly through means, but not an agent, I am saying that God works through the means (a man and woman choosing to become one flesh through the sexual act) with no agent creating the child through them (God directly creating). This would be different than God judging the people through Nebuchadrezzar (the means or if you will, secondary cause) using an agent (the demonic powers that convince Nebuchadrezzer to brutally destroy human lives for the sake of power and money). The Scripture says the same about Assyria and then God turns around and judges Assyria. I would argue that He would not do this unless He was indirectly involved (He orders a demonic force to influence the wicked king to destroy the Northern Kingdom). He does not tempt the wicked king himself. God tempts no one. So He uses an agent. I think I confused you by using the words "means" when talking about human activity and "agents" when talking about supernatural activity. So I have never denied, instead declared many times now, that God uses the means of the sexual act. My point there is that He uses no agents AND that He creates something in a special way here, so that it is not like some other event that God might directly be involved in (like the day to day events that are more morally neuteral).
I realize that both of these could be seen as means or agents, but I'm trying to make the distinction since humans are the recipients of what goes on the supernatural realm (which is all directed by God).

"Now that I see what you mean by 'direct' and 'indirect', the following seems to be your argument:

1. God does not work through any agent, human or angelic, in creating children.
2. The creation of a child is always a moral good.
3. By the definition of 'direct', God thus directly causes the existence of this child.
4. When every instance of something God does is directly caused by God (in the sense you've defined), it is always wrong to try to prevent God from doing that thing.
5. Therefore, it is always wrong to try to prevent conception.

Am I right in representing your argument this way? I think it helps to get an argument out in front of us like this so we can see exactly which claims you're relying on, and then we can turn to your arguments for each claim once it's clear that this is your argument."

Based on what I've said above, premise one is not what I've argued. Rather that

1. God does not work through any supernatural agent in creating children, but does a special creative work directly.

What is stated as premise two would be my number five.

2. By the definition of 'direct', God thus directly causes the existence of this child, not simply through influence, but a direct act of creation.

that one's good

3. When every instance of something God does is directly caused by God (in the sense you've defined), it is always wrong to try to prevent God from doing that thing, since God only does what is morally good (remembering that I'm speaking of a creative act here and not just the mere influencing of an action).

4. 2. The creation of a child is always therefore a moral good.

5. Therefore, it is always wrong to try to prevent conception.


I think this will do. I may have to clarify if these aren't understood. As they say, there are always six understandings in any conversation (what I said, what I think I said, what you think I said, what you said, what you think you said, what I think you said), so hopefully we can work out those kinks. And I hope to move to the Bible with these at some point.

Thanks again.


BTW, I stated that we can use the regulative principle, not that it is normally used for these discussions.

What I mean by it is that if I can show that God is directly involved in creating a child in Scripture, that you don't then argue from silence and say that these are just special circumstances (like Neo-theists do when you show them that Scripture indicates that God determines different events---they simply say that these are special circumstances and not the norm according to the natural law concerning freedom of the will). In other words, I only have to show from Scripture that God is directly involved in a creative act through the sexual act and you only have to show that He is only indirectly involved. The virgin birth will be left out because it is a miraculous event in that God does not use the natural means to create the child there, so I don't expect to use it as it is an anomaly.

I also want to use the regulative principle in the sense that we do not appeal to general revelation or our current situations to argue against Biblical data. I point these things out if they come up just to keep us on track.

Thanks Jeremy.

From the first part of your comment it seems like the issue here isn't whether there is a means or whether something is direct or indirect. What's doing the work seems to me to be the moral outcome. The creation of a conceptus is morally good. That's not so with the mere movement of a vehicle from one place to another. There may be a final goal the vehicle is headed to that's a moral good or a moral evil, but the movement itself isn't a moral good. The creation of a conceptus is a moral good. Am I right in taking that to be the key feature that you're basing the distinction on?

As for your clarifications and revisions of the steps in the argument, it seems to me to go in a very different direction. I'm not sure I understand some of your changes. The argument now seems to be this:

1. God does not work through any supernatural agent in creating children, but does a special creative work directly.
2. By the definition of 'direct', God thus directly causes the existence of this child, not simply through influence, but a direct act of creation.
3. When every instance of something God does is directly caused by God (in the sense defined), it is always wrong to try to prevent God from doing that thing, since God only does what is morally good (remembering that it's a creative act and not just the mere influencing of an action).
4. The creation of a child is always therefore a moral good.
5. Therefore, it is always wrong to try to prevent conception.

I'm trying to get a handle on the metaphysical picture here. Is it that everything that happens has either God directly causing something or some supernatural agent (either an angel or a fallen angel) causing it, with the latter cases serving as indirect causes ultimately serving God's ends and the former what you mean by direct works of God? Or are some things the result of natural laws set up and then there are these other two things as well? I'm guessing that nothing is in that category, from the way you've been talking, but I want to be clear.

If that's right, then influencing is when God works via an angelic agent, and direct causing is when no angelic agent is involved. Then (going by the first part of this comment) the cases when God is pursuing an immediate moral good are going to be the ones that are direct, and the ones where the immediate effect is not good but it still fits into God's overall good plan will be indirect. What about neutral ones? Are there any? If so, are they direct or indirect? That's what I was asking about the third category above, one you're not speaking of at all (and it seems to me are ruling out by the logic of some of your statements).

J -

As per an article that I am in the process of reading, I was reminded of this blog post of yours from many years ago...

Here is the excerpt that relates to this issue:
**************
Take Vyckie Garrison, a one-time Quiverfull follower, now single mother of seven who runs No Longer Quivering. Garrison explained in a June 2011 interview with Politics USA:

My life as a devoted fundamentalist Believer had become a living hell of physical, mental and spiritual abuse. For all our efforts to know God, to love him, discern his will and live out his precepts for a godly home according to the Holy Bible, our family was going crazy. We hated ourselves and we hated each other and we all wanted to die . . . I have met dozens of women who have left, or are in the process of leaving, the Quiverfull lifestyle. Not all become atheists, but none escape without serious modification of their faith.

Garrison is an influential atheist who tweets to 13,000 followers @NoQuivering and writes extensively with a team of women at NoLongerQuivering.com (250,000 views per month). Her conclusions about the place of Christian teachings have found her more convinced that God does not exist than that he does and is good.
*****************

From Where Are All the Women Apologists? by Jonalyn Fincher, guest blogger @ Her.meneutics.

http://blog.christianitytoday.com/women/2012/05/where_are_all_the_women_apolog_1.html

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