Re: [asa] Francis Collins shows mild signs of dementia, NA snark

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Mon Oct 19 2009 - 21:22:04 EDT

RE: [asa] Francis Collins shows mild signs of dementia, NA snarkFirst please realize that my earlier comments were very brief & subject to all kinds of qualifications. In the sentence you quote I was simply concerned to point out that what I has said earlier referred to the source of athics & not (as Bernie seemed to think) to a monolithic agreement of Christians about particular ethical matters). & as that sentence makes clear, the source for ethics to which I referred was "the revelation to which they believe the Bible witnesses" rather than simply biblical statements themselves. & the sentence following the one you quote was "Other sources (natural law &c) may of course be appealed to," making explicit what you surmised, that I unmderstand that not all Christians think that there is a single source for ethics. Nevertheless, I would find it hard to see how an ethic that made no appeal at all to the biblical witness - & in particular to the life and teaching of Christ - could be seen as distinctively "Christian." I don't think that even the later Bonhoeffer is in basic disagreement with this. (The editors of the Macmillan edition of his Ethics - I have only that & not the later critical one - include at the end two pages of biblical references.)

Of course people - Christians & otherwise - can develop varieties of ethical systems. But they are simply floating in the air if they are not grounded in something which is not just the "ultimate source" for the system but of the existence of the persons to whom the system is supposed to apply. That becomes clear when a person asks the eminently practical questions, "Why should I take the trouble to behave in accord with the ethic you propose?



  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Thomas Pearson
  To: Dehler, Bernie ; ASA
  Sent: Monday, October 19, 2009 5:40 PM
  Subject: RE: [asa] Francis Collins shows mild signs of dementia, NA snark

  On Monday, October 19, 2009, George Murphy wrote:

>>>All Christians believe that the revelation to which they
  believe the Bible witnesses is a fundamental source for ethics.<<<


  Not all Christians. Just about the time he was starting to develop his thesis on "religionless Christianity," Dietrich Bonhoeffer began by affirming an "ethics-less Christianity," a Christianity without specific ethical content. In this, he was following Barth in rejecting natural theology/natural law, while at the same time moving away from Barth's more narrowly-conceived biblicist ethics. You can read Bonhoeffer's striking conclusions in his 1929 lecture in Barcelona, "What Is A Christian Ethic?" I think Bonhoeffer has got this right.


  Nonetheless, I do note that you wrote, George, that scripture is "a fundamental source for ethics," and not "the fundamental source for ethics." That distinction may be important, if it means that scrpture does little more than point to an ultimate source of ethics as a condition without which ethics would not be possible. However, developing a coherent ethical outlook and practice without ever pushing the question back to such an ultimate source is an entirely feasible project -- it's been done before; and by Christians, not just atheists. Not all authority (certainly not all moral authority) is located in the origins of things.


  Tom Pearson




  Thomas D. Pearson

  Department of History & Philosophy

  The University of Texas-Pan American

  Edinburg, Texas




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Received on Mon Oct 19 21:22:29 2009

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