God intended what now?

From the Indiana Senate debate between Richard Mourdock (R), Joe Donnelly (D), and Andrew Horning (L):

Asked whether abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest, Mourdock said during Tuesday’s debate, “I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

Mourdock has said he regrets that anyone has interpreted him as implying that sexual violence is anything other than abhorrent, but:

 “In answering a question from my position of faith, I said I believe that God creates life, and I believe that as wholly and fully as I can believe, that God creates life.”


17 thoughts on “God intended what now?

  1. And by the same logic (that god acts through human deeds, no matter whether or not they seem vicious), then the subsequent abortion is also and equally determined by god’s plan. And if we are outraged and get all these evangelical nuts out of government and live more happily in the future without them — then that, too, will have been by divine plan.

  2. There seems to be something missing here; that’s a reason why his belief should bind everyone’s actions.

  3. Hey, we’re asking for consistency. I can only assume Mourdock will be on television on November 7 informing us that God intended for him not to be elected to the Senate.

  4. The race is actually really close, and the last polling data I saw had Mourdock ahead of Donnelly. Hopefully this will change.

  5. I think people need to remember that the devil is also on the scene. It isn’t all God. You can tell that God chooses life because life is positive and evil is negative. And if you don’t see that, you obviously missed that part of Descartes, not to say all the medieval texts.

    So when people do not vote for him, there’s a negation operating which certainly shows the devil’s handiwork.

  6. Just to cross that t and dot the i: Meditation. IV, Vietch (or Veitch) transl:

    “And I hence discern that error, so far as error is not something real, which depends for its existence on God, but is simply defect; and therefore that, in order to fall into it, it is not necessary God should have given me a faculty expressly for this end, but that my being deceived arises from the circumstance that the power which God has given me of discerning truth from error is not infinite.

    Nevertheless this is not yet quite satisfactory; for error is not a pure negation…”

    I trust that clears some things up. I don’t really recommend following up on the “error is not a pure negation” part.

  7. I have the impression from Mourdock’s statements that he was indicating, somewhat inartfully, that he believes that the unborn life is a gift from God and that its value is not a function of the circumstances in which it was conceived. I think that was not too hard to discern even before his clarification. Not exactly shocking.

  8. Since we’re coming up on Halloween and Anne has mentioned the Devil, may I just point out that life is not always a positive. Ever see “The Omen”?

  9. Nemo, I have to disagree. There’s been a growing popular evangelical theological movement which holds that evil is ordained by God (e.g., Piper, Edwards). Perhaps since you’re coming at this from a different perspective you read him differently–but I wasn’t even certain after his clarification what he really meant.

  10. I should add, some of my evangelical Christian facebook friends have been defending Mourdock’s comments (interpreted as stating that God intends for rape to occur) as theologically accurate, even if insensitive. Obviously I disagree, but my point is–it’s not obvious that this should be read as charitably as you would like it to be.

  11. No, John Piper and Jonathan Edwards would not say that evil is ordained by God, at least not in an unqualified way. They would insist both that evil is intrinsically bad and that God would work good by means of evil, i.e. it can be instrumental toward good. But this isn’t something unique to Calvinism. It’s pretty basic to most ethical views. I wouldn’t consider amputating my leg an intrinsic good, but it might easily be better than dying of an infection. We might call it locally bad but globally good or some such thing, but it’s the same basic idea as what goes on in a theodicy. And that’s all that’s going on here. It’s pretty standard Christian theology in general, Calvinist or not, to say that God can intend good by someone’s evil. Look up Genesis 50:20. In the first few chapters of the book of Acts, Peter twice says exactly that about the death of Jesus, an evil act done for evil reasons that was nonetheless intended by God for good. This is standard theodicy, not out of the mainstream and not radical within Christian theology.

    Atheists who think the problem of evil is a decisive argument against Christianity will still not like it, but Mourdock critics are not framing their criticisms as criticisms of standard Christian theology. It’s supposed to be some kind of moral criticism, one that sees things in his statements that I just can’t find there.

    It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around how someone can confuse the following very different claims:

    1. God approves of a rape as a moral good.
    2. God considers a particular act of rape as fitting into a sovereign plan of the universe, a plan that includes evil acts that God does not endorse as good.

    It doesn’t surprise me that evangelicals would defend Mourdock’s claim if they take him to mean the second. Any view of divine sovereignty that involves greater divine control and intention in the universe than what you find in open theism would accept something like this, and you’ll find it not just in Luther and Calvin (and Leibniz and Edwards) but in Augustine and Aquinas, Plantinga and Alston. If God even knows what future free beings will do, then that means God could have prevented it and must have had a reason to allow it. That means there must be some theodical reason why the grand plan for the good of the universe has this event occurring in it. It doesn’t matter which model of divine sovereignty and human responsibility is at work, whether theological determinism, simple foreknowledge, or Molinist counterfactuals of freedom. In all those views, God could have prevented it and allowed it and must have reasons. This is the traditional view in nearly all responses to the problem of evil, open theism excepted.

    That being said, I do think it’s pretty obvious that Mourdock was referring to the life and not the rape, as Nemo said, even if the statement is technically grammatically ambiguous between the two. It strikes me as the more natural interpretation, and it’s certainly the more charitable one, And he did say rape is a horrible situation. Anyone pretending he’s a rape apologist because of this isn’t reading very carefully.

  12. Jeremy, there’s a pretty clear difference between God intending that a good come about in a particular way that involves evil, and God allowing evil and intending that a particular good come about. No one (that I know of) is suggesting that Mourdock meant God approves of rape as a moral good, so I don’t understand why you think anyone is asking you to wrap your head around that particular confusion. The question is, did he mean that God intends for rape to happen so that certain goods come about–that, I think, is unclear. That is the interpretation of the claim that some of my evangelical friends are defending. That is certainly not the same as God intending good by someone’s evil. God could intend good by someone’s evil, while not intending the evil but merely allowing it.

  13. Philodaria, I hear you there. I suspect a person genuinely sufficiently committed to that putative theological theory (under which God intends each rape to occur) to have made in the first place a comment intended to be understood in that way, would be somewhat unlikely to issue so readily the particular public clarification Mourdock did repudiating said theory. Possible, yes, but not exactly the way for a prudent hearer (without more direct knowledge of Mourdock’s state of mind) to bet.

    I say all this not because I would like for Mourdock to be read charitably (as I have no vested interest in the thesis that Mourdock hews to any particular theory about God, rape, women, or life) but because there just don’t seem to me to be strong grounds for favoring any interpretation other than the one you’re characterizing as charitable.

    At any rate, I think the real question undergirding the exchange between Mourdock and his original interlocutor – and one which is hardly without interest to an audience of philosophers – is whether and why a life conceived through an act of rape is different from one that is conceived otherwise. In other words, a question the thrust of which is not about the moral/ethical/theological significance of rape but about that of human life. At least, so I surmised from the exchange in controversy, which probably did influence (but not, I think, improperly) my interpretation of Mourdock’s response.

  14. I’m actually not committed to the claim that Mourdock meant one of these things or another. I think both are plausible, and I certainly hope you’re right. I don’t think that his clarification was very clarifying though, and I think his phrasing was incredibly insensitive either way. I also tend to just get irked by those “if” apologies. Regarding the more interesting question though, I don’t really see a need to argue that life conceived in varying ways has varying values. I don’t see any inconsistency is thinking that life has the same value, but that given varying circumstances varying courses of action will be permissible or not. Of course, I also think abortion is permissable more broadly.

  15. I’ve seen Mourdock referred to as a rape apologist, which suggest to me that he’s defending rape. I didn’t see that here, I don’t think, but I’ve seen it. That’s what I was referring to.

    On the intending/allowing thing, I’m not sure there’s as strong a distinction as you are making it out to be. Take Plantinga’s view that God knows the future by knowing what free creatures will do under various circumstances, and then God arranges all circumstances in order to achieve certain results. God isn’t causing people’s actions. Their free will does that. But God is arranging things to get a completely-ordained plan achieved. No event occurs without God’s express permission. There is the causing/allowing distinction here, but God has to endorse every event that occurs in some sense for this to work, even if it’s not moral endorsement. It’s endorsement because of how it fits into a plan. It’s recognizing some higher good to result that means God chooses to allow that specific thing that in itself is intrinsically evil.

    That’s how theodicy works for Plantinga, and I don’t see how the allowing/intending distinction does any work other than not to allow God to be the direct cause of evil. God still has to stand behind all allowed evil in some sense. So the things Plantinga says and the things Calvinists will say will be very much the same. They disagree on the metaphysics but agree fully on the ethics. Open theists can sort of get out of this by saying God is taken by surprise by human evil, although I think it’s a bit much to say that God allowed the Holocaust only because God was continually taken by surprise by each evil act as it occurred and still decided to do nothing, not expecting any further evils to occur even by 1943, say. Even open theists have to say much of what more traditional theists will have to say to explain why God allows evil.

  16. JP,

    This is probably getting off topic, but the language used in these cases is typically neither “intending” or “allowing”, but is instead “willing” – as in, it’s God’s will. Since you seem to know the relevant literature better than I, how is this willing usually unpacked? It seems stronger than either of those other concepts.

  17. Just look at the history of compatibilism. The Stoics saw willing something as assenting to it. But assenting can mean endorsing as a true good or just accepting as a lesser of two evils when you have to pick one. They saw humans as free when they could assent to their own actions and they saw God as assenting to everything that happens, seeing not just a chain of efficient causes but even a final cause for every occurrence, with God agreeing that it’s best if that thing happens. The Stoics were about as theologically-determinist as anyone can be, as far as the metaphysics goes. But they were compatibilists about freedom and moral responsibility.

    When you get to Augustine, he softens the metaphysics so as to deny the efficient-cause determinism, but he affirms final-cause theological determinism. God has a purpose for everything that occurs. Nonetheless, he thinks we’re free, we’re morally responsible, we’re to be blamed for our bad choices, and God doesn’t endorse those actions on the same level as God endorses our good choices as good.

    Traditionally, Calvinists have distinguished between the sovereign will of God, which includes everything that happens, and the moral will of God, which includes which things are good to do. Some things that go against the moral will are part of the sovereign will. This is a distinction that I find pretty clearly in Thomas Aquinas. He’ll speak of God in one sense willing something and in another sense not willing something. I think Piper is doing pretty much the same thing, and I think the same could be said about Calvin and Edwards.

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