Sunday, February 21, 2010

Children and God

This builds on a comment I made to yesterday's post, which was inspired by a remark of my wife's.

If God does not exist, then, in normal cases[note 1], the biological parents of a child are the persons directly and fully responsible for the child's existence. Thus, if God does not exist, then the parents, collectively, have the sort of role that, on traditional Christian views on which God directly creates the human being by creating the human being's soul, God has. But for the human parents to see themselves as having this God-like role distorts the parent-child relationship. There is thus moral reason for parents to believe in a deity who directly creates each human being.

If one thinks—as I think one should—that the fact that one has moral reason to believe p is itself evidence for p (it is much more likely that one have moral reason to believe a truth than to believe a falsehood), it follows that the above considerations not only give a moral reason for to believe in a deity, but they give an epistemic reason as well.


Jean Kazez said...

I don't get it. Kids don't come from parents ex nihilo, like creatures would come from a creator. They exist because of parents, and grandparents, and great-grandparents, etc. etc. Plus, once they exist, there are huge numbers of people who have responsibility for children--relatives, teachers, doctors, and even strangers. Even the rules children have to follow don't come just from parents--as ay school-age child will tell you.

Those parents who see themselves as solely responsible, and as having an authoritarian power over their children, are not (in my experience) non-believers, who tend to have a more liberal conception of parenting, but conservative Christians. You rarely see parents assuming all kinds of power over their children (educational, medical, etc) except in fundamentalist households. So if anyone's distorting the parent-child relationship, and giving themselves a God-like role, it's a subset of believers, not non-believers!

Alexander R Pruss said...

Thanks for this helpful comment.

On a non-theistic view, in voluntary purely coital reproduction, the parents are indeed the most proximate agential causes of the child's existence. And for assigning responsibility, it is typically the most proximate agential causes that count the most.

Of course, other people shape the children--sometimes more so than the parents--but these other people are not proximate causes of the child's existence. And neither are the more distant ancestors. At least in cases of voluntary purely coital reproduction. (In non-coital reproduction, a doctor who joins the gametes in the lab will be such a cause, if there is no God.)

Now, I wasn't claiming that in fact non-theists and theists in our culture have the kinds of distorted or non-distorted views I've described. That's an empirical question (on the religious side, any discussion would need to look at the empirical work of folks like Bartkowski and Wilcox). I am interested in the logical question: given a certain view of one's causal relation to one's children, what attitude is reasonable. It may very well be that both theists and non-theists are not being consistent here.

There is another interesting possibility, though. Maybe that my intuitions about the moral importance of facts about causation of existence are wrong.

Alexander R Pruss said...

(Minor qualification to something in my last comment: I made it sound like all non-coital reproduction is in the lab. That's false. Humans sometimes also naturally and involuntarily reproduce asexually by twinning.)

Jean Kazez said...

I don't see how it could possibly "distort the parent child relationship" to simply believe that parents are the "proximate agential causes of the child's existence." If the distortion in question is a matter of assuming too much authority over, and responsibility for, and identity with, a child (I didn't read the previous post--maybe I'm missing something), that's going to be avoided by someone who has a grip on the total picture. Which is that a child "comes from" previous generations, not just two parents, and is the responsibility of lots and lots of people, and is beholden to lots of different rules. All of that is relevant to how we understand the parent-child relationship, not just a child's "proximate agential cause."

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think this may be the best way to resist the argument: to downplay the significance of the proximate agential causation.

Still, the following is to me very plausible: We owe great gratitude to our proximate agential cause(s) for the origination of our greatest and foundational good--existence. But it may be distorting to mere humans to think themselves to be owed that much gratitude.

I know that culturally we don't have as vivid a sense of this gratitude as some some other cultures did (e.g., recall how the Magna Moralia says that one's greatest duties are to one's parents--these supercede both the duties to one's children and to one's spouse).

Wayne said...

It may be plausible that we owe gratitude for our existence, but it isn't a logical necessity, or even a moral necessity.

This is similar in vein that people like Eli Wiesel who have survived the Holocaust, and have been very successful because of the Holocaust, has to be grateful for the Holocaust, isn't it?

The Holocaust is the proximal cause of their current success in life (and all the goods that comes with it), and so they must be grateful to it? I'm not sure that it follows.

Alexander R Pruss said...

It makes more sense to be grateful to intentional causes of a good. The case of parents is somewhat complicated in that they don't always intend procreation. But nonetheless they knowingly and freely (typically) did something which has procreation as a natural end.

Vanitas said...

I think the analogy is strained, here. Parents copulate, and all they know is that a child of some sort might emerge from this union. A deity-creator is omniscient, "creating" us in a very different sense. Such a deity will be responsible for everything about us.

In existentialist terms, parents are responsible for our existence, but a god is responsible for our whole essence.