Monday, April 20, 2015

Religion and law

One argument (or assertion) which homosexual activists use is that Christians have no right to "impose" their views on others. Religious beliefs have no place in law and public policy. However, that argument is wrong on several counts:

i) It commits the genetic fallacy. The source of an idea doesn't automatically discreit the idea. You must consider an idea on the merits. 

The question at issue isn't whether beliefs are religious or secular, but true or false. 

ii) Of course, an unreliable source might make it unlikely that a derived belief is true. That, however, is a different argument. It's not just that the belief is religious, but the further claim that if a belief has a religious source, then that's an unreliable source. That renders the belief ipso facto suspect.

However, if that's the argument, then the proponent of that argument assumes a burden of proof. He must demonstrate that, by definition, religious beliefs are unjustified or false. He's making a claim about religion. In the nature of the case, religious beliefs are dubious. But there's an onus on him to prove that contention. 

And, of course, Christians have argued, from various lines of evidence, that Christianity is true. It's not just a matter of faith, but reason. 

It's not as if there's a standing presumption that Christian ethics is false. A case has been made for Christian ethics by Christian philosophers and apologists. 

iii) In addition, we have a representative form of gov't. Christians are voters. They elect lawmakers to represent their views and interests. Under our system of gov't, citizens have the political right to promulgate laws which reflect their ethical views. 

That's majority rule. The consent of the governed.

Majorities elect the winners. The winners pass laws that, in principle, reflect the will of their constituents. The people who elected them in the first place. If they are perceived as bucking the will of their constituents, they may lose their reelection bid. 

The only restriction is if that violates the Bill of Rights. The only Constitutional restriction on religion is the prohibition against religious oaths for officeholders and the establishment of a national church.

Conversely, the Constitution explicitly protects the free exercise of religion. Well, that can be expressed at the ballot box.

iv) Even if, for the sake of argument, you think religious beliefs are false, that doesn't invalidate laws informed by religious beliefs. 

Voters can elect a candidate based on misinformation. The fact that they were motivated by erroneous beliefs doesn't nullify the election. The winner is still a duly elected official. He was elected by a legal process.

Likewise, even if you think a law is based on misinformation, that doesn't invalidate the law. Right or wrong, it still has the force of law–unless and until it is repealed.

A mistaken law is still a law. Many people thought Prohibition was a mistake. But it remained the law of the land until it was finally repealed.

Suppose a candidate convinced voters that aliens from outer space pose an existential threat to human survival. We need orbital weapons to repel an alien invasion fleet. Suppose he's elected on that platform.

Even if that's nonsense, a voter's false belief, which motivates him to cast his vote for that candidate, doesn't nullify the election. 

If voters pass a referendum, based on their misunderstanding of the issue, the referendum doesn't cease to be legally binding. A voter's motivations are irrelevant to whether he cast a legal vote. He may be a fool. He may vote for foolish reasons. But his reasons are irrelevant to the legality of the process. That's not the criterion. We don't screen voters that way. 

From a Christian perspective, atheists are irrational. Votes cast by atheists are intellectually suspect. So the objection cuts both ways.

Why Is Popular Culture Such A Big Part Of Your Life?

Here's a thread at Hot Air about how popular culture affects politics. It was written in response to a post at National Review on the same topic.

I agree that conservatives should try to get more of a foothold in the media, movies, music, etc. But the more fundamental problem is that the culture spends too much time on things like watching television, watching movies, and following sports. Those activities need to be more influenced by conservatism (and Christianity), but the activities also need to be less prominent in people's lives.

Here's some of what was written in the comments section of the Hot Air thread, which illustrates my point. A poster by the screen name of kcewa wrote:

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A world without God

Ridiculous Comments On Same-Sex Weddings From Some Republicans

See here. As you read the comments from Marco Rubio and John Kasich, ask yourself how much sense their approach would make if applied to a different alternative to traditional marriage. Change the references to a same-sex wedding to something like a polygamous wedding, an incestuous one, a wedding between an adult and a child, or an opposite-sex marriage involving a groom you knew to be romantically involved with a woman other than the bride at the time of the wedding. What would you think of Rubio saying that a polyamorous sexual orientation isn't a choice for the "enormous majority" of polyamorists? They're born that way. Or what would you think of John Kasich and his wife speaking so approvingly of attending a wedding between a fifty-year-old man and his twenty-year-old daughter?

Even Ted Cruz is evasive. At least Rick Santorum took the right position and expressed it clearly and publically. He's unelectable as a presidential candidate, but his answer to the question is pleasing to God, can withstand scrutiny, will withstand the test of time, and is the most loving way to handle the situation.

How often will the media be asking Hillary Clinton and other Democratic candidates to respond to arguments against same-sex marriage? How often will they be asked if their reasoning about homosexuality and same-sex marriage is applicable to polygamy, incestuous relationships, etc.? If a Democrat like Hillary Clinton is asked such a question, will the question and the answer to it receive the same sort of prominent media attention as the Republican equivalents? No, because the allegedly non-partisan media in this country are dishonest, abusive, and unethical on many other levels.

He who frames the question wins the debate

i) He who frames the question wins the debate. In the debate over SSM, Christians mustn't permit their opponents to dictate the terms of the debate. It can be a mistake to answer a question as posed, for the way in which the issue is framed may prejudge the answer. It puts the respondent on the defensive. 

For instance, Christians are asked if they'd attend a homosexual marriage. But in the SSM debate, that's the wrong question. That's a theological answer to a political question. 

In context, the real question at issue isn't what Christians should do, but what the state should do. What gov't should force Christians to do. Put another way, not what Christians should do, but what Christians (and citizens generally) should be free to do.

This is a public policy question, not a question of personal Christian ethics. A question of what the law ought to be. Religious rights and religious liberties are just a special case of civil rights and civil liberties in general. 

ii) The First Amendment grants the right of free association and the free exercise of religion. 

Proponents of SSM recast the issue in terms of what they think Christians ought to do or be made to do. They object to religious liberty on consequentialist grounds. They disapprove of Christian ethics. 

But that's an exercise in misdirection. The Bill of Rights isn't based on whether everybody approves of how citizens will exercise free speech, free association, or freedom of religion. Indeed, the Bill of Rights presumes that some people will disapprove, which is why these rights must be formally recognized and protected. 

The whole point of the Bill of Rights is to tell gov't to buzz off when it comes to these particular issues. Whether you think it's a good idea for Christian businesses to refuse to service SSM is irrelevant. That's not a Constitutional objection. In fact, that's an unconstitutional objection. That disregards the fact that, like it or not, Christians are Constitutionally entitled to free speech, free association, and the free exercise of religion. From a Constitutional standpoint, it's none of your business what they think, say, or do. As one student of American history has noted:

The First Amendment, ratified in 1790, guaranteed Americans the “free exercise” of religion. The Framers knew that their new republic included Quakers, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, atheists, even perhaps a few Muslims. They wanted all to be free to live – not just worship, but live – according to their beliefs. 
The traditional American recipe for handling such differences is friendly accommodation. The large majority of Americans in the early republic, as today, did not believe in the pacifism of Quakers or the bishops of Episcopalians, the catechism of Catholicism or the rituals of Judaism. But they didn’t begrudge others their beliefs.
To take a comparison, we see this confusion in the way people attack gun-ownership. They support gun bans and gun confiscation because they think private possession of firearms has bad consequences. But that misses the point. Short of amending the Constitution, their consequentialist objection is a red herring. 

iii) To some extent this is an American distinctive, but it has British and European analogues. Although the Bill of Rights is part of American experiment, the principle of limited government is not. That goes back to Magna Carta. Samuel Rutherford's Lex Rex is another case in point. 

Likewise, in England and Europe, there was a shift from autocracy to representative government. A shift from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy. Then the monarchy is whittled down even further, or simply abolished outright.

In addition, during the Cold War, the free world opposed secular totalitarianism (i.e. Communism). Why go to that Herculean effort (e.g. proxy wars, counterespionage) to keep secular totalitarianism from barging through the front door if you invite it to come inside through the backdoor?

The gay marriage dilemma

i) One way of responding to SSM proponents is to press them on where they draw the line. For instance, if they approve of SSM, do they approve of pederasty? What about child prostitution? 

Typically, SSM proponents stipulate certain criteria which make SSM acceptable, but pederasty unacceptable. Criteria like "love" and consent.

So, in their moral opinion, the only sexual relationships which the gov't should sanction are "loving relationships" between consenting adults.

But what makes their moral opinion truer or superior to the moral opinion of those who differ? The belief that marriage should be based on love is pretty ethnocentric. In many cultures, marriage is an essentially socioeconomic arrangement. Love is optional. 

Likewise, prostitution isn't based on love. Hook-ups aren't based on love. 

By the same token, mutual consent is pretty ethnocentric. Clearly ancient Greeks who practiced pederasty didn't consider that to be a necessary precondition. And it's not just a thing of the past. Pederasty is common in some Muslims societies.

The same holds true for gang-rape. Historically, that's commonplace when armies invade and conquer another country. Likewise, child prostitution is common in some Third World countries. 

So what makes the social conditioning of SSM proponents morally superior to the social conditioning of pederasts? For that matter, what makes the social conditioning of SSM proponents morally superior to the social conditioning of their grandparents, who opposed SSM? 

Are SSM proponents appealing to timeless, transcendent moral values? Is so, how are those grounded?

ii) When pressed, they might bite the bullet. They might admit that there are no objective moral norms. 

But if they retreat into moral relativism or cultural relativism, then they can't simultaneous claim that homosexuals have a moral right to marriage. They can't insist that the state has an ethical obligation to sanction homosexual marriages.

So that's their dilemma. If, on the one hand, they draw lines between acceptable and unacceptable sexual relationships, they must explain what makes their moral opinions better or truer than those who differ. What's the secular basis for that?

If, on the other hand, they admit that these are ultimately arbitrary taboos, then they can't claim that homosexuals are morally entitled to marry.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Low-wattage brites

Atheists on atheists:

Jeffery Jay Lowder:

I’m often told that atheists are really smart when it comes to religion. Then I read their replies to moral arguments for God’s existence and cry out, “WTF?”

Many atheists are so confident in their atheism that they have an extreme case of confirmation bias & don’t even take the argument seriously enough to use their brains and bother understanding it.

I could post numerous examples, but it’s really too depressing to go find them.

The worst offenders tend to be ex-fundamentalists. I think that there are at last two reasons for this:
1) A lifetime of avoiding critical thought is not instantaneously undone by going through a deconversion experience. A lot of newly-minted atheists haven't yet acquired the habit of genuinely critical thought.
2) They have rejected an essentially stupid version of Christianity and they haven't yet appreciated that not all versions of Christianity are as stupid as the version they left.

I find bad responses to cosmological arguments on the forums I post on. There are many confident atheists, like myself, but the difference is that they are not well acquainted with arguments for theism. I find when a theist posts a cosmological argument they find online, most atheists respond by saying "Well what caused God?", despite that missing the whole point of the arguments.

I'm not talking about hypothetical situations. Rather, I'm talking about actual conversations that I have held where atheists miss the point of the arguments.

Hand, foot, and eye

I was asked to comment on this post:
A few years back, a Pew Research poll discovered 79% of white evangelicals thought torturing a suspected terrorist to gain information could be justified while only 30% thought monogamous gay sex was moral. That is, white evangelicals were 3 times more likely to approve of abusing a man to the edge of death than they were of a gay marriage.
And I think I know why.
When thinking about the moral life, many Christians only consider the rules found in the Bible. We like rules. 

Of course, that's an overgeneralization. Some people like rules, but other people chaff at rules. 

Because there are no biblical passages forbidding torture in the legalese we commonly use, Christians can rationalize using enhanced interrogation techniques (they calm our fears, might keep us safe, and are hopefully used only on bad guys). 

That's tendentious because it presumes that defending the coercive interrogation of uncooperative high-value terrorists is a "rationalization." A philosophy prof. like Jeff Cook ought to avoid elementary fallacies like begging the question.

Conversely, the Bible does have six passages that seem to forbid all forms of gay sex.

That's highly deceptive. The Bible begins with the creation of man and woman. With heterosexual sex as the paradigm. That's how God designed humanity. 

"But doesn’t it seem strange that many Christians can quickly argue against a committed gay relationship with chapter and verse, yet have difficulty objecting to locking a man in a small box filled with insects?"

He doesn't bother to explain what's wrong with exploiting a terrorist's phobias to extract information to prevent the massacre of innocent men, women, and children. He simply takes his standard of comparison for granted. Once again, that's shabby from a philosophy prof. 

Doesn’t it seem odd that we can criticize faithful, monogamous lesbians, yet in theory endorse chaining a man to a concrete floor until frozen?

That confuses prisoner abuse with interrogation. Once again, a philosophy prof. should be able to draw rudimentary factual distinctions. 

I am a philosopher specializing in ethics and religion…

Then why does he reason like a hack?

(To be technical, apologists from both sides assume “deontology” as the Biblical normative ethic. Deontology judges how moral a person is by how closely his or her actions follow a set of rules. For deontologists rules, and rules alone, tell us what is right and wrong. 

Where does he come up with that? Some apologists are natural law theorists while other apologists are divine command theorists. And there are variations on divine command theory.

Because Christians often assume that rules are the way God displays his will for human life…

That's not something we "assume." Rather, that's explicitly and pervasively taught in Scripture.

…they argue about monogamous same-sex relationships almost exclusively with those six passages in mind.

Homosexuals are notoriously promiscuous, not monogamous. Even their "marriages" are open marriages. 

Not only is a commitment to a rule-focused ethic a misstep for thinking about gay sex, it is a horrible way to think about moral living in general. When unveiling the best possible life, the New Testament writers rejected a system of morality focused on rules, and it’s easy to see why. As Jesus showed us, those who follow all the divine commands can at the same time be the worst human beings (Mt 5.20). Jesus described one set of meticulous rule followers as “sons of hell” because they neglected the real source of moral goodness—the life of virtue (Mt 23).

i) That confuses man-made regulations with divine laws.

ii) It also fails to distinguish higher obligations from lower obligations.

iii) And Jesus made obedience to his commands a litmus test (Jn 14:15,23).

iv) The NT letters contain commands and prohibitions. Sin lists. "Household codes." You can't eliminate that from Christian piety or ethics.

v) In addition, good behavior can have a morally conditioning effect. 

Given the New Testament’s claims, all the healthiest action-focused laws we could affirm or create must be met if one lives the life of virtue.

Even if we grant that claim for the sake of argument, according to both Testaments the homosexual lifestyle is a life of vice rather than virtue. Aggravated vice.

Nothing about monogamous same-sex relationships by necessity contradicts a life of virtue. Physical relationships between same sex individuals may be enjoyed by faithful, courageous, wise, hopeful, loving, grace-filled, self-controlled people. Those who disagree will need to show how committed homosexuality, by its nature, always keeps a person from reflecting Christ or violates some Christian virtue. If they cannot a decisive argument emerges: Because monogamous gay sex does not violate the demands of Christian virtue, monogamous gay sex cannot be the target of the New Testament’s prohibitions when speaking about vicious sexual behavior.

That's viciously circular. He assumes the very thing he needs to prove–in the teeth of explicit Biblical testimony to the contrary–then deploys that tendentious assertion to claim the Biblical passages can't mean what they say. They must mean something else, anything else, however much gay-friendly reinterpretations cut against the grain of the text. 

Just as some have used the scriptures to advocate slavery, violence, or the silencing of women in church…

That's a popular wedge tactic. But it's only appealing to pacifists and egalitarians. I don't object to what the Bible teaches on those subjects. 

We may rightly read a passage like Romans 1 and say: pederasty, pagan temple prostitution, or using sex to dominate others (arguably what Paul has in the front of his mind when writing about gay sex) are soul-destroying because they cannot arise from love or faithfulness or self-control. 

That's a backdoor admission that he'd lose the exegetical argument if he dared to engage it. Knowing that's a lost cause from the outset, he forfeits that futile line of attack and tries to preempt serious exegesis altogether by declaring that we have the right to impose any interpretation on the text that we please consistent with our gratuitous presupposition. But that's an exercise in make-believe. 

But monogamous same-sex relationships are not soul-destroying; faithful, compassionate, Spirit-empowered, Christ-honoring people can enjoy them.

A committed relationship is morally neutral. Whether it's good or bad depends on the nature of the commitment. Bonnie and Clyde had a committed relationship. They were devoted to each other. Partners in crime. 

Now, perhaps you are unconvinced and continue to see the rules as the foundation of moral living. Perhaps you believe divine commands must be followed to the fullest extent of the law. Question: if you took a quick look at the New Testament, which sexual act would you guess requires the most severe remedy and is tied to the harshest punishment? 
In my reading, the answer is masturbation. In his teaching on lust, Jesus said, “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Mt 5.30). If the problem continues, Jesus the Great Physician insists masturbators gouge out an eye. For those assuming a rule-focused ethic, following Jesus will require many of their friends, children, parishioners, and perhaps they themselves to break out the cleaver. The divine command could not be more clear.

That's so bad it's funny. Where do you even begin to deconstruct such a preposterous interpretation?

i) He'd need to show that Jesus is speaking literally rather than figuratively and hyperbolically.

ii) The Sermon on the Mount wasn't addressed to adolescent boys, but husbands, wives, and children who happened to be in attendance.

iii) Does Cook think masturbation is all that men use their hands for? Is this all that Cook uses his hands for? Consider all the things you use your hands for in the course of a day–or a week. 

iv) Apropos (iii), our hands are the primary natural tools we use to manipulate and interact with the physical world. We use them all the time to do all sorts of things. If you had no hands, imagine how severely that would limit your field of action. 

v) Apropos (iv), sinners use their hands to commit a variety of sins–both sexual and nonsexual. Think of how many crimes in the Mosaic law require the use of hands. 

vi) In Mt 5, the "eye" in v29 refers, not to masturbation but adulterous lust in v28. Frankly, blind people can masturbate. The point of the eye, in context, is sex appeal. 

His interpretation is nonsensical. Even if he thinks right-handed men masturbate with their right hand, do they rely on their right eye. What about the left eye? 

vii) In the Synoptic parallel (Mk 9:43,45,47), the same imagery ("hand…foot…eye") is used generically. It's not specific to sexual sin, much less masturbation in particular. 

ix) Sinners use their eyes to look at or look for the object of forbidden desire, use their feet to go to or go in search of the object of forbidden desire, and use their hands to touch or obtain the object of forbidden desire. It's generic imagery involving the stimulus and logistics of sin. 

x) Carson thinks "hand" is used here as a phallic euphemism in the context of adultery. If, moreover, that identification is correct, it wouldn't mean the hand stimulates the sex organ, but that the hand is the sex organ. So on that interpretation, Cook's interpretation fails on both counts. 

xi) Nolland cites a single, admittedly ambiguous, Mishnaic text that may possibly use the hand to allude to masturbation. There's no evidence that this is representative. And it's often anachronistic to construe the NT in light of the Mishnah. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

"We are all born atheists"

Over at his fine blog (Calvindude), Peter Pike quotes a slogan: "We are all born atheists." 

i) That's quite ironic. Atheists like to compare Christian faith to childish belief in Santa Claus. Something we're supposed to outgrow. 

If, however, everyone is born an atheist, but many people outgrow atheism when they achieve intellectual maturity, then atheism is the mirror image of believing in Santa Claus. 

ii) By parity of argument, we could say babies aren't scientists. They don't believe in evolution. They don't believe in global warming. They don't believe in a woman's right to abortion. They don't believe in gay rights and trans rights.

So the atheist argument undercuts many beliefs dear to politically correct atheists. 

iii) Also, since when do atheists make babies the standard of comparison? Most atheists support abortion. Even "after-birth" abortion.

Inventing Mariology

Erasmus was right!

According to Arminian theologian Roger Olson:

Thank you for providing this nice illustration of the kind of Calvinism I am especially opposed to. Erasmus was generally right vis-à-vis Luther in that debate. Luther just fussed and fumed and called Erasmus names and engaged in ad hominem argumentation. And he completely overlooked Erasmus' insistence of grace assisting free will in salvation. We agree about one thing: Hyper-Calvinism is true (logically consistent) Calvinism.

Undercover journalism

I'm going to give a fuller answer to a question I was asked:

Bill Valicella has elsewhere brought up the point that liberals have no compunction about playing politics dirty. They lie, they misrepresent, they bully, and they try to shut down any view that doesn't comport with theirs. They cheat, in other words. He thinks that if conservatives don't follow suit, they will be buried; what do you think?
i) Christians can't merely respond in kind. We can't simply take our tactics from unbelievers, then do the same thing in reverse.

We must have our own standards. The problem is when some believers frame Christian ethics as an otherworldly ideal that can't offer concrete, constructive guidance or solutions in a fallen, real-world situation.

There's the question of what Christian ethics prescribes, proscribes, or permits. That's what I've been exploring.
ii) Undercover journalism is a good illustration. And I think Lila Rose and James O’Keefe are fine examples. For instance:
My point is not to issue them a blank check, but to commend the kinds of things they investigate. 
Undercover journalists misrepresent their background or true intentions. Is that unethical? Depends.
a) Is this information that can only be obtained by subterfuge? 
b) Is this information which the public is entitled to have
Offhand, I'd say those are two necessary conditions which jointly constituted a sufficient condition. Mind you, I'm not attempting to provide an exhaustive set of criteria. There may be exceptions or other criteria.
iii) Some ethicists treat undercover journalism is a last resort. But that's ambiguous. It's not like you can go to the same shady outfit twice, where the first time you are upfront about your intentions, then failing that, you return with the same questions, only this time you resort to subterfuge. 
You won't have that fallback, because you blew your cover the first time. The shady outfit will be on guard the next time around. So you only get one shot. Better aim well to make it hit the mark. 
iv) Among other things, the ethics of undercover journalism involves the question of reasonable expectations. I just did a general post on that subject:
Is there a reasonable expectation that the people who question you don't have a hidden agenda? In some cases, yes. For instance, in Beltway journalism you have a cozy relationship involving bureaucrats who leak information to trusted reporters at the Washington Post or NYT. 
This has less to do with the ethics of journalism than the pragmatics of journalism. If a reporter had a reputation for burning anonymous sources, all his sources would dry up overnight. So he must protect the confidentiality of his informations to have informants.
v) However, undercover journalism is known to exist. So there's no automatic presumption that you might not be the target of a journalist who misrepresents his background or intentions. 
vi) Likewise, undercover journalists "trick" the respondent into telling the truth. The respondent thinks that he has a sympathetic audience. It's safe to drop guard down and say what his outfit really does.
But as a rule, you aren't wronging someone by getting them to tell the truth. There's a prima facie duty to tell the truth, absent countervailing duties.
In addition, this is getting them to tell the truth about wrongdoing committed at or by their establishment. It isn't wrong to expose wrongdoing or wrongdoers.
And this isn't confined to interviewing participants. It may involve observing misconduct, by taking a job at the establishment. Infiltrating the organization to become an eyewitness. 
Let's give some examples of undercover journalism: the Walter Reed scandal, elder abuse in nursing homes. Patient abuse at psychiatric facilities. Voter fraud. Medicaid fraud. Welfare queens. The refusal of Planned Parenthood to report statutory rape. The seduction of minors by homosexual predators. Child prostitution. Redating expired meat. Lax airport security. Police corruption. 
These are things which gov't ought to investigate and prosecute, but is frequently negligent because gov't is itself complicit in wrongdoing. 

Reasonable expectations

I'm going to discuss an aspect of deception that I haven't seen discussed in the literature on Christian ethics. Of course, it's quite possible that that's been discussed before, and I just missed it.

i) Deception involves two parties. It often involves the deceiver and the deceived.

There is, however, the phenomenon of self-deception. People can be deceived even when there was no intention to deceive. They misperceive, misremember, or misinterpret what they saw, hear, or read. 

ii) In American law, there's the "reasonable expectation of privacy." That's based on fourth amendment protections. It involves a distinction between public and private space, or public and private communications. For instance, there's a reasonable expectation of privacy in your home, but not in a public park.

Likewise, it's illegal for the police to intercept email, text messages, or cellphone conversations without a warrant. On the other hand, a public or private employee using a gov't computer or company computer doesn't enjoy the same expectation of privacy. 

I'm not a lawyer, so I merely mention this to illustrate a principle. 

iii) This principle has an analogue in the ethics of deception. Is the onus on the speaker or the listener? That depends, in part, on whether there's a reasonable expectation that the speaker's statements will be truthful. Let's take a few examples:

a) TSA agents who ask passengers if they are smuggling a bomb onboard in their luggage. But if a terrorist did have a bomb in his luggage, he'd deny it. 

b) During the Cold War, American employees often had to take loyalty oaths. If, however, you were a KGB spy, you would have no hesitation about taking the oath to maintain your cover.

c) Some jobs involve a security clearance or criminal background check. As such, the application will ask prying questions. But surely there's no presumption that an applicant will truthfully answer self-incriminating questions. 

Now I'm not assessing the moral issue of what you should say in those situations. Right now I'm discussing a separate issue.

Is there a reasonable expectation that if you put people in those situations, they will give honest answers? Clearly not. You'd have to be gullible to believe their answers.

That doesn't mean all or most of them will lie. Rather, only those who have something to hide, something to lose by telling the truth, will be motivated to lie. The point, though, is that the questions themselves fail to sort out who's who. 

There's no presumption that people will give credible answers to questions like that. Indeed, the very people whom the questions are intended to root out will give false or evasive answers. 

To that extent, if you are deceived, that's because you allowed yourself to be deceived. Your credulity left you wide open to deception. It's not so much the deceiver who deceived you, but your willingness to be duped. 

It is foolish to ask certain questions in the first place. Questions like that are not a reliable way to gain information. 

iv) In addition to these special situations, there's no general expectation that you will never be lied to. In a fallen world, some people are chronic liars. Likewise, I suspect most people lie some of the time. Therefore, you have to be on your guard.

This includes high-minded Christians who think it's always wrong to lie. And they take that position as a matter of principle. Some of them have never lied, never will, and never would.

There are, however, some Christians who sincerely take that position, they genuinely mean it at the time they say it, but they only maintain that position because they never found themselves in a situation where the stakes were high enough to reconsider their position. It was something they believed in the abstract. 

Again, my immediate point is not to assess whether this is right or wrong, but whether there's a reasonable expectation that you won't be lied to. You'd have to be naive to think that when you put people to the test, in situations that generate moral dilemmas involving the welfare of loved ones, that you will get truthful answers if those answers conflict with the best interests of their loved ones.

If you take their answers at face value, you were deceived, not so much because they tried to deceive you, but because you had an unreasonable expectation. There's an onus on you not to play the chump. 

v) On a related issue, the ethics of deception is typically framed in terms of the deceiver wronging the deceived. But sometimes it's the deceived, or self-deceived, who wrong the deceiver. By that I mean, it can be wrong to ask questions that put people on the spot. That force them into a moral dilemma. Where there is no good answer.

By "moral dilemma," I don't mean a choice between two wrong actions, but a choice between conflicting prima facie duties. 

a) For instance, suppose a married couple attended the same high school at the same time. Knew all the same classmates.

Suppose the wife asks her husband who he thinks was the prettiest girl in school. Or asks him what he thought of this or that female classmate.

If he gives an honest answer, it may make her resentful or jealous. So don't ask questions like that if you don't want to hear the answer. Don't pose a question where you will resent any reply, whether it's a truthful answer or a diplomatic lie. That's unfair to the respondent. You're putting the respondent in an awkward position where anything he says may get him into trouble through no fault of his own. 

b) I once lived in a house where the next-door-neighbor had a barking dog. A dog that would bark day and night. Finally, another neighbor called animal control. The dog was removed. The neighbor was fined.

Well, the dog-owner went around the neighborhood, knocking on doors, asking who reported the dog. It's a stupid question, since obviously the person who called the animal cops is unlikely to fess up. She had no right to ask that question in the first place.

The neighbor who called animal control was within his (or her) rights to do so. It's not incumbent on the neighbor to defend his actions in that regard. He doesn't owe the irresponsible dog-owner an explanation or justification.

And since he doesn't want the dog-owner to make trouble for him or his family, it's unlikely that he will admit to doing it. When you ask a question like that, under those circumstances,  it's an invitation to be lied to. 

vi) The upshot is that when we evaluate the ethics of deception, we need to take into account whether there's a reasonable expectation that you won't be lied to (or the equivalent). The moral onus isn't invariably and primarily on the would-be deceiver, but sometimes on the would-be deceived. 

Of course, these distinctions are irrelevant to deontologists who think deception is intrinsically evil, but that's not the audience for this post. I'm not attempting to persuade them. 

God and complexity