In the mid eighteenth century, David Hume, a Scottish Enlightenment philosopher and champion of modern secularists, laid out what was called the Is-Ought Problem in his A Treatise of Human Nature.  I will quote his description of the problem in that text:
In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark’d, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surpriz’d to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, ’tis necessary that it shou’d be observ’d and explain’d; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it. But as authors do not commonly use this precaution, I shall presume to recommend it to the readers; and am persuaded, that this small attention wou’d subvert all the vulgar systems of morality, and let us see, that the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceiv’d by reason.[1]   
This is called the Is-Ought Problem, because Hume argued that one cannot reason from premises which are only statements about what is the case, to statements about what ought to be the case.  He was responding to the Enlightenment philosophers who sought to rationally ground morality in a number of different ways.  Noting that these is-propositions and those ought-propositions are different in structure, he observed that these produce syllogisms which are not logically valid.  Here are some examples of the sort of arguments to which Hume was referring:

  1. Calling Hermione a Mudblood will cause her emotional pain.
  2. Therefore I ought not call Hermione a mudblood.
  1. I wouldn't like it if the opposing quarterback partially deflated his footballs before an NFL game to gain a competitive edge.
  2. Therefore, I ought not deflate my own footballs before an NFL game to gain a competitive edge.[2]
You can easily see that each of these syllogisms is invalid and possibly incomplete as they are currently written out, for the reasons that Hume gave.  In a following post, I will consider how Alasdair MacIntyre responds to this "problem" by invoking the pre-modern understanding of function and how it relates to the virtues.

1.  Hume, 1739
2.  I thought it worth mentioning that I chose these two examples because they reflect real attempts of Enlightenment philosophers to ground morals in reason.  The first (about Hermione) reflects the Utilitarian tendencies of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill to ground morality in pain and pleasure.  The second (about Tom Brady) reflects the Universality measure that Kant employed to justify morality (any moral imperative must apply equally to every person universally).

Every so often, while in a discussion about the correct interpretation of this or that passage in the Bible, a certain claim will be articulated.  The claim goes something like this:

If a Christian decides to treat a particular passage of Scripture as something other than a straightforward historical and/or scientific account, then they no longer have good reason for treating the central claims of Christianity in the same manner.

For example, let's say that I express a belief that the story of Jonah being swallowed by a fish is an allegory (this is just an illustration, I am not presently intending to express such a belief).  I no longer have good reason, my detractors might say, to hold the narrative of the resurrection of Jesus Christ to be a historical account rather than an allegory or some other non-historical literary device.  Such a claim comes from Christians and non-Christians alike.  The Christian is concerned that treating some portion of the Bible as other than history or science will effectively undermine our trust in the rest of Scripture.  The atheist, on the other hand, might see this as a Christian's way of dodging some deadly argumentative projectile which has been launched at him (it seems, rather tragically, that dodging bullets is only cool in the movies): if the external evidence corroborates some biblical detail, then it is historical.  If it contradicts it, then it is a metaphor. (This is almost verbatim of something that was said to me by an atheist recently, tongue-in-cheek).  Both of these views are misguided.  The Christian is under no obligation to treat every passage of Scripture the same.  In fact, to do so is irresponsible and wrongheaded.
There is an objection to Christianity that I have heard many times, and I'm afraid it's a rather stale one.  I don't think it holds any weight, and in fact with historical Christianity in view it falls flat.  The objection is that Christianity fails to take account of the immensity of the universe, and just how insignificant all of humanity is next to it.  In fact, Christianity puts humanity at the center of the universe.  You'll find this objection in the writings of Dawkins, Sagan, and many others.

But as it turns out, these objectors were anticipated by some 3,500 years.  In the words of a shepherd,
When I look at your heavens, the works of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
The idea of man's smallness and insignificance has found its way into Christian writing for centuries.  This is not news. In the words of C.S. Lewis,
It is a profound mistake to imagine that Christianity ever intended to dissipate the bewilderment and even the terror, the sense of our own nothingness, which come upon us when we think about the nature of things.  It comes to intensify them.  Without such sensations there is no religion.  Many a man, brought up in the glib profession of some shallow form of Christianity, who comes through reading Astronomy to realise for the first time how majestically indifferent most reality is to man, and who perhaps abandons his religion on that account, may at that moment be having his first genuinely religious experience.
There we find what may be the source of the objection (and so many others like it) - "the glib profession of some shallow form of Christianity."  It isn't that Christianity as properly understood is somehow found wanting.  The problem is that really shallow forms of Christianity have a powerful influence on our culture, and it is often taken as representative of orthodox Christianity.

But read the psalms, the proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the words of Jesus, the writings of the early church fathers, and the writings of Luther, Edwards, Spurgeon, and so many others - and you'll find that humanity is in fact insignificant.  Utterly insignificant.  And yet the Creator of the universe cares for us and loves us.  That is one of the great mysteries and sources of wonder in Christianity - that God loves us despite our smallness. Lewis explains it well.
If it is maintained that anything so small as the Earth must, in any event, be too unimportant to merit the love of the Creator, we reply that no Christian ever supposed we did merit it.  Christ did not die for men because they were intrinsically worth dying for, but because He is intrinsically love, and therefore loves infinitely.

That's right folks. We're back.  Like a phoenix, we have arisen from the ashes of winter and general busyness. Like Gandalf, we have come back with renewed purpose (and hopefully new powers - though we didn't have any to begin with).  After a several month delay, and much anticipation from our one regular reader, we have returned.  Now that our lives have settled down a bit we have decided to continue writing. Like that pesky poltergeist, we just won't leave you alone for long.  In this, our re-introductory post, we wanted to spell out a little of our vision for this blog. Our original goals in writing this blog, which can be found here, have not changed.  In summary, they are as follows:

  1. To edify other Christians through exposure to new ideas.
  2. To offer challenges to non-Christians through the presentation of arguments and objections to other worldviews.
  3. To explore interesting new ideas in (especially) the realms of philosophy, theology, and science that may not be directly related to belief in God or Christian doctrine, or else may not be beliefs that we personally hold.

While we have decided to stay the course in (the very broad scope of) our goals, we have been discussing ways which may improve the achievement of those goals.  First of all, we are going to try to make a number of our future posts shorter, less technical, and a bit more personal (at least in style if not in content). It seems that for a large portion of our potential audience, long technical posts might be somewhat intimidating and prevent them from ever engaging in our subject matter (and to be honest, we stretched the limits of our knowledge to the breaking point with some of our older posts).  Through shorter, more accessible posts, we hope to gain a larger actual audience which will directly impact goals (1) and (2) above (our writing can't edify or challenge anyone if they don't read it :-P ).  Along these lines, instead of long posts series' summarizing books we are reading, we will opt instead for single post reviews of books, or posts about singular ideas within a book we read. We will still be writing some longer and more technical entries, but this will not be universal. Second, we will likely take on a more polemical style in some of our posts.  In our initial push, we tried hard to come across as objective and informative, and as a result we instead came across as very dry, and rarely explicitly expressed strong opinions on anything. We have been upfront from the beginning with our own worldview(s), and our goals to further that worldview, so we have decided to not shy away from posts which more strongly reflect that.  Lastly, we think that many of the concepts we write about deserve to be discussed with both those who agree and disagree with its content (that's the fun part anyway, eh?). So we may do some posts which allow us to discuss issues with guests, or else frame regular posts in ways that are more likely to get readers involved.

That's about all for now.  Have a Calvin and Hobbes strip before you go:

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