23 January 2004

Reader Mail (Reprinted by Permission)

Dear Keith,

I enjoy your blog and find it very edifying—thanks, and keep up the great work. Some time soon I hope to start working through your suggested reading list for philosophy. One request: PLEASE syndicate your blog content in RSS or RDF if at all possible. I don't know if Blogspot offers that service, but if they do, I would greatly appreciate it and I'm sure there are others who would as well.

I want to take issue with the Tom Regan excerpt you posted on 1/6, arguing from the creation account that Christians should be vegans. The problem with Regan's argument is that he overlooks God's covenant with Noah (Gen. 9), in which God gives humans all creatures, both plants and animals, as food (Gen. 9:3).

I realize that you are a religious sceptic, that you see no need of resort to God or revelation in your thinking, and that you therefore won't find an appeal to scripture very convincing.

Nonetheless, I think that Regan creates at least two kinds of problem for his argument by using scripture selectively, citing God's dietary ordinances at creation but ignoring those proposed in his covenant with Noah.

First, he opens himself to the charge of cherry-picking scripture for those passages that support his position. Clearly, if all parts of scripture are equally authoritative, he is wrong to argue in this fashion, because his position requires that he deny authority to the Noahic covenant. Thus, he must deny that all parts of scripture are equally authoritative. In that case, we must ask why he considers the one passage authoritative and not the other.

The best account he can give of his use of scripture in support of his argument is: (1) he has good reason for considering one set of passages authoritative, but not the other; and (2) he has conformed his positions to the teachings found in the passages he does regard as authoritative.

If he can demonstrate (1), I'll take him on his word that he has done (2), though I'll still disagree with his handling of scripture. Note that it is problematic to cite the moral quality of the authoritative passages as criteria for (1) if he is in turn using these passages to support moral arguments: great care would be needed to avoid circularity (and in some cases it might even be impossible to do so).

Of course, if he is simply selecting those parts of scripture that support a position he already holds, he is undermining any claim that scripture has intrinsic authority. In that case, scripture contributes nothing to his argument. It is meaningless except as an appeal to sentiment in order to persuade the careless thinkers.

Second, because his argument assumes that Creation is still in the state in which it was created, it is cogent only for a subset of people calling themselves Christians (and certainly not for me). Christianity as I (and orthodox Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Wesleyans, Calvinists, and others) understand it posits a Fall due to human sin. The Fall radically altered all aspects of Creation (Romans 8:22ff). It radically altered humanity's relationship with Creation (Gen. 3:16-24). It entails that the state of original human blessedness is now inaccessible to us, due to our sins. Indeed, within the creation account, God signifies the human need for redemption by making garments of leather for Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:21). Clearly, things have changed, and in his curses on Adam & Eve, God indicates that their existence will be very different than it has been up to that time. Those Christians who hold to the Fall and the Noahic covenant have to reject Regan's argument if they are consistent. That amounts to quite a few Christians for whom this argument lacks cogency.

I realize that I haven't stated my points as clearly as I might have, but it's way past my bedtime and I do want to get this email "onto the wire" tonight.

Thanks again for your blog, and please try to implement some kind of XML syndication of your content.

Best wishes,
Chuck Bearden