Saturday, September 4, 2010

A God Without Moral Worth

How do we perceive the minds of others?

According to Harvard psychologists, humans typically see the minds of others along two distinct and independent dimensions – namely, agency and experience. Here, agency refers to “an individual’s ability for self-control, morality, and planning," while experience refers to an individual’s ability “to feel sensations such as hunger, fear, and pain.” According to these psychologists, certain types of judgments concerning “the other” arise and are played out depending upon the type and degree of the dimension attributed to another’s mind. A mind that has experience, for example, is judged to have moral worth and by extension certain inalienable rights, chief among these is the right to life.

Kurt Gray, one of the members of the research team writes,

 If you see a man in a persistent vegetative state as having feelings, it feels wrong to pull the plug on him,  whereas if he is just a lump of firing neurons, we have less compunction at freeing up his hospital bed.

A mind that has agency is considered suitable to be judged for the choices it makes.

Kurt Gray states,

When we perceive agency in another, we believe they have the capacity to recognize right from wrong and can punish them accordingly….

While the research respondents attributed a high degree of both agency and experience to the minds of “normal” adult human beings, these same respondents attributed to certain minds a lack of either agency or experience (If this is utterly unclear, just follow the link above. The original article is much clearer). For example, a fetus or infant might have experience but no or little agency. For the research respondents, God is a being that has agency (capable of moral action) but no experience. As Kurt Gray states, “We find it hard to envision God sharing any of our feelings or desires.”

Now, the notion that God has agency but no experience got me thinking. If a mind that is in possession of experience is deemed to have moral worth and God lacks experience, then god lacks moral worth. What, if any, are the implications of holding this view? How might one’s interactions with such a God be shaped by holding such a view and how might these interactions differ from those that exist between oneself and a God that has experience or moral worth? I certainly don’t have any answers. What do you think?

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