Natural Empathy and Supernatural Love

Natural Empathy and Supernatural Love

In this thread I’m just making sure my ideas on morality are consistent…

Some verses on generally revealed morality: Luke 6:32-35; Romans 1:19; 2:14.

A while back I compiled a list of potentially conflicting ideas I was holding, and set it on the back-burner. I have since returned to it, and wanted to show how the ideas, as it turns out, are not conflicting. This list was sparked when I read about general revelation in the universality of ethical principles, mentioned in “Intro. to Philo.” by Geisler and Feinberg. It mentions Romans 2:14-15 and C.S. Lewis’ assembling of many creeds in the appendix to The Abolition of Man and his mention that “the great moral creeds of mankind’s civilizations have given testimony to the general revelation of God in the striking resemblance of their basic ethical principles,” (362). I don’t know why I never considered it when reading Romans 2:14… I guess I just wasn’t ready (some flavors take time to blend). This realization caused me to analyze everything I had said/thought previously that could be in error in the light of the realization, or at least needed to be linked with this realization. Consistency between beliefs is highly important to anyone who values Truth.

In my “meme” thread I said or implied values are temporary (not eternal) unless one adopts God’s values (unchangeable and everlasting). This thought, in connection with the new realization, leads to the question – are the values of “general revelation” God’s eternal values, or man’s temporary values? Something that sticks out almost right away is that the similar principles found in those creeds are not necessarily the same as God’s moral law – which is higher. “Even sinners love those who love them (general revelation)…. Love your enemy (special revelation),” (Luke 6:32-35).

In a “problem of evil” thread external to this site, I said “Evil is not a surpassing, however. It is a degeneration (and I’ll add, in this thread, ‘or denaturizing’). Of course humans cannot surpass God in stuff where surpassing applies. God would be the perfection implied by ‘degeneration’. It is not God who is degenerating — He is distinct from His creation, though also intimately relating with it. Humans, in the image of God, degenerate apart from Him — the only way back is atonement,” and again “evil is not part of life or nature as they are meant to be – but is a degeneration.” This leads to the question – are the values of “general revelation” a degeneration apart from God, or an example of God’s eternal values? If reality, which includes nature and super-nature, was meant to be a certain way (in union with God, only possible super-naturally), and evil is a degeneration from that (disunity with God) – then general revelation in nature (as seen in “the striking resemblance of the basic ethical principles” in “the great moral creeds of mankind’s civilizations”) is not really all of reality, since it is not God’s supernaturally moral law (unity with God, the summit of love, only possible super-naturally). I think if we throw in the idea that “the similar principles found in those creeds are not necessarily the same as God’s moral law – which is higher,” then it will produce the answer that the values of general revelation point to something higher, as did the ‘old covenant’ – it pointed to the covenant of grace. It might also be helpful to review my “Wanted: The Old Testament — dead… or alive?” on this site.

Also in the “problem of evil” thread external to this site, I said God’s moral law is implementable in (passing the “ought implies can” test), but not sustained by, the natural universe (because following His law requires His super-natural intervention; nature is only part of reality, not the whole of reality). At first this made me ask — are the values of general revelation not an example of God’s moral law being both implementable in and sustained by the natural universe? But, as we just saw a couple paragraphs up, God’s moral law is more than what is received in general revelation. Also, once human perception enters the picture, nature isn’t the only ‘sustainer’ (one could argue nature is ‘never’ the only sustainer) – humans take over that role. That our nature includes empathy is part of general revelation, and what we do with that empathy is super-natural selection.

In reply to someone who says that it is immoral to go against natural selection, and moral to allow natural selection to take its course: Something you may not realize is that you are calling human free will “supernatural selection”. Would you disagree with that? I would not disagree — as long as one realizes it (as well as supernatural miracles) is not “anti-natural”. Supernatural and natural are both part of reality as a whole. But when you realize this, you realize that for us to execute every repeat offender — is not “natural selection” — it is the same “supernatural selection” we do when we help them (anti-recidivism programs). Our very perceptual presence makes it impossible for “natural selection” (if it has anything to do with anything) to run its course as if we weren’t there… because we are responsible for whatever action or non-action is taken.

Also in the “problem of evil” thread (external to this site), while we’re talking about empathy, I said God can’t put (against our will) empathy or values in our heart; that what we learn about empathy and values (including from others’ suffering) is how He puts it (though not against our will) into our hearts (because to put empathy or values in our heart against our will is not love, because love must be chosen freely… see my “predestination and free will” thread). In a social psychology course one learns empathy is a natural inclination (general revelation, ought implies can), and the lacking of it is like a birth defect. Additionally, though empathy may be a natural inclination, it must be nurtured, much like a plant must be nurtured in order to grow well. I feel it necessary to clarify that the fact we are born with the inclination for empathy does not mean it has been put in our heart against our will – without it, we would have no will, as it is part of what makes our will possible. Studies show that the reason certain individuals who lack empathy have such a hard time navigating through life is that they cannot empathize with their own self (in the future, in planning) in order to act in their own best interest – this is a huge obstacle to the will (an obstacle God can remove, if asked). General revelation (empathy) is ‘nature’ (plus a human’s super-natural selection, mentioned above) – and both God’s law and an underdeveloped conscience are learned (nurtured, the former example being super-nature, the latter being de-nature). God’s law would be super-nature or super-nurture, since it existed before the generally revealed (in nature) moral law, and does not depend on human learning for its existence.

Lastly, in my thread “Biological Homeostasis and Existential Intelligence” (in a reply to the original thread external to this site) I write, “I guess you could unintentionally conform to God’s will (general revelation) if you didn’t know that loving is God’s will. The only problem with that is the love of which we are capable apart from God is a mere hint of the love He desires to share with us, and in turn share with eachother (in this thread I will add that this is ‘supernatural, special revelation’).”

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About Maryann

Maryann Spikes is the past President of the Christian Apologetics Alliance and now coordinates the CAA Catechism. She blogs at Ichthus77, and loves apologetics and philosophy. In particular she loves to study all things Euthyphro Dilemma and Golden Rule. A para-educator (autism) for five years, she holds a Certificate in Christian Apologetics from Biola University, an AA in Humanities via Modesto Junior College, and moonlights as a freelancer. You can follow her on Twitter @Ichthus77, connect with the Ichthus77 community on Facebook, or look her up on Google+.
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