What is ‘good’?

It’s a good question — one posed by Ron H. in his comment on my recent “Darwinism and good” post:

What can adequately explain why something is or isn’t good? Equivalently: What is good?

For many (in practice this is most, I imagine), something is good if it turns out the way a person wishes. Good is reduced to whatever is the most pleasant outcome.

This view is problematic in that there is so much more to “goodness” than its typical subjective uses. There exists an objective good, whether or not we can ascertain it.

As a Christian, I view the concept of good through the lens of biblical revelation. The concept is there throughout Scripture, and shows up early on in the Old Testament book of Genesis:

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. (Genesis 1:3-4, ESV)

Good is that which is wrought by God.

In the New Testament, good is applied on a personal level:

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. (Mark 10:17-18, ESV)

And to gifts we’ve been given:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17, ESV)

These are but a few examples that begin to show a biblical view of good. The Scriptures indicate that good is a reflection of God’s actions and his character. Good emanates from God.

Without such grounding, it becomes difficult to quantify good in terms other than mere personal preference. It would seem, for example, that a naturalist — who believes that the natural world is all that there is — has little grounding for appealing to the good. I can say that a little girl’s smile is good, because I know that she is a good creation of God.

Upon what can a naturalist base a view of good?

We named the dog Indiana

I’m now back from travels to the hinterlands of Tennessee, where I saw — among other things — Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. As someone who has long considered Raiders and Last Crusade two of my favorite movies, I’ve looked forward to the next Indy sequel ever since the rumors started flying back in the mid-90s.

Even so, I had low expectations. Overhyped sequels rarely do well. How else does one explain Spiderman 3, a film that competes even with Twister on my all-time worst film list?

Thankfully, Indy 4 avoids such pitfalls. Is it a great film? No. Among the other films of the franchise, it probably ranks 3 out 4. What it is is entertaining, far fetched, and loads of fun. Any attempt to read anything else into the movie is taking higher criticism too far.

If you’re a fan, go see it. If you’re not, don’t even try to comprehend.

The Hulk must be an incredible smoker

The other night, during a television commercial break, something strange caught my eye in a trailer for the new movie The Incredible Hulk:

It didn’t strike me until 10 seconds into the next commercial. Quick rewind (this is the stuff DVRs are made for!). Yes it’s just as I thought:

The Hulk uses tobacco

Notice the dire warning box at the bottom of the credit screen (which looks eerily like a McCain-Feingold style political disclaimer). Yep, just when you thought it was safe to enter the cinema again, they had to go and ruin it.

Nevermind that its PG-13 rating includes “Scenes of intense action violence, some frightening sci-fi images, and brief suggestive content,” this film contains depictions of tobacco consumption, for crying out loud!

Why can’t they just let the monstrous gamma-ray infected superheroes bludgeon each other to the death without bringing tobacco into the mix? Films these days are getting as dangerous as the front porch of the Baptist church of my childhood, which featured more than its fair share of tobacco consumption.

The sexual ‘revolution’ that keeps on turning

I saw last week about half a minute of VH1’s documentary “Sex: The Revolution”, which seemed to relish in the notion that the “advances” in sexual behavior that occur today were brought about by the libidinous free-wheeling of the 60’s and 70’s. Off with the old American puritanism, it seemed to say.

Last week, I also happened to read the following description of early American sexual mores in George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life that shows how more things change, the more they stay the same:

…Not only was lasciviousness encouraged by nightwalking and similar frivolities, but New England parents allowed practices that are “looked upon as shameless and disgraceful at Canada, New York, [and] England.” Everyone knew that [Edwards] referred to the New England practice of “bundling” in which parents allowed young people to spend the night in bed together partly clothed…

Bundling, which was supposed to be a way of getting acquainted without sexual intercourse, did not always work as advertised. Pregnancies before marriage were rising dramatically in New England. Even in well-churched Northampton, where premarital pregnancies were rarer than in some parts of the region, the figure had recently risen to one in ten first children born within eight months of marriage. Premarital sex was commonplace. Even when it resulted in pregnancy, so long as the couple married, there was no longer much stigma involved…

pp. 103-131

The popular line is that the sexual revolution of the hippie generation was linked to rebellion of the so-called “repressive” puritanical sexual virtues of the 1950s. The fact is that people have been rebelling against the created order as long as there has been creation.

Or said better by Qoheleth: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”

Technology and rightness

This Associated Press piece on “designer babies” highlights how — for some — the ability to do something is sufficient grounds for its rightness:

But Kathy Hudson, director of the Genetics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., said she’s not troubled by the work. She said the idea of successfully modifying babies by inserting genes remains a technically daunting challenge.

“We’re not even close to having that technology in hand to be able to do it right,” she said, and it would be ethically unacceptable to try it when it’s unsafe.

Does Hudson mean that if we did have the technology in hand, it would be OK to proceed?   What does she mean by “unsafe?”  Indeed, how would one know if a procedure is safe, unless it is tested (as a potentially unsafe modification) on a living human being?

Please, let us not make the most helpless among us into guinea pigs for so-called advancement.