The sci-fi nerd in me loves being able to analyze all the philosophical aspects of Star Trek. One theme that gets used more than any other seems to be the idea of ‘what does it mean to be a person?’ There is a story where Data (a robot made to look human) wants to have the same rights as everyone else, and another story where a complicated computer program tries to figure out whether he’s really “real” or not.
While there are all sorts of different avenues this topic deals with, one that I’ve always found particularly interesting – but which doesn’t get addressed that much – is the idea of moral culpability.Moral culpability is basically just considering who is morally responsible for something. If there’s a case of evil, who gets the blame? If something great happens, who gets praised for it? Who is it that is ‘morally culpable’?
Are androids responsible for their evil?
Data is a robot that was created in order to “seem” human (but he’s really just a bunch of computer chips and wiring). So the big question I always ask is this, “If Data does something evil, is he morally responsible? Or is his creator morally responsible?” As a person watches the show, they feel a sort of empathy for Data. You “want” him to be real, because you love his character (he’s probably my favorite). You see the struggles he goes through, and you start to project your own humanity onto this robot character in a TV show. But the part that gets interesting, is when Data does something “human”. If Data makes a mistake, or if he acts heroically, or if he appears to show love for someone, or if he goes through hardship, or tries to understand the meaning of life… how do we handle that?
If Data was literally programmed to respond this way, then wouldn’t his creator be responsible? Suppose Data were to perform some terribly evil action, who gets the blame? After all, you can’t blame Data for how his creator made him, but you can blame the creator for making a robot capable of performing evils actions. Let’s take this idea to an extreme, just to make the implications more obvious. If Data is programmed in a way that he cannot ever do anything except good things, can we really praise him when he does good things? Furthermore, if Data is programmed in a way that he is literally incapable of doing anything except horribly evil actions, can we really blame him for the evil he does? After all, Data had no choice in the matter, and was programmed to behave exactly as he behaved. How can we praise or blame someone when they couldn’t have acted differently?
In sci-fi, there are also times where people are controlled, and forced to do something (like mind control). In every single case of a person being controlled, no one blames them for doing the evil things they did. Sometimes they deal with the issue of “feeling” responsible, because they were fully present in their body while they did evil things, but they recognize they aren’t really responsible, because they had no choice in the matter. And that’s the real issue isn’t it…
Being morally responsible seems to imply you had a choice.
If you remove choice from the situation, it seems like you also lose the moral responsibility. In order to be morally responsible for your actions, it seems like you would have to have had the ability to choose differently. In order to be morally responsible for your actions, it seems like you would have to have had the ability to choose differently. Now let’s push that point a step further. This idea seems to further imply that this type of free will brings moral uncertainty. Basically, if a creature has free will, then it might choose to do good things, or it might choose to do evil things. It might also do good things sometimes, and bad things other times.
If I can blame Data for some evil action, then that means it was possible for Data to not have done that evil thing.
If Data is able to decide between evil or not evil, this implies he has a choice (free will).
Data’s moral choice then implies he is morally responsible for his choice.
Moral responsibility then implies moral uncertainty.
Something is morally uncertain if the outcome could be good or bad.
If a creature is given the ability to make moral decisions, then the outcome might be good at times, and it might be bad at times. So if Data the robot is actually morally responsible for his action, we can assume that he had the ability to choose whether to perform a good action, or an evil one. On the other hand, if Data is not morally responsible for his action, then we can safely assume that he didn’t have the ability to choose what he would do. So it seems that the ability to choose, and being morally responsible for your choice, implies that your choice could have been good or bad. So if a creature is given the ability to make moral decisions, then the outcome might be good at times, and it might be bad at times.
Therefore, the very nature of moral choice implies the possibility of evil coming about.
How androids help us answer a larger question
It might not seem like it, but this understanding can actually help us with a question (or challenge) many people have had regarding Christianity.
“How can God allow all evil in the world?”
God created us as creatures who have moral freedom. We as humans have the ability to make moral decisions, and thus, are morally responsible for our actions. Since God created us with moral freedom, that means our decisions can sometimes (or even often) be evil. When humans make evil decisions, there are obviously negative repercussions. The evil we see in the world is actually a result of our ability to make moral choices. But this just causes another question to come to mind…
“Why would God give humanity free will, if it was going to cause so much evil?”
If God is everything Christians think He is, then He would know that creating morally free creatures means allowing the possibility of evil. More than that, God would know that creating humanity would in fact bring about evil. So, if God knows evil is going to come about, why create morally free creatures?
Suppose for a moment you find yourself in the plot line of a romantic comedy, where you’ve fallen in love with someone, only to find out that your lover’s best friends actually PAID your lover to date you. I imagine you’d be heartbroken. Your love would turn to contempt, as you realize this person never really loved you, and your entire relationship has been a sham. Why do you feel this way? You’ve been deceived into thinking that this other person really has fallen in love with you, but as it turns out, they were bribed into this relationship.
It would be terribly upsetting to discover the other person didn’t choose to love you; that they didn’t want to be your lover.
Now, as the plot line goes (in the interest of a happy ending), your lover approaches you, saying that they have turned their back on the money to date you. They have rejected the bribe money, because they really have fallen in love with you, and are now choosing to love you, of their own free will. Somehow, this shows that the love is real, and that the person is sincere in their affections.
The point of this analogy
What’s happened in this story? And why did I bother to tell it? It seems like the choice to love is what makes the love real. If the love is manipulated, or worse, forced upon someone, then the love doesn’t seem “real”. In the same way, if we look at God’s relationship with humanity, if God were to force humanity to love Him, it would be a cheap kind of love (if we could even call it love). If God created a bunch of robots like Data, all of which would tell God how much they love Him, we wouldn’t really respect that love, would we? In the same way that we can’t praise or blame a robot for its action, we also couldn’t appreciate love if it were forced.
“So why did God create human beings with moral freedom? It was in order for us to experience real love.”
In order for God to create us in a way that we can love Him, God has to allow for evil to come about.It might seem like an odd concept, but for God to truly love humanity, and for humanity to truly love God, He has to create us with the ability to choose to love Him. This moral choice then brings about the possibility of choosing to reject God. By choosing to reject God, we are choosing to reject the purpose we were created for. This rejection of love is ultimately evil, and brings with it all sorts of suffering. So, in order for God to create us in a way that we can love Him, God has to allow for evil to come about. Also, interestingly enough, God often refers to the people who love and follow Him as His “bride”. He uses romantic language to refer to His people, because His ultimate goal with us is love.
Love requires a choice – Choice implies good or bad outcomes – Freedom of choice implies moral responsibility for those outcomes.
We are capable of loving God, and we are responsible for the evil we see. God creating us with moral freedom allows for obedience (or rebellion), relationship (or solitude), good (or evil), and love (or hatred). These things are all impossible without moral freedom.
But, if God knew that evil was going to come about, then why didn’t He do anything to try and fix the bad situation? Well I’ve got good news for you; He did. This is actually the whole point of Christianity, and the whole point behind the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Humanity became evil, and each and every one of us has done evil things at times (I know I sure have!). In order to save us from the consequences of our evil, Jesus came to take the responsibility onto Himself. By allowing Jesus to be our moral representative, we become free of the moral responsibility for our evil.
In the end, evil will be ultimately defeated, where it won’t be present anymore, and people won’t perform evil actions anymore. In the end, evil will not exist, but moral freedom and the true love that comes with it, will exist. This is the ultimate purpose behind the creation that God made, and it explains why evil exists, how we are morally responsible for our actions, and also how God will eventually set everything back in order.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Leave a comment in the box below. I would love to engage in dialogue with you and answer any questions you may have.