The Veil of Ignorance

Dogma Debate

Recently, Justin Brierley had a debate with David Smalley on Smalley’s radio podcast show, Dogma Debate. The two were debating the existence of God as argued for in Brierley’s new book.

Brierley comes from a very different perspective than I do in terms of theology and apologetics, and thus, the vast majority of his answers went in directions different than I would have gone, although some were very good.

What I found most intriguing in the discussion was David Smalley’s perspective on morality. Smalley’s defense for how Atheism can account for morality was new to me, and that inspired my response.

Smalley argued for, what he called the Veil of Ignorance (VOI). According to him, this John Rawls method can essentially be boiled down to “putting yourself in another person’s shoes.” Smalley puts it this way,

“The Veil of Ignorance allows you to remove the bias so you can review the facts of reality.”

The context of this was given in the hypothetical of a child being raped. If the rapist would put himself behind the VOI by disregarding the fact that he is a rapist, and imagine he was the one being raped, he would realize rape is wrong.

When he goes behind that veil, he removes his bias as the perpetrator, and makes an informed decision based on an objective reality.

Jesus Repackaged

The VOI is borrowing from the Christian worldview. This is the Golden Rule repackaged with secular instructions. The VOI can be summed up as doing to others what you would do for yourself. The problem is that this is a Golden Rule hanging in midair.

The Christian, however, grounds the Golden Rule firmly within his worldview, since Jesus commanded it, and Jesus’ Word serves as the ultimate authority for all of life. The Christian can affirm the Golden Rule, and state why it ought to be followed. The secularist has stolen the Golden Rule, (ironically, theft is something the Golden Rule does not permit) and then imposes it without being able to tell any person why.

Transferred Bias

The claim that the VOI removes the bias is not true. The bias has changed, the biased has been transferred, the bias has shifted, but it has not been removed.

The rapist certainly has a bias, but so does the victim. Putting ourselves in the victim’s shoes is not removing bias, it is requiring the adoption of the victim’s bias. Victims are equally blinded by their own self-interests rapists are. To assume a victim has no bias is logically untenable. Any claim of bias leveraged against a perpetrator could be waged with equal force against a victim.

In order to remove bias, one needs a transcendental authority which is above the experiences and feelings of both the abuser and the victim. And that goes back to why, as Christians, we have reason to trust the Golden Rule. It came to us as revelation from a perspective above both parties involved.

The Golden Rule, and all of God’s Law, is reliable and authoritative because, to use a tautology, it’s God’s Law. His Law is grounded in immutability; it grew from omniscience. This makes it far superior then a philosopher’s unoriginal musings.

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