I’ve never understood why people, especially Evangelicals, use this question as if it has force. The answer seems like an obvious “Yes,” but to clearly see why, let’s unpack the assumptions.
First, let’s consider the analogy: the clay should not judge the potter. Humans (and I presume animals) are supposed to be the clay and God the potter. Right off the bat I hope you notice something. Clay is not sentient. The ethical theories to which most of us subscribe consider consciousness to be of considerable importance. Just for a quick intuitive example, consider whether you feel wrong kicking a rock versus kicking a human being or a cat. Or, if we do value non-sentient objects, it is because of some attachment to a sentient being. For example, I would be morally culpable for destroying a painting that someone else really valued – not for the sake of the painting, but for the person. So, clearly the analogy is a flawed one, but there are some unstated assumptions to consider too.
These assumptions generally say that we cannot even rightly call certain acts by the creator unjust. They will argue that we owe respect, or maybe even allegiance, to a creator or authority figure. I will argue two contentions with these points. First, just because a creator gives life does not make it just to take life. Second, an authority figure who creates laws is not then above those laws.
Let’s imagine you are a creator of artificial intelligence. You are wildly successful in a way no one has been before, and you create a sentient creature. It is not human, but it reasons, it has feelings, it feels pain – basically, it is just like a human, but with different components. Suppose you create 100 of these creatures and 98 of them are acting in a way that you didn’t intend through your programming. Would it then be moral to destroy them in a painful way, like drowning them or setting them ablaze? Realize that I don’t mean reprogramming (like an equivalent of a surgery to fix something) and then activating them again to resume their lives. I mean actually extinguishing their lives permanently and painfully. I don’t see how that can be just.
Now imagine that you are under a sovereign king. This king has created a law of the land; he is the author and enforcer of this law. Since he is your sovereign, you are bound to keep the law. One of the laws says it is illegal to steal from anyone else in the kingdom. Yet, the king’s men regularly steal from the commoners to increase the king’s wealth. Another law says it is illegal to murder. Yet, the king’s men regularly kill anyone—man, woman, or child—who does not respect them. Is it just for this king to advocate these laws and not keep them himself? I don’t think so. And neither, by the way, did the people of Europe who eventually overthrew many of these kingdoms.
If the “potter” kills his creatures and breaks his own laws, then it seems perfectly correct to call him unjust.
- The Parable of the Great King
- Foundations of New Atheism in the Radical Enlightenment
- On Framing an Opponent’s Argument