Jan 05

The Parable of the Sheep

The young girl awoke with a start to the sound of desperate bleating. She quickly dressed and ran outside, fearing the worst. The pen which held her sheep—her precious sheep that she cared for daily—was open. Carcasses and blood were everywhere. She had to find her father; he was the only one who could help.

“Daddy!” she cried, running up to him, “a wolf’s gotten in the pen.”

“I know,” the father said.

“Please do something,” she sobbed. “They’re being killed and suffering terribly.”

“But the sheep let the wolf into the pen,” said the father as he turned away to resume his work. “They were curious about the animal. They had never seen a wolf before, so they knocked the gate open.”

“But they’re sheep!” the girl practically screamed at him. “They couldn’t possibly understand the consequences.”

“I’m sorry, dear,” said the father. “I warned them what would happen. They did not listen.”

“But they’re sheep!” she said again—this time even louder. “You would let them suffer and die over this stupid choice? They can’t see and think like you.”

“Even so,” said the father solemnly, “it is better for them if I do not interfere.”

Outside the slaughter continued as the wolf savagely ripped out the throats of its victims. The father did nothing.

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  1. The Nerd

    Something tells me this guy works in finance.

  2. Mike


  3. The Nerd

    Well clearly he doesn’t own those sheep or he’d protect his own investment. Therefore, I can only conclude he’s trading derivatives.

  4. Mike

    Ah, I see. Well, according to the father it’s better for the sheep to suffer terribly and for him not to interfere. So apparently he is just doing what is in the best interest of the sheep or promoting some greater good. Of course, that’s completely ridiculous so I understand your desire to fill in another backstory that makes sense.

  5. Hendy

    Good illustration. And this highlights the tension between theodicies a la the free will defense and the insistence on us being like children in comparison to a heavenly father. When it comes to my three year old’s free will… I value it, but not at the cost of letting her discover the perils of running into the street.

    In any case, you reminded me of an attempted defense of this tension in a recent book I reviewed on my blog: Letters to a Doubting Thomas. The quote is on my blog in this post, but I’ll reproduce it here:

    Parents are procreators, not creators, and there’s a big difference. A Creator must determine the basic structure of the created realm, including the fundamental sorts of options to make available to free creatures. No one else is in a position to do that. Human parents lack the requisite power and knowledge. The God-parent analogy is useful, but it is misused if it is taken to mean that God has precisely the same responsibilities a human parent has.

    Now, I don’t think the response is very good, and I discuss it in the post linked above. Specifically, I think it brings up another tension: that between free-will defense and miracles. If god can suspend his own universe-instilled rules that brought about free-willed creatures to perform medical miracles or prevent someone’s car from going over a cliff when it would have otherwise… believers are in a difficult place to explain why god doesn’t do this all the time. It’s like having a cure and only using it selectively, leaving those who trust you to devise philosophically intricate hypotheses about what your good-willed reasons might be.

    These things fascinate me. Thanks for the simple story leading to stimulating reflections.

  6. Mike

    Thanks, I’m glad you liked it. I agree that miracles and alleged interventions present a lot of problems. And that’s not just for the problem of evil – free will is used as a justification for all kinds of problems. It’s like the blanket solution for theism, which is ironic given how implausible it is. I really liked some of the points philosopher Stephen Maitzen brought up about free will in this podcast (if you’re interested): http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=7086

  7. C-Rae

    dude I thought this was a joke.

  8. Mike

    I wish it were a joke, but I think it’s a pretty good depiction of the doctrine of original sin in particular and damnation for sins in general. Pretty much the only things I regard favorably in the Christian Bible are the parables of Jesus. So, I figured I’d return the favor.

  9. Paul So

    Free-will argument use to stop me for a moment until I realized that human beings interfere with the actions other human beings make, and such interference can be morally justified. If that is the case for human beings, why can’t that also be the case for God? I think some theist would argue that God’s interference would take away human free-will, but I don’t think this argument is even biblically supported (God always interfered in the bible), and there are times when God takes away free-will (God hardens pharaoh’s heart). Theist can argue that God makes exceptions, but these exceptions seems so arbitrary that it doesn’t explain why God would make an exception to prevent people from harming each other. I also think the argument of God taking away free-will through interference could be construed as a slippery slope fallacy, since God can choose to limit his interference with certain things by minimizing suffering. Also, as J.L. Mackie points out, if compatiblism is true, then God can create people who always make right choices “freely”. I know some theists who would say that this would make humans into robots who do whatever God wants them to do, but I think this argument assumes an incompatibalist view of free-will. Anyways, that’s my thought about the free-will argument….

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