Two hundred years ago the idea of cloning a living organism was just that; an idea. Today it is a reality and society is no longer dealing with the question, “can we do this”, but rather, “should we do this”. That’s one of those pesky things about science. It can show you how to do all kinds of things. What it can’t do is tell you is whether you should do those things.
In 2002, Steven Spielberg took the cool idea of knowing the future and applied it to crime. Special people known as “pre-cogs” could peer into the future and notify the police of any major crimes that were yet to be committed. The guilty parties, before they could commit the act for which they were judged guilty, were arrested before any harm could be done. Sounds great, right? I dunno though, I seem to recall some famous quote, something about how power corrupts… I forget the rest.
It goes without saying that this futuristic scenario on display in minority Report, however unlikely, presents a very interesting dilemma. This particular dilemma is one that may well play out differently depending on your outlook on life. If, as Christian’s hold to, you believe that you will one day answer to a higher power with an objective standard of morals, you may feel a certain way about this dilemma. If however, you believed that morals were simply a social construct, or that they were determined on an individual basis, you may have completely different feelings about this.
Derek and Nate will be tackling this issue from exactly those perspectives. Nate will approach this dilemma from a Christian perspective, providing ample biblical reasoning to back up all conclusions. Derek will be adopting a worldly perspective, relying only on his own reasoning to reach his conclusions. Both of these guys will be presenting their sides in hopes to spur some good discussion. So read on and weigh in afterward!
Derek – Worldly perspective
We know that, at least at this point, creatures (gifted humans) like the Pre-Cogs don’t exist, or rather, we don’t know if they exist or not. The point is, if something like this did exist – whether in a being of exceptional foreknowledge, a human with a special talent, something that could be done through genetic engineering, or some technology that can either predict the future by precise algorithms of prediction (which would require near-infinite knowledge of a person’s DNA, what certain combinations mean in conjunction with environment, what the environment is and will be, and so on) or by breaking through the known laws of physics and peaking into the future – would it be okay to use it? What are the implications? And what does it say about our worldview? Some of these theories for how foreknowledge could be possible sound like science fiction, but at one time science sounded like science fiction, too.
I want to discuss some cons to this issue. First, there are privacy issues. I’m not quite as paranoid as some of my more ‘patriotic’ friends, but there are still major privacy issues involved. How is the foreknowledge known? What does it look like? Do I need to be concerned with naked images of my future self being put on the internet? Will the law intervene if I only strongly consider punching a man in the face, but would not have actually done it? What is the foreknowledge based off of? My intense feelings and desires, or some external and objective reality that exists beyond the human realm of willing (some way to manipulate the laws of physics to allow us to peer into the future)? Does it begin to punish me for my thoughts, making my thoughts a sin, a cause of condemnation? Then we’ve progress no further than the religious dogma that we reject!
Another con is with issues surrounding the determinative aspects of foreknowledge. Just recall the preemptive strikes that G.W. Bush attacked Iraq with based on faulty intelligence. Even the most reliable intelligence can lead you astray. Some believe, however, that the intelligence used to justify invading Iraq was never real, but that Bush et al. just needed a reason to invade with the country’s support. This is not the place to argue for or against that opinion; the point is, I wouldn’t want this to be a possibility in foreknowledge-based judgment. This shows some limitations to “reliable intelligence” and some possibilities for its misuse.
Another issue with the determinative aspects is whether there even is a determined future or not. I believe there is not! The future is not set in stone, it is not determined. In a universe such as ours, caused either completely by natural occurrences or, at most, a ‘god’ in the concept of deism (an intelligent being, or beings, or force, etc., that wound up the clock of the universe and then left it to run on its own), the future must be free and open. It would not be free and open if there were an overbearing deity upon us shaping the future to suit some purpose, but we reject this hypothesis.
There are some pros to foreknowledge-based judgments, though. First, however, we must understand that foreknowledge does not necessarily entail a determined future. One may be able to see what can happen before it happens based on free choices, and then use that knowledge to change the free choices. Plus, if this foreknowledge were reliable (objective tests would need to be developed for knowing the percent accuracy, because we don’t want a bunch of hack psychics running around preemptively solving crimes), then we would know if the perpetrator had been rehabilitated because we could peer into his or her future and determine if, at least at that point in time, they had changed their mind about the crime they had intended to commit.
Also, if it stops crimes before they happen, it is worth the privacy invasion. Human life is valuable, and anyone infringing on another’s personal rights and freedoms needs to be stopped. This could lead to the ultimate culmination of a what a human community could be like – Virtuous, without the need to rely on religion to be so. Although this would have to be a strong-armed virtue at first, for the sake of the common good, eventually people would fall in line. Ironically, it is religion that can help us understand this.
Religion has one concept going for it: people are afraid of an omniscient being who will punish you for doing wrong. The problem is that since religion is made up, people can change the rules of what religion says is right and wrong. Therefore, in a religious system, killing those who disagree ideologically may be acceptable at times. However, in a humanistic system based on the best of reason, science, common sense principles, and consequentialist ethics (especially eudaimonic consequentialism), humanity will progress in one good direction, still in fear of an omniscience that can condemn, but not one that can be swayed or reinterpreted based on any greedy goals we may have (but is interpreted and based on scientific principles). Eventually, the desire to do wrong could literally be bred out of our species. And this is not totalitarianism; this is not a description of a dystopian future where a dictator’s propaganda speeches are played on flatscreens all over town. Rather, this is a truly free society in the sense that they are motivated to do good and no longer have to fear their neighbor.
Conclusion: IF it was possible, it should be allowed to intervene and stop crimes, but not to charge someone with someone they were going to commit. Perhaps a waiting period with psychological evaluations, maybe some jail time for premeditation if it can be proven true. Foreknowledge should be allowed in court, but weighted correctly since, as we know, foreknowledge is only an estimation of the future. Since the future is not set in stone, it can’t be known with complete certainty by any existing being. Therefore, it is even more of a reason to incarcerate with the intent of rehabilitation (which we could always check the progress of by the same foreknowledge).
Nate – Christian perspective
Before I begin, I would like to point out that the dilemma does not center on the question: Is it justifiable for someone to be punished for a crime they did not, nor will they ever, commit? For, if this was the question, the New Testament rather obviously offers a candidate that fits the bill – Jesus of Nazareth. In the film, it seems clear that the precogs are always correct in identifying precrimes (and precriminals). So, in keeping with the parameters of the film, the question is: Should those who will commit a crime but have not done so yet be punished? I think the Bible gives us many indications that the answer is no. I will now look at various Scriptural passages that attest to this as well as offer a reductio of sorts to further my conclusion. First, consider God’s prophecy to Moses about what the Pharaoh will decide in Exodus 7:4: “When Pharaoh does not listen to you, then I will lay My hand on Egypt…” God, again, prophesies what the Pharaoh will do in 14:4: “he will chase after [the Israelites]…” And yet, He allowed the showdown between Moses and Aaron and the Pharaoh’s magicians to take place knowing what the outcome would be. In other words, the Lord granted the Pharaoh the freedom to act in accordance with his desires (even in the face of divine threats) before punishing him. Notice the explicit choice God gave the Pharaoh in spite of His foreknowledge that the Egyptian would not budge, “if you refuse to let [the Israelites] go… if you do not let my people go…” (8:2, 21).
The Bible explicitly states that God’s judgment of mankind will be in accordance with their deeds: “God ‘will repay each person according to what they have done’” (Romans 2:6; cf Psalm 62:12; Proverbs 24:12). Paul said that we will all “receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). And John’s vision in Revelation shows the final judgment of the dead as “according to what they had done…” (Revelation 20:12). Given these passages from Scripture, it follows that someone must do the deed first before being judged, not the other way around. Second, if it is biblically justifiable to punish people before they have committed crimes, then we should be able to see examples of this as the rule in the world now; that is, if it is justifiable then God should already be doing it.
But if God were a John Anderton (Tom Cruise) of sorts stopping and punishing crimes and criminals before they ever took place, then there would be no such thing as human evil. This is likely because the crime itself will be deterred since the precriminal will be punished before he gets around to committing it. Following this reasoning there should never have been a Hitler, Mao, Stalin, etc. But even more fundamentally, there should never have been cheaters, liars, adulterers, idolaters, etc. Adam and Eve never should have been allowed to disobey God in the first place. Clearly God has allowed these moral crimes to take place before pronouncing judgment and punishment. Therefore, it is unjustifiable to punish someone before he has committed his crime.
This is where you come in! Tell us what you think of this particular dilemma, and how you think both Derek and Nate did in arguing their positions. Let’s get the dialogue going!