Saturday, May 23, 2015

What's the Difference Between "Implies," "Entails," and "Suggests"?

You may have heard people say that something “suggests” a particular conclusion, or that something “implies” or “entails” that same conclusion. Further, you may have seen these terms used interchangeably. I am here to suggest that these terms are not so interchangeable.

First, take “implies.” If something implies something else, it means that if the thing doing the implying obtains, then the thing it implies obtains as well (every time!). So, if P implies Q, then every time P obtains, Q does also. A well-known principle in ethical reasoning is that ought implies can.[1] Thus, if someone ought to do some particular action, then he can do that particular action. Because of this, you can see that when you write in a paper, for example, that such-and-such implies this or that, it carries a very strong claim. As you might guess, much of the time (perhaps even most), they don’t mean to say that it implies the conclusion or claim.

I won’t spend much time on “entails,” since some may view this as identical to “implies,” and I wouldn’t hold it against them. There might be a particular nuance to entailment that goes beyond implication (or at least goes about it another way). Take the proposition “I think X is true.” This proposition entails another proposition, namely, that “I exist,” is true. Entailment relations are established between A and B when either A or B is a necessary precondition of the other. So, we label the earlier proposition “B,” and “I exist” as A, and we see A is a necessary precondition of B. Thus, B entails A. However, it’s important to note that it would be wrong to say that A entails B (my existing is not a sufficient condition to guarantee that I think a particular thought!).

Finally, we should see “suggests.” Suggests is most often the word students and people mean when they write “implies.” Here’s an example: “The reticence of the White House to provide a long-form birth certificate implies that the president was not born in Hawaii.”[2] No, it does not. What one would want to write is that it suggests he was not born in Hawaii (and even that is dubious, but at least it’s in principle defensible).

So, I hope this crash course has helped a bit, and remember to choose your words carefully. Why? Because you want to be able to communicate with precision, so that others may know precisely what you are claiming. This will also help you to identify others claims, and to “weaken” them if necessary. If someone is claiming evil entails God’s non-existence, or implies it, you can explain to them this difference and argue them down, by defining your terms, from God’s necessary non-existence merely to the claim that evil suggests God does not exist, and then move from there.

Have any thoughts on this? Leave them below!



[1] In the examples I am offering, it’s not really important as to whether or not you agree with the application of these examples. It’s just to show you what implication, entailment, or suggestion looks like.

[2] Please, please, don’t mistake me for a “birther.” It’s just a primary example.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Certainty and Confidence in Christianity

Last Saturday I was having a conversation with some friends in a small philosophy group that regularly meets. I mentioned to them that I am less certain now of my faith than I have ever been. This was met with appropriately raised and concerned eyebrows. But allow me to explain to you, as I did to them, precisely what I mean.

When I say I am less certain now, I mean something that I call “Cartesianly certain.” Cartesian certainty is that certain knowledge you have that the contrary is logically impossible. I may be overstating a bit and lacking nuance here, but this is generally how I take it. This is to be distinguished from colloquial certainty, or the certainty of the everyday life. Thus, while I am colloquially certain I am typing this blog post right now, I am not Cartesianly certain. Why not? Because I could, for all I know, be a brain in a vat or have been kidnapped by the government and this (right now) is all a vivid dream that I will promptly forget when I wake up in Guantanamo. So know that when I say “certain” from here on out in this post, I mean this kind of Cartesian certainty.

When I was younger, I was quite brash. I would proclaim strongly and loudly that Christianity was the only way (a truth to which I hold strongly even today!). Yet I can distinctly remember the first time I really encountered a presentation of a version of the problem of evil. I thought it ridiculous, dismissed it out of hand, and moved on as though I had heard nothing. For while I was quite certain that Christianity was true, I lacked dispositional certainty that Christianity was true. This sounds contradictory; allow me to explain.

Dispositional certainty is the term I am using to explain the conditions under which one remains certain of his beliefs. That is, if I were to be challenged with the problem of evil, seriously consider its challenge to Christian theism, and remain just as firm as I was prior to the challenge, then I am to be considered not only certain, but dispositionally certain. This would hold for any such challenge to Christianity. Thus, on the contrary, if I were to face such a challenge and wither, then while I am certain, I am not dispositionally certain. My faith was on thin ice and I didn’t even know it. I lacked dispositional certainty in favor of the cool comforts of going with the flow.

While I have come to realize that I cannot be Cartesianly certain in my faith (after all, faith, while rational, and buffered with evidence, is not the answering of every possible question that could ever arise), I have dispositional certainty in abundance. I do not fear an argument against Christianity, even if I have never heard it before (at my worst, I may fear public humiliation if I cannot answer right away; but that’s an ego problem, not a faith problem). This dispositional certainty we might call confidence.

Thus, paradoxically, while I am less certain of my faith now than ever before, I am more confident in it now than ever before. And this confidence, I suspect, is part of what is called “growing up.” How can you grow up? Is it by sheer power of will? That seems unlikely.


What’s more likely is, at least in part, trying to live out Matthew 22:37, and bear the fruit of the Spirit of Galatians 5. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and let your life bear the marks of one who has had God work within his very soul.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Mailbag: The Principle of Sufficient Reason and the Kalam

Today’s question is from Jon!

Jon writes: “Hi Randy,

I have a question I hope you could help me with regarding the first premise of the kalam argument. In his typical defense of the argument William Lane Craig often argues that if one denies the first premise and believes that the universe actually came in to being out of nothing, then it becomes inexplicable as to why anything and everything does not come in to being in this way.

It seems to me that Dr. Craig's argument rests on the assumption of Leibniz's principle of sufficient reason (PSR), that “no fact can be real or existent, no statement true, unless there be a sufficient reason why it is so and not otherwise” because we are asking what is the sufficient reason as to why only the universe came in to being from nothing. My question is the following: How can Dr. Craig consistently argue the point given that he doesn't accept Leibniz's own version of the PSR?

God bless,
Jon”

Randy responds:

Hi Jon,

This is an interesting question! It seems to me that, at worst, it turns out the causal principle behind the kalam entails the strong version of the PSR, but it is not itself the reason for affirming it. One must look at Craig's reasons for affirming "Whatever begins to exist had a cause." (It's also worth noting his current formulation is "if the universe began to exist, then it had a transcendent cause.")

Craig often argues that, first, "It is based on the metaphysical intuition that something cannot come out of nothing. Hence, any argument for the principle is apt to be less obvious than the principle itself," which is metaphysical intuition. The second reason is that it would be inexplicable why it is not the case that just anything and everything comes into being uncaused. Thus, we see two reasons that are not themselves just identical to Leibniz's PSR; metaphysical intuition of being ("out of nothing, nothing comes") and "the way of negation" objection of observation of things not popping into being uncaused (as far as we know).

Now, you're certainly right that some kind of PSR is in use or otherwise entailed, but it's not quite Leibniz's version. The version Leibniz used extended even to statements and propositions, whereas Craig has a more modest PSR that claims that "anything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or an external cause." This focus on existence works with propositions, even if they do exist, because their mere existence does not dictate their truth value, nor in virtue of what they are true.

The causal principle in the kalam, I think you can see, only addresses existence, and not the conditions for truth-value of propositions.

So, in short, I think Craig's reasons for affirming the causal premise are slightly different, and the PSR to which he is committed by the kalam is not identical to Leibniz's. Hope this helps! 


For more, I recommend checking out what Craig says on the PSR and on the kalam to clear it up!

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Ontological Argument and Its Use for Believers

Introduction
Much has been written about the validity of the ontological argument[1] as a traditional “proof” for the existence of God, but not as much has been written on the ontological argument’s effect on the believer. Anselm sought to construct an argument such that the very idea of God—known to all mankind—would be sufficient to show that God exists. However, what is often lost in contemporary analytic philosophy is that Anselm’s work came within the context of a prayer that functioned as a devotional to God. This paper will examine a summary of positions regarding the ontological argument and its usefulness for believers and argue that the ontological argument (OA) can be applied to life and ministry. Crucially, this paper will argue that the ontological argument should strengthen believers’ faith as well as lead them to adoration and worship of God.

Summary of Positions
It is not the case that all people view the OA the same way, however. For example, J. Howard Sobel, a philosopher of religion, does not think that the OA has much value at all. Now it must be pointed out that the OA starts with the concept of a being than which none greater can be conceived (or the maximally great being, MGB for short). This MGB can be supposed to exist only in the mind as an idea. However, suppose one considered another type of being—a being that had all of the same properties as MGB but also existed in reality. This being would be better than MGB (existing only in the mind), since it is better to exist in the mind and reality than it is to exist in the mind alone. Thus, this MGB is the correct conception. However, it follows from this analysis that MGB exists in reality, and thus one has a rough sketch of Anselm’s OA.
            Sobel grants that the key insight of Anselmian-type OAs is that if God’s existence is even possible, then it is necessary. However, he argues that it may be that even if God’s existence appears to be a consistent idea, it may be impossible to have God in reality anyway (in short, the argument is invalid somewhere). He writes, “It may, when all is said, be contrary to reason to accept that a necessarily existent, essentially perfect being is a possibility, even if the idea of such a being is consistent.”[2]
            The main problem for Sobel is in fact epistemological. This is because he is not making a claim that God’s existence is actually impossible. On Sobel’s view, it could be that God exists necessarily, just as the Christian claims. However, his claim is that Christians are unjustified in making the move from the consistency of the idea of God to the actuality of his existence.
            Because of this, Sobel thinks there is no benefit for theists (Christian believers, in the case of this paper) with respect to the OA. He claims, “There is we should say nothing for theism in Anselm’s marvelous Proslogion II argument or in its Hartshorne/Plantinga modern update”[3] (emphasis in original). In other words, the Christian is not able to use anything within this argument for any reason; it is utterly bankrupt.
            Another, similar view concerns Graham Oppy. Oppy is a prominent philosopher of religion who is also an atheist. In his book Arguing about Gods, he focuses on the OA in particular for a chapter-length treatment. Oppy argues that there are formulations of the argument that seem valid, but that make the defender of the OA committed to principles that he would never believe otherwise. For an example, Oppy argues that if you understand the concept behind the “smallest existent Martian” in your understanding, then you would not think you should be committed to believing in Martians. However, he believes that this parody argument is precisely parallel to Anselm’s OA, so that if one is successful, so is the other.[4]
            The main difference between Sobel and Oppy is that the former is willing to discuss the impossibility of God (even in the face of reasoning about God being consistent). The latter thinks that the reasoning of the OA proves too much, so that whether or not God exists and in what modality (necessary or contingent) is irrelevant. What they have in common is that the OA, in their view, does nothing for the believer except show how they do not have justification for their Christian beliefs.

The Ontological Argument as Strengthening Believers’ Faith
If God is even possible, then he exists. This amazing insight came from Anselm in the eleventh century. The OA has already been explained as about the MGB, or the being than which none greater can be conceived.
This had an amazing corollary for Anselm. He wrote, “And certainly this being so truly exists that it cannot be even thought not to exist.”[5] This is because of what we might call great-making properties, or properties that it is better for a being to have than not to have. Anselm believed a great-making property was the property of being such that one cannot be thought not to exist. If that is the case, then there is a being that cannot even be thought not to exist, and this is the MGB.[6]
The upshot of this strategy is that it strengthens believers’ faith on its own merits. If one receives criticism about belief in God because God’s existence is highly improbable given the amount and kinds of evil in the world, this normally powerful rhetorical strategy can fall flat. This is because if God’s existence is even possible, then he must exist! Accordingly, this means the probability of God’s existence is, in reality, either 0 or 1. The Christian can be justified in holding his faith in God and what he will do by recognizing God’s necessary existence.
Next, the idea of God as MGB strengthening Christians receives biblical support. Anselm himself provides some of this basis when he quotes Psalm 79:4 and 78:9.[7] Psalm 78:7 states, “That they should put their confidence in God and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments” (NASB). God is considered to be mighty and to have done great things for His people in this psalm. The response of God’s people to God’s greatness entails a kind of confidence placed solely in the being and person of God himself.
2 Chronicles 6:14 states in part, “He said, ‘O LORD, the God of Israel, there is no god like You in heaven or on earth” (NASB). This is Solomon’s prayer to God, expressing his confidence and trust that God is the greatest being that there is, and no god compares to Him. While it does not explicitly refer to God as the MGB, it is reasonable to claim that the idea of God as MGB is at least supported by the biblical text.
Finally, it gives confidence to the belief that God is necessary for all other being and life. David S. Hogg wrote much concerning Anselm, his theology, and his OA. He agrees that one of the main reasons that Anselm wrote was to show that God is necessary for all other life. He claims, “Anselm was hoping to demonstrate ‘that God truly exists, and that he is the greatest good who depends on nothing else, and on whom all things depend in order to exist and exist well, and whatever else we believe about the divine substance.’”[8]
There is simply something about God—and that concept of God specifically—that leads one to recognize all else depends on Him. Nothing can or does exist without God’s bringing it into existence at some time. According to Alvin Plantinga, Anselm did not seek to prove God’s existence to someone (or even himself) as much as he was trying to bring to light all of God’s various and glorious attributes in one argument or discussion. This is why Anselm’s famous phrase “faith seeking understanding” is used.[9]
Plantinga also focuses on common formulations of the OA with God’s necessary existence in concert with his other attributes. If God’s omnipotence is logically necessary, it entails that his existence is as well. If that is true, then it could not be the case that God merely happens to exist: instead, he must exist. As such, God is the ground of all being (if any beings come into existence posterior to God, they are contingent beings, dependent upon God).[10]
This confidence in God’s necessary existence extends even to parodies of the OA. Yujin Nagasawa writes of what he calls the “Devil parody” to the OA. This argument claims that if the OA is sound, then the worst of all possible beings (the “Devil”) is possible; however, most people do not think that the worst possible being actually exists (this includes even Christians, who do not think that the Devil is simply God’s equal and opposite). Thus, there must be something wrong with the OA. Nagasawa combats this by arguing that the argument is not quite formed correctly, and when it is so formed, it just is an example of the OA. If that is the case, the Devil parody cannot even get off the ground.[11] Nagasawa is careful to argue that the OA is about theories of “greatness and has nothing to do with effective evilness,” which is what the anti-OA needs to get off the ground.[12] The point of all of this is that if the OA survives even strong objections to it, then one’s confidence in God’s existence can grow in a personal way. This is not the only remarkable outcome of the believer and the OA.

The Ontological Argument as Leading to Adoration and Worship
The OA leads also naturally to adoration and worship of God by the believer. Adoration and worship is something for which humans were explicitly created, to further God’s glory (cf. Rev. 4:11). If this is so, then anything that inherently leads to more worship of God should be thought of as a positive contribution to Christian life. Anselm’s entire point in writing the Proslogion was to give a prayer and devotional to God. The atheist Fool represented in the work was simply one who overheard Anselm’s prayer.[13]
            Anselm’s mission was to have a “theme of seeking God” and to recognize “God as the one who enlightens men’s eyes,” according to Ian Logan.[14] For Anselm, the whole of life was to be devoted to God, who alone was in charge of the universe and its inhabitants. To God alone belonged devotion, worship, adoration, and praise.
            However, even this devotion, on its own, was not enough to sustain Anselm. Logan argues that Anselm feared that God was absent. Thus, this prayer and meditation, which consisted in “faith seeking understanding,” resulted in this one unifying argument.[15] This devotion to God served as a way for Anselm to have God near in worship and adoration.
            In addition to Anselm as a historical witness to the use of the OA in worship and adoration, the biblical witness can be used to understand the OA with respect to worship as well. The first passage to be considered is Romans 11:33-36. This passage claims, in part, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! . . .To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (NASB). This passage speaks to the omniscience of God, which is surely an attribute of MGB, and links it to praise and worship of God.
            The next passage to be considered is Genesis 1:1, which is God’s claim to have created everything in both the heavens and the earth. This biblical witness informs us that, just like MGB, God created all, and everything derives its existence from him. This means that what can be called “perfect being theology” (of the MGB) fits in well underneath a Christian theological framework, and Christians worship God for his creation.
            Third, Matthew 19:26 speaks of God’s attribute of omnipotence. This records Jesus speaking, and he says, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (NASB). Even though this is verse is not intended to be representative of a Western contemporary analytic philosophical textbook, it nonetheless remains that if there is a task to be done or a power to be exemplified, the Christian God is able to exercise that power. As Plantinga argued earlier, omnipotence is plausibly an attribute of the MGB, and Christians praise and adore God for his wonderful works.
            Finally, the attribute of omnibenevolence shall be considered. Isaiah 45:22 records God speaking through Isaiah concerning the nations: “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other” (NASB). This shows the God of the Old Testament, who is Jesus’ Father, loves all (i.e., is omnibenevolent), and always has. When Christians utilize the OA and compare it with Scripture, it naturally leads to devotion, praise, and adoration to God, both for who he is and what he has done.

Application
With this said, there are two applications that will be provided. First, there will be an application to life. The application is that Christians ought to reflect on God’s goodness and his attributes in general on a regular basis. This should perhaps be done during prayer and Bible reading as part of a regular study habit. How can Christians praise God truly if they do not also understand who he is? It is his attributes that show Christians who he really is.
            Paul Helm spells this out when he writes, “He is a participant in the Christian way of life . . .what God does is congruent with what God is.”[16] God is the most perfect being. He is not only the most perfect being there is, but he is in fact the most perfect being there could possibly be. For this, Christians ought to be most thankful and awe-struck in their daily devotions to God.
            This should also result in a great combat weapon to use against the temptations of the enemy or of our own flesh to live life without God. R. A. Herrera delves into some of the motivations of Anselm’s writing the OA. He writes that Anselm’s attempt to find this argument itself was viewed as “diabolical” as a temptation, and that his final understanding of God as the Supreme Good is what helped him through.[17] Thus, when Christians are tempted in life, the OA reminds them that the MGB, which is the Christian God, is the most perfect being in righteousness and true holiness (cf. Eph. 4:24).
            Second, an application can be made from the OA to ministry. This application is that believers can be trained in apologetics concerning arguments for God’s existence as expressions of worship. They can use the OA to fulfill the Great Commandment of Matthew 22:37 in loving God with all of one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength.
            Stephen Evans captures this intuition when he writes that God may “use reason as one of the channels for His grace to draw people.”[18] Training Christians through both programmatic discipleship (in terms of Sunday school or even Bible institutes) and organic discipleship (Christians “doing life” together in fellowship and edification/instruction) can only grow stronger when Christians recognize the truth of how great God truly is.

Conclusion
This paper explained the ontological argument (OA), surveying two differing positions of Sobel and Oppy. After that, the OA was shown to strengthen believers in their faith and lead them to worship and adoration of God. Finally, two applications of the use of the OA for believers were made; one for life in daily devotions, and one was made for ministry in building up and training effective and faithful disciples in the local church context. The ontological argument should strengthen believers’ faith as well as lead them to adoration and worship of God.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Anselm. Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works, Brian Davies and G.R. Evans (eds). New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Evans, Stephen C. “Apologetics in a New Key: Relieving Protestant Anxieties over Natural Theology,” in The Logic of Rational Theism: Exploratory Essays, William Lane Craig and Mark S. McLeod (eds.). Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990, 65-75.

Helm, Paul. Faith & Understanding. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1997.

Herrera, R.A. Anselm’s Proslogion: An Introduction. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1979.

Hogg, David S. Anselm of Canterbury: The Beauty of Theology. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2004.

Logan, Ian. Reading Anselm’s Proslogion. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2009.

Matthews, Gareth B, and Lynne Rudder Baker. “The Ontological Argument Simplified,” in Analysis, Vol. 70, No. 2 (April 2010:), 210-11.

Nagasawa, Yujin. “The Ontological Argument and the Devil,” in The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 60, No. 238 (January 2010:), 72-91.

Oppy, Graham. Arguing about Gods. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Plantinga, Alvin (ed.). The Ontological Argument from St. Anselm to Contemporary Philosophers. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1965.

Sobel, Jordan Howard. Logic and Theism. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.



[1] I will hereafter refer to the ontological argument as if there were only one. On the contrary, there are, like most of the traditional proofs of God’s existence, several such arguments that share an a priori method of reasoning to a necessary being; these one can stipulate make up an “argument family.” I will utilize a few different ontological arguments within this paper where particular applications come.

[2] Jordan Howard Sobel, Logic and Theism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 97.

[3] Ibid., 98.

[4] Graham Oppy, Arguing about Gods (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 93.

[5] Anselm, Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works, Brian Davies and G. R. Evans (eds.) (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 88.

[6] Ibid. This method of reducing suppositions to absurdity (supposing God’s non-existence leading to absurd conclusions) is very powerful. If one can show that to reject God is to embrace absurdity, one has done a very good job indeed.

[7] Ibid., 86.

[8] David S. Hogg, Anselm of Canterbury: The Beauty of Theology (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2004), 90.

[9] Alvin Plantinga, The Ontological Argument from St. Anselm to Contemporary Philosophers (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1965), 3.

[10] Ibid., 162-63.

[11] Yujin Nagasawa, “The Ontological Argument and the Devil,” in The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 60, No. 238 (January 2010:), 72-73.

[12] Ibid., 81.

[13] Gareth B. Matthews and Lynne Rudder Baker “The Ontological Argument Simplified,” in Analysis, Vol. 70, No. 2 (April 2010:), 211.

[14] Ian Logan, Reading Anselm’s Proslogion (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2009), 88-89.

[15] Ibid., 89.

[16] Paul Helm, Faith & Understanding (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1997), 105.

[17] R. A. Herrera, Anselm’s Proslogion: An Introduction (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1979), 15.

[18] C. Stephen Evans, “Apologetics in a New Key: Relieving Protestant Anxieties over Natural Theology,” in The Logic of Rational Theism: Exploratory Essays, William Lane Craig and Mark S. McLeod (eds.) (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990), 68.