Saturday, April 18, 2015

Headed to Oxford!

Why?

My mission is to bring God glory by loving him with all of my heart, mind, soul, and strength, as outlined in Matthew 22:37.

How?

I do that, in part, by studying the best resources available that allow me to grow and contribute to scholarship. This in turn allows me both to have Gospel conversations with people who need Christ where we remove intellectual obstacles to faith and take every thought captive, and help strengthen the brethren wherever they are.

What?

I’m going to go with Southeastern on their Oxford Study trip to the UK. We’re going to be involved with studying Baptist history, including C.S. Lewis, Charles Spurgeon, Andrew Fuller and the pulpit where William Carey was commissioned as the first modern missionary, and others. This will help prepare me for further ministry, both in the local church and in evangelism. Will you help me go?

The Cost?

The trip will require me to raise approximately $5000 (this includes expenses paid to the school as well as related to the trip). Specifically, the next two deadlines involve raising $1600 each by May 1 and June 1, respectively.

When?

The dates of the trip will be July 9-23.

Where can I find out more?



How can I help?

Please consider donating; anything helps! The following is my GoFundMe page: gofund.me/sbnf7g8 
There are other ways to donate as well:

1.     Send a check payable to SEBTS and mail it to The Center for Faith and Culture, PO Box 1889, Wake Forest, North Carolina 27588. Please include a copy of this letter in the envelope. This is tax-deductible.

2.     Donate to SEBTS at this web address: https://www.signup82north.com/sebts/m/donate.aspx In the comments field, put “Oxford 2015 trip Randy Everist.” This is also tax deductible.

3.     Donate through my GoFundMe page. This is not tax deductible.


God, Time, and Molinism

Here I am going to tackle another anti-Molinist argument found on the Internet, just for fun! The good news is this critique seems to explain the basics of Molinism and middle knowledge accurately, which is not always a given. However, his arguments against Molinism seem fairly confused with respect to counterfactual semantics.

For a first example, consider his argument that Molinism entails a contradiction in God’s omniscience. He argues that in order for would-counterfactuals to be contingently true, it must also be the case that God knows that these counterfactuals “might not” be true. But, he claims, it is the case that “might-not” and “would” are contradictory; hence, Molinism teaches that God knows contradictions, which is absurd.

Presumably, this author has seen the counterfactual square of opposition (or else holds that these are contradictory for some other reason). Whatever the case may be, he is correct: “Would” and “might not” counterfactuals are contradictories. However, he is confusing might-not counterfactuals with the concept of contingency. As Craig and Moreland point out,  

‘Might’ counterfactuals should not be confused with subjunctive conditionals involving the word ‘could.’ ‘Could’ is taken to express mere possibility and so is a constituent of a modal statement expressing a possible truth. . . . The fact that something could happen . . . does not imply that it might happen under those circumstances. ‘Might’ is more restrictive than ‘could’ and indicates a genuine, live option under the circumstances, not a bare logical possibility.[1]

This shows his confusion. The author wants to say that another way of saying these would counterfactuals are contingent is to say they might not occur, while also admitting that such counterfactuals are contradictory. The former just isn’t so on the technical semantics (even if it’s how we use it in ordinary language).

The next criticism he has is against a “form of Molinism” whereby God exists outside of time. It’s worth noting that someone can hold to God’s timelessness or some other view and believe Molinism. If there were to be a significant problem for holding both Craig’s model and Molinism, one could jettison the model and retain Molinism, perhaps. He writes of Craig’s view of Molinism, “What I do take issue with is God knowing those possibilities based on what we do because this would render God’s knowledge contingent on us and therefore God would be ‘learning.’”

It’s not clear why he says, “therefore,” as no rule of inference will derive this conclusion from that premise. I can repair the argument to be valid: If God’s knowledge is contingent, then he is learning; God’s knowledge is contingent; therefore, he is learning. But we’d still need some argument that the major premise is true, given Molinism. I have no idea what that argument is.

His last set of critiques is that Molinism is problematic because it denies determinism. But of course, anyone who does not already embrace determinism shouldn’t be convinced by this. His argument is that there seem to be certain things that are true in all possible worlds God could actualize regarding supposedly free choices in the libertarian sense, so that really he has to embrace some kind of determinism.

But this is multiply confused. First, if some fact F is necessarily true, it is not theologically causally determined (or, it is so only in light of its logical necessity). Unless he believes in some kind of modal universal possibilism, if something is necessarily true not even God himself could change that truth value. Second, he writes out his modal argument purely in English sentences; if he had symbolized it, he would have seen the argument commits the very same modal fallacy he earlier recognizes as fallacious. One can still see it in the English itself. Here it is:

1.     Simultaneity is transitive (if A happens simultaneously with B, and C happens simultaneously with B, then, necessarily, A happens simultaneously with C).
2.     Apply to middle knowledge: if A takes place at t1, and this is simultaneous with God’s knowledge, then God’s knowledge of A is simultaneous with C.
3.     Therefore, A is necessarily taking place simultaneously with C.

But this is just the well-known modal fallacy. The problem starts with the initial formulation itself. The transitive property is not that if A=B and C=B, necessarily A=C. It’s rather, “Necessarily, if A=B and C=B, then A=C.” Here’s a brief example. Consider height relations. Based on the meaning of the term, they use transitive relations. So, necessarily, if Jim is as tall as Dan, and Brad is as tall as Dan, then Jim and Brad are as tall as Dan. But who wants to thereby infer that it’s a necessary truth that Jim and Brad are as tall as Dan? Who wants to say there is some mysterious truth of logic that dictates the relative heights of these three men?

Finally, this is confused as to Craig’s model of time with respect to middle knowledge. The content of middle knowledge comes logically prior to the creative decree. On Craig’s model (which he is ostensibly critiquing), crucially, there is no time at all; this is why it is referred to as coming logically prior to the creative decree. Thus, there is no simultaneity to speak of anyway.

In conclusion, this author seems at least relatively familiar with Molinism and some issues surrounding Craig’s work, but not familiar enough to avoid some serious misunderstandings.

EDIT: Changed example for Jim, Brad, and Dan to better reflect the transitivity.




[1] J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2003), 53.

Clear Communication in Theological and Philosophical Conversations

It’s very important to have clear communication goals when engaging in any kind of dialogue on an issue where two or more parties disagree. This is especially true in areas of theology and philosophy. Why? Because we must love God with all of our minds, amongst other things, and this requires our absolute best efforts to understand the truth. But since we are not infallible, there may be truth, or pieces of it, that we can glean from others—even those others with whom we disagree. Thus, we must be clear communicators and seek to understand accurately those with whom we are in dialogue.

One issue that I think would help significantly is to clarify the goals of the conversation. That is to say, we must raise and answer the question, “What’s the point of this?” There are at least two main points that are often used, and if used at the same time (one by each party), confusion is sure to follow. What are they?

1.     Convincing one’s dialogue partner that he/she should adopt one’s belief.

This is by far the most common. Most of us, especially on matters of religion, politics, and morality, want others to see things the way we do. But the entire point of this endeavor is to convince your opponent that he should disregard his own beliefs, insofar as they conflict with yours, and adopt yours as truth.

2.     Defending one’s belief as justifiably held by the same.

This is to say that you’re not necessarily trying to convince someone else to believe what you believe. Instead, you’re trying to show that, at least for you, and given your other justifiable or plausible beliefs, the beliefs under debate are at least somewhat rational for you to hold.

(1)  is by far more difficult to do than (2). Why does this make a difference? Quite simply, if an atheist or skeptic claims he doesn’t see why it should be true, for example, that objective morality exists (or that there are things that are objectively morally true that constitute obligations on us), this only is relevant if I am engaging in (1). If I am merely trying to show how it is that I am rationally justified in holding to God’s existence, and I trot out the moral argument, why is it that his lack of moral perception (or whatever is motivating the relevant statement) should affect what I consider to be plausible? Many times, what happens is I am engaging in (2) while the skeptic is engaging in (1). But then, if this is so, he’ll have the burden of showing me why I cannot believe in objective morality, or else change his tactics.

The same is true on the reverse scenario. Suppose I tell an atheist he ought to become a Christian because of the Resurrection, and suppose I simply repeat to him the Gospel accounts and 1 Corinthians 15 with the list of the witnesses and leave it at that. It’s quite plausible to me, perhaps, but it probably won’t be—at least without some significant explanation and philosophy of history—to him. Thus, I need to engage in better argumentation (or at least, fuller explanation).

Many times we are actually both engaging in (1). We’re both trying to convince the other he’s wrong. In these cases, it will be vitally important to follow the dialect on either side. The atheist must offer reasons for the Christian to think atheism is true, while the Christian must offer reasons for the atheist to think Christianity is true. Too often, this is not done (especially on the atheist side—this is why one sees arguments/objections against Christianity that appear extraordinarily weak to the Christian). At the bare minimum, more explanation must be done, or better argumentation.

Identifying the goals of the conversation at the outset will help set the tone and eliminate some (but definitely not all) frustration. For example, I’m not interested much in dialoguing with atheists who only want to do (2). There’s almost always something one can do to avoid God. I am interested in talking to atheists who are interested in hearing why they should adopt belief in Christ[1], and are open to it. I welcome any suggestions or thoughts below!



[1] Incidentally, we must do a better job of explaining this “belief in.” The majority of atheists (and a significant number of Christians, it seems) think this is mere intellectual belief, rather than an active exercise of faith. Perhaps Christianity would seem more important to them were they to recognize it’s not changing one’s thought patterns or reordering one’s beliefs (though that does play a part): instead, it’s ultimate trust in the ultimate being. That’s a much higher calling than what we offer sometimes now.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Bible Reading for Easter

Today, the day before Easter, perhaps reflect on these texts (it will probably take you 15-20 minutes to read): Matthew 27:1-2, 11-66; Mark 15:1-39; Luke 23:1-55; John 18:28-19:42.

Now reflect silently on what it would mean if you were one of the remaining eleven disciples. How would you feel? What would you think? What would you do next? How could God have allowed you to be so misled concerning the Messiah? Or did he?

After a few minutes of this, read the following: Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-9; Acts 1:6-11.

Ask yourself these questions:

1.     How would you feel as a disciple of Christ with all of these events in consideration?
2.     What attitudes will you cultivate as a result of reading and thinking about these passages?

3.     What will you do as a result of reading and thinking about these passages? What is one small step you can take even today?