Monday, November 7, 2016

Some Kinds of Thinking

In this post, I am going to examine five kinds of thinking that I believe people engage in. I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on how this might be expanded, applied, or even corrected!

1.     No thinking.
This is what happens when people simply repeat things, like campaign slogans, one-liners, and other things. People aren’t always revealing a lack of thinking when they engage in such things, but they frequently are. It sounds good, so they repeat it, so they can move on. This is dangerous for the church, for it opens the door to cults and cult-like movements that can be unbiblical.

2.     Simplistic thinking.
This occurs often at the “one-liner” level. The person who engages in simplistic thinking often approaches an issue and is willing to engage with it, but only as far and as quickly as it takes to espouse a position. This is not always (or even usually) done maliciously. An example is found in politics, when Democrats accuse Republicans of lacking education (as a catch-all explanation; as an alternative see “evil”), or when Republicans accuse Democrats of wanting to control your every move (again, as a catch-all). Simplistic thinking can be harmful since, on the “defensive” side, it easily lends itself to misrepresentation of one’s opponents, and on the “offensive” side, it reflects very little contemplation of an issue (e.g., “Something bad happened to you; therefore, you must be in sin!”).

3.     Confirmatory thinking.
This goes beyond simplistic thinking, but perhaps not by much. It allows the person to think just so far as it makes her position stronger, and no farther. It’s a lot like confirmation bias in this respect. It’s damaging to the church at large since it allows believers to stay within their tradition, whether or not that tradition is even remotely correct. Questions are answered only as far as it takes to confirm the pre-conceived idea. It’s not wrong to investigate an issue and find out you were right the whole time, or even to defend what you believe to be biblical truth. However, it is wrong to short-change the issue by refusing to entertain contrary objections or evidences.

4.     Interactive thinking.
This is a decent level of thinking. It moves beyond initial answers to interact with objections, answers, and counter-answers. It weighs the arguments and evidences to see what the best answer might be. From a Christian perspective, it measures things against the biblical record. If what is at stake is a matter of biblical interpretation, interactive thinking seeks to resolve this from a wide variety of sources, arguments, and evidences.

5.     Exploratory thinking.
Not everyone is required to engage in exploratory thinking. This is the level that not only engages scholarship but also uses it to stimulate new ideas. These new ideas need not come at the expense of old ones; in fact, these new ideas just can be new ways to arrive at old conclusions. In politics, exploratory thinking can be applied to help solve governmental issues and meet societal needs. In Christianity, exploratory thinking can run from theology to culture to every area of life in solving problems, raising new questions, and answering old ones. It’s a very exciting area indeed!

            So, do you have anything to add? What do you think about these levels? Tell me in the comments below!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

An Update

Here is a brief update on what I am doing with my PhD. As some of you may know, I am currently enrolled in the PhD Philosophy program with the University of Birmingham (UK). I am doing the degree under Yujin Nagasawa, an excellent philosopher and already a helpful supervisor. My PhD topic is going to be on alternative concepts of God. Specifically, I want to study a particular argument for God-as-embodied (say, a Christian pantheism or panentheism) and critique it, using a reductio ad absurdum and whatever other tricks up my sleeve I might discover.

It is a three-year program at full-time speed. Thus, I would ask that you pray with me that I can balance work, teaching, family, church, and research all together in the best stewardship of my time. A disciplined exercise will be to write more, both on my research topic and other apologetic or theological topics more frequently. This will cut down on “warm up” time that seems to eat up so much of my research time.

Finally, I am attempting to write a few book reviews and apply for a conference and funding. I’d ask that you pray that I would have strength and that God’s will be done. Normally, I am on Facebook, but for rest reasons I am not returning to Facebook until November 9. Feel free to drop me a line here, and God bless!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

A Potential Voting Strategy

Suppose you are confronted in the US Presidential election with precisely three candidates (with no option for a write-in, just because). You find both Candidates A and B, the two favorites, such that you cannot cast your vote for them, and you are trying to figure out whether you should vote for Candidate C or just refrain from voting altogether. You’ve been told both that a vote for C is a vote for A, and a vote for C is a vote for B; you’ve also been told that a lack of vote is a vote for A, and a lack of vote is a vote for B. Suppose you want to find out what the best strategy is: to vote for C, who will almost assuredly not win, or not vote at all, to register your displeasure at the system, to retain your moral integrity, because you’re apathetic, or any combination of these.

Conveniently, in our stipulated story, there are only 99 voters in your state (whew, now that’s low turnout!). Also convenient is the fact that you know that Candidate A has received 50 votes (50.5%), Candidate B has received 48 votes (48.5%), and Candidate C has received 1 vote (1.01%)[1]. Consider the following four scenarios:

1.     You vote for Candidate A.

This has the effect of increasing A to 51%, decreasing B to 48%, and decreasing C to 1%. Your actual impact on the election is minimal, given that A wins whether you vote for A or refrain from voting at all.[2]

2.     You vote for Candidate B.

This has the effect of decreasing A to 50%, increasing B to 49%, and decreasing C to 1%. Your actual impact on the election is minimal, given that A wins whether you vote for B or refrain from voting at all.

3.     You refrain from voting at all.

This has the effect of maintaining A, B, and C. Your actual impact on the election is not known, given how we’re using “actual impact” and the fact we haven’t investigated C yet.

4.     You vote for Candidate C.

This has the effect of decreasing A to 50%, decreasing B to 48%, and increasing C to 2%. Your actual impact on the election is minimal, given that A wins whether you vote for C or refrain from voting at all.

Here, then, is the upshot: if you cannot in good conscience vote for A or B, then in terms of sheer outcome (winner), it doesn’t matter, given the parameters, whether you vote at all. But if you want to vote your conscience, voting for C has the effect of registering your disapproval of A and B (by decreasing their share of the vote) while also registering your approval of C [edited for coherence] (by increasing C’s share). So, kids: in this type of a case, math supports you.[3]

[1] I have clearly rounded each of these numbers.

[2] Here, I am using “actual impact” to differentiate between only two options: voting for a particular candidate or not at all. It’s just a way of keeping track between the two strategies, and I wanted to show A’s and B’s significance in the whole thing. I also recognize that the relative percentages A and B may have in the real world can vary: I’m really just investigating this type of situation (and sufficiently similar ones).

[3] I realize, of course, that there are other, principled reasons to vote for a third-party candidate or not at all. I just thought this was a neat way, in relevant cases, to choose between the two options.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Is the A-Theory Properly Basic?

In the last blogpost, we covered the A and B theories of time. I also mentioned the fact that the A-theory, being the theory most comfortable with our tensed language, is the most intuitive.[1] But there is another issue to consider. Is belief in the A-theory of time properly basic? More explicitly, is belief that things are objectively coming into and going out of existence—that time is really passing—properly basic?

First, we should understand proper basicality. I’m not going to explain the whole thing here (I actually want to keep this somewhat brief). However, I will say that some belief is properly basic when one is rational for holding the belief, even if he does not have evidential, non-circular justification for it. Consider, for example, the laws of logic (specifically let’s take the law of noncontradiction). Suppose you cannot quite explain why the law of noncontradiction holds. Suppose (as is the case) you cannot give non-circular justification for why you believe this law. Are you irrational for holding it? No, in fact you are at the height of rationality in holding it, and would be in the depths of irrationality in so denying it. When one tries to articulate the justification for her beliefs, there will come a stopping point (that is, when she tries to spell out just how she knows that she knows, for example). That stopping point is most plausibly a foundation. Some belief is foundational, then, as it is properly basic. Other beliefs may be quite right and rational to hold, but they will be properly based—that is, they will be deduced from properly basic beliefs (or at least can be).

This isn’t to say that properly basic beliefs cannot be defeated; they certainly can. It is a properly basic belief to take one’s perceptive faculties as delivering the truth of the world around you; generally, you can trust what you see as being true. However, this doesn’t mean your eyes can never play tricks on you, or that you can never be wrong. It appears, from our view, that the sun rises; but our best science says that is mistaken.

So, is the A-theory like this? Is belief that time passes such that it is properly basic? Well, it seems that it is. It’s quite intuitive to think that there is such a thing as “now,” and that tensed language describes the truth of the matter. Combining this view with a view of warranted true belief (a theory of knowledge) called proper functionalism will illustrate this.

Proper functionalism is the view that a belief is warranted just in case it is produced by cognitively reliable faculties operating in a proper epistemic environment according to a design plan successfully aimed at truth. Our cognitive faculties do seem to be generally reliable, which is helpful for survival. And, we do operate in an appropriate epistemic environment in general. However, what about the belief that tensed language is true? Is our environment proper for that? I don’t see that we’re in an epistemic environment that’s inappropriate (for example, we don’t have reason to think that an evil demon is manipulating our thoughts so that we merely think time is passing in such a way). And, for Christians especially, we have good reason to think that the design plan is successfully aimed at truth. So it seems then, that the A-theory is both properly basic and stands as warranted, in the absence of a defeater.[2]

Now some may protest: “But won’t this mean just any belief counts as warranted, so long as you believe it?” No, for a number of reasons: first, there are defeaters for any number of beliefs. Second, there are beliefs formed from improperly functioning cognitive faculties (such as would be the case were I suddenly to form the belief that I had made myself invisible through a loud whooshing noise). We could go on, but it wouldn’t be the case that just any and all beliefs would be permissible.

Tensed language is an important part of our lives, and I suspect that it’s nearly impossible to rid ourselves of, even while paying lipservice to the B-theory. Thus, I hold to the A-theory as a quite intuitive one!

[1] I realize this is controversial, and one could be forgiven for claiming that this theory is no more intuitive than the one where spacetime exists as a four-dimensional block. But I submit such a view is not really intuitive at all; rather, it is a view that has been ingrained in us by years of repetition and education. This is not a bad thing, but it’s not intuition. It’s a presupposition—taken for granted, perhaps—but not an intuition.

[2] Of course, one may shrug her shoulders and simply say, “Well, I’ve got your defeater right here.” So be it. My main concern is that belief in the A-theory is properly basic, or at least warranted in the lack of a good defeater.