Thursday, April 17, 2014

Some Resources for Easter

Resurrection Sunday is upon us this week, otherwise more commonly known as Easter. This Easter, take some time to read up on some of the reasons we have for thinking that Jesus of Nazareth was really raised from the dead by God.

"The Empty Tomb Revisited" - This post discusses reasons we have for thinking that the tomb of the Lord Jesus Christ was really found empty by a group of his female followers on the morning of the first day of the week.

"Barabbas and Jesus" - Why would people want Barabbas over Jesus? What were they thinking? This post explores this tragic part of the story.

"The Crowd" - Have you ever heard someone say that the same crowd who hailed Jesus in his coming into Jerusalem would call for his crucifixion seven days later? That's probably not true, and we'll see why in this post!

"Unlikely Story of the Women" - Do we have contradictory accounts of the discovery of Jesus by a group of his women followers? Are there any plausible answers?

"Was Jesus Crucified on a Friday?" - Or was it on Thursday? Or even Wednesday? How should "three days and three nights" be taken? Read up and decide for yourself!

"Significance of the Resurrection" - What does it all mean? The Resurrection is, in fact, the most important event in all of human history. Every Christian must understand this.

Feel free to comment here or on the individual posts. He is risen!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Presuppositionalism and the Method Wars

I rarely get involved in the so-called “method wars” of Christian apologetics. I think it’s largely unproductive to insist that our fellow brothers and sisters use a particular way of sharing the Gospel while we could be doing just that ourselves. I also think that, so long as the argument is valid and sound, that any Christian argument for God that brings someone to think about and consider Christianity is worthwhile. This is why I find value in the basic reasoning of presuppositional apologetic arguments. However, most of my readers will note that I tend to use a lot of evidential and classical arguments here. I’ve heard, more than one time, presuppositionalists insist that evidential arguments are detrimental to Christianity. The mission of this post is to suggest this is mistaken.

The argument goes like this: if presuppositional arguments are true, then evidential arguments for God are false. Why should we think a thing like that? Because, the reasoning goes, evidential/classical arguments only establish that the conclusion (namely, God exists) is only probable with respect to the evidence, not necessarily existent. Yet presuppositional arguments entail a necessarily existent God. Therefore, we have two fundamental types of claims that differ from one another in a major way. If God is necessary, it’s impossible for him to be contingent, and vice versa.

The problem in the reasoning in the above paragraph is one that runs rampant in the presuppositional community. I say what I am about to say not to attack, but to help. If we can help each other think clearer, it will be all the better for Christian apologetics! So what are the problems? I’ll try to tackle them from least important to most important.

First, in deductive arguments (and even some abductive ones), the conclusion is entailed by the premises. This means that if the premises are true, it is impossible that the conclusion is false. It’s somewhat of a category error to say the conclusion is “only probable.” However, this is considered the least important objection because we can still say that we are uncertain of the conclusion because we are not wholly (in a Cartesian way or something) certain of the premises’ truth. Second, in some cases (at least one) classical arguments do require that God be necessarily existent. The ontological family of arguments entails this, and some conceptions of the moral argument family do as well.[1] Of course, the claim would still remain for all other types of arguments of whose premises we are not entirely certain.

Finally, the most important problem, and the one that runs rampant, is the confusion between ontology and epistemology. I attended an apologetics conference last year where a panel discussion took place on this idea, and the presuppositionalists were plagued with this issue. Ontology refers to being, or something’s existence. Epistemology refers to knowing, or knowledge/truth.

When the presuppositionalist complains that the conclusion of evidential/classical arguments is only probable, this is an epistemic category. It’s about knowledge, and degrees of certainty (in this case, not very certain). Necessary existence, which is established through presuppositional (and some classical) arguments, is an ontological category. The two are not exclusive. What is necessarily true is so independently of anyone’s even knowing it, much less anyone knowing it for certain. In fact, there are examples where we know that some proposition is actually necessarily true or necessarily false, but no one has any idea which. The point is that something can be necessarily true ontologically, but only probably true (or probably false, or even inscrutable) epistemologically. These evidential and classical arguments say nothing (most of the time) about the modality of the existence of God (contingent or necessary), and so it is an error to presume that they do.

Again, I’m still not interested in the method wars, where I insist that presuppositional reasoning be abandoned and only evidential/classical arguments used. I’m not interested in having a huge argument with my brothers. I’m just trying to sharpen our thinking, so that Christ’s Kingdom can be built, and he might have the preeminence.

[1] I speak of argument families here in recognition of the fact that there is no one, singular ontological or moral argument. The same goes for virtually every other type of theistic argument.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Mailbag: What about Heaven?

This question actually comes from a Facebook group called “Ask an Apologist.”

Diana writes: The Bible talks about 3 heavens. Most people believe the first layer is the actual sky, the second is the entryway into the ‘real’ heaven and the third is the actual heaven. From a biblical standpoint how do you defend heaven's existence? How do you distinguish the 3 ‘layers’ or don't you?”

Randy responds:

I'll answer the second one first, and then move from there. We realize, intuitively, that words have what is called a "semantic range." This means that a single word does not have, at least usually, only one possible meaning. Take the sentence pair: "I love my wife" and "I love pizza." I really hope that the one who utters this pair is using "love" in at least a slightly different way! At least most people do use words in different ways, and the same thing goes for other languages, including Hebrew and Greek. "Heavens," in Genesis 1-2, refers at one point to the stars, galaxies, and universe, and at another, to the sky itself (our atmosphere). How can we tell the difference? The same way we tell in ordinary language: context and intention. We know that when someone says, "I love my wife," they typically mean a relationship-like marital love, not a preference that indicates a passing pleasure, like on the level of pizza. Similarly, we know that Genesis 1:1 posits God as the creator of all that there is, and we have other biblical resources to back this up (John 1, the book of Colossians, Hebrews 1, etc.). So if the context in Genesis 1:1 is everything, then "heavens" will refer to the universe. Later on, however, the perspective clearly changes to the earth itself: things are being created on the earth, and the earth is moving from formless (v. 2) to formed (the rest of the chapter), so that when it talks about "heavens" in any translations in chapters 1 and 2, it's going to be with respect to the sky (we can also see this if we recognize that birds are flying in heaven probably won’t refer to space).

Now, as to how to defend the existence of heaven, I think first we ought to have a good theology of our eternal state. Regardless of one's own eschatology, orthodox Christians tend to believe that to be "absent from the body is to be present with the Lord." So, if one dies, he goes to Heaven. However, once Christ returns, the ultimate state of everything is going to be a New Heaven and New Earth, where the entire universe is going to be "re-vamped" as it were, so that heaven (understood as the place you will go if you were to die right now) is not your eternal destiny—the New Earth is. This is all in Revelation and in the broad picture is uncontroversial (though obviously many good Christians differ on the details).

So, we know that when we die, we will be with the Lord from Paul. We know that, from John 14:6, Jesus is returning to his Father to prepare a place for us (metaphorically speaking--it's not like Jesus is the Greatest Conceivable Construction Worker), so that when he returns or if we go to him we may have it. He frames this place as his "Father's House," and we know from Hebrews 1 that Jesus is now with God "at the right hand." We define heaven as the abode of God, based on Psalm 115:3, Job 1, etc. Therefore, we can conclude with some safety, biblically, that God is in Heaven, and when you die, you go to be with God, in the spiritual (not physical) place of Heaven. I hope that helps a little!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ambiguity and Digging Deeper

It hit me today how much of philosophy is mired down in ambiguity or a failure to dig deeply enough to solve the problem. For instance, when people ask, “What caused Jones to do as he did?”, do they mean something like “What is the explanation for Jones performing the particular action he did?” Do they mean “What is the explanation for Jones choosing to do the particular action he did?” Do they mean “What causally determined Jones to do as he did?” Do they mean, “What are the influences, decisions, and/or desires that led to Jones doing as he did?” Do they mean “For what purpose is Jones doing this action?” All of these have subtle nuances, presuppositions, and meanings. Yet in our philosophical discussions, we often gloss over this one word cause and go ahead and ask the question.

On the other hand, sometimes the issue is just a failure to tease out implications (this is really the same issue—not digging deeply enough into meaning). As part of an argument against the general reliability of intuitions (broadly construed as a priori knowledge or truths about the world not gained from experience), it is often claimed that plenty of our intuitions have been falsified. In fact, consider the intuitive belief that the sun revolves around the earth, because it arises each morning and that is what we see. The common reply—one which I think is correct and that I have used—is that falsification of some intuitive beliefs do not show that the faculty of intuition is unreliable (at least, not any more than the fact that some people have faulty reasoning makes reasoning unreliable).

However, there’s more to it than this. It occurs to me that people aren’t intuiting that the sun revolves around the earth. Instead, this is an (almost) inferential belief one naturally makes upon a deeper intuition: that our senses are veridical. We see the sun against the horizon, appearing to move upward into the visible sky, and set toward the west. Our intuition is that our senses are getting at the truth of the matter. We don’t have the intuition that the sun revolves around the earth. Now, it’s not an actually inferential process since, surely, no one (or virtually no one) has reasoned: “My senses are such that they are veridical; my senses are showing me the sun going up in the morning and down in the evening; therefore, the sun really does go up and down, and therefore, the sun revolves around the earth.” However, despite an unconscious process, it doesn’t seem that the sun revolving around the earth is the type of thing which can be a belief which is independent from experience. It is a belief that is rational given that one’s sensory experiences can be said to be veridical, but it is not itself an intuition.

The whole point? Clarity and depth of analysis is what is needed with these types of claims. We need not commit ourselves to all sorts of bizarre “intuitions” that we don’t actually have (we have plenty of good intuitions anyway), and we need to understand precisely what is meant by “cause.” The same goes for so many other terms!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Counterfactuals of Divine Freedom

There’s a lot that can be said, and even has been said, about Molinism and its conception of possible worlds. One thing that I want to consider is this: on the Molinist view (which is the view to which I subscribe), does God know truths of how he would act—Counterfactuals of Divine Freedom (CDFs, for short)—logically prior or logically posterior to the divine decree? In other words, which category are CDFs located in—natural, middle, or free knowledge? For those who need a brief refresher of Molinism, read this footnote at the bottom, and then come back.[1] Now that you’re back, we can continue! I will argue that CDFs must be known to God in his free knowledge. Here is the argument:

1. If truths of CDFs are true because God willed them to be so, then they are located in free knowledge.

2. If which world to actualize was up to God, then at least some CDFs are true because God willed them to be so.

3. Which world to actualize was up to God.

4. Therefore, some CDFs are true because God willed them to be so.

5. Therefore, some CDFs are located in God's free knowledge.

In evaluating these, we must note that (4) and (5) are entailed conclusions, so we cannot deny these without denying at least one of the premises. So let’s examine these, in order, one at a time. (1) is a definitional truth; it’s what it means to be part of God’s free knowledge. So even though we could do other than what we in fact do, and even though, were other circumstances to be actual, we would do other than what we in fact do, it nonetheless remains that we will do something, and the reason it is this fully specified set of circumstances in which we find ourselves and not another is because God willed that these circumstances obtain. So it is my choice as to what I would do in these circumstances, but it’s not my choice which world is actual.

That explanation leads into (2). I take (2) as more or less definitional. It’s part of what it means for something to be “up to you” that you willed to do it. In this particular case, the thing that is up to God is which world to actualize. If God actually had a choice as to which world to actualize, then it seems at least one CDF is true—namely, the truth about which world God would choose were he to have a choice.

So then the controversial premise, if there are indeed any, will be (3). Perhaps it is the case that no CDFs are up to God. Maybe he is constrained by logic to do whatever he does, so that God literally has no choices that are up to him whatsoever. On the Molinist account (indeed, on most accounts), this is disturbing. It does seem as though God has choices in the Bible. Are we really prepared to say that, in the book of Genesis, for example, that God could not have executed judgment on Sodom and Gomorrha even one second before he in fact did? Or one second later? I’m not asking if God had a good reason, but whether or not he could have done a single thing even slightly differently than what he did. Surely God could have refrained from creating humans, or anything else at all. Yet on a denial of (3), that was not even so much as possible. If it is possible, however, then the conclusion follows. That conclusion means that truths about what God would do are located in God’s free knowledge. This is because the truths of how God would act are, ultimately, up to the will of God.

[1] Molinism is the view that there are three logical, not chronological, moments to God’s knowledge. God actually knows everything as a single, undivided intuition of omniscience, but we finite knowers try to show the logical relationships between propositions that God knows. Molinism teaches the first logical moment is called “natural” or “necessary” knowledge, because all of the truths located in that moment are necessarily true (i.e., impossible to be false). This includes logical laws, mathematical truths, and all possibilities (that is a long story, but basically whatever is possible is necessarily possible). This is often represented by the specific, but incomplete, phrase, “I could do such-and-such.” The second logical moment is called “middle knowledge,” and this is unique to Molinism. These truths are contingent (not necessary), but they are truths about what any free creature “would do” in any set of circumstances. Finally, the third moment is called “free knowledge,” and is constituted by God’s decree of which possible world (fully specified set of circumstances for all of reality) is actual. This is represented by the phrase “I will do such-and-such.”