Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Explicit vs. Implicit

In theological or philosophical discussions it seems most people do not understand the terms “explicit” and “implicit.” Most people assume a couple of things about both of these terms. 1. The evidence for an explicit concept is always greater than for the implicit concept, and 2. If something or someone can be said to teach an argument, then that argument is explicit. Both of these are incorrect.

First, the relevant terms should actually be explained. “Explicit” means it is mentioned using the terms or wording of whatever subject is being discussed. So for instance, the concept of “eternal life” is explicitly taught in Scripture, for John 3:16 (as well as a host of other verses) actually mention it. Dictionary.com mentions it as “fully and clearly expressed or demonstrated." When we speak of arguments in the Bible that are explicit, we mean “actually mentioned and unequivocally discussed.”

“Implicit” means it is logically implied, though not stated directly. Here’s a really good example: suppose I say I do not like to sleep past Then I ask you to guess if I will be awake or asleep the next morning at While you might possibly be wrong by guessing “awake,” I have at least implied that I will be awake. This is an example of implicit.

Now notice what this means for certain doctrines. It means doctrines such as the Trinity are implicit, not explicit. What?! Yet we have better evidence for the Trinity than for some explicit doctrines (such as the doctrine of Hell). Why is that? For one, some would say the explicit statements may be hyperbolic, or metaphorical, or whatnot. However, the evidence for the Trinity is very strong. It’s just that there’s no one verse that explicitly says, “The Trinity exists as three persons in one being.” We have plenty of verses that implicitly mean this very thing, and most Bible-believers would attest that it is a very strong implication.

The reason I am writing this is because far too much of our thinking in Christian circles has been muddied over this very issue. Too many people have criticized other doctrines as being “non-biblical” (read: not explicit) while defending their own as “explicit” mistakenly. Even if your belief is as strongly attested as the Trinity, unless there is a sentence stating that (not strongly implying) it is implicit. Even if it is the case that the verse gives you a deductive argument that cannot be denied, it is nonetheless true that one’s belief is implicit.

An implicit belief is not necessarily weaker than an explicit belief, and a true belief is not necessarily an explicit belief. We must remember that when evaluating other Christians’ arguments.
All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

The Labyrinth and Logic

There is a great scene in the movie The Labyrinth (that doesn’t involve David Bowie in purple tights, thank you) in which a logic puzzle is presented to Sarah (the main character). There are two guards (really four, but two play no real role other than to look weird). One of them tells Sarah that one of them always tells the truth, and one of them always lies. Each guard (we will refer to them as A and B) stands in front of separate doors (we will refer to them as 1 and 2); one leads to the castle and one leads to certain death. She is permitted to ask one question and then make her choice. The following is her reasoning:

A (1)                                                                                        B (2)

Question to A: Would B tell me 1 leads to the castle?

Answer from A: Yes

Sarah’s conclusion: Then door 2 leads to the castle, and 1 leads to certain death.

Is this logical?

If A is telling the truth, then B is lying.

If A is telling the truth, then B would tell Sarah door 1 leads to the castle.

But then it is the case that door 1 does not lead to the castle, but instead to certain death.

If A is lying, then B is telling the truth.

If A is lying, then B would not tell Sarah door 1 leads to the castle.

But then it is the case that door 1 does not lead to the castle, but instead to certain death.

However, can we not question the premise in the first place?

B is the one who tells us “one of us always tells the truth, and one of us always lies.” But suppose he is lying? Then it is the case that either of them could tell the truth or lie. But for the sake of argument suppose it is true. In that case, we know B is the one who tells the truth, and A lies. However, even this is not certain, for it seems that both A and B agree to the rules, which are: she can only ask one of them the question, and one of them always tells the truth while the other always lies. In this case, it seems “always” is within the context of the puzzle itself (else the proposition is plainly false, as both A and B agree these are the rules).

What’s the point? Logical entailment. This will sharpen one’s thinking in understanding deduction and entailments of certain positions. If one understands an entailment of certain logical givens or premises, he may better undertake a refutation (or even an acceptance) of those propositions. Thinking rationally and clearly is the only way we will be able to evaluate critically our own proffered arguments. This is what we must do in order to present the best case for the Christian God as possible.
All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Is Middle Knowledge for Me?

If you believe God knows what would have happened if JFK hadn’t been assassinated on November 22, 1963, then you most likely believe God has middle knowledge.[1] I’ve written on the subject in several blog articles; it’s worth looking into. Molinism is the name given to the very intuitive structure of God’s omniscience. In fact, most everyone to whom I explain the concept remark something like, “isn’t this the view of every Christian?” While the answer is unfortunately “no,” the question reflects the truth that Molinism and middle knowledge represent the common sense view of omniscience in traditional Christianity.

Molinism simply means God knows everything that could happen, everything that would happen in all different kinds of circumstances, and everything that will actually happen in all circumstances. The names may be unfamiliar, but I think it’s been shown the concepts are not. People reject Molinism and middle knowledge all the time, but a majority of the time it is the case they simply do not understand what is being claimed. So, properly understood, under what circumstances should I reject middle knowledge and/or Molinism?

1. You should reject middle knowledge and Molinism if you do not believe God is omniscient (traditionally).

This would be the open theist, or someone who just doesn’t think God actually knows all truths. If God doesn’t know all truths, then one of the three categories (or more) must contain incomplete information. Whether it is future-tensed truths or would counterfactuals or both, if you do not believe God is omniscient then you should reject middle knowledge.

2. You should reject middle knowledge and Molinism if you think that counterfactuals lack a truth value.

Technically, if it is true that counterfactuals lack a truth value, then you may still represent God as omniscient. I think it’s pure common sense, as well as rational, to believe counterfactuals do in fact have a truth value. A counterfactual of creaturely freedom is a statement about how an individual would act given a certain set of circumstances. It seems obvious the statement, “If Adam were in C, then he would freely eat the fruit,” is either true or false. But if, for whatever reason, you believe these are neither true nor false, then middle knowledge is not for you.

3. You should reject middle knowledge and Molinism if you believe God causes all counterfactuals to be true.

If you embrace (3), it means not only do you think God knows which counterfactuals are true, but he has in fact made them true. This does not mean that you think God has made all of them actual. It does mean you think “If Adam were in C, then he would freely eat the fruit,” is true because God made it or caused it to be true. However, it is worth asking why God would bother making certain counterfactuals true; since he causes everything actual on this account, he could merely leave all counterfactuals with a truth value of “false” (in the case of positive would-counterfactuals [though even this necessitates would-not counterfactuals are true]) or one may accept (2) instead.

Basically, if you have understood middle knowledge—God’s knowledge of how any free creature would choose in any set of circumstances—, believe God is omniscient, and reject all three of the above major points, then you are by definition a Molinist. What difference does it make? Middle knowledge can provide great insights on the broad scope of God’s omniscience (I marvel every time I think about the implications of what God must know; it boggles the mind!), shed light on predestination and free will, has something to say about the problem of evil, can apply to the timing and circumstances in which Jesus Christ came to this earth, and so on. It’s a truly great teaching, and I encourage you to click the link at the top of this article to review the few articles I have written on the subject.

Advanced References:

              [1] John Laing, “Middle Knowledge,” in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (http://www.iep.utm.edu/middlekn/), accessed August 27, 2011.

All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Disproof of God Disproved

I am writing this as a response to an older article on the attributes of God. There are really two arguments given, one labeled against the Christian God specifically and one against an omniscient God in general. I will critique the two arguments in the order in which they are presented in the original article, entitled “A Possible Disproof of God’s Existence.”

(1) If God exists, then God is necessarily omnipotent and necessarily triune
(2) If God is necessarily omnipotent, then God necessarily can bring about any logically possible state of affairs
(3) If God necessarily can bring about any logically possible state of affairs, then God necessarily can bring about a state of affairs that is brought about by a being that is not necessarily triune
(4) If God necessarily can bring about a state of affairs that is brought about by a being that is not necessarily triune, then God is not necessarily triune
(5) Therefore, God does not and cannot exist.

This can be a difficult argument to understand, and it is imperative to understand what the atheist is saying here. The first premise is what, typically, a Christian philosopher will claim. The second premise is an attempted definition of omnipotence, which is to say that it is “bringing about any logically possible state of affairs.” The third premise is important. It postulates that a being that is not necessarily triune (read: any of us) can bring about a logically possible state of affairs, and that this itself is a logically possible state of affairs. Hence, God necessarily can bring that about. But notice the problem: in premise 4, it is the case that the one “bringing about” the state of affairs is not necessarily triune, but God is the one bringing about the state of affairs. Hence, God is not necessarily triune. Hence, the Christian God does not and cannot exist.

The good news is that there are a number of insurmountable (I think) problems with this argument. First, we should start with the definition of omnipotence. I think that (2) is false. While this may shock some people, I would ask you to think of would counterfactuals. Counterfactuals are the sorts of statements that describe what free creatures would freely choose to do or not do given fully-specified circumstances. Consider that it is logically possible that “If Randy finds himself in C, then he freely beats his wife,” where C is the actual world up until five minutes from now. I could do it, but it’s hardly true to say, “If Randy were to find himself in C, then he would freely beat his wife”! Given the truth of some counterfactuals to the exclusion of their negations, some logically possible states of affairs are not feasible for God to “actualize” (this term shall be considered a synonym for “bring about” unless and until I am corrected). So unless some other outside argument is offered for why there are no would-counterfactuals or something defeating this objection, I think (2) stands as clearly false. In that case, the conclusion does not follow. So what is needed is something like:

2*. If God is necessarily omnipotent, then God necessarily can bring about any logically possible state of affairs that is feasible.

Let’s compare that now with (3). When we do, we see the argument is clearly logically invalid, for the antecedent of (3) does not match the antecedent of (2*). So let’s change (3) to:

3*. If God necessarily can bring about any logically possible state of affairs that is feasible, then God necessarily can bring about a state of affairs that is brought about by a being that is not necessarily triune.

What about (3*)? It is valid, but is the premise actually true? I think not. Assuming a univocal sense for the terms “bring about” and “brought about” it does not seem to be true that such a consequent is actually a state of affairs feasible for God to bring about. After all, since (4) alleges that it follows that God both is and is not necessarily triune, and such a state of affairs is not feasible for God to create. That is, there is no possible world that God may actualize that reflects the propositional content. Hence, (3*) is also false.

Now let’s compare this with (4). This premise is valid but since all of the other steps fail, the conclusion does not follow. It seems we have ample reason to reject the argument. However, even more problems remain.

Next, even if we grant the definition of omnipotence the argument claims (though I am loathe to do so), I think the argument is still incorrect. Premises of this type take the form “if P, then Q,” where P stands for the content of the antecedent (the “if” part) and Q stands for the content of the consequent (the “then” part). The first premise would look like this:
                    P                                                              Q                     R
            If God exists, then God is necessarily omnipotent and necessarily triune.

In that case, the entire argument looks like:
1. If P, then Q & R.
2. If Q, then S.
3. If S, then T.
4. If T, then not-R.
5. Therefore, necessarily not-P.

In this case, even granting (2), I maintain that (3) is false when “bring about” and “brought about” are taken in a univocal, rather than equivocal, sense. For “God brings it about that some act X is brought about by a not-necessarily triune being,” which is just the same as saying “God brings it about that some act X is brought about by not-God,” which is itself not a logically possible state of affairs.

This also commits a subtle move that I think is worth exploring: In (2), we have the claim that God can bring about any logically possible state of affairs. So, in (3), we are supposedly given some. But what we are really given is a second-order type of proposition or state of affairs. It is not something like “the state of affairs being Jenny goes to the lake at six o’clock,” but rather “the state of affairs being the state of affairs brought about by X” (where X is understood to be not-necessarily triune). This is quite like saying “it is true that it is true that P,” and should not be compared as exactly identical to first –order propositions, such as “it is true that P.” I think it is clear (2) is describing “first-order” states of affairs, while (3) is describing “second-order” states of affairs. But in that case, there are too many terms, and hence the argument’s move from (2) to (3) is fallacious.

Even if we brush this aside, and declare the terms “bring about” and “brought about” to be equivocal, problems remain. For what exactly do we mean by “bring about” for God and “brought about” for a non-triune being? Do we mean “strong actualization” for God and “weak actualization” for man; or do we mean “primary cause” for God and “secondary cause for man”? If we do, then the argument does not follow. Why? Since there are different kinds of causation, there’s no reason God could not be the primary cause for a state of affairs that some regular Joe caused secondarily. To illustrate using the terms, consider (2-4) again:

2. If Q, then God can S.
3. If God can S, then God can S that is not-R.
4. If God can S that is not-R, then God is not-R.

This is just not so.

Finally, I see a parallel between the modality used in this argument and the one used in the problem of the stone. In the latter, Swartz believes the well-known “modal fallacy” is being employed, and I can’t help but suspect it may be in play here as well. He claims that there are actually two arguments thrust together in an “unholy amalgam.”[1]

The arguments are as follows (reading G=God is necessarily omnipotent and necessarily triune and B=God brings about a logically possible state of affairs brought about by a non-necessarily triune being).

6. G entails necessarily-B.
7. Necessarily-B entails not-G.
8. Therefore, G entails not-G.
9. Therefore, not-G.

The problem is that (7) is false, as we have seen. The true premise is something more like:

7*. B entails not-G.

That is to say, only if God actually brings it about, per the definition of omnipotence given in (2), a state of affairs that is brought about by a non-necessarily triune being is the entailment that “God is necessarily omnipotent and necessarily triune” false. But what is odd is that Swartz maintains even this true premise isn’t enough to get us a valid argument. As he points out, to make the argument valid, one would have to give us the truth of:

10. B.

in order to get the conclusion found in (9).[2] But in that case, it is true that so long as God refrains from doing this action, then there’s simply no problem. In other words, the argument commits the modal fallacy. So we see there are a variety of good reasons to reject the argument.

As to the argument against God in general, it looks similar. So similar, in fact, I shall not reproduce it here. Literally every objection lodged against the first argument may be lodged against the second. In short, this argument fails, and no one should be troubled by it.

                [1] Norman Swartz, “The Modal Fallacy,” http://www.sfu.ca/~swartz/modal_fallacy.htm#omnipotence, accessed August 26, 2011.

                [2] Ibid.

All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

How to Evaluate Differences Between Gods

I have become very interested in finding out what makes one god different than another. Specifically, what makes it the case that another god is different than the actual God? My intuition tells me that Allah of Islam is not the same as the God of the Bible. But why is this? It certainly cannot be the name, for Jehovah does not self-identify with the English word “God.” So what is it? A few suggestions will be made and evaluated.

1. A god differs from the biblical God if its followers believe in things, actions, or attitudes different from that of the biblical God.

The problem with this statement is that it makes Calvinists and Arminians believe in different gods. Of course, if you don’t believe in the God of the Bible, then you are necessarily unsaved. Hence, each side should regard the other as a lost heathen. It gets worse. Because there is probably at least one thing, act, or attitude that differs between any two believers, it follows that each and every believer probably believes in a separate god from one another. This cannot be correct.

2. A god differs from the biblical God if that god rejects Christ.

This has some intuitive support. After all, one cannot be saved and reject Christ, hence any god served who also rejects Christ must be a false god, right? Not necessarily. Consider the Jewish people. They reject Christ (and hence are not saved), yet it is clear the referent of “God” is clearly the God of the Bible.

3. A god differs from the biblical God if that god has different essential properties.

This also seems to do well at first. Allah clearly has different essential properties than the biblical God. Primary among them is that God does not love sinners and the primary focus is upon his will; a form of theological voluntarism. Next, it also avoids the symmetry on Calvinism or Arminianism. It does this because although Calvinists may believe that God has theological voluntarism as part of his being, or some Arminians may think God is not a logically necessary being, these are secondary to the actual ontological existence of the God they do worship by virtue of being Christians. Since this is not a discussion on what makes one a Christian, and they are Christians, they are vindicated. However, this seems a bit tenuous. Perhaps it would be better to say:

4. A god differs from the biblical God if that god has different essential properties and rejects Christ.

This has the benefit of combining both views. This means only in the case that a particular religion or religious belief holds God to have different essential properties and to reject Christ’s message and salvation do they serve a different god than the biblical one. Now for some test examples. The Jews qualify as believers in the biblical God, for although they reject Christ, they believe that God has the same essential properties. Any further disagreements about what God does or who he is tend to be contingent or tertiary, as far as I know. The Muslims would disqualify on both conditions. Calvinists and Arminians qualify, perhaps by embracing both conditions (depending on how one takes my explanation in [3]). Mormons would disqualify, and arguably on both conditions. It is clear the Mormon conception of God differs wildly: he does not exist a se, he is not eternal, he had a beginning, he is not logically necessary, etc. Since salvation is not merely faith alone but along with works, and since Jesus himself seems to be a very different figure in Mormon theology, it seems that both branches are fulfilled. It seems this is a good measure that confirms our strong intuitions on the matter.

What do we think of this? Counterexamples? Any better suggestions?
All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Atheists Really Do Borrow Christian Morality

Problem: It is a common claim by apologists and Christians that “atheists don’t have a foundation from which to criticize moral wrong.” Atheists often assert that some action God does is immoral, or at least inconsistent with moral values. Objective morality is necessary by definition. We cannot really imagine conceive [EDIT: Thanks to Mike Gage for the correction.] a possible world where it is fundamentally OK to rape and kill and torture babies or old women. If it is true, it is necessarily true. If it is false, it is necessarily false. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.

Proposed solution: Atheists therefore are committed to the necessary falsehood of objective moral values. So when they say, “if objective moral values were to exist, then some God-action X would be immoral.” But if objective moral values are necessarily false, then there is no possible world in which the antecedent is true, and hence the antecedent is technically logically impossible. Yet in that case, the following would-counterfactual in the consequent is trivially true (or technically unjustified). It holds the same force as saying, “If married bachelors were to exist, then I would win tomorrow’s lottery,” or “If triangles have seven sides, then all goldfish are purple.”

Counterargument: 1. Don’t theists commit themselves to the truth of at least some statements that have impossible antecedents but yet are non-trivially true? 2. One is merely evaluating the consistency of the moral action at hand: even if morality is necessarily false, can we not reconstruct the argument to say something like, “All instances of lying are wrong. This is an instance of God lying. Therefore, this is wrong.” Since this argument is true by definitional (and non-contradictory) means, the atheist may critically evaluate the actions of God.

Response: 1. Yes this is true, but it is not entirely clear exactly which examples should be considered non-trivially true. It seems it needs to be some necessary dependence of the consequent on the antecedent, where such a relationship is known to exist in actuality. So for instance, even though mathematics is necessary, so that a proposed mathematical answer is either necessarily true or necessarily false, we may relate: “If two and two are added together to equal five, then we would not have four;” so that even if someone felt the antecedent was necessarily impossible, we can consider the statement non-trivially true. But since we do have four when we add two and two together—in fact, precisely because they are added together—we have a dependent relationship that allows us to consider the statement true in a non-trivial sense. If the atheist admits this, then he admits the negation of the consequent, which undermines his entire argument.

2. Changing the statement to a categorical proposition seems to help the cause somewhat. However, the same problem persists: the atheist thinks this proposition is necessarily false. Since if one of the two premises are false, the conclusion does not follow, the atheist cannot derive his conclusion. Hence, he is stuck in the same boat.

Counterargument: But in the case of the first premise (or some modified version of it), Christians do in fact accept it. So in any case, the option of appealing to the first premise’s falsehood or impossibility is not open to the theist. Thus, the argument still stands.

Response: What is interesting, however, is this: the Christian may simply say that God, as the grounds of objective moral values, cannot, by logical definition, do what is a moral wrong. Thus, the Christian is well-justified in asserting either some have misunderstood the situation, the situation was not reported correctly, or that the particular entity being identified as the “doer” of the action is not the maximally-excellent God. The Christian theist is well within his comfort to maintain that that maximally-excellent being known as God cannot sin. Hence, the second premise is false for him.

Interestingly, the atheist can only hope to show a maximally-excellent being either is not the ground of objective moral values or it is impossible for such a being to exist. The former is unlikely and the latter requires an entirely different argument, making the current one superfluous, as Tim McGrew would say. Why are these the only options open to the atheist? Because, as we noted, the atheist considers the first premise in his argument to be impossible.[1] But in this case, both the theist and the atheist have no reason to think the argument is true! Therefore, it really is true that atheists typically borrow from the Christian worldview when they accuse God of moral wrongdoing.

                [1] He may not think it is logically impossible, but in that case he thinks it is the case there can be objective moral values without a necessarily-existing ground, something that should be justified on its own before the theist is to allow this.

All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Has God done all he can for the unsaved? Part 2

This is a follow-up post to part 1 of the same title. First, we established what God has done/is doing for every person, regardless of whether or not she will believe. Next, we pointed out that if a person simply will not believe, then it is the case that God has literally done all he can in order for that person to believe. Then, we began to examine objections to this teaching. We continue with that here.

3. God should override free will just in the case they choose incorrectly.

This objection would say God should allow free choices in everyday and even important matters. However, we should remember that if God interferes in our choice to worship him, it is not really a choice. Consider the standard definition of free will: the ability to choose A or not-A. In this case, choosing not-A entails rejecting Christ. But suppose we accept the truth of Frankfurtian thought experiments, and we thus believe it is possible to maintain free choice even if doing otherwise were to be actually impossible.

In this case, I think the objection is still wrongheaded. For even on this analysis, true freedom of the will requires that we are the true originator of our own choices. If Charles wishes to choose to reject God, but God forces him to instead believe the moment before his death, is this Charles’ free choice? Of course not! Why is this a problem? First, accepting Jesus Christ is an eternal relationship with God. Hence, in order for it to be more meaningful for Charles than say, being God’s pet or a robot with respect to salvation, Charles’ choice must be free. I suspect most people value their free will, and it makes sense insofar as this mirrors God (I believe freedom of the will is part of what it means to be made in God’s image). In that case, then, constraining the will is not something God can do to ensure the salvation of the lost anymore than it would benefit animals.

4. If appropriate counterfactuals exist, God should place those persons in precisely those circumstances in which they will be saved.

The idea of a counterfactual is a proposition in the subjunctive mood concerning what a free creature does in alternate circumstances. Suppose it is true that “If Fred were to be in the actual world, then he would freely reject Christ.” Suppose further that the counterfactual “If Fred were to be in world W147 then he would freely accept Christ” is true. The reasoning goes that if God is to do all he can then he should place Fred in W147 . Given that he does not do so, then it follows God does not do all he can.

First, this objection assumes there are such circumstances in which Fred would accept the Gospel. If the property of transworld damnation is true, then none of those who are lost in this actual world would have believed on Jesus Christ in any world feasible for God to create.[1] For those who respond that they must see proof of this, they must remember that the major claim is an objection to the consistency of two statements. If therefore a mere possibility is presented that is itself consistent, then the Christian has a defeater for the objection. Only in the case that we think the objection is more probable on our background knowledge than the defeater should the objection stick. Unfortunately, there is just no way we have of knowing, and hence the objection fails.

However, I am not entirely sure transworld damnation is in fact true, and hence I feel that any solution relying on this ought to be tentatively held. For one thing, the biblical record seems to indicate that there are circumstances in which people who wind up in Hell would have repented.[2] In any case, is there another solution? I think there is. This solution relies on our moral intuitions regarding both fairness and love.

Let us consider a number of scenarios: Suppose a man hears and rejects the Gospel once but would have accepted after two attempts. Can it be said that God has done all he can in this case? Probably not, but again we may not be so sure. Let us for the moment say God has not done all he can. Next, suppose the man hears and rejects the Gospel once but would have accepted after 10 times. Has God done all he can? At this point, we may hesitate. After all, God has died for him, worked in his life, and he has heard the Gospel and rejected it and will hear it again and reject it. As far as fairness/justice goes, he’s on the hook! However, if God will just extend to him nine more chances, the man will be saved. Let us suppose this is tenuous and uncertain for now.

Now suppose the man has heard and rejected the Gospel 95 times, but would accept it after another 100 hearings. In this case the man has received ample opportunity—more, in fact, than most people in the majority of the world! Yet he has consistently rejected it. Suppose it is the case, however, that if this counterfactual is true, some other counterfactual with deleterious consequences is also true. For instance, suppose “If there are 195 attempts for this man to be saved, there would be some village tribal chief who will not be saved. If this chief were not to be saved, then there would be an entire village who are unsaved,” and on and on, so that the effects of the salvation of the man result in thousands or even millions of other people not being saved.

Further, the counterfactuals presented in the scenario are far too simplistic. Because any true counterfactual has fully-specified circumstances in its antecedents, it’s probably not true that “For any world, if the man hears the Gospel 195 times, on the last time he would freely receive Christ.”[3] Rather, it is likely true that “if the man were to be in circumstances C, he would freely accept Christ,” where C is the entire history of the possible world up until the point of the counterfactual, including the 195th hearing of the Gospel. But in that case, the theist may retort that such a world may not be feasible for God, or that if it is, it contains much in the way of deficiency.

Finally, it may not be objected by someone that “if only God had done more, then I would be saved!” First, it loses judicial force. Just as we do not punish people for what they would have done in other circumstances, I see no reason to reward people for what they would have done in other circumstances.[4] Second, the antecedent clause is not strictly logical in nature. That is, we should not be saying “God does all he can” in a strict logical sense. Technically, God could make it to where no free will exists (although he cannot bring it about that he forces a free choice). What we mean is the antecedent in terms of broadly logical meaning. As an example, it is possible for Jones to eat the sandwich at time T and it is possible for Johnson to eat the sandwich at time T. Since both are logically possible, we would be forced to conclude that “Both Jones and Johnson can eat the sandwich at time T,” which is absurd when taken realistically! Though the statement is true in a strict sense, in broad logical terms, there is only one sandwich at that time, and only one of them can consume the sandwich in its entirety. Suppose we add “Jones will eat the sandwich at time T.” Given this truth, it is not broadly logically possible that “Johnson will eat the sandwich at time T.”

This is a crude illustration, but it provides the basis for the answer being given. Given certain goals and truths of the world, could God have done more to bring the man in the scenario to salvation? It is unclear. Consider what it means to say God could have done more to bring X to salvation: “God does all he can for the unsaved person X if and only if he performs or ordains all broadly logically possible actions that result in X’s salvation.” But this may be too strong, especially if transworld depravity is true for even some persons. Consider an alternative: “God does all he can for the unsaved person X if and only if he performs or ordains all broadly logically possible actions that are necessary and sufficient for X’s salvation.” But in that case X’s choice to be saved is either not really a choice or does not guarantee X’s salvation (depending upon how “necessary and sufficient” is construed).

So finally here is a suggested axiom: “God does all he can for the unsaved person X if and only if he performs or ordains all broadly logically possible actions sufficient for X’s salvation.” This seems reasonable, for it leaves the choice up to X (a necessary condition for free acceptance of salvation). It also accounts for transworld damnation, whether or not it is true. Finally, it accounts for the concept of broad logical possibility, where one considers what type of world God prefers to another. In any case, so long as God can be said to fulfill these sufficient conditions (paying for sins, drawing mankind, holding them responsible for the light they do have), he can be said to be doing all he can do for the unsaved. According to the above axiom, it is only the actual choice made in the actual world that dictates X’s fate. God loves everyone, and if all could be saved, all would be.

                [1] Thomas Talbott, “William Lane Craig on the Transworld Damned?” < http://www.evangelicaluniversalist.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=2359>, accessed August 23, 2011.

                [2] It may perhaps be objected that Jesus was speaking hyperbolically rather than philosophically. Or perhaps it may be claimed though this counterfactual was true in some possible world, the world which it described was not feasible (because a feasible world to actualize is one in which all “would-counterfactuals” necessary to be true conjunctively are true; perhaps it is the case that some or even a great many such counterfactuals creating those circumstances would not have been true after all). Finally, it could be objected that while such a world was actually possible and feasible, it contained deleterious consequences (such as much more evil, or only a few persons). All but this last solution are open to the proponent of transworld damnation.

                [3] Note that if we insist on this being the scenario, then the theist can simply respond that either God would not create him or the man would in fact be saved after all. This is because a counterfactual’s being true in a particular world means if that world were actual it would be made fact. This means in every world in which the man is feasibly instantiated and hears the Gospel 195 times, he is saved.

                [4] There is perhaps an exception in terms of sheer character. I intuitively find it commendable that if someone’s character were to be of such high moral magnitude that he would express courage were it to be the case that some danger or temptation were presented. However, no one accepts the Gospel because of present moral character or worthiness, hence any such counterfactual is false. In any case, it is actually the reality of the situation, and not the counterfactual, that is really being praised.

All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Has God done all he can for the unsaved?

This question really occurred to me during a conversation about God and his influence in people’s lives. At first, unsurprisingly, for the atheist the answer is clearly “no.” For he thinks that God does not exist, and so does nothing for the “unsaved.” However, even if God were to exist (and Christianity to be true), there are those who remain lost and hence God did not do all he can. For the Christian, surprisingly, the answer at first blush seems to be “no.” This is because Christians traditionally believe God is sovereign; the average believer interprets that to mean that God can do anything. Whether this entails forcing people to believe or bringing it about so that everyone may freely choose to believe, the reasoning goes much the same as the atheist’s: if there are any unsaved, then God is not doing all he can for them. If he were to do all he could, then all would be saved.

However, the more robust and intellectually satisfying answer is that God cannot do the logically impossible (as he is Truth itself). There is good reason to suppose that in response to the question, “has God done all he can for the unsaved?,” the answer is “yes.” First, we ought to examine what God has done.

First, God has sent his Son into the world to die for it.

This can be biblically shown from verses such as John , 1 Timothy , Acts , etc. Christ died for sinners; he paid the ultimate price so that people could go to Heaven. If that does not show God’s willingness to redeem the lost and love for those people who will eventually and finally reject him, I don’t know what would.

Second, God wants all men to be saved.

This is a crucial point. Some may read the former point and object, “but this only shows God’s love for those who will be saved!” While that would be ignoring the point I made concerning the death of Christ (who died to pay for even the sins that would not ultimately be officially done away with due to man’s rejection), it is a point worth exploring. 1 Timothy 2:4 states of God, “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” That sounds like a God who loves all mankind to me.

Next, God draws all mankind to himself.

This is supported biblically by John 12:32. I have also written a blog post recently concerning this issue. In any case, God does not leave it up to mankind to figure out on his own. He actively works in the hearts of every man, woman, and child.

Finally, God has left a witness of himself.

In Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8 believers are commanded to be witnesses of Jesus Christ. This means we are to spread the good news of the Gospel to everyone, without regard to race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or personal preference. Everyone needs the Gospel. So not only does God draw people to himself with the Holy Spirit, but he also has commanded us to tell people about him.

Now in the face of this it seems God is vindicated. Honestly, what more can he do? A number of challenges remain, however. In this first part we will deal with two of them, leaving the others for the follow-up post.

1. Even if God draws all men, it seems he may draw some more than others.

Though I do not surmise there is much evidence for this objection, I think it may actually be true. William Lane Craig agrees when he writes, “in fact, many of the unsaved may actually receive greater divine assistance and drawing than do the saved.”[1] Who is to say that God is obligated to draw everyone in equal amounts? After all, it is fair for them to have any shot at the Gospel so long as they get that very shot. It is loving for God to offer them the Gospel by drawing them even once in a small way so long as it is true that it is not feasible for God to actualize a world in which the unsaved person is saved. This is because the drawing at all is motivated by love.

Suppose God knows that person X will not accept God in any feasible world in which God would instantiate him, or suppose X would only accept salvation in feasible worlds which were overall undesirable for God (such as worlds in which only a very small number of people exist, or worlds in which the same number exist but there are volumes more instances of sin and suffering). In this case, because the world cannot be instantiated without making it much worse, morally speaking, it is not unloving to draw the man once; for God has demonstrated his love in both ontological and epistemological ways and the man will not be saved in this actual world regardless of what God does. Hence, God has in these cases done all he can for the unsaved.

But suppose that one of these conditions do not apply, or that even if they do God may be said not to have done all he could. Well in that case, why can’t the Christian simply say, “I agree. God does all he can, and if he draws some more than others then he is not doing all he can. Therefore, God does not draw some more than others.” The point is this: without strong evidence for the objection at hand, it is available for the Christian simply to concede the inferential point and conclude God does not do the action at hand.

2. God hardens hearts in some and not in others.

The claim seems to go like this: God hardens the hearts of some people (e.g. Pharaoh of Egypt, as revealed in Exodus). This hardening ensures the person will not be saved. God cannot possibly be doing all he can to save him this way!

First, the circumstances of this hardening should be pointed out. Atheists, skeptics, and many of my Christian brethren forget the biblical record only shows God’s hardening of hearts in response to sin and rebellion in the life of the subject. Exodus clearly indicates Pharaoh also hardened his own heart (Exodus ). When the term is used of God, it indicates a strengthening; when it is used of Pharaoh, it indicates a causing to be insensible. The point is that Pharaoh caused his heart to harden, while God confirmed it. If Pharaoh would not believe, and yet had God working positively in his life at some point (as discussed in the prior point), it can only be because Pharaoh would not (in the sense of choice of the will) believe! Since God cannot force a free choice, he can be said to have done all he can in this case.

                [1] William Lane Craig, The Only Wise God (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2000), 137.

All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Monday, August 22, 2011

General Moral Permissions vs. Specific Moral Obligations

Sometimes I hear people in the Christian tradition say things like, “I have liberty to do this or that.” In the secular world, we often hear this expressed as “it’s my right to do this and this,” or “I should be allowed to do this and that.” These we can call “general moral permissions.” However, there are some occasions where these general moral permissions (GMP) give way to specific moral obligations (SMO).

As an example, consider the GMP “I am permitted to sleep in until ” There is nothing inherently immoral or evil about sleeping to such an hour. Neither is it necessarily commanded to sleep in to that hour. Therefore, it may be reasonably inferred that one has a GMP; that is, one has the freedom of choice to decide whether or not she will sleep to that hour.

However, let us suppose the girl in question has a job, and that she is contractually obliged to report to work at 8:30 a.m. Because she has made a promise and has no mitigating circumstances, it can be said she has a specific moral obligation to report to work. Hence, in this case her GMP gives way to the SMO of keeping her promise to go to work. It would not be moral, all things being equal, for her to promise to come to work and then deliberately choose not to report at the time agreed. Notice nothing about the inherent moral status of the GMP changed.

Now consider the case of the man who drinks alcohol and reasons: “I am allowed to drink alcohol. I am allowed to drive. Therefore, I am allowed to drink and to drive at the same time.” This is fallacious for two reasons. 1. All that follows is that it is the case the man is allowed to drink and the man is allowed to drive; it is a logically unjustified leap to infer he may do both at the same time. 2. It violates our moral intuitions and legal knowledge.

Notice it also does not even matter if the general moral permission really is a general moral permission after all. All that is necessary to be obligated to submit to the specific moral obligation is that “if it were the case that X is a GMP, then X must submit to SMO Y.” Of course, if it turns out that X is not a general moral permission, then in fact X is a specific moral obligation; that is, one must not do it. The point? Even if something is not necessarily bad or even good, if one is obligated to a standard or course of behavior prohibiting or limiting the GMP, then it is a moral failing to ignore the SMO in favor of the GMP.
All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Watch Your Negations

Everyone knows that in English grammar double negatives are a “no-no.” Why is this? Simply put, double negatives communicate the positive. It’s quite confusing. The first fun type of negation is of this familiar sort.

“I do not not go that store.”

Of course, this propositional content is in reality “it is not the case that I do not go to the store,” which is just to say that “it is the case that I go to the store.” Another interesting negation includes mixing words such as “not” and “never.”

“I have never not worked for Disney.”

I have actually heard this one in real conversation before. Of course, the propositional content conveyed by this sentence is actually “it has never been the case that I have not worked for Disney.” This entails the absurd consequence that he has been working for Disney his entire life, including the first moment he was born. Why? Because using a word like “never” in conjunction with a negation such as “not” indicates that its opposite was always actually the case. So if I were to say, “I’ve never not been dead,” it would be the case that I have always been dead, and hence have never actually lived. I suppose at that point I would be a figment of someone’s imagination. But what if we reversed the negations?

“I have not never worked for Disney.”

One may be tempted to think the same propositional content has been expressed. But that would be mistaken. What is actually being conveyed is “it is not the case that I have never worked for Disney,” or “it is the case that I have worked for Disney;” a decidedly different meaning. Finally, it is important in the cases where only one negative is used to place the negation correctly. There is a world of difference between:

“It is not true that everyone read the book.”


“It is true that everyone read not the book.”

While the latter makes for a bizarre sentence anyway, it claims that it is the case that no one actually read the book, while the former states only that not everyone read the book. While the two statements are not necessarily contradictory (since it could be the case that no one read the book and hence true that not everyone read the book), they nonetheless may convey the wrong meaning depending upon what one intends. In any case, it seems that negations can be a tricky thing.
All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Objections to Inclusivism

In an earlier post, I maintained that the concept of inclusivism is at least metaphysically and biblically possible. The definition of inclusivism is “The view ‘that although God saves people only on the merits of Christ, not all who are saved have consciously known of Jesus or heard the gospel. God saves those who, although they have not heard of Jesus, nevertheless respond to the best of their knowledge to the revelation of God available to them.’” This should also be distinguished from pluralism (that there is more than one way to God) and universalism (that all will be saved) as well as being located under the umbrella of Christian particularism (the view that only Christianity is the way to God).

In the aforementioned article, I took pains to point out that most Christians, by definition, are inclusivists. This is because most Christians believe that babies who die and the mentally handicapped have righteousness imputed to them, whether upon their death or otherwise (which is in contrast to exclusivism which maintains that one must hear of the Gospel of Christ to be saved—hence unborn babies and any mentally disabled who do not hear of Christ go to Hell). However, some objections remain. What about those people that do not believe necessarily all aborted babies go to Heaven? What about Scripture? The following are some objections that I have either directly read about/heard, and one or two I could think of on my own.

1. This makes Jesus not the only way to God.

John 14:6 says that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. No one can get to the Father except through him. So obviously the man in the uttermost part of the earth who has not heard cannot be saved, right? Not so fast. In fact, inclusivism maintains that Jesus Christ is the only way to God the Father. How can this be? Because the imputation of righteousness holds the same basis in either case: the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Upon our belief in the Gospel, we are saved. That ultimately is a belief in God (not his mere existence, nor mere intellectual facts, but our belief in God is a repentance and trust in the forgiveness of sins by God).

Under our scenario, the man in the jungle realizes there is one God who created all, realizes his own sin, repents of it, and asks for forgiveness. In addition, his sins have been paid for by the death of Christ.[1] We can further postulate he has been drawn by the Spirit, just as is every man. In this case, then, his salvation experience mirrors our own, and thus Jesus Christ still is the only way. Without him, there is no salvation.

2. We would be better off not telling those who have not already heard.

This objection claims if it is possible for those who have never heard to go to Heaven, we should not tell them. If we do tell them, then they are responsible for what they have heard, whereas if we had only kept our mouths shut they would not be responsible for hearing the Gospel. Hence, “the good news becomes the bad news,” some have said.

However, the major issue is that the inclusivist does not claim that the unevangelized are not responsible; indeed, Romans 1 shows that they are. Where the inclusivist differs is for what they are responsible. God holds them responsible for their suppressed knowledge of him and their unrepentant sin. Further, the inclusivist always has the option of claiming that while there are those who would reject Christ if told, there are never any individuals who truly accept God but who then would reject Christ. A case in point are the Old Testament Jews who came in contact with Christ. There were not any such Jews who were of God the Father who heard of Christ and then rejected him. Jesus himself backs this up by stating “Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.” (John 6:45) So every person to whom inclusivism would apply would believe in the Gospel were it to be presented to him.[2]

Therefore, we can see there is no one who would have gone to Heaven if only he had not been told the Gospel. On the other hand, there are plenty of people (in fact, millions as we have seen throughout time) who would reject God and die in their sins but would freely come to accept the Gospel if it were to be presented to them. Thus, not only is the objection false, but our motive for evangelization remains exceptionally strong.

3. Abortion of babies and the euthanizing of the mentally handicapped would be good.

This type of objection is closely related to the one above. It seeks to postulate a counterexample by presenting an appeal to an undesired consequence. Since, of course, we know that aborting babies and euthanizing the mentally handicapped are morally reprehensible, then it follows we should reject inclusivism as well. This would also be an objection for someone who thinks it is not necessarily so that all deceased infants should go to Heaven.

As Alexander Pruss noted over at his blog, it isn’t correct to say that if someone performs some negative action with an ultimately positive consequence exceeding the immediately negative consequence(s) that this person is doing “good.” A paraphrase of the example he uses is this: if a man places a gun to the head of a woman whom he knows is saved and pulls the trigger, has he done something wrong? Absolutely. Has he done wrong even though it is true she will experience virtually no pain (since she’ll be dead before her brain can register it) and she will leave behind the pain and suffering of this life for eternal bliss? Yes! Applying this concept to babies, we can intuitively say it is still wrong for us to take their lives, even if the consequences are good.

However, there is something even more compelling that Pruss pointed out. If you are the abortionist/murderer/euthanizer, it is not you who send them into eternal bliss. In the case above, you are just the shooter. God is the one who sends them to glory! So this objection won’t work, because it is not we who sends the unborn baby on his way to Heaven. In this scenario, we are merely the murderers. Thus, the objection fails.

4. This contradicts Scripture such as Acts 4:12, Mark 16:16, John 3:18, etc.

This typically trades on a confusion between ontology and epistemology. Acts is a perfect example. “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under Heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.” This is cited as proof that if the unevangelized do not hear of Christ, they will spend eternity in Hell on this one point alone. The problem is that this verse is clearly ontological. How are we saved? By the mere name of Christ? Taken literally, either everyone is saved (since the name’s mere existence is sufficient for salvation) or everyone who has heard the name of Christ is saved (which seems unlikely, for look at all those who reject it). Taken more figuratively, it means that Jesus is the foundation for sin’s payment and hence salvation. There is no other way to God. That’s what this verse means, and as we’ve already seen, that’s what inclusivism teaches.

Mark says, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” This seems to indicate that anyone who does not have belief in Christ is condemned. While there are those who would say that this part of Mark 16 is inauthentic, let us rather proceed on the assumption that it is valid. First, while it is true that disbelief (rejection) and unbelief (mere lack of belief) fall under the category of “believe not” or “do not believe,” it is not necessarily the case, at least on an examination of the language, that Jesus means even those who simply have not heard. It is highly unlikely Jesus intends to give a categorical premise in a philosophical sense. Second, this verse comes on the heels of verse 15: “go and preach the Gospel to every creature.” In context, then, verse 16 detail the responses of those who do hear the Gospel. If they accept it, they have life, and if they do not, they have death.

A similar situation occurs in John 3:18, which says that he who believes not is condemned already. But again, I think this is ontological. After all, the context is the ontological status of the unregenerate. Since we have already postulated (due to John 6) those who believe the Father (OT saints) in turn believe the Son (of necessity, since they are one [cf. John ]), then we can say those who have never heard who nevertheless have imputed righteousness are ontologically, if not epistemically, believing on the Son! Again, it seems as though rejection of the Son is in mind in this phrase. Just in case one doubts, look at verse 19: men loved darkness rather than light.

5. This means everyone who has not heard will go to Heaven.

This is simply a variation of objections made above; it just makes explicit what others implied. No, it is not the case that the inclusivist position entails that every person who has not heard will go to Heaven. In fact, it’s perfectly consistent with my defense to say that every person since the first-century church who has not heard will ultimately end up in Hell. This is because of two things: 1. I merely defend the possibility of inclusivism, and 2. It is possible that although inclusivism is true, there are nonetheless zero persons who respond to God’s drawing in this manner.

In any case, please understand: I believe the Bible is not explicit about this issue, and I think the biblical evidence is not strong enough to support saying it is as good of an implicit argument as other such doctrines (such as the Trinity), and hence I am not dogmatic about it. I do think it is metaphysically probable, but these things are not up to me, praise God! This is just a defense, and feel free to leave your comments and agree or disagree below.

                [1] It should be pointed out this version of inclusivism is based on a denial of limited atonement, where atonement is understood to be effective for only those God elects. However, it does not depend upon it. For instance, one may accept both limited atonement and inclusivism by stating though Christ died only for the elect, the man in the jungle had his sins paid for, since everyone who believes God for salvation in forgiveness of sins is part of the elect.

                [2] For a primary interpretation of this verse, an inclusivist must say that this verse only necessitates that the imputed righteousness is the righteousness of Christ, and hence by definition learning of the Father is coming to Christ, who is God, and brings the message of the Father.

All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.