Friday, December 21, 2012

Can You Choose to Believe in God?

In the previous blog post, we discussed why doxastic voluntarism (DV) is true. This post aims to discuss the pertinent applications for apologetics. The main application for apologetics is for the atheist’s claim that “one cannot choose her beliefs.” This is often said in reply to some version of Pascal’s Wager (or just a layman offering the old “what have you got to lose?” line).

However, as we have seen, there are at least some beliefs over which rational agents have control. Is belief in God one of the ones over which we do have control, or one over which we do not have control? We are not typically offered a reason as to why we should think that belief in God (in a salvific or soteriological way) is the type of belief over which we have no control. 

In fact, biblically, we are given reason to suggest that the power to have faith in the Christian God resides within each individual (Jos. 24:15; Rom. 10:9-10). Of course, the objector can simply say he does not believe in the Bible, and thus he still has no reason to think faith in God is one of those beliefs. However, there is another argument that one must be cognizant of in order to recognize the correct answer to this question.

  1. If one ought to do some act X, then he can do some act X.
  2. If God does exist, then it is the case that one ought to believe in him.
  3. God exists.
  4. Therefore, it is the case that one ought to believe in him.
  5. Therefore, he can believe in him.

A few notes on this argument: First, “God” refers to the Christian God. Second, “believe in him” means not just to believe his existence, but trusting in him for salvation from sin. Third, I am well aware that (3) will not be accepted by any objector. However, the dialectical progression is in response to the idea that “even if God exists and wants me to believe, it is unfair for me to be condemned because I cannot control my response to believe in him,” or some problem of evil that states if God wanted everyone to believe, then everyone would believe (since people cannot control their doxastic states). Thus, (3) is a kind of assumed hypothetical. 

(1) is the ought-implies-can principle (a well-accepted principle, even if not universally so). (2) seems rational enough, especially since objectors will usually rely on this premise to proclaim God’s punishment for unbelief as unjust. To be more explicit: (2) should only be denied in the case that you think God does exist and yet you have no obligation to believe in him.

(4) is an entailed conclusion from (2) and (3). (5) is an entailed conclusion from (1) and (4). Thus, we can see that, under our dialectical scenario, there are some truths that can be controlled voluntarily, and very plausibly the truth of the plan of salvation of the Christian God is one of them.
1 Again, dialectically, we have already assumed DV is true and established, and thus it will do no good to object to the premise on the grounds that one has denied DV.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Can I Choose my Beliefs?

Doxastic voluntarism is the view that claims at least some beliefs can be freely chosen. It claims there are some states of affairs of belief that can be entered into by an act of the will. There are stronger views of doxastic voluntarism that claim every belief is chosen, but we need not explore that here. What follows is a brief argument in favor of the weaker version of doxastic voluntarism (DV).
1.       If DV is false, then I am not rationally responsible for any of my beliefs.
2.       I am rationally responsible for some of my beliefs.
3.       Therefore, DV is true.
Obviously, both premises may be considered controversial by one person or another. (1) relies on the idea that free will and rationality are tied together. This is an intuitive idea. Consider a rational process; consider a piece of logical reasoning. While the process itself is considered rational, the person would not be considered rational for merely repeating the process.[1]
Moreover, (2) assumes that humans do, in fact, possess a free will.[2] I am rationally responsible for at least some of my beliefs. Some were formed through a process of reasoning and not a mere chemical reaction to a particular set of circumstances.
Now it occurs to me that someone may well affirm (1) and deny (2). For this objector, it is simply the case that no one ever is rational in any of his or her beliefs. But if that is true, deleterious consequences for rationality follow. Consider the following argument:
4.       If no one is rationally responsible for any of his beliefs, then every belief he holds is a-rational.
5.       Whatever belief is held a-rationally has no reason to be held.
6.       If every belief has no reason to be held, then one has a defeater for every belief.
7.       No one is rationally responsible for any of his beliefs (denial of [2]).
8.       Therefore, every belief he holds is a-rational.
9.       Therefore, every belief he holds has no reason to be held.
10.   Therefore, he has a defeater for all of his beliefs.
(4) is definitional, and so it should not be denied. (5) may seem controversial, but it too is a definitional consequence (as rationality is just reasoning; if there was a reason to hold the belief as true, it would be rational). (7) is the stipulation under which the entire argument operates. (8-10) are entailed conclusions and so themselves cannot be denied. This leaves only (6).
This might seem to be a confusing premise but in reality it makes perfect sense. This is closely related to Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. The idea is that if it is the case that some person (let’s call him Dave) has no reason to believe any of his beliefs whatsoever, then Dave cannot rationally infer that any of his beliefs are correct. Please note this is not the same as claiming that all of Dave’s beliefs are false. That is an ontological categorization, and this is concerning itself with Dave’s epistemology. If Dave cannot infer that any of his beliefs are correct, he cannot discern which beliefs are correct and which are false. If he has no reason to believe any of his beliefs are true, then, if Dave were able to be rational, he should have a defeater for every belief (since every belief would be just as probably false as true and lack any reason for believing them). But then we see that the following argument holds:
  1. If DV is false, then I have a defeater for all of my beliefs.
  2. If I have a defeater for all of my beliefs, I cannot believe (11).
  3. I can believe (11).
  4. Therefore, I do not have a defeater for all of my beliefs.
  5. Therefore, DV is true.
The next post will deal with practical applications of DV in apologetics and evangelism. This is a necessary primer.

[1] As an example, consider a computer. People may, anthropomorphically, refer to a computer as “thinking” or “reasoning,” but people recognize computers do not, in fact, reason as humans do (this is why experts in the field are desperately searching for AI).

[2] Of course, someone may rightly point out that (2) does not require, on its own, the idea that free will is central to rationality. That is, someone can affirm (2) but deny (1).

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Gratuitous Objection

People often have a presumption of naturalism when it comes to debates over God and Christianity. That is to say, in a discussion over whether or not God exists, it is often assumed naturalism is true unless or until God is shown to exist. This assumption is faulty, and this article will show why.

First, one must understand exactly why the presumption of naturalism is held (from a naturalist’s perspective). The idea is that naturalism just describes the physical world and how it works. In that case, supernaturalism is just naturalism plus God. In this way, supernaturalism (and its positing of God) is shown to be gratuitous (or unnecessary).

Second, one must understand the problem with this presumption. Claiming naturalism is just descriptive of the way the world works assumes that naturalism can account for everything. This requires an argument, not a presumption. Certainly, if naturalism is true, then supernaturalism becomes wholly unnecessary (and even false!). But it simply will not do to offer a position that is not argued for on a definitional basis. There must be a reason to claim naturalism.

Next, the presumption of naturalism assumes that it makes sense to say naturalism explains how it is that the world works. “Now wait a minute,” an objector may interject, “that’s part of the definition!” This is not quite true. Naturalism describes the physical world, but it does not account for why it is that the physical world acts the way it does. Why do the physical laws act the way they do? Metaphysical naturalism can speculate (these laws are brute facts, or they are logically necessary, or some other such thing), but again, without argument, why suppose this explanation is adequate? In any case, without argument, it cannot be shown that God as an explanation is gratuitous.

In fact, it is precisely because of this idea of the ultimate explanation of the physical universe and how/why it works the way it does that one cannot simply presume his position is correct without argument. What if it is the case that naturalism cannot plausibly account for the metaphysics of the universe, but God can? We cannot know from merely presuming our respective positions to be correct. That, on the contrary, takes sophisticated argument.

Naturalism cannot be presumed without argument any more than God can be presumed without argument.[1] If that is the case, it cannot be shown that God is gratuitous without argument. If the explanation of the universe is not some kind of God, then we cannot take it for granted that we do know that explanation. Anyone in that epistemic situation must be open to all of the options--even if that includes believing in God, after all.

[1] In fact, it may be argued that a flip-flop in presumption may be assumed, where the believer in God enjoys a kind of internal justification or warrant for her belief in God. This would be a significant advantage over naturalism, but is tangential to this discussion. See William Alston, Perceiving God.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Trouble for Open Theists

One of my criticisms of Open Theism is that it makes God a less-than-omniscient being. Now process theologians may have no problem with that, but their cousins the Open Theists may. Typically, they do not want to say God lacks this perfection. Usually, the idea is that God is omniscient because he knows all the truths there are to know (because the future conditionals are unknowable; they lack a truth value).

This line of defense by the Open Theist will seem to many to be dubious. However, there may be some merit to their line of thinking. Consider issues surrounding God’s omnipotence. There are several paradoxes or problems with omnipotence presented. For example, God’s actions and man’s free will. A man cannot be forced to freely do something. The standard line of defense is to claim this is a logical impossibility, and so God cannot be faulted for not being able to achieve this (it is not, strictly speaking, a thing to be achieved). Therefore, God is still omnipotent, for there is no non-logical limit to his power.

Is the same defense not open to the Open Theist? Can she not say that God is still omniscient here, because there is no non-logical limit to his knowledge? At first blush, this seems very promising. But upon further examination, it seems that it all depends on the idea that God’s foreknowledge and future conditionals (or relevantly-free counterfactuals) are incompatible, in a completely logical sense. This will take quite some work to show.

I would argue that if it is even possible for God to have knowledge of future contingents, then any being worthy of the title “God” must necessarily have that knowledge. Essentially, if it is even possible the Open Theist is wrong, then his lack of foreknowledge would be a non-logical limit on his knowledge. Any such conception of God would be inferior in Perfect Being Theology.

There are plenty of good reasons to reject the idea that future contingents and God’s foreknowledge cannot go together (in a logical sense). See William Lane Craig’s The Only Wise God for more on that. Dialectically, Open Theists claim that a traditional understanding of God’s omniscience is faulty because he logically cannot know certain propositions taken for granted under the traditional model. The response is that if it is even possible God does know them, then the Open Theist is wrong. It is therefore up to the Open Theist to overcome the objections made by Craig and construct a positive case for this. If they cannot, it looks for all the world as though they have constructed an inferior god.

Templates and Comments

Hello all! The blog needed a new look (I say this after several people have sent me e-mails concerning the glare of the white text on a black background!), so I am trying this out. This may not be permanent. In any case, please let me know what you think!

Next, as to the comments issue, I am re-opening unmoderated comments for the first two days after a post is uploaded to the blog. However, I am requiring a word verification. Please do not abuse this and remember to act charitably! God bless.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Question on Hermeneutics

Why is it so hard for believers to understand Scripture? If it's the Holy Spirit that helps believers interpret the Bible (1 Cor. 2:10), then why do we have so many interpretations? That is the focus of this question, sent to me by someone on Facebook.

Hey Randy, I have a question after learning about more hermeunetics and scripture (something some of my cellgroup members are curious about too) that I hope you can help me with!
It's rather simple, why did God make it so hard to understand the scriptures? It seems that to do so we need to take cultural contexts, original language etc.etc. into account when interpreting a particular text. .. which is rather hard for the average person to do (esp when it involves knowing greek or aramaic)

I definitely understand what you’re saying here. There are a number of reasons this is so, both logical and practical. First, God spoke to a particular people in a particular cultural context. This means that unless God forces all cultures to be the same thereafter, people are naturally going to have to overcome that barrier. Second, there is the issue of free will. God could, presumably, just have all saved people get all doctrine easily and correctly the first time through the Spirit. However, just like we don’t become fully conformed to the image of Christ while here on earth, so we also do not gain all the knowledge we can alone, or on this earth. 

This problem is essentially the problem of why God allows us to live life on our own, with its attendant challenges. The answer is the same in both cases: God wants someone to freely love him; God wants someone to freely grow and come into the knowledge of him. Most importantly, the Bible reveals we are to do this through the Spirit and not our own power. This preserves free will while accounting for the fact that there are many saved people who differ on many doctrines. 

Finally, on the doctrines essential to salvation (that is, doctrines that if one denies he is not saved), the Bible indicates Christians will be in unity (John 17). Hermeneutics is a wonderful area of study and as you grow in it you will be grateful for the things you know. You’ll find yourself taking certain interpretive principles and background knowledge for granted that others do not know. I’m glad to hear you’re doing well with that!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

In Essentials, Unity; In Non-Essentials, Liberty

The titular phrase is often invoked by Christians attempting to communicate that there are some battles over which we should not part company. Sometimes, however, the saying is attacked. Usually the idea is that all of biblical doctrine is important, so that there really are no non-essentials. Recently, I read a brief statement criticizing the saying, and I responded via e-mail. It is edited for identity purposes (for now), but is content-wise what I wrote.

Hello Mr. X,

I believe we ought to confront error lovingly within the realm of believers. I hope you feel the same way. Concerning your most recent . . . [post], you have a quoted passage from I.M. Haldeman concerning “non-essentials.” I believe it trades on an ambiguity in order to perpetuate a mistake in critical thinking.

First, some preliminary discussion on parts of the quote. “He is the great economist and never . . . does anything that is unnecessary.” Really? A consequence of this thinking is that God’s creation is therefore necessary. Not only that, but we are lead to the troubling conclusion that each individual God did in fact create is not only “helpful” but necessary as well. I see no reason God could not have chosen to create something else than that which He did create (or even to refrain from creating human persons at all). But since this is the premise on which the rest of the quote hinges, we can see his conclusions do not follow.

More than that, however, I think his conclusions are false. Whenever someone says something like “all doctrines are essential” in response to the oft-quoted “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty,” the first question that must be asked is this: essential for what? The people who quote the phrase tend to mean something very much like, essential for the Gospel and non-essential for the Gospel; the entire phrase means “One must believe X in order to be saved,” and “if one denies X, he is not saved.” 

I suspect you will want to know if that is indeed what people mean when they say this. In any case, I can tell you that I certainly mean it. John Hammett writes of believers, “He [God] brings believers together, building them into one holy temple (1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21). Their common possession of the Spirit produces the mortar of fellowship that binds them into a community.” (Hammett, “Human Nature,” A Theology for the Church, Daniel L. Akin, ed. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007, 399). For Hammett, then, what the concept of unity in the church is intertwined with is the bond of the Spirit, which is what occurs between all believers. John 17 bears this out.

Now let’s explore the ramifications of this use of “essential.” If every doctrine is essential to salvation in the above relevant sense, then anyone who disagrees with me on any doctrine ought to be regarded by me to be unsaved. This hardline stance can only be avoided if we amend the definition of “essential” to mean something like “really important” or “of great holiness [God’s truth, after all] and value.” But using the same term to convey two different meanings is the fallacy of equivocation. Most of these men would agree to your use and application of this second definition. However, it is a mistake to criticize the teaching on that basis.

It occurs to me you could simply bite the bullet and declare that, yes, everyone who disagrees with you about a doctrine taught in the Bible is unsaved. I suspect you will not take this route. Rather, I suspect you will simply attempt to explain that these people don’t think doctrine is important enough. Let’s suppose that’s true for a moment. How would that invalidate the principle, again? Please consider what I have said. 

God Bless,

Randy Everist

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Equivocation and Christian Scriptures

I happened to be perusing the Internet recently (a very poor idea, I know) and came across the following meant-to-be-ridiculed scenario. "We are to fear God. We are to love God. There is no fear in love." The idea is that the Bible is demanding a contradictory state of affairs, or something impossible to fulfill. This article shall demonstrate this is not a problem.

The Bible does indeed command us to fear God, in many places (Ecc. 12:13 and 1 Peter 2:17). It also tells us we are to love God (Matt. 22:37). Moreover, the biblical record does say "perfect love casts out fear" in 1 John 4:18. However, this supposed contradiction is demonstrably fallacious, on two counts.

First, there is the issue of the semantic range fallacy. This fallacy states that some word takes on each and every meaning of its possible usages each time it is used. A deviant of this fallacy applies here, where nearly the opposite takes place: it assumes a univocal usage for the word. That is, every time the word appears, it is assumed to be infused with the same meaning in every case. This is demonstrably fallacious. So what the objector would need here would be a reason to think "fear"is in the exact same sense in all uses.

Second, there is the issue of equivocation. That fallacy is making an argument whose terms appear to carry the same meaning, but in reality do not (and hence are different terms after all). This can be seen from the context of each verse. Fearing God, in the context of the injunction for believers to do so, very clearly means something like being in awe, admiration, and subjugation. Fear, in the more common and modern context (as well as the context of there being no fear in love) clearly means terror in judgment (v. 17). But Christians do not have to worry about the terror of judgment; because Christ died for our sins, we may go to that judgment with boldness. A simple reading of the chapter would clear that up.

Now it occurs to me the saying was probably not meant as an argument, but rather as a joke of sorts. But people that tend to make these jokes typically do so out of a place of truth. That is, they probably believe the Bible is a silly book, hopelessly mired in contradiction. This article has shown that at least this so-called contradiction is easily resolved.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Doctrinal Disputes

1 Corinthians 2:10, and the surrounding verses, give believers reason to claim that the natural (or unsaved) person will not understand the deep things of God. As such, we should not be surprised that Christians and non-Christians disagree about these things. But what about Christians disagreeing with other Christians? Does this biblical passage actually teach that those who do not understand the deep things of God are not being spiritual? If that is the case, one could argue that anyone who disagrees with me about “deep” doctrine is in fact being unspiritual (so long as I truly believe that my doctrine is correct). Surely that is not right.
First, contextually, verse 16 states that “we [Christians] have the mind of Christ.” Since believers possess that mind and yet still disagree, it cannot be the case that mere disagreement over these issues indicates a worldly attitude. Instead, the passage seems to be teaching within the context of salvation (and the power of God). In these cases, Christians must be united. The very Gospel is at stake, and one who does not believe the Gospel is not saved. So, within the context of the Gospel, if someone disagrees, then yes—they do not have the Spirit of God within them. However, outside of this context, the Lord allows us free will (in my opinion, this free will with respect to at least some of our doxastic functions indicates a correlation between rationality and free will. However, even if it turns out none of our non-Gospel doxastic functions are voluntary the case above is still intact. After all, how can one be punished or decried for something he could not very well help, change, or influence causally?)
The point is that Christians should be very charitable toward one another in areas of non-Gospel doctrine. This does not mean that everyone is correct, or we cannot have doctrinal disputes and debate. We can, and should, have those discussions—within reason (here’s looking at Calvinism-Arminianism-Molinism-Augustinianism-Whateverism). But in all things, let there be charity (1 Cor. 16:14).

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Edification Apologetics

Within the discipline of Christian apologetics, there are several sub-disciplines, philosophy being among them. Apologetics can be done in an “offensive” way (where arguments are presented for Christianity’s truth) and in a “defensive” way (where a defense of Christianity is made against anti-Christian arguments and objections). However, another method I am interested in serves as an apologetic to believers (rather than simply unbelievers). The point in these cases is not to convert as much as it is to strengthen. This could be called “edification apologetics.” 

In general, this could involve either positive arguments for God or defenses of the coherence of Christianity or whatever it might be. There is a definite distinction in the way edification apologetics is utilized compared to the traditional method. In discourse with atheists or other non-believers, I will find that the objector claims (or acts in such a way as to claim) he will not believe unless rationally compelled to do so. This is quite the tall order for almost any argument. Instead, the goal of edification apologetics is not to believe only what one is rationally compelled to believe, but rather to embrace what one is justified in embracing.

Justification for believing some proposition or truth is not an easy thing. Volumes have been written about epistemology and I will not go too far with this here. However, it certainly is not the case that justification necessarily involves certainty, or necessitates one is rationally compelled to believe the truth that he does believe. In fact, it’s entirely plausible that one is justified in believing some proposition that turns out to be false.[1]

I have found that if someone insists he will not believe unless compelled to do so, then he simply will not have the kind of belief needed to justify faith. Certainly, faith is not blind and has its reasons, but it’s difficult to see a scenario in which one is rationally compelled to believe the Gospel and faith is involved. Instead, I find it far more productive to show believers they are rationally justified in the faith. What good does this do?

First, a strengthened believer can go on with his Christian life. Many believers, when stuck in a season of doubt, are frozen in their spiritual walk. Perhaps it is the case they keep on performing their activities and duties, but on the inside they are non-functional. Second, a strengthened believer will be dissuaded from a season of apostasy. I talk to believers all the time who are desperate for answers to questions that torment them, only to hear their questions have been dismissed or just to “have faith.” If these believers do not get answers, 90% of the time they will eventually fall away (arbitrary number used for effect). Third, a strengthened believer will be a better part of the body of Christ (Eph. 4). The Christian who understands more about God and logic is better prepared to serve the body of believers than he was when he was in doubt. Finally, a strengthened believer will be better equipped to do evangelistic apologetics to the non-believers (and unbelievers) of the world.

An example of edification apologetics, or showing the believer he is justified in his belief, could be the moral argument. "If objective moral values do exist, then the best explanation of their existence is God. Objective moral values do exist. Therefore, their best explanation is God." One may claim he is not rationally compelled to accept either of the two premises, but one is certainly justified in doing so (who would think, for example, that claiming moral values exist is utterly bereft of justification? Skepticism I can understand; outright denial of the obvious seems less so).

I have no doubt that edification apologetics is necessary for Christians to be able to be successful in evangelistic apologetics. We must prepare believers to give an answer for the hope that lies in them, and the hope of the world, Jesus Christ.

[1] Of course, when the subject realizes the proposition is false (or comes to know the evidence or facts that should rationally lead someone to the knowledge of its falsehood), he is no longer justified in believing it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

11 Objections to the Kalam

I received 11 objections, indirectly, from someone who does not find the KCA convincing. I thought I would tackle them one by one!

1. "Something cannot come from nothing" is disproved by quantum mechanics.

Answer: This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the claim. The claim of the first premise is "whatever begins to exist had a cause." It's often demonstrated by listing the causal principle "something cannot come from nothing," or ex nihilo, nihilo fit. Quantum mechanics does not in fact posit something coming from nothing, but rather things coming from the quantum vacuum--which is not "nothing."

2. Truth cannot be discovered wholly from reason.

Answer: It's true that one needs some level of empiricism in order to judge many things. However, one absolutely needs reason to judge all things. I just don't see how this is an objection against arguments, for it must use reasoning (of some metaphysically-ultimate sort, even if it's a brute fact) in order to tell us reason doesn't tell us the whole story. Well, how will we know if the reasoning behind this claim is telling us the whole story? The answer: because this is the kind of claim that can be reasoned out. The KCA is just such an argument, by its very nature.

3. Some truths are counterintuitive, and therefore intuition cannot be a guide to truth.

Answer: This is a classic non-sequitur, on par with "some people have incorrect thoughts, therefore thoughts cannot be a reliable guide for truth." The point is this: why should I doubt my intuition because someone else got theirs wrong? Indeed, why should I doubt my own intuitions even if I have been wrong in the past? I mean, if I am insane or intuiting on things I have frequently been incorrect on, or if there are necessary or empirical truths that overcome my intuition, or even if I have a competing intuition that I hold stronger than the original, then fine: I should abandon it. But otherwise, rational intuition is at the very core of reasoning. It is said that by rational intuition, we mean the way we know "if X, then Y; X; Therefore, Y" is true. Therefore, it may be argued that not only is jettisoning intuition wholesale unjustified, but actually irrational (by definition). "But wait!" I can hear one protest. "Just because you intuit this doesn't mean I do." Fair enough. But since I do, I am free to accept the ramifications, unless one of the conditions for jettisoning an intuition apply. In fact, we ought to accept our intuitions in the absence of these undercutters or defeaters, unless there is some reason to suspect our cognitive function is impaired.

4. Since science is not itself a metaphysical enterprise, the arguer cannot apply science to a metaphysical argument.

Answer: That science is not a metaphysical enterprise is, I think, absolutely correct. However, it does not therefore follow that science cannot be employed in a metaphysical claim. This is somewhat akin to claiming philosophy and science don't mix, which is surely impossible (how can anyone come to a scientific claim or know anything without applying reasoning to what has been observed?). The KCA does not have science itself do the metaphysical work; rather, it simply uses the best and most current science to show that the universe most likely had a finite beginning and does not avoid it. It's then the philosophy that takes over given this.

5. The first cause is logically incoherent because it existed "before" time.

Answer: First, it should be noted that this is not an objection to either premise, and thus one could claim this and still believe the universe had a cause. Second, the foremost proponent of the KCA, William Lane Craig, points out that the First Cause need not be in existence before time, as there is a first moment--the incoherence runs both ways. So what we have is a timeless, unchanging (because it is timeless) First Cause whose first act is bringing the world into existence. If the objector wants to insist this is impossible because the First Cause existed before time, he must remember that positing a moment before time began is incoherent, so his objection cannot get off the ground. The first moment is itself identical with the first act of bringing the universe into existence.

6. If some metaphysical truth is not well-established, one is unjustified in saying it is true.

Answer: It's difficult to know what is meant by "well-established," but it seems to mean something like "gained wide acceptance among philosophers." But that's a fairly poor way of evaluating an argument: a poll! Sure, philosophers are more likely than your average peson to be able to evaluate the argument properly, but let's not pretend this is the only way to discover truth. Moreover, this is an impossible epistemology. If no one is justified in believing some metaphysical claim to be true unless a majority of philosophers accept it, then either no such majority will exist (because the vast majority will stick with this claim) or if such a majority exists it will be a "tipsy coachman" kind of group (where they are right for the wrong reasons). Surely this is a poor epistemology.

7. There could be other deities besides the Christian God.

Answer: Again, it must be noted that this is not an objection to either premise and hence not the conclusion. It is an objection to the application of the conclusion. However, it must be noted that the KCA is an argument fornatural theology, not revealed theology (cf. Charles Taliaferro, The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, ch. 1). It is not the domain of natural theology to discuss, explicitly, the Christian God. Of course, we Christians happen to believe this being is identical to the Christian God ontologically. However, let's take a look at some of the properties: timeless, spaceless, changeless (logically prior to the Big Bang), immensely powerful, and the creator of the universe. Hmm, sounds far more like the God of Christian theology and the Bible than any of the other alternatives, doesn't it?

8. There are non-theistic explanations that remain live possibilities.

Answer: This objection attempts to state that although the universe had a beginning, some non-theistic explanation is just as possible (or even probable) as God. The multiverse, aliens, whatever. However, most of these examples (such as a multiverse) can really best be described as objections to the second premise, not the application of the conclusion. The multiverse, for instance, really doesn't solve the problem, but merely places it back one step. One may reply the multiverse could be identical with Lewis' plurality of worlds, so that every logically-possible world actually exists, and it was impossible that any such possible world fail to exist. However, this is extremely ad hoc, and there is literally no reason to believe that if there is a multiverse, it is as complete as Lewis claimed (in fact, there's decent reason to believe such a state of affairs is impossible, if identity across worlds holds).

9. Popular-level science teaches the universe had a beginning, but someone says the real science shows it doesn't.

Answer: This is a bit of an odd claim. We aren't given any argument as to why it's really the case that a potentially-successful model for the beginning of the universe shows no finite beginning. We're simply to take someone's word for it, when we actually have physicists and scientists admitting these theories don't work.

10. The KCA relies entirely on current science, and science can change.

Answer: It's very true that science is changing, and any claim should be held tentatively (even gravity--seems dubius though, right?). However, two points remain. First, simply because some claim remains open to change does not mean that claim cannot be accepted as true. It seems bizarre to say that because some claim is in the purview of science, one should not claim it as true. Of course we can claim it is true! Second, the KCA does not rely entirely on science. In fact, the second premise ("the universe began to exist") can be defended solely on rational argumentation. One may think these arguments fail, but to claim the KCA rests almost wholly on the science demonstrates a lack of familiarity with the basic defenses of the KCA's premises.

11. There is some problem of infinite regress of a first cause.

Answer: Presumably, this is the "Who created God?" problem (I can't for the life of me think of any other problem). I don't see why this is a problem, given the formulation of the argument. "Whatever begins to exist had a cause." God did not begin to exist. "Ad hoc!" one might cry. But they would be mistaken. There is a very good reason for stating this. The application of the conclusion demands that the First Cause precede, logically, all else. The First Cause's act of bringing the universe into existence is the first moment. Hence, if the First Cause was not really the first cause after all, then the first moment of time would already have existed. But it did not exist. Hence, the First Cause was the first.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Molinist Solution to the Problem of Evil

The Molinist solution to the problem of evil is an elegant one. It was first proposed in contemporary philosophy of religion by Alvin Plantinga. The idea is, in the words of a great gentleman and scholar, that “God knows something you don’t.”(1) Some have tried to seize upon this proclamation by stating that it actually makes the problem worse, not better. For on Molinism, the objector claims, God would know precisely what factors would be necessary for evil not be in the world, or for everyone to freely be saved, etc. Not only this, but God would know how to accomplish such a feat as well (via his middle knowledge). So, rather than solving the problem of evil, middle knowledge actually exacerbates it.

Naturally, the Molinist will suggest that it is perhaps the case that there is no possible world feasible for God in which everyone freely believes and is saved. The response from the objector would be that saying there is no such possible world is tantamount to saying that the set of circumstances is impossible, which clearly has not yet been shown. In fact, he would continue, it seems our modal intuitions at least suggest such a world is possible, and it does seem to be logically consistent. So, has the Molinist solution to the problem of evil failed after all? I don’t think so.

First, there is dialectical confusion. The logical problem of evil is a statement of logical inconsistency. Namely, that there is some inconsistency between (A) The existence of a loving God and (B) the existence of evil (or the lack of universal salvation). The syllogism might look like this:

  1. If a loving God exists, then evil would not exist.
  2. Evil does exist.
  3. Therefore, a loving God does not exist.

The entire argument is an asserting of (1-2). In response, (1) is undercut by the Molinist response (MR). This is hugely important. MR does not presume to act as a defeater for the argument. Rather, MR merely gives us reason to doubt the veracity of or warrant for (1). Merely stating that one hasn’t proven MR shouldn’t give us any reason to think that (1) is successful or that MR has failed.

Second, there is category confusion. Much of the counterargument to MR is based on the epistemological conflating with the ontological. For all we know, such a world is possible. But that doesn’t mean such a world really is possible after all. But wait!, the objector states. We really can derive modal ontology from modal intuitions. Fair enough. However, modal intuitions are always subject to the way things actually are. For instance, if something seems to our modal intuitions, but our best evidence and arguments demonstrate it really isn’t, we ought to adjust our beliefs to align with this instead of our modal intuitions. I don’t hold my modal intuition that such a world is possible stronger than I hold that God is good. Hence, if one is to go, the intuition does. This leads us to our final point.

Finally, this leads, at best, to a dialectical standoff. But any such standoff favors the defense. The counterargument to MR would look like this: 

  1. If middle knowledge is true, then God would know how to prevent evil and know which world to actualize to achieve this.
  2. Such a world exists.
  3. Middle knowledge is true.
  4. Therefore, God knows how to actualize (2) worlds.
  5. Therefore, God would actualize (2) worlds (from original [1]).
  6. Therefore, evil does not exist (reductio against original [3]).

So, clearly, (1-9) is inconsistent. I think (1) is true, but (2) is surely debatable. How can we know this world exists? Modal intuitions tell us it is possible, but the Christian will surely believe that God is good and (2) worlds don’t exist over believing (2) worlds exist but God is not good. But then, the entire argument, in convincing the believer, rests solely on the idea that God is not good. Since this is exactly what the problem of evil seeks to prove, Christians don’t have any non-question-begging reason to accept it. 

Perhaps the objector will say that his accusations have not been proven false. However, the Christian may rest assured in that there is no real value to this argument. The only people who should accept it are people who already think a loving and good God does not exist.

(1) Conversation with Tim McGrew

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Who Wins a Debate?

With the political election in full swing, and given Christian-atheistic debates are occurring all over (both formally and informally), much is being said about so-and-so winning a debate. It seems obvious, at least to me, that the winner of a debate depends entirely on what the objective is. That is, what counts as winning a debate. This article will examine a few possible conditions and then reflect my opinion.

  1. Winning the debate means being right.

The idea here is that whoever is actually correct on the issue has won the debate. The major problem is that someone can be correct about a conclusion but be terrible at presenting reasons for it, or even be right for the wrong reasons. Perhaps the person who is wrong nonetheless has the best presentation--how would one know if he is correct? If (1) is true, then it means that there could be a debate winner and no one would know it.

  1. Winning the debate means convincing the most number of people.

This is often how political debates are scored. Candidate X convinced more people that he was right than did Candidate Y. The problem with this theory of debate winning is that it is a sheer appeal to popularity. Popularity does not guide truth, and any theory of winning a debate ought to  be concerned with truth, at the very least. It also would have the unfortunate consequence of a debate winner being crowned on some very unfortunate positions (e.g, Hitler). Some may nonetheless insist that convincing the crowd is winning, and I would agree. However, it’s not winning a debate, but winning in the arena for control and power. These are not mutually exclusive, but they are certainly not identical.

  1. Winning the debate means being right for the correct reasons.

This would mean that one must be correct, but he must also have good reasoning. This would have the advantage of avoiding the idea that someone can win a debate and yet have absolutely no good reasons for espousing their particular position. However, (3) does have a significant drawback: it means that someone who is incorrect can never win a debate, no matter how convincing their speech, no matter how solid their reasoning and/or evidence. Something seems amiss about this. I believe God exists; it seems truly odd to claim therefore no atheist could ever defeat a theist in a debate. This leads to my personal suggestion:
  1. Winning the debate means having better reasons to support one’s claim than his opponent.

Ultimately, I think this has the best chance of success. It does not rely on how an audience feels about a debater’s performance. It also does not demand a proponent of an argument actually be correct. It allows room for the debater who argues a better case and rebuts the opposition’s case. It may be common sense, but one may be surprised at the theories out there. This should not be abused to say that it is the debater who speaks the loudest, makes the largest number of points, or scores the best rhetoric. Instead, it is the debater with the best reasons for his beliefs who wins, even if he is ultimately wrong. This is how an atheist can defeat a theist, and vice versa. Something to think about for the week!

P.S.-For some reason, on a Mac, when cutting and pasting all lists revert to letter A or number 1. I will attempt to figure this out. Thanks for your patience!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Is Jesus a Zombie?

Is Jesus a zombie? This was sparked by a good-natured ribbing I took today at work. A colleague asked me about the school at which I teach, and someone else added, “Yeah, but Jesus was a zombie, right? He’s back from the dead!” This prompted some laughter, but as many Christian apologists know, this is a frequent rhetorical talking point.

I perceive this to be less of an argument and more of a statement designed to ridicule Christians (at least in the context of debate). If that is true, then it can be ignored, addressed, or however you believe it is best to deal with insults. However, if it is meant to be an argument, we should analyze its merits.

First, the reader will notice that the argument depends on a premise very much like, “all people who are resurrected from the dead are zombies.” This is just false. It’s not a sufficient condition of being a zombie to be back from the dead. That’s merely a necessary condition. Zombies are also what is called the “undead;” they are neither alive nor dead, by definition (incidentally, as far as I can tell this is why zombies are not, strictly speaking, logically possible). However, according to the story of Jesus, Jesus is back to life, not “undead.” In that case, zombies are a subset of the “formerly dead” category. But it would not follow from this that all in the overall category are zombies. To make it plain, you cannot reason as follows:

  1. All zombies are formerly dead.
  2. All of the formerly dead are zombies.

(B) does not follow validly from (A). The message of Jesus is that God raised him from the dead. He did not raise him to a brief life, or even to a full lifespan to be enjoyed on this earth. Instead, Jesus was raised to be the firstfruits of a greater resurrection than that which can be had in an earthly sense only (cf. 1 Cor. 15:20). This life, which goes beyond the understanding of the natural man (cf. 1 Cor. 2:10), is available to every one who will believe that God sent his Son Jesus to take the punishment for the things you have done wrong; it is available to every one who will believe Jesus died and rose again; it is available to every one who will place her trust in God and ask to be forgiven.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Ontological Argument and the Trinity

Is the ontological argument compatible with the Trinity?

“Is Anselm's ontological argument compatible with the Doctrine of the Trinity? I can conceive of a being with more than three persons, so does that mean God has more than three persons? I understand quantity does not equal quality, but I can conceive of a being with at least 4 of the highest quality persons. I'm a Christian who's just starting to get into apologetics, and I can't find an adequate answer to this question.”



Thanks so much for your e-mail! I think you will find apologetics--and philosophical apologetics in particular--very intellectually satisfying, so let me just say welcome!

Now on to your question: if the objection at the question's heart holds, then it would be against any argument that relied on a greatest conceivable being (or Maximally Great Being, MGB), not just Anselm's (so this would work against Plantinga's contemporary modal ontological argument also, for example). However, I don't think the objection holds. There are a number of ways I can approach this question. I'll go in order (over a couple) from least convincing to most convincing. In my opinion, any of these are adequate to dispel the notion.

First, Anselm's argument for an MGB does not, strictly speaking, directly get us the Christian God. Anselm certainly meant it that way, and I think upon reflection we would see the Christian God is identical to the MGB. But since it's not designed to discuss that aspect, it doesn't appear to be able to be used for it.

Second, the problem of cardinal numbers presents itself. So if it's a matter of conception, one must add another number. But then one can always add another number. So if 4 is good, 5 is better; if 5 is good, is better, and so on. So with conception, one can conceive a potentially-inifinite number of persons. But it gets worse. For this number of persons must actually be concrete and instantiated in reality. Thus, all of the attendant problems with an actually infinite number of things present themselves/.

Third, the conception that matters is of metaphysical greatness, not merely any property. God has the accidental property of creating this world (the way reality is); very few people argue that this property is inherently great-making. For a reminder, a great-making property is a property it is metaphysically better for a being to have than to lack. I don't see any reason why God could not have created some other type of world, or even no world at all beyond himself and maybe a few angels. The point is that it's not necesarily true that the number of persons in a being is itself a great-making property. That the being of God is multi-personal is a great-making property is evident in that such a being will need to display love even without creation. However, this says nothing about the number of persons, and I don't see any good reason to think that four persons is metaphysically greater than three. Numerical greatness does not equate to metaphysical greatness; if it did, God would have to do one more good act than he in fact did, no matter how many he did!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Number of Atheists in Philosophy Don't Bother Me, and it Shouldn't Bother You Either

Some time ago, a friend and I were out to breakfast with two atheists (who were good friends of my friend). These gentlemen were philosophy majors at the University of North Florida (known for heavily promoting naturalism). It was a great (and excitable) discussion. At some point, one of the atheists asked me, “Does it bother you that most philosophers are atheists?” Without hesitation, I responded, “No, not at all.” He quickly said, “Well it should.” For whatever reason, this made my friend and I laugh (not a scornful or mocking laugh; we just genuinely thought it was funny).

It’s probably true that the majority of philosophers are atheists. However, it also seems to be true that the majority of philosophers of religion are theists. That is to say, the people who are most likely to be experts in the area believe in God.
 But never mind. Even if the situation were clearly that most philosophers of religion were strongly atheistic in their thinking, this would not bother me in the slightest. Why not?

There are certain things in life that are highly-infused with emotion. Politics, whether or not our children have ever committed any wrong toward anyone other than their own family, and religion sit squarely within this realm. This is not to say that no objectivity can be achieved in these areas. Rather, this is to say that religious beliefs are often infused with emotional baggage; this is so much so that one cannot simply deem God more likely not to exist than to exist. There are much stronger considerations and arguments that must be discussed. So what’s the point in bringing this up in a conversation about God?

Simply put, it is an appeal to authority combined with an appeal to popularity. It is designed to make the theist question whether God exists based on no more merit than a community’s say-so. It is fallacious because there are available arguments to be examined and yet they are all ignored in favor of a glorified hand-raising vote. Instead of being bothered by this and trying to substantiate that theists are the majority, or taking on a persecution complex (i.e., becoming a contrarian for its own sake), we ought rather to focus on the good Christian arguments at hand.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

WLC's Moral Argument Refuted?

Recently, it was brought to my attention that a YouTube video claims to have debunked William Lane Craig’s first premise in his moral argument. For a refresher, that premise claims “If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.” The objector claims that if even one of the Euthyphro dilemma’s horns are even possible, then the first premise is false. This is (likely) due to an understanding of objective moral values (and/or God) as necessary. Since God is posited as the objective grounds for objective morality, if there is a possible world in which objective moral values exist outside of God, then God is not the grounds of that morality. Moreover, if there is a possible world in which God decrees objective morality, then the premise is false.

In evaluating the second part of the dilemma first, I am baffled as to how anyone can affirm this and still deny the first premise. The only way one can deny this conditional is by affirming the antecedent (“God does not exist”) and denying the consequent (“objective moral values exist”). But if God exists, then by definition the antecedent is not affirmed. Instead, what people have typically done with this horn of the dilemma is deny objective moral values exist, not deny the first premise.

Now the first part of the dilemma is possibly true. It could be true that objective moral values exist and God does not exist. The problem? One needs to show why we should think that it is more likely that God does not ground objective moral values than that he does. “Now wait” the objector may protest, “Have you forgotten? If one of the horns is even possible, then the first premise is false, because then God does not ground objective moral values in every possible world, and hence he does not at all.”

Yet one must consider that the reverse is true: If God’s grounding of objective moral values is even possible, then that horn of the dilemma is impossible! This is because of metaphysical possibility (not mere epistemic possibility). Epistemic possibility states “for all we know, such and such is possible,” while metaphysical possibility deals with what is really possible, after all. In this case, we’re at a metaphysical standoff. But this claim was supposed to be an objection to the first premise; it can’t get off the ground without assuming the first premise is false. It must either be withdrawn or supported by other arguments that will, in all probability, be less likely than God’s grounding of morality or rely on God’s non-existence (or both). This utterly fails as a functional objection.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Is Politics Your Religion?

With the election season in full swing and campaign rhetoric raging, allow me to make a few comments. Your politics are not identical to your religion. Allow me to say that again: your politics are not identical to your religion. Now some may not believe me, but this is nonetheless true. Jesus did not say, “I did not come to call the Republicans, but Democrats to repentance,” did he?

First, let me address conservatives. I am doing so because I am one, and because it is largely the culture in which I live. You should be able to worship with people of other political beliefs in the same body of believers without obnoxiously conflating good and evil with conservative and liberal. The attitude of moral superiority and “anyone-who-disagrees-with-me-is-my-enemy” is not at all Christ-like. 

I have found that, rather than being evil, liberals and conservatives often agree on the social ills of society and that they must be fixed (especially when these liberals and conservatives are both true Christians); they simply disagree on what must be done or how to do it. No one thinks American children should be uneducated dolts. However, people disagree on the role of public education, private education, and homeschooling. If you divide religiously over these types of political issues, then you are causing a schism in the body of Christ and you are sinning.

“But wait!” I hear you say. “There really are moral issues that are also political!” Fair enough. Abortion, murder, stealing, etc. are all things which are morally incorrect and all Christians should oppose. However, there are other moral things (such as a friend lying to another friend) that many people do not think should be illegal, yet conservatives may. Gay marriage is one such issue. I know some Christians, very conservative theologically and good people, who oppose gay marriage morally, but not politically. That is, just as they do not want divorce nor promiscuity, neither do they want homosexual marriage. But they think all of these should be allowed legally. 

The big issue over the last four years has really been socialism. Inherently, there is nothing evil about a community sharing resources for its own advancement. However, as conservatives like to point out, socialism routinely fails at its goals of bettering the community, instead enslaving them to poverty. Now it can be argued doing this amounts to a great evil. But it doesn’t then follow every advocate of socialism is advocating evil. Remember: people do not always rationally follow every conclusion; simply because something is logically entailed by X and someone is asserting X, it does not follow that someone is asserting the something! So stop demonizing your brothers and sisters for disagreeing with your (admittedly advanced ;) ) political ideology and get right with God about it!

Liberals: your section will be much shorter. You’re welcome. Stop pretending as though conservatives have no heart. It’s just not true that conservatives do not care about the poor and the downtrodden in life. As I stated above, most people really do want the poor to succeed; conservatives just think these things ought to be done by the churches and the charities more than the government. You’ve got to give your brothers and sisters the benefit of the doubt and seek to work with them, not demand they convert to your ideology if they want to be considered to be like Jesus.

Next, politically-liberal Christians should refrain from class warfare. It is far too common, even among conservatives, to demonize the “fat cats” and the wealthy. This is an unscriptural practice, especially when it comes to our brethren in the faith. Paul said in Galatians 2:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Stop making a class system the basis of how you treat people. Instead of hating the 1%, try thinking of the 100% for whom Christ died.

Conservative or liberal, what unites us is not our politics. It is our Savior. “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God . . . For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:12, 14) “. . . What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.” (Acts 10:15) Amen to that.