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.