Monday, April 28, 2014

Hate Articles? Yes Please!

Well, I got my first series (a two-parter!) of hate articles spouted against me. I suppose I riled him up, given that he wrote two about me (one of which I was arguably the sole particular subject). I feel famous, what can I say? J In all seriousness, while I don’t typically write articles defending me from what someone in a combox says (or even when I had a different writer insist I was evil), I’ll delve briefly into this. The issue of God and gratuitous suffering came up in a comment thread, where it was claimed the existence of God is logically incompatible with the existence of gratuitous suffering. Logical incompatibility is another way of stating that there is a proposition or set of propositions that cannot all be true in reality, due to the set’s contradictory nature. So take, for example, the following “inconsistent triad”:

1.     All human actions are determined.
2.     No determined actions are free.
3.     Some human actions are free.

All three of these may seem plausible to some, but it’s important to note that not all three can be held logically. This is because if (1) and (2) are true, then (3) cannot be; if (2) and (3) are true, then (1) cannot be; finally, if (1) and (3) are true, then (2) cannot be. Now, the premise is that an omnibenevolent God is incompatible with gratuitous suffering. So that means we have two premises:

4.     There is an omnibenevolent God.
5.     There is gratuitous suffering.

It’s not clear why (4) and (5) are contradictory in the sense we gave above. This was the dialectic that this person and I were engaged with. The atheist asserted this claim as part of a broader argument, and I just wanted it to be defended. I am, as much as I can be, a man of my word, and so when I say that’s what I need to continue, then that’s what I need to continue: a reason to think something is true. Now he took that as a subtle admission that I had no answer. I suppose I did have no answer—because there was no argument. Now, I’m being a little rhetorical, as I do have dispositional answers. But so what? When one asserts a logical incompatibility, if it is successful, it won’t matter what anyone says! So the crucial issue is whether or not (4) and (5) form a logically contradictory set, and it’s not at all clear how they do. It looks like there might be another premise needed (since the meaning of the premises do not exclude the other analytically). The only one that I got was something like this (I paraphrase very closely, and only because the formulation he suggests differs from the original claim, and could be construed as another claim entirely; in any case, it more faithfully follows the wording of the argument):

6.     If (4) and (5) are compatible, then it is indistinguishable from evil.

It has never been very clear what “it” means, though I suspect it means “omnibenevolence.” It could mean “gratuitous suffering,” but unless or until I am corrected I will believe the former. So now we have this set:

4. There is an omnibenevolent God.
5. There is gratuitous suffering.
6. If (4) and (5) are compatible, then it is indistinguishable from evil.

But notice, it’s not clear how one cannot hold (4-6). What contradiction is engendered from this set of beliefs? (6) isn’t particularly likely to be true, either. I attempted to illustrate this by arguing that the form of the support or argument for (6) is something like, “X is inscrutable; therefore, X is incoherent.” That’s a non-sequitur. His reply was that if we accept this, then other things, like the metaphysical belief that something cannot come from nothing is also a non-sequitur.

But why think this? Surely, if someone were to argue “Something coming from nothing is inscrutable; therefore, something coming from nothing is incoherent,” it would be. But who argues that? Not any scholarly defender of the principle of whom I am aware. In fact, not only is the positive principle not claimed as inscrutable, but it is claimed as positively known! No one argues that “if something comes from nothing, then it is indistinguishable from something coming from something; therefore, something coming from nothing is incoherent.” Rather, there are arguments such that if something comes from nothing, it’s unknown what prevents it from happening. But it’s then inferred that whatever this principle that stops it would be, it seems to be something cannot come from nothing. There are also intuitive arguments, blah, blah, blah.

In the post, he somehow takes this discussion to be indicative of “skeptical theology,” but this has it precisely backwards! In the dialectic, it is he who has claimed the skeptical knowledge (vis-à-vis the “indistinguishable” claim in [6]), and so his response here appears bizarre. Now, it again should be emphasized that (4-6) do not logically contradict each other. It seems, rather, what he needs is another premise or claim. Let’s give him the best one we’ve got:

7.     Omnibenevolence is not indistinguishable from evil.

Now, (4-7) cannot all be held, but this is not because of the meanings of terms. It’s because (6-7) form the major and minor premises of an argument that entails:

8.     Therefore, (4) and (5) are not compatible.

If the premises are all true (6-7), then in every possible world is the conclusion (8) true, and in no possible world are both (4-5) exemplified. This is derived from the laws of logic plus truths about the world, and so is not derived from meaning of (4) and (5) alone. Aside from the attendant problems of (7) (such as: if God were to provide comfort to a person, it’s difficult to see how this is indistinguishable from evil. Perhaps we have no way of knowing for certain that we’re not being tricked by an evil demon, but that lack of certainty won’t be sufficient to destroy knowledge in general), I think (6) doesn’t have a lot going for it. I’d need to see a defense of why our epistemology drives our ontology. For that is what (6) requires. Moreover, there also appear to be clear counterexamples: two truly identical twins appear before me, and they conspire to play a trick, to make me think I am dealing with one person. I have no way of distinguishing that they are twins (since they appear to me one at a time). Should I therefore conclude that the claim there are twins is logically incoherent? Surely not!

Anyway, I wanted to frame the issue for my readers so that they could see. Perhaps he wouldn’t argue much that way at all, or doesn’t define certain terms the way I have, or thinks all of this is quite in order, or doesn’t mean logical incoherence at all but merely a basic argument against God, etc. All I am interested in is getting a good reason why I should believe that God and gratuitous evil are logically incoherent.[1] Even in our most charitable interpretation, we instead saw a mere deductive argument that lacked good reason to think it true.

[1] For those who may still be confused, a logical incoherence is a modal claim. It claims not merely that something is or is not the case, but rather that it could not be the case. Obviously, some deductive arguments establish modal claims, and even deduction itself is modally relevant. But it’s important to preserve the distinction.

God and Possible Worlds

There is often confusion about God and possible worlds. If a being is contingent, it means it exists in at least one possible world. It may perhaps exist in more than world—indeed, in many worlds—but the key is that it will not exist in every possible world. There will be at least one—probably many more—world in which it does not exist. If a being is necessary, then it exists in every possible world. Also, if a being is construed as necessary, then its existence is either impossible to be false or just plain impossible.

This has definite application to God. Of course, if God is contingent, merely showing that he exists in some world or other, or showing that he does not exist in one world, doesn’t really accomplish much (except, of course, if the world under consideration is the actual world!). However, if God is construed as necessary, then showing that he doesn’t exist in some possible world is tantamount to saying that he doesn’t exist at all. This is because something that holds its existence as necessary either exists in every possible world or in no possible world. Lacking existence in one possible world entails not existing in every possible world; therefore, a necessarily existent God who does not exist in one of the possible worlds does not exist in any of them—his existence is impossible. Of course, God’s existence could always be construed as contingent, but not without strong theological cost.

However, it’s also important to note that this means that if God’s existence is even possible (that is, if there is even at least one possible world in which God exists), then he must exist, and his non-existence is impossible. So, if it can be shown that God’s existence is possible, then every possible world is populated by God. So what does this all mean? This means that God’s existence is either necessary or impossible. So the next time an atheist tries to use possible world semantics to show God doesn’t exist (this doesn’t happen too often, but sometimes it does), unless he shows God’s existence is impossible, it simply won’t affect your conclusion!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Can Calvinists Use Molinism as a Solution to Double Predestination?

I’m not a Calvinist, so the following exercise might be completely misguided. J Suppose someone wants to avoid the doctrine of double predestination, but he is not a Molinist (and wants to hold at least to a partly [if not fully] Calvinistic view of election and predestination). Briefly, the idea of double predestination is that God creates some people to be saved, and some are created and predestinated to be condemned to Hell. On this view, the non-elect are not merely passed over; instead, they are actively created for the express purpose of going to Hell.

The traditional solution is that the non-elect are merely passed over. The traditional Molinist response has been that if it is God’s free knowledge that “decides” the true propositions that govern the world, then the propositions that reflect the truth that “X would reject God’s grace and be condemned” are known in God’s free knowledge also, so that God does take an active role in the condemnation of the reprobate. The question is this: can the Calvinist escape this problem?

It seems difficult to see how, but perhaps he can. What if he were to use the idea of middle knowledge? Let’s call this the “Molinistic Reprobation Account” (MRA). This account would look something like this:

(MRA) For every elect individual S, S freely accepts God’s grace and is saved iff God’s free knowledge contains the truth that S freely accepts God’s grace and is saved; for every non-elect individual A, A freely rejects God’s grace and is condemned iff God’s middle knowledge contains the truth that A freely rejects God’s grace and is condemned.

(MRA) should not be rejected on issues of compatibilism.[1] (MRA) could be used to explain the status of the reprobate, while leaving all elect persons to the work of God. For example, perhaps it is the case that all CCFs of the Molinist sort (the ones located in middle knowledge) relating to accepting God’s grace are false; in this case, all free persons possess the property of being transworldly damned. However, God, in his grace, decided to elect some, and so those came to Christ in his free knowledge. My only objective here is to see if the Calvinist can embrace (MRA) and avoid double predestination.

There are certainly a number of things that a non-Calvinist would be uncomfortable with. Consider, for example, that on (MRA), apparently God does not desire the salvation of every individual, but only some (for inscrutable reasons, presumably). But this either sits fine with the Calvinist or else he accepts the inscrutability reason and affirms that God wants all to be saved anyway. So why would a Calvinist be uncomfortable with (MRA)? Perhaps he wouldn’t like the idea of there being any CCFs true independently of God’s decree. “Nothing is independent of God in any way; God doesn’t derive his knowledge from anything outside of himself.” The two statements are certainly not identical (consider that the latter statement is vague; does this entail that God’s knowledge is perceptual, and that God obtains knowledge from beings outside of himself? Does this mean that God and everything else are one? Surely not!). But it does seem that the primary motivation for rejecting CCFs (and hence, MRA) can be avoided. We should consider that, on (MRA), God takes an active role in the salvation of the elect, and a passive role in the condemnation of the reprobate (remember, we’re assuming, for the sake of argument, a Calvinist who wants to avoid double predestination—those who fully accept double predestination and on that basis reject MRA will be irrelevant to this discussion).

Perhaps we should revisit something: we said earlier that all persons would have the property of being transworldly damned: this isn’t quite correct. On our analysis, rather, a kind of counterfactual emerges: “If it were the case that God had not elected some individual X, then X would be lost.” But X is elect. This means X is not transworldly damned, for there are worlds in which X is elected to be saved and is saved—namely, the actual world! So, then, if some persons lack this property, why suppose that the others just so happen to have it?

I think we can save (MRA) by positing the counterfactual above as indicative of a kind of dispositional property. That is, the elect X has the property of being counterfactually transworldly damned, where (CTD) stands for Counterfactual Transworld Damnation. (CTD) is the idea that in every world in which God does not elect X, X is condemned. Now (CTD) seems to be an almost trivial set for transworld damnation (TWD); if someone has (TWD), then they have (CTD) as well. But this means that everyone, including those who are non-elect, has (CTD). It’s simply that the non-elect have an additional property, namely (TWD).

It does seem, however, that an objection rears its head. It seems epistemically possible, for all we know, that there are worlds in which God elects certain persons with (TWD)/(CTD) to salvation; those worlds are simply not the actual world. So, it seems that in addition to being afflicted with (TWD), these people also plausibly have (CS), or the property of counterfactual salvation. A person has (CS) just in case there are worlds where she is elect, regardless of her status in the actual world. This means there are people who possess (TWD)/(CTD)/(CS), and people who possess (CTD)/(CS), and only the latter group are actually saved. Call the former set of properties P-1, and the latter P-2. The only sufficient condition as to whether or not a person has P-1 and not P-2 seems to be God’s making it the case that a person has a P-1 or P-2 set of properties.

Certainly, (TWD) is had, on (MRA), because the individual freely would choose in every world in which he makes a libertarianly free choice to reject God. Everyone would have (TWD), on this account, except that God actively chooses some to salvation. This active choice gives a person a P-1 or P-2 set. So perhaps the Calvinist will want to say that God merely chooses some to have a P-2 set, and others passively receive the P-1 set. Two responses: first, it seems the property set entailed by (MRA) was supposed to explain this passivity distinction, not rely on it. Second, P-1 properties seem to entail a property gained (TWD) by an active choice of God that excludes them. If a positive property is gained by an act of God, then in what relevant way is God passive with respect to those with P-1 properties?

There may be plenty of other reasons for Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike to reject (MRA), but I think this is at least an interesting topic for us to think about. I think the moral of the story is that one should either commit to a kind of double predestination, or allow something very much like the Molinist story to hold true!

[1] Although it is true that a rejection of compatibilism entails a rejection of the account, it is much more interesting to pursue this and see if (MRA) is useful to the Calvinist.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

New Essay Contest!

There’s a new essay contest in town! I want to encourage the much-needed area of Old Testament apologetics. We need more in this area than is currently around (this includes both popular-level and newly researched things). We’re looking for OT topics like “is God a moral monster?,” “contradictions in the OT,” “is God the same in the OT and NT?,” and so on. Essays will be accepted to Possible Worlds from May 1-31, 2014, via e-mailed attachment to: The top two essays will be published in Possible Worlds and will have their pick of one of the following four books: Christian Apologetics, by Doug Groothuis; Where the Conflict Really Lies, by Alvin Plantinga; Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality, by David Baggett and Jerry Walls; Christian Apologetics: An Anthology of Primary Sources, ed. Khaldoun Sweis and Chad Meister (if you already have these books, we can talk). Please read the guidelines below.

1.     The essay should be relevant to the topic of OT apologetics. It may concern methodology, evidences, or a specific topic.
2.     The essay should be new; it should not be published in its current form anywhere else.
3.     The essay should argue cogently for an easily identifiable thesis. Everything in the essay should be relevant to the thesis.
4.     The essay must be between 750 and 2,000 words. This forces the author to be very focused. The word count excludes footnotes or citations.
5.     Only one entry per person, and my immediate family members are excluded.
6.     Please submit your entry with your name and title of your essay in a Word document (.doc or .docx formats only, please) to
7.     Depending on the volume of submissions, winners should be announced no later than mid-June.
8.     The first-place winner selects his or her book first, and then the second-place winner selects his or hers.
9.     Please contact the e-mail address above for any other questions or details.

Above all, I want this to be fun! For all those who participate, at the very least, you will have wrestled with and developed a response to an OT issue that you can publish on your own blog. Further, it may be that I receive so many good submissions, that I may ask some of you for permission to publish on Possible Worlds, independently of the contest itself. In any case, good luck, and thanks for participating!