Friday, December 30, 2011

Appeal to Consequence

From time to time I examine a particular informal fallacy to see when it is fallacious and when it is not. Today, we will look at appeal to consequence. What is appeal to consequence? Briefly, it is an argument that takes the form “If X, then Y. Y is not desirable. Therefore, not X.” One may note, quite correctly, that this is really just modus tollens, a completely valid and acceptable logical form of inference. What makes it fallacious is often there is no reason to believe the major premise. This is also closely related to the slippery slope fallacy.

Here’s an example: “If you vote to re-elect the President, then this country will cease to exist within the next four years. You do not want this country to cease to exist. Therefore, you should not vote to re-elect the President.” Now, as it may turn out, the major premise may be entirely correct. However, the thrust or force of the argument depends upon a powerful connection to or dislike of the consequence. This typically clouds the issue for the hearer of the argument and can influence them to accept something more readily than they should.

Here’s a recent example from the theological world, paraphrased: “If interpretation and inerrancy are not identical, then simply because the Mormons have a faulty interpretation of the Bible they could not be accused of denying inerrancy! They should be accused of denying inerrancy. Therefore, interpretation and inerrancy are identical.” The problems are multiple here. First, with respect to the major premise, it just doesn’t follow that because the Mormons have a faulty interpretation they are still not denying inerrancy. For what is necessary and sufficient for a belief in inerrancy is: Any agent X believes in inerrancy in general just in the case X believes for any P that the Bible affirms, P is true and not false, and Any X believes in inerrancy specifically just in the case he believes in inerrancy in general and X believes the Bible has affirmed P, and X believes P is true and not false. Mormons tend to believe in places the Bible contradicts other Mormon doctrine, the Bible is in error. Further, inerrancy isn’t the primary concern with Mormonism. Their views of God, the Trinity, man, sin, salvation, Heaven, and Hell are. We don’t reject Mormons because of inerrancy; we reject them for bad theology.

Here’s a final example from the perspective of a skeptic: “If you teach children to have faith in God, then you are stunting their intellectual growth—a form of child abuse. This is bad; therefore, you should not teach your children to have faith in God.” Forms of this abound on the Internet, and are sometimes put forth by people such as Richard Dawkins. The key here is to challenge the idea that a robust intellectual life is incompatible with belief in God. All one has to do is name a few scholars. At this point, the skeptic will be placed in the bad position of either having to admit he was wrong, or simply claim that all of these scholars are really unintelligent.

The appeal to consequence doesn’t rely on much logically for the error, and even is a formally correct way of reasoning. In fact, the primary error here is one of emotions. One must be sure that he is evaluating carefully the premises of an argument, and not merely agreeing out of a psychological response or conditioning.
All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Pragmatism and Christian Doctrine

Pragmatism is a very easy philosophy to fall into. By pragmatism I mean, loosely, the idea that whatever works is correct. Too many people in Christianity have fallen into this. It especially occurs in the realm of biblical interpretation or preaching.

In one particular instance, someone read a passage of Scripture and concluded all sorts of truths were present. Truths such as serving others, praying, reading the Bible, and faith in God were all mentioned from various words within the text. The only problem is that the text did not indicate these things at all! Instead, they were things that “sounded good” and were even true (in other biblical texts), but they were not present in the immediate text. Why does this matter?

First, it matters because we must be faithful to the biblical text. If the Bible is God’s inspired Word, then why do we think we have the right to change the intent of the passage? We shouldn’t.

Next, it matters because if we do not arrive at the conclusion in a sound manner we risk being incorrect. While it is true that a poor method of reasoning does not ensure a false conclusion, it does make one more likely. Some of the more damaging teachings of the independent Baptist movement over the years have come from reading into the text things that “sounded good” but were not actually there.

Finally, it matters because pragmatism cannot itself be justified by pragmatic purposes. At least it is the case that it cannot be done in a non-circular fashion. If one says pragmatism is justified because it works, then one is simply assuming some form of pragmatism is true. If one seeks to justify it with logic and reason, then the reality is that logic and reason are superior to pragmatism. In either case, pragmatism takes a back seat to truth.

The only takeaway from this for most Christians will be to ensure truths that shape their lives are based on the Bible. They should not be based on what they feel to be true or what sounds good to them at the time. The development of foundational beliefs is especially important to this idea and will be explored at a later time. Until then, feel free to comment below!
All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

What is Essential Doctrine?

Are there essential and non-essential doctrines? If so, what are they? What impact should this or would this have upon my Christian life and beliefs? This article will attempt to answer these questions. First, we should distinguish between at least two aspects of what is considered to be essential doctrine. That is, we must ask ourselves the question, “essential to what?”
The first aspect is what I will call truth essentialism. This essentialism deals with truths that are necessary to be true in order for Christianity as a whole to be true. Truth essentialism includes: the existence of God, the Trinity, Jesus being the Son of God, Jesus’ resurrection, salvation, etc. Perhaps surprisingly, truth essentialism does not include things like the evolution/creation debate, old earth vs. young earth, biblical inerrancy, the inspiration of Scripture, Calvinism, speaking in tongues, trichotomy vs. dichotomy, and so on. This is because Christianity could still be true even if these particular teachings happened to be false.[1] Notice also truth essentialism is not concerned with telling us which doctrines are important or not; it is only concerned with describing what must necessarily be the case if Christianity is true.
The next aspect is what I will call practical essentialism. Practical essentialism includes all of truth essentialism as part of its set. However, it is concerned with what is necessary to be true in order for mainstream, orthodox, evangelical Christianity to be true. This surely covers more ground. It includes: the virgin birth, the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture, the institution of the local church, the second coming of Jesus Christ, etc. Practical essentialism still would not include things like Calvinism vs. Arminianism, speaking in tongues, a particular hermeneutics, pre-tribulational Rapture vs. post-tribulational Rapture vs. no Rapture, the doctrine of Hell, etc.
(EDIT: I have come to think the virgin birth belongs in truth essentialism, because if Jesus were not born into mankind, he would not truly be human; and were he not born of a virgin, he would not be sinless [he would eventually sin because of his proclivity for sin, which Jesus does not have])
When people say things like “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty,” they are more or less referring to practical essentialism. If you were in a country where Christianity was illegal and there was one underground church around the area, what would prevent you from joining them in fellowship? If they adhere to practical essentialism, nothing should. In fact, biblically, separation from other believers was only done in one of two contexts: false teachers of the Gospel (who are not believers anyway) and those who had been admonished by church discipline.
Again, it should be stated that all true doctrine is important, as God is truth (John 14:6). However, truth and practical essentialism are basic guides for discovering orthodox Christianity’s truth. Those who differ with us on teachings that do not fit into these categories should not be ostracized.

[1] For example, imagine that God never chose to inspire the Bible, but rather chose to work through it. Doubtless, we would have a much different Bible and world history, but it nonetheless could still be true that Christianity is correct.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Is Faith Blind?

Is faith just something we as Christians say whenever we are confronted with reason? Is it true that faith is belief in something unreasonably? I don’t see why it should be. In fact, no major Christian apologist, pastor, or theologian of whom I am aware has taught this. However, it’s peddled around the popular-level discussions of skeptics as though it were fact. In this way, they may dismiss any Christian claims without even examining them (after all, who wants to believe in something without any evidence?).

What is faith then? Hebrews 11:1 says “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is a trust in God precisely because of the evidence. “But wait,” counters the atheist or skeptic. “Perhaps it is true that some Christians use reason to then believe in Christianity. But most other Christians do not.”

This is only somewhat true, and not in the way skeptics think. For most people, the evidence of God’s working in their daily lives provides good reason to think he exists. The evidence of their changed life helps them to know God exists. The fact is that once they were bound for an eternity without Christ and now all they want to do is to know and serve Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible. These people, though lacking in formal argumentation, may nonetheless be rationally justified in knowing the claims of Christianity to be true as part of their daily experience.

One may protest that this will not convince others. But that is not what is at stake here. What is at stake is whether or not people believe independently of or contrary to evidence. On this account, even believers who don’t know the cosmological argument from a ham sandwich may nonetheless not be engaging in “blind” faith. Rather, their faith in God is grounded in experience, and it is an active trust in God to continue to do what he has said he will do.
All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Open Letter to David Cloud

Those who did not grow up in the Independent Baptist tradition may find this whole thing a little odd. But lately, my church has come under some heat from some IB's for various things. I have grown somewhat weary of it, and wrote an open letter (violating my long-standing rule about not e-mailing blog/site owners for the same reason that I do not call into radio shows). Below is the letter:


I had previously told myself I wouldn't email you for the same reason I don't call in to radio shows with a dissenting opinion--because the host controls the narrative. But in this case, I'll make an exception. In your most recent Friday Church News (Vol. 12, Issue 46), you print commentary on Trinity from people who have attended services at Trinity. In some instances within these comments, they contain outright fabrications.

I will not claim to know your heart, or your motives, but I thought you should know that these errors should not be tacitly endorsed without comment (it damages one's credibility). Again, I'm just trying to be helpful here. For instance, an unnamed Trinity graduate claims, "There was . . . certainly no invitation to repent and serve our Holy God!" Really? I have attended literally hundreds of services at TBC in the last ten years, and I cannot recall a single service where there was not an invitation. Each and every invitation concerned both salvation and conviction of sin in the lives of believers. These are objective facts, not subjective interpretations. Claiming there was no invitation is about as likely as saying TBC did not take an offering, or there was no sermon, or no prayer, etc. These things happen literally every sermon. It is not OK to fabricate to make a point, even if that point is correct and the person meant well.

This leads to our next point. He speculates about the work of the Holy Spirit amongst the people, saying, "There was no conviction of the Spirit . . . ." How could he possibly know this? One would think he was speaking of himself, but his sentence before about the corporate body coupled with the later phrase within his own sentence that "no honor of our Lord" took place indicates he felt this was corporate. Even if he only meant this for himself, one may ask: why would this not tell us more about his own heart than the hearts of those at TBC?

Next, there is the "no honor of our Lord" comment. Just as I have been to hundreds of TBC services, so have I heard hundreds of Pastor Messer's sermons. I have not always agreed with every last thing he said, but I highly doubt the sermon was anti-biblical. I would challenge his thinking here, asking him which text Messer preached from and why he dishonored the Lord. I realize he did not target Messer specifically, but the church service as a whole (referencing both the music all the way to the invitation), but it nonetheless follows that so long as Pastor Messer preached faithfully the Word, there was at least some honor of our Lord.

Finally from this comment, he asks if contemporary music were to be eliminated if it would have any detrimental effect upon any ministry, answering in the negative. I, however, do not find this to be so obvious. If the reason is purely legalistic, then doing nearly anything would be spiritually detrimental. Of course, this reflects a heart attitude, not the actions themselves (and it should go without saying that it's not the case that there are no morally wrong actions, but rather that good and/or permissible actions may also fall under the category of sin if done with a legalistic attitude).

The next comment about Trinity from the same issue is from Jeff Royal. I am unfamiliar with the man so I will assume he is well-meaning. People aren't really uptight about raising their hands at TBC. We don't get offended at people who do (I personally don't raise my hands, just not my thing), and we don't think we're better than people who don't. This sentence tends to be disturbing, however (and it is from you, as far as I can tell, not Mr. Royal): "...The church eventually casts off all semblance of being fundamentalist and wholeheartedly embraces the contemporary philosophy, renouncing the old paths that church once stood for and boldly letting the new 'evangelical' flag fly." Really? You think it is only a matter of time (perhaps 10 years according to your later comment) before Trinity renounces "any semblance" of fundamentalism, like, I don't know--the fundamentals of the faith? You really think TBC will jettison the virgin birth, Jesus Christ's deity, His Second Coming, the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, the Tri-unity of God (the Trinity), salvation by grace through faith (not of works), etc.? Or do these have nothing at all to do with fundamentalism?

Sir, I am not writing this to demean you. I am only writing this to help. I can not know your heart. I only know that one should not allow false anecdotes and fallacious reasoning to go unnoticed and unchallenged. Unfortunately, this amounts to condoning and/or facilitating a place for gossip and slander (libel).

God Bless,

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

When Fallacies are not Fallacious

Often, someone will label a particular piece of reasoning as fallacious when it only resembles a certain fallacy. Ironically, these people themselves are engaging in fallacious reasoning by doing so. When one accuses something of being fallacious, he must know why it is a fallacy. Let me explain.

When it comes to the fallacy of composition, people often recognize overt examples. “Every member of my team is twenty years old; therefore the team is twenty years old.” However, what people seem not to get right is the reason this is fallacious. They tend to think something along these lines is true:

Whatever reasons from the parts to the whole is fallacious.

But this is not obviously true. In fact, it seems as though clear counterexamples abound. Consider the wall made of red bricks. Every brick in the wall is red; therefore, the wall is red. Why is this fallacious? It is not. Or consider: every part of his car is made of metal; therefore, the car is made of metal. How does one tell the difference? It seems there is a kind of symmetry between objects in acceptable, non-fallacious composition-based reasoning and an asymmetry between those objects in the fallacy. Taking the team example, it could be pointed out that the parts of the team have not always been part of the team, or there may have been other, previous members. When composition is reasoned to symmetrically, however, it seems utterly harmless.

The same holds true for composition’s cousin, division. Whereas composition reasons from the parts to the whole, division reasons from the whole to the parts. If there is a completely red wall made of four large bricks it follows from this fact the bricks are red. This should be obviously legitimate.

It is important to understand when these are fallacious and when they are not because of their ramifications on theistic discussion. I once read a criticism of a Christian objection to the universe’s necessity. The objection was that if the universe was necessary then everything that happens is itself necessary. Since it is rational to accept there are contingent persons and events, it follows the universe is not necessary. The retort was that this was the fallacy of division, reasoning since the universe (the whole) was necessary, everything (the parts) would be necessary. As it turns out, however, this is not fallacious. For if the universe is necessary, then it just entails the events and persons and things that it does have. Furthermore, no other possible worlds (complete descriptions of reality) are really possible at all. But if something appears in no possible world (such as alternate events, places, things, or persons), then by definition it is not possible at all. That which is not possible is necessarily false when expressed as a proposition. Therefore, it follows analytically that if the universe is necessary, then it is impossible that the universe be necessary and things be different than they are.

It seems that nearly all informal fallacies have exceptions. This is important. If we do not recognize the distinctions and differences, we will simply be trained to look at a basic structure of an argument or reasoning, and not at the reasoning itself. This is needed for good apologetics and philosophy!
All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Friday, November 25, 2011

When I ignore Arguments

The following is not intended to be prescriptive for all people, but descriptive of how I operate. There are some times where I simply do not take an argument or a person making an argument very seriously. It is at these times I simply decline to discuss the argument. Some people think this means I either do not have a response or I am incapable of such a response. This is not so (think about it: I will take time to contend with arguments given by Ph.D.’s in academia, but I won’t discuss yours—how likely is it I think your argument/objection is better than theirs?). The following is generic criteria for my ignoring of an argument.

When an argument is sufficiently silly, vulgar, blasphemous, etc.

Arguments that say something like, “you believe in zombies from sky daddies saving the day with impregnated virgins through non-consensual sex,” you can pretty much count on me not responding to your argument/comment. With all of the good and thoughtful questions/objections/arguments, I don’t have time to get to them all. I may as well eliminate the non-serious ones right away.

When a person evidences their non-seriousness

On at least one occasion, I had a commenter on this blog insist she was a qualified professor of philosophy at an unnamed school. Her comment was essentially used to boost confidence in a blanket statement made that the article’s argument was incorrect, and to drive traffic to her site. At that site, it became painfully obvious there was no way she had obtained a PhD in philosophy, much less taught at a university or college. Deceiving is a sure sign that one is not really serious in their discussion. Does it mean their arguments are false, or even more likely to be? No, not really. Does it mean my discussion with them will be pointless? Probably.

One more note along these lines. Fairly often, in the comments section, I will allow someone to have the final word in a debate. I do it when the debate doesn’t seem to be progressing and one or both of us is simply repeating what has already been said. This is not a bad thing. I do it knowing that some people may use it to score one final point, introduce new arguments, and whatnot. It doesn’t matter. I stick to my word. In my current place of employment customers must fill out a variety of complex forms. It is common to see a form sent in that is incorrectly filled out. I will contact them and inform them of the error, only to see it sent back in with the relevant error corrected—but two or three new ones they had not made on the original to take its place! The same is sometimes true for the “last word” people.[1] They will reason with an argument correctly in one place only to go back and make other errors already corrected several posts earlier. However, the vast majority of my commenters are thoughtful and polite. So when will I violate these rules?

When a number of Christians or serious unbelievers ask

If there are several who are interested in hearing an answer to a particular objection or argument I will address it. At this point, I feel the argument takes on a seriousness to the people involved. Even if the author is not serious, I will rather respond to the questioners so that they may have an answer.

If I believe it will influence them not to make such statements publicly

Sometimes there’s nothing like knocking an underhanded softball pitch out of the 175-foot park. If I honestly think the person involved could be shamed into not making non-serious arguments I may try it. If I honestly think the person could be convinced it was a bad argument I may try it.

In the end, if you are worried this applies to you, then it probably does not. On the other hand, if you wonder why I will not respond to your criticisms, or will not post your comments (see the comments policy, please), there is a decent chance your post (or you) conforms to one of the ideas above. This policy is not for everyone, and I would appreciate your thoughts below!

                [1] Please note if you are one of my last word people I am not necessarily talking about you.

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What if God commanded murder?

A while back I was invited to respond to an article written last year concerning a challenge to the goodness of the Abrahamic God. This article holds a central question: “If God commanded you to kill your child, would you be morally justified if you were to obey?” He then proposes a trilemma, for which he points out various problems. He then concludes, “no matter how one answers [the question] . . . the notion of an omnibenevolent God seems untenable.” The example he uses is the famous one of Abraham and his only true son (with Sarah), Isaac.

He first runs into the problem that one may answer the question with just anything (by the principle of explosion) if one assumes that the question contains an impossible antecedent. He anticipates this response and says that on the contrary such is not “inconceivable.” The problem is this, however: if one considers God to be morally perfect[1] and the antecedent is not morally perfect, then the question is in fact inconceivable. To say it isn’t is just to admit, in the case of the omnibenevolent God (which the argument assumes in order to show its untenability), that such a God’s commanding the actions is possible, and hence the conclusion is false. My point here is that the worst that follows is that Abraham was mistaken and the Bible is not inerrant (a hefty price, to be sure, but one that is somewhat less than an omnibenevolent God’s existence!).

Of course, he may rightly question whether I would take the above route. The answer is that I would not. So, what are the three options? The first (1) is to answer, “No, because this would be murder.” If we do that, then we accept the premise that a supposedly good God commanded murder (and murder is always wrong). (1) is obviously not a viable option.

(2) is to answer “yes,” we would be morally justified in obeying. However, the reasoning is because what “God commands is by definition good.” He offers a two-pronged critique. I will quote his own words here: “If what is good is that which God commands, then, presumably, He may command and perform any act which, ex hypothesi, must be good, in which case morality may be said to be arbitrary and capricious; entirely contingent upon what God may at any time decree.” The other prong of the critique is to say that God’s commands and the good are simply identical, and thus the question of what “good” is really becomes meaningless for the theist here.

The third option (3) is to say that God is a necessarily good being, and thus it is always good to follow commands given by a necessarily good being. His criticism seems to mirror the second prong against (2) above, followed by supposed counterexamples (i.e., examples of the Abrahamic God behaving in ways different than we would expect an omnibenevolent being to behave).

It occurred to me he did not quite tease out the third option, for it will be this teased-out third option that I will claim. If one will recall, the second option is that of a causal chain: God commands X, X becomes good. This is indeed arbitrary, and it is for this reason I think it should be rejected. However, (3), properly understood, should reverse the causal direction: X is good, God commands X.[2]

The author claims, “To say God is by necessity ‘good,’ and for such a pronouncement to be meaningful, the theist must be able to delimit actions that God cannot perform because they are bad.” The only way I know to take this indicates he thinks we ought to be able to list all the actions God cannot perform before we are able to say God is a necessarily good being, and that I don’t think has been shown. In fact, he doesn’t really argue for it at all. All we mean by “necessarily good” is that he is the ground of objective moral values; it is a part of his nature. That does, by definition, mean there are certain actions he cannot perform, but it does not at all follow that we cannot say God is a necessarily good being without knowing all the actions he cannot do. I certainly do not need to know all of the false answers to 2+2 in order to claim 4 is correct. While it is true that the value of 4 ontologically delimits the number of values that can be sufficient for combining a pair of 2s, it does not follow that we must delimit a list of things it cannot be to know what it is!

However, I think the author’s point is that if we say “yes, we are justified in killing our children if God so commands because God is necessarily good,” that this necessary goodness also necessitates God cannot perform evil. Killing children is evil. Therefore, (3) is not an acceptable answer. However, this just assumes what it seeks to prove. Using words like “genocide,” “murder,” “torture,” and “slavery” is just question-begging. This is because the way we use such words entails morally evil content. Now, if the author merely means to be descriptive of the events, let him use synonyms or sentences to describe them. In many cases, they lose some (or even most) of the force.

Next, he attempts to demonstrate the biblical record contains these atrocities. Aside from ignoring Paul Copan’s critique (which defends the biblical accounts quite well), those who take (3) as an option have plenty of avenues to explore. The argument runs like this:

A. No act commanded by a necessarily good being is evil
B. A perceived command is evil.
C. Therefore, it is either not the case that the command was given or the command was not given by a necessarily good being.

In neither option is the theist committed to saying that holding to an omnibenevolent God is untenable. In the first scenario, possible (and even plausible) solutions include: commands being misunderstood, Biblical inerrancy’s falsehood, the command is not to do evil (in the case of Copan’s defense), God’s not being obligated to extend life, etc. In the second, solutions include: command misunderstood to be from God but from other source, made up command, infused genuine command with meaning to kill all, etc. I don’t even have to pick any one of these (especially since some are decidedly less plausible or palatable than others), but it remains that holding to an omnibenevolent God is not “untenable.”

                [1] Here, moral perfection shall be defined as God’s every action comporting with goodness (though certainly much more developed definitions exist).

                [2] This should not be understood to imply God commands every person to do every good act, but rather that the good “causally informs” the content of the commands. In other words, if something is evil, God will not command it.

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

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Question about Freedom and Possible Worlds

This is my 150th post of 2011! The following is a great question concerning omniscience, freedom, and possible worlds.

“I don't know why, but for some reason I've been having some trouble understanding free will and God creating an actual world.

On the one had we have God's foreknowledge (and/or middle knowledge) and when He creates a world He knows what each individual will do. Obviously, God knowing what we will do doesn't eliminate our free will.
Moreover, God is restricted in creating certain worlds because He knows what each individual will do in any given world. So, for example, God doesn't create a world in which NO one is saved.

But He doesn't just "know", rather He acts; He creates a world. So it almost seems to me that prior to God's creating, we have free will in that God can't(and or wont) create certain worlds. But after creating, this changes.

1) In His created free agents eye's, it seems like we have free will. For example, I don't have to be typing this right now.
2) But in God's eye's, it seems like we don't have free will because God has determined not just who will be saved and lost, but every single action as well. By choosing to create a world in which I am typing this, I am typing this. Given the actual world, in God's eyes, there is no way I could NOT be typing this.

So although it seems like we have free will, in the grand scheme of things (in God's eyes) we really don't. And it seems to me that the important factor is ‘the grand scheme of things’.”


Hi Robby, I think I might be able to help. It seems what you're saying is that prior to God's actualizing a world (which involves creation), we have free will, but subsequent to it we do not, because it is true in that world we will do what we will do (that is a tautology, after all). But of course this does not follow, for it is a tautology along the lines of the law of identity (A is A); simply because what we will do is what we will do it doesn't follow we could not have done otherwise. After all, ask yourself why it is true we will do something in that world, at least on this scenario: because we would freely do it! If it is truly free prior, nothing actually changes except the distinction from possible to actual (what we would do to what we will actually do).

But then we arrive at another concern, explicitly stated. "Determined" can be a very ambiguous term, and without its exact implications being teased out can result in some confusion. "Determine" can mean either "knowing" or "causing." If knowledge, then there is no problem. If we mean "causing," remember that on middle knowledge God doesn't cause the individual actions of free creatures, he causes them to be actual. This is a hugely important distinction. The would counterfactual is true whether or not God makes the counterfactual circumstances the actual circumstances of the world. If that is true, then God's actualizing the possible world containing these true would counterfactuals doesn't cause anything (other than it being actual).

The same distinction helps your last sentence in the second to last paragraph. Given the actual world as true, and you type in the actual world, then yes, you type in the actual world. But that is tautological. This again calls back to the distinction between necessity de re and necessity de dicto. Necessity de dicto says of this problem, "Necessarily, if the actual world exists, then the events in the actual world are actual." Necessity de re says of this situation, "The events of this world are necessarily actual." Your concern that "given the actual world . . . there is no way I could NOT be typing this" seems only to be true in the harmless, de dicto sense of necessity. I can't think of any other reason to think the statement is true unless we're thinking "Necessarily, if the actual world exists, then the events in the actual world are actual" (since you type in the actual world, it would be impossible both for this world to be actual, you to type in this actual world at this time, and not type in this actual world at this time. At least one of these statements is incorrect, since they are incompatible. But this is non-controversial).
All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thoughts on Luke 16

Last week, my pastor preached a sermon out of Luke 16. It was well-thought out, well-delivered and offered a critique of the modern Christian refusing to live a Christ-centered life. Some interesting parts of the passage sparked questions in my mind, however. Why does Jesus seem to randomly throw in that bit about divorce in verse 18? One key to understanding this passage is knowing where it begins. It does not begin with the telling of the story. It actually begins in verse 1!

In Luke 16:1-13, Jesus tells a parable of a steward who wastes what his master has given him. The steward devises an intelligent way of recovering as much money as he can, and in the end the unjust steward is commended by the master (v. 8). Jesus makes the application (to his disciples) in verse 11: “If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon [money], who will commit to your trust the true riches?” Just a few sentences later, Jesus adds, “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”

Evidently, the Pharisees were listening in. They were quite offended, being “covetous.” So they snapped some snarky remarks in the Lord’s direction (v. 14). It is here Jesus responds. Pay careful attention to his opening remarks. God knows the heart, and what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination to God. The major context is riches, and the story Jesus is about to tell involves a man who trusts in his riches. He trusts in them so much, that, just as the Pharisees, he seeks to justify himself before God with them. Verse 16, however, is what God demands we trust in: “The law and the prophets were until John [the Baptist]: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.”

It is about this time, right before the story, that Jesus mentions verse 18: “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.” This seemingly random teaching should not be “divorced” from its context! Let’s look at the story itself to find out why this was said here. As my pastor rightly pointed out, the rich man was obviously familiar with Abraham and Judaism. He begged for a messenger (Lazarus, the poor man) to be sent to his brothers, back from the dead. Abraham, knowing they were Jews, said, “they have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” (v. 29)

The rich man knew that would not work; they were not listening to the prophets now! So Abraham replies if they did not listen to Moses and the prophets, then they won’t accept the message of true riches (cf. v. 11), even if someone rose from the dead (foreshadowing, anyone?) (v. 31). Think about the application for the Pharisees. The Pharisees were the epitome of followers of the Law, and they revered the Prophets. Combine this with Jesus’ story and Luke’s editorial comment that they were covetous and derided Jesus, and we see the rich man was clearly representing the Pharisees. In effect, Jesus was saying, “so long as you seek to justify yourselves, not only do you reject me, but you reject the Law and the Prophets as well.” This is why Jesus linked his message with theirs in verse 16!

The point in verse 18 is that if the Law and Prophets and Jesus’ message were linked, and indeed identical in its source, then if one had received the first covenant (the Jews) but rejected the second, he is committing adultery (in a spiritual sense). If such a Jew were to trust in riches, he would be putting away his wife (God with the Law and Prophets) and taking another (riches). If one is seeking to justify himself, he will not be accepted by God (cf. v. 15), and hence if he is not accepted (put away) yet links himself with riches to trust in is also committing spiritual adultery!

This was not some random teaching Jesus decided to discuss in the middle of a story. He was rather making a forceful point. You cannot separate Jesus from the Law and the Prophets. You cannot truly accept one and not the other. Trusting in riches is spiritual adultery, and if one will not accept the message of God, he will be in the terrible position of being ultimately rejected by him.
All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Slippery Slope Fallacy

Some fallacies are particularly easy to fall into precisely because they rely on a good measure of truth, or even sound reasoning. While that may sound counterintuitive, it’s actually what makes for a great fallacy. Just a good portion of logic and reasoning mixed with the error itself. The fallacy we will discuss today is commonly referred to as the “slippery slope” fallacy. It typically starts with some premise and moves to a horrific or undesirable consequence or series of consequences, thereby showing the premise to be false.

An example would be the following: “once you endorse scholarship, you start to endorse worldly ways of thinking. Then, you’ll believe theories over what a pastor teaches. After that, you’ll end up saying the Bible isn’t true.” Did you catch it? The idea is that by legitimizing scholarship, one will probably or inevitably deny the Bible. But this simply isn’t true. Another example (seen too often in Independent Baptist circles) concerns music. “If you allow a contemporary song to be used in a church service, then the standard of dress is relaxed. When standards of dress are relaxed, then personal morality is lowered. When personal morality is lowered, the church becomes carnal at least and apostate at worst.” So, obviously, singing a contemporary Christian song leads inexorably to carnality.

The reason these types of fallacies work (they are especially popular in political campaigns) is they rely on a rule of logic. The rule is this: If P, then Q. If Q, then R. Therefore, if P, then R. The idea is that if one premise entails another, and that second premise entails a third, then wherever the first is present so will be the third. This is entirely correct so far. So then the slippery slope fallacy is not really fallacious at all, right? Wrong.

While not formally fallacious (that is, it is well within the bounds of actual logic) it is informally so. In our examples, what our arguers need to show is that each and every premise in the chain is present whenever its antecedent is also present. In other words, for the music argument, they need to show every time a contemporary song is introduced, the standard of dress is lowered, and every time the standard of dress is lowered, personal morality suffers, and so on. It won’t do in this case merely to claim it is more probable, for the slippery slope typically purports causal relationships and is not merely descriptive of coextensive but independent events.

Another pitfall for slippery slope fallacies is that they may ignore common causes, rely on controversial premises, or switch the objects of the premise mid-argument. Again, taking our music example: perhaps it is the case (as it is with so many churches) that music standards are relaxed precisely as a rejection of prior legalism (perceived by the church), and hence dress standards are relaxed for the same reason. This would be an example of ignoring a common cause. Relying on controversial premises would include the link that claims relaxing a standard of dress leads to a downgrade in personal morality. I don’t see how anyone could really know this, and I wonder where the studies are. Finally, sometimes this link includes switching the objects of the causal chain. For instance, churches with relaxed (or non-legalistic) music/dress standards tend to attract guests (unbelievers) and non-conformists, the quirky and mundane—in other words, all types of people. Sometimes the “downgrade in morality” is not at all in the person who was legalistic but now is not. In fact, it seems people who make this charge will take the unbelievers and chide them, thinking they are part of the local body!

So how do you avoid committing the slippery slope fallacy? If you make an argument consisting of a logical chain, make sure to avoid these errors, and above all, make sure each part of the chain entails the next one. This reason alone may be why we do not see too many non-fallacious versions of the argument.
All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

When is an Appeal to Authority Fallacious?

When should we trust an argument from authority? What about a fact or premise supported by a quote from an authority? The following will attempt to answer these questions in a way that is helpful.

First, one should only accept an appeal to authority if one is within her own field.

I will give two examples of this, one obvious and another one from real life. Suppose there is an award-winning current events journalist who gives an opinion on the philosophy of history. This in and of itself is not fallacious. However, if within an argument or discussion a person says, “This journalist says X and Y about the philosophy of history,” his appeal to authority is fallacious. Why? Because the authority isn’t really an authority at all, at least when it comes to the subject at hand.

The second example is one I have actually seen. When reading an article opposing evolution, a quote from a physicist was made to the effect of, “there are too many biological problems with evolution for it to be plausible.” This may be so, and the physicist may have had wonderful arguments and reasons for making this claim. Unfortunately, the article’s author merely offered this in support of his claim that evolution has biological problems. Although the authority was at least a scientist, it simply won’t do as a mere appeal because he isn’t a scientist in the relevant field!

Second, one should not accept an appeal to authority if that alone is the basis for the argument or proposition.

In most cases, it is a bad idea to say something like “Jesus rose from the dead. Dr. So and So says so in his book.” That is a rather obvious example. Less obviously, however, are examples relating to science (and other subjects which laymen do not readily understand). As in our real-life example in the first major point, it would be fallacious to assail evolution on the singular quote from the scientist, even if the man was a biologist![1] Why? Because in this case we have moved from a mere appeal to authority to the authority becoming the argument itself.

Finally, appeals to authority are justified when used to show specific points/evidences or when access to the relevant information is sufficiently limited.

We cannot know everything for ourselves firsthand. Hence, anything we accept without firsthand knowledge is done at least partially on a basis of appeal to authority. We are completely rational to trust that the archaeologist who says they have discovered the ancient city of Jericho (barring any reason to distrust him), and should not be skeptical. It is important to know exactly what constitutes the correct appeal to authority (like “Doctors agree that smoking increases your chances of getting cancer”) and fallacious  appeals (like “Professional athletes say smoking increases your chances of getting cancer,” or “A doctor says cancer causes smoking”). If you are very familiar with the correct ways of thinking, the poor reasoning will be more evident, even if you are unfamiliar with the particular name for that fallacy.

                [1] I do not support evolution.

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Question about Feasibility

This article will be a little more basic, but it has some practical applications. Recently, a question was posed to me concerning possibility and feasibility, and whether there really is a difference between the two. Something is logically possible if it is not self-contradictory (call this the “coherence test”) and if it does not violate any necessary truths (propositions, events, or beings that are impossible to be “false”). Something is feasible, however, in the case that what is under consideration can be done or true. So feasibility is more circumstances oriented.

Here’s a brief example. It’s logically possible for me to fly, but since I cannot fly, it’s not really feasible for me to fly. Similarly, for God, simply because something is possible it does not follow that it is feasible. The principle can be expressed like this: everything that is feasible is also possible, but not everything that is possible is feasible.

So in the case of God’s creating people and his free choice to allow his creatures (mankind) to have a free will, God cedes causal control of a person’s actions to the person. So while it is possible a created person may choose to be saved, it nonetheless may not be feasible for God to guarantee this, because there just is no circumstance in which that person chooses that way! Or perhaps, less controversially, there are circumstances in which certain persons would believe if they were placed in them, but the truths of how other people must act in order for these certain persons to believe and be saved make this infeasible for God to instantiate.[1]

In order for God to instantiate the world, he must actualize a world where all of the relevant propositions are consistent with each other (call this “compossibility”). Thus, if it is true only in circumstances C1 would Randy freely ask Jodi to marry him, it is infeasible for God to create C2 and yet have Randy freely ask Jodi to marry him (at least as long as God allows freedom). Yet it is still logically possible Randy freely asks Jodi to marry him in C2. It’s just not feasible given truths of how he would act. Does that make sense? What say you?

                [1] Again, it must be stressed here that we are not saying God cannot simply force everyone to do something. What we are saying is that because God sovereignly chose to give man a free will, certain truths of the way people act are not directly and completely up to God.

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

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Question about Possible Worlds

I need some help with possible worlds . . . .
An atheist . . . [said] recently that existence itself is necessary because:

The proposition "this world exists" is necessarily true in all possible worlds.
The proposition "this world does not exist" cannot be true in any world.
The proposition "existence exists" is an a priori analytic truth.

I'll be happy to see if I can help! Let's examine the first claim.

The proposition “this world exists” is necessarily true in all possible worlds.

First, we need to understand what is meant here. The word “this” is used as an indexical pointing to some world. “World” is denoting a completely consistent set of propositions including the affirmation of every proposition or its negation. “Exists” seems to refer either to the longer clause “is actual” or simply as a manner of speaking for “there is” (as in, “there is a possible world X” where all we mean is to say such a world entails a complete set and is possible).

Now it becomes apparent the proposition is woefully underdeveloped. For what is meant by “this world?” It seems he can mean either one of a few major things. Perhaps he means (1) “The actual world is actually in existence” is necessarily true in all possible worlds. If this is what is meant, I don’t see the harm. For it seems tautologically true, like saying “it is what it is,” “whatever will be, will be,” etc. Perhaps then he means (2) “The world we are in now [call it W1 for the actual world we are actually in] exists as the actual world” is necessarily true in all possible worlds. This again has difficulty escaping the tautology.

Perhaps then he really means (3) “This world exists,” where “this” refers to whichever world one is referring. But this isn’t quite right, unless existence simply means “there is a possible world such as this one.” Such a claim is quite uninteresting. So perhaps he then means to say (4) “W1 [the actual world] is the actual world” is true in all possible worlds. It then follows that proposition is necessary, and hence the actual world we have now is necessary.

There seems to be a bit of a problem with (4), however. It seems to smuggle in what it seeks to prove. For instance, consider the very intuitive idea that W2 could have been the actual world. W2 is identical to W1 in every respect but one—and that difference is miniscule and incidental (by definition, it affects nothing else). It’s extremely important to note that if (4) is taken to mean “W1 is the actual world,” then there just are no other possible worlds. But I suspect we arrive at “W1 is the actual world” being true in all other worlds as an a posteriori justification. That is to say, we think “W1 is the actual world” is true in all other possible worlds only because it turned out that W1 is the actual world—not because, as a metaphysical feature, all other possible worlds contain the proposition “W1 is the actual world.” In that latter case, it doesn’t even make sense to speak of other possible worlds!

But further, there is the problem of necessity de dicto vs. necessity de re. Suppose that in this world (W1), I throw a green ball. So then, in every possible world, it is true that “in W1, Randy throws a green ball.” This is true even in worlds where I throw no balls, much less green ones. But in that case, the aforementioned proposition becomes necessarily true. So I guess that means I had no choice in throwing the ball, right? Wrong. One of the issues at play is the necessity de dicto, or of a statement itself (rather than the metaphysical ontology of me performing the act). Another issue at play is temporal becoming. We can see it would be truly bizarre for us to argue that because we performed any act, that act was therefore necessary! Only the truth of the statement itself is necessary. I don’t see any reason to think this is not the case with the issue of “W1 is actual” being true in every possible world. Why would this not be a case of de dicto necessity, as opposed to de re?

To illustrate the difference even more, consider the following two propositions. Taken de dicto, (4) would be: (5) Necessarily, if W1 is the actual world, then it actually exists. If taken de re, (4) would be: (6) W1 is necessarily the actual world. The argument needs something very much like (6) to be true in order to get off the ground. However, we can’t just assume (6) is true over and against (5)—if we do, this would be question-begging. Moreover, it seems whatever plausibility the argument has actually derives from an acceptance of (5), not (6).

Of course, I suppose one could assume that de re is in view because there just is nothing, on atheistic naturalism, to “get the world going,” so to speak. Hence, logical necessity is all that could have brought the world into existence. Interestingly, I may agree—God is such a being!

His second contention, that “this world does not exist cannot be true in any world” is an entailment of the first contention. The third just looks like an argument from contingency for a necessarily-existing being. This looks exactly like a theistic argument to me! I hope this helps somewhat, and possibly clears up confusion.
All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Role of Intuition

What role does intuition play in an argument? What about in a debate? Are there good reasons to trust our intuition? All of these are good questions. In the recent William Lane Craig-Peter Millican debate, the issue of whether or not we can trust intuition was raised. Millican thought rational intuition to be unreliable, whereas Craig supported it.

The role of intuition, as Craig mentions often, is that of knowing some premise to be true rather than showing that premise to be true.[1] Once I understood this principle, along with the value of intuition as knowledge, I have come to recognize its power. We do not have to then show a particular intuition as true, but instead it is how we know it is true. As for its role in debate, this does mean that if a particular person does not share the intuition, he or she may not accept our argument or premise. This is where discernment is needed. In the setting of an “offensive” argument, intuition should only be used where it is a highly-regarded or shared intuition. This is what is at work, primarily, in the second premise of the moral argument. That objective moral values exist, is, for most people, intuitively known and perceived as true. This makes it a valuable tool to use.

This brings us to our next point. Sometimes intuitions, though strongly held, should be abandoned. When should an intuition be abandoned as knowledge? When there is evidence sufficient to overcome that intuition supporting the falsehood of that intuition. Notice what this entails: in order for us to say, for example, that objective moral values do not exist (even if we strongly intuit there are such values), we must have some strong evidence suggesting this intuition is false. What could that be? The only thing I can think of that is plausible is God’s non-existence. Since that is the very issue in the question of the moral argument, however, this would be question-begging.

Some people, like Millican, find intuition to be either non-existent or untrustworthy. But why think so? Millican offers the following as a critique: some people have been incorrect regarding intuitive beliefs, therefore intuition cannot be trusted. The problem with this is that it does not follow because one particular belief is incorrect, then my belief is incorrect. Imagine criticizing thinking because some people have had thoughts that are incorrect! Not only is it incorrect to say that because some people have had false intuitions that my intuitions are untrustworthy, it does not follow that even if some of my intuitions turn out to be false, that other of my intuitions are incorrect or untrustworthy. Only if some issue of dependence could be constructed (like, for instance, if I were known to be totally insane, or if there was no a priori knowledge possible. For a treatment of the latter claim, please see my article on intuition here.) would we have some reason to think intuitions are untrustworthy. Each intuition must be dealt with on its own merits. If one intuits something, only in the case there are reasons to think the intuition is false should he abandon it.

One last issue: what of two competing intuitions? Remember, we do not “show” via intuition (except in cases of commonly-held intuitions, which is not applicable here). Secondly, both cannot be said to know these things. If they are truly in competition, then only one of them can be true, and hence only one of them knows. Which one is wrong? Let the evidence decide. Intuitions can be validated or discredited by the evidence. But in the absence of such external justifiers or defeaters, one is justified if he truly holds the intuition (that is, the belief held independently of experience).

                [1] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith 3rd ed., (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 43. Here Craig appeals not as much to intuition as he does the biblical concept of the witness of the Holy Spirit (cf. Romans ). I agree with this assessment as well, and apply the distinction as similar because of the internal nature of the knowledge.

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

Rejecting the Causal Premise

The first premise of the kalam cosmological argument is “whatever begins to exist had a cause.” This premise is sometimes objected to in very sophisticated ways, and sometimes not as much. The particular objection I have in mind is the objection that says nothing really begins to exist. The idea is that everything just is different arrangements of matter and therefore nothing begins to exist. Rather, all we have are new formations of matter.

There are multiple objections that can be lodged against this view (e.g., the absurdities that “we” existed as matter, or that we don’t really exist at all). However, I have something else in mind to critique the view. My contention is that both of the main reasons for affirming this objection to the premise are fallacious.

The first main reason for affirming that nothing begins to exist is that some kind of reductionist-materialist-naturalist-physicalist (please forgive this clumsy wording) view of the world is true. But that is just to beg the question against the conclusion of the argument in its full form (e.g., it is to say “there is no God”). No one who does not already agree with the objector here will find this helpful.

The second main reason, if the first way of reasoning is rejected, is also fallacious. It assumes that any being is just identifiable with its particular collection of material atoms or parts. Not only does this seem bizarre, but it also seems particularly like the fallacy of division. The fallacy of division occurs when one attributes, illicitly, the truth of the whole to the truth of all of the parts. “The basketball team has been in existence for 75 years; therefore every member of the basketball team has been in existence for 75 years,” is one such example. So here, the objector assumes “you are made up of atoms; therefore each atom is you.” At best, “you” is an indexical term pointing to some kind of abstract object that we call a particular arrangement of matter. However, since we do not have any reason to think a being is just nothing more than a particular collection of atoms, we do not have any non-fallacious reason for denying the causal premise. It simply does not follow that because I am made up of atoms, each atom is in fact me. It is surely bizarre to think that every person who will ever exist is and has been out there in the universe (or, more properly, in the earth somewhere).
All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Explanations, Explanations, Everywhere

In reading various blog’s comment sections, I have recently become aware that many people do not understand that it is not necessary for an explanation, if it is to be valid, to have an explanation of itself. The responses to this have been varied, but they all complain that somehow this is false. I contend this is usually due to misconceptions. The reason the Christian brings up this principle is to show that the charge “who created God?” is demonstrably fallacious. This article shall examine first why the claim in the first sentence is true, and then a few challenges shall be examined.

An explanation does not necessarily have to have an explanation of itself because then nothing could ever be explained. Consider some event E that we postulate is explained by event E-1. But before we could validly say E-1 explains E, we have to have an explanation of E-1. So we postulate E-2. But before we can accept E-2 as an explanation, we have to have E-3, and so on and so forth ad infinitum, so that nothing can be explained. Perhaps one may think that while we soldier on discovering new explanations of knowledge, we can hold these explanations as tentatively true. But this is just to say that in the absence of prior explanation the explanation may be considered valid!

Next, an explanation does not necessarily have to have an explanation of itself because then “ordinary people” would not have valid explanations for most anything. Suppose some “ordinary people,” who know next to nothing about laws of motion, kinetic energy, and what not, attend a baseball game. They watch the young player swing the bat and connect with the ball. The ball takes an arc downward and eventually falls. Now it is easy to imagine these people have very limited explanations for what happened. The ball’s moving first was explained by the connection of the bat’s being swung by the player. But suppose they cannot find an event causation-explanation for this (or suppose they can, but they reach an explanatory stopping point—at least for them). Would you then insist they have no valid explanation for the ball’s flying out to left field? Are they not justified in saying the ball’s flying out to left field is explained by the player’s hitting it, even if they know nothing else explanatorily (to say nothing of knowing everything else, which is exactly what is required)?

The following are paraphrases of some objections to this principle. “Everything needs an explanation, even explanations, or else you’re denying science!” On the contrary, to demand that every explanation necessarily must be explained in order to be a valid explanation is to give up science, for science just is the search for explanations. But as we have seen, nothing can ever be explained, for there is always a prior explanation. “What?! This means we don’t have to explain anything! I can just say ‘it was magic!’” This too is confused. Denying that an explanation, in order to be valid, necessitates a prior explanation for itself does not entail that just any and every explanation is valid. Rather, all it asserts is the rather modest proposition that some explanation may indeed be valid even if we do not currently know the explanation of the explanation. “If this were correct, then as long as we have one explanation, we shouldn’t search for any others.” This also does not follow from the principle in question. In fact, it should give us great encouragement that we have a valid explanation for an event or state of affairs. This, in turn, should motivate us to find even more explanations! So, far from being a stifle of knowledge, it paves the way for more of knowledge.
All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Evil God, Continued

As a previous article discussed, Stephen Law’s argument concerning Evil God was very interesting. Within the Internet discussion that followed some suggested this argument lends itself to a parallel moral argument. It goes like this:

1. If Evil God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.

2. Objective moral values do exist.

3. Therefore, Evil God exists.

Now, at first glance, one may be tempted to say that the first premise is false, since we believe the Christian God (who is all-good) exists. Hence, it is the case that Evil God does not exist, and yet objective moral values do exist. However, as an objection to the argument it qualifies as question-begging. Hence, we must find another way to critique the premise(s) if we are to avoid the conclusion.

(1) seems to rely on just the same sort of reasoning we use to justify (1*) (the premise of the original moral argument for God). That is to say, plausibly, objective moral values can only originate from a person. Well, Evil God is a person. The atheist or Good God Skeptic (GGS) here contends there is just as much explanatory power in Evil God or God, and therefore we should remain, at best, agnostic about both (1) and (1*).

I do not think this succeeds either. A number of considerations need to be explained here. First, it is somewhat controversial whether or not evil is actually a “thing” in relation to good. Evil just seems to be a privation of the good. The GGS may here simply state that it is the other way around on an Evil God-account of objective morality. This leads us to our second consideration. Most people perceive objective moral duties as obligations to do good. Note what this is not saying: this does not claim that what people perceive they ought to do is always objectively good. Rather, it is the mere fact that they perceive what they ought to do (regardless of what that actually is) is actually good. This is an incredibly powerful observation when one thinks about it.

The third observation logically proceeds from the second. It seems to be a truth inherent to moral duties (which are derived from moral values) that whenever one performs an act in accordance with an objective moral duty he has done what is good. That is, it seems if it is the case that one ought to do X, then one’s doing of X is in fact good, and not evil! Perhaps here the GGS will retort that rather than being good and evil, the real delineation for objective moral duties is “right” and “wrong,” and thus the axiom above should be read: “if it is the case that one ought to do X, then one’s doing of X is in fact right, and not wrong.” Fair enough. This leads to:

Fourthly, related to the previous point, is that it makes no sense to speak of duty-fulfillment in terms of moral objectivity as “right” and yet objectively evil. This is what I mean. Suppose the being who grounds morality commands Jackie to do some act A. She happily agrees to do A, since she typically desires to do what the being commands. At this point, A constitutes an obligation. Jackie’s fulfillment of A is right and if she were to reject or fail to fulfill A it would be wrong. Now if this moral being were to be all-evil, then her fulfillment of A, though right, would be itself evil! This seems horrendously confused and violates normal sensibilities.

Finally, if Evil God existed, this would make good a privation of evil. That is to say, good very plausibly is just the lack of committing evil. But since evil is usually described in terms of failing to do good, or doing the opposite of good, or whatnot, and good cannot be explained on this account except as a failure to do evil or privation of evil, it seems the Evil God account of objective morality fails after all. At the very least, it is less plausible than an all-good account of objective morality, given what morality is and our moral intuitions.

And that is the central point. The key distinguishing feature with respect to morality is that Evil God just is less plausible, all things being equal, than an all-good God, if morality is to be explained by one of them. Even if we decide to grant both beings the same level of explanatory scope and power (the latter of which is dubious), the Evil God hypothesis is a far more complex (and thus gratuitous) explanation, and without compelling evidence is not to be preferred over the good God hypothesis.[1]

So we can see, on moral considerations and intuitions alone, that good God is untainted, and Evil God remains implausible, even for the GGS.[2]

                [1] It is helpful here to note this kind of “inference to the best explanation” is only in regards to the competing first premises of the respective arguments, (1) and (1*), and not to the arguments themselves, which are deductive.

                [2] Some may point to the ontological argument and the idea of maximal greatness to show God is to be preferred over Evil God. This is, I think, quite correct. However, I wanted to vindicate the moral argument as typically presented by the Christian in favor of God.

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