Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Review of Craig vs. Krauss Debate

Disclaimer: I am biased towards Dr. Craig, but I will attempt to be fair-minded in my critique. Also, I am going on the basis of a two-and-a-half hour debate and Q & A section, so the chances of my getting something slightly incorrect are good.

The much-hyped debate between William Lane Craig and Lawrence Krauss did not disappoint. The topic was not the usual “Does God exist?” but rather the variant “Is there evidence for God?” This was a very charitable (and ultimately interesting) move by Craig since Krauss did not have to provide a single argument for atheism. Rather, all he had to do was dismantle the arguments of the former. The debate format was the standard opening statements, first and second rebuttals, and then a closing argument, followed by a Q&A format.

Krauss is not a philosopher (indeed, he made his dislike of philosophy known throughout the debate [though not in an uncharitable way]), but rather a scientist. As such, I found his discourses into quantum mechanics quite fascinating.[1] However, he seemed hopelessly mired in contradiction when he repeatedly mentioned things like “the universe is not logical,” or “quantum mechanics…are not logical” in the opening speech.

The opening arguments by Craig were the same (Leibnizian Cosmological Argument, Kalam Cosmological Argument, Fine-Tuning Argument, Moral Argument, and the Resurrection Hypothesis), however his methodology differed from past debates I have seen. Instead of a brief introductory statement followed by the formal argument, Craig developed the argument conversationally yet with precision; only after explaining the argument in this way did he render it formally. I think this approach actually works better by appealing to the intuitive or reasonable nature of the arguments without causing the audience to focus on the premises themselves (that is, they can pay attention better).

I have never before seen Krauss debate, but the physicist opened up explaining he did not particularly like them. I was shocked to discover that Krauss’ entire opening statement revolved around criticizing Craig’s well-known arguments as “God-of-the-gaps.” He also mentioned that quantum mechanics demonstrates that physics does not conform to the laws of logic (thus, in my view, demonstrating a fundamental equivocal misunderstanding of the term “logic.” It does not mean, as Krauss here seems to suggest, “common sense” or “what we would expect.” This is the most charitable view as the only other sense he could mean is that it is reasonable to assume reason does not apply to physics, while also giving us a reason, which is self-contradictory.).  He also suggested God cannot be the grounds of objective morality since God can’t will evil things to be good.

In the first rebuttal, as Craig does, he reiterated the frame of the debate: “My goal is to show the modest claim that God’s existence is more probable given the evidence than it would be without these claims.” He then proceeded to point out nearly every one of Krauss’ contentions as fallacious. I don’t think he necessarily needed to do that. For whatever reason, Craig came off as rushed at this time and misspoke at least twice.[2] However, it’s worth noting that he absolutely did demolish every one of Krauss’ objections, following up with the argument from the Resurrection which was entirely untouched.

In Krauss’ rebuttal, he did mention David Hume’s argument against miracles, whereby he suggested the eyewitness testimony to miracles should only be accepted were its negation to imply a more miraculous event than to believe the testimony itself! This was as close to a genuine philosophical argument that Krauss ever got. It was well-timed and on-target, in that if his assertion was true, Craig’s “three minimal facts” argument wouldn’t even get off the ground.[3] Krauss also went on to assert that, in contradistinction to Craig’s argument from probability, that probability was not evidence. However, this seems to misunderstand that probability just is the epistemic relevance of a hypothesis to the background knowledge and evidence! Krauss seemed very uncomfortable with any actual philosophical discourse, but visibly perked up whenever he could discuss quantum tunneling, quantum mechanics, or the vacuum, from which the universe emerged.

In Craig’s second rebuttal he again focused the debate topic. Craig does this to show both what he has argued and to show that the rebuttal was not at all relevant to the topic at hand. I wished he had discussed more cosmology and why inflationary models require an absolute beginning, but he at least mentioned these rebuttals. He completely tore apart the Humean argument against miracles by pointing out that he did not have the probability calculus back in that time. Craig seemed perfectly comfortable by this point and not at all rushed; however he had fewer points to argue against as Krauss was defaulting to “desire” as a motivator over scientific evidence.

By the time of Krauss’ second rebuttal, he was struggling for words. He seemed to have run out of things relevant to say. He did eventually get going, but made such contradictory statements as “there is no purpose in the universe.” As Ryan Hedrich said to me during the debate, “There’s no meaning, no purpose, and yet there he is, arguing away for God only knows what reason (literally).”

In the final statements, as he always does, Craig closes by framing the debate’s point, his evidences for that point, the fact that the evidences are not shown to be implausible or contradictory, and that as long as one agrees that each individual premise is plausibly true, then one ought to believe it is plausible that God exists.

In Krauss’ final statement, he made bizarre assertions that said “contingent beings must exist” (in response to the question of why something exists rather than nothing) given an infinite number of universes; but in terms of possible worlds, this necessity demands an answer to the question of the beings themselves: contingent upon what? He also reiterated his point of view that science answers all questions as to the origins of the universe, which amounted to “there’s no explanation of the universe, except for gravity and other such natural forces.” But what about these forces themselves? At the end, Krauss framed the debate in terms of Craig’s wanting theism to be true coupled with the argument “if we can’t explain it, then God must exist” to show that Craig had not demonstrated any evidence for God’s existence.

A full 40 minutes or so of Q & A followed, in which questioners were near-universally well-behaved and thoughtfully concise rather than argumentative (even if you could tell the question was designed as an argument against either debater). An exception was a gentleman who asked Dr. Krauss about the issue of God’s cause. If everything has an explanation, what is God’s explanation? Krauss concurred that the question “who made God?” is applicable, and thus presumably either God does not exist or we should reject the Principle of Sufficient Reason (neither the questioner nor Krauss made either explicit).[4] When Craig was able to respond he pointed out that God would find his explanation in the necessity of his own nature. At this conclusion, the questioner retorted (as he was already instructed not to do), “I was just trying to point out the circular reasoning you just used.” Quite odd.

The next question was nearly identical, but for Dr. Craig. So he mentioned God was postulated here as the metaphysically-ultimate explanation. I wish very much he had also made explicit what he hinted at in his answer, which is that to question God’s explanatory power further (beyond positing incoherence) is really just to presuppose that God is not the metaphysically-ultimate explanation after all. The lack of making this explicit allowed Dr. Krauss to make one of the better comments he had made all evening: that he postulated the multiverse as a metaphysically-ultimate explanation. Dr. Craig was not able, in the format, to respond, but doubtless he would have pointed out that the metaphysical necessity of the universe cannot possibly be true even in the event of the multiverse, because even the multiverse does not escape the laws of causality or needing an absolute beginning (though in fairness, he mentioned this much earlier).

Both debaters were very courteous, and Krauss said nothing rude at any point. One of the best points of the night was made by Craig when he remarked, speaking against the idea that physics can account for the origin of the universe from nothing, “Physics is inherently applicable to being; it is impossible for there to be physics of non-being.” To me, this was the death blow to science being an ultimate metaphysical explanation of the universe’s origin.

In summary, it was a wonderfully-done debate with charitable discourse all-around (except, perhaps, when Krauss said something about Craig being “intellectually lazy”), with Craig clearly coming out on top. While we do not know the results (or the ideological makeup) of the audience yet, I would be shocked if Craig was not declared the winner, by a landslide.

                [1] For example, his discussion on why we cannot measure if another universe is exerting any forces upon our universe were the multiverse to exist was a particular example showcasing the level of comfort he has within his field.

                [2] Craig, in rebutting Krauss’ “2+2=5” argument against logic, correctly stated that the right answer follows from standard axioms of mathematics, but repeated the incorrect answer as correct.

                [3] This is to stand in stark contrast to his other objections, which were entirely either self-contradictory or off-topic.

                [4] It’s also worth noting that, in all seriousness, it did not appear Krauss understood very many of the philosophical arguments proffered, and he likely was unfamiliar with the term “Principle of Sufficient Reason” before the debate.

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, March 29, 2011

Seminary Advice

Author's Note: I am currently finishing my MA in Religion at Liberty.

Who should go to seminary? Which one should you go to? What degree should you study? We’ll examine the two main types of people who may go to seminary and some suggestions for their study. This is not intended to be exhaustive.

If you’re a student with an undergraduate degree in Bible, Ministry, or Theology…

You’ll have latitude to look for nearly any graduate degree you desire. Of course all of this advice heavily depends on what you ultimately want to do. If you went to a strong, accredited school (or a rigorous unaccredited school) you may find some material in the Master of Divinity (M.Div.) program redundant. If your goal is to get into a D.Min. program the MDiv is a must.

Master of Divinity

The MDiv is considered the major professional graduate degree for seminaries. It is typically 87-96 hours and almost always includes at least one year of systematic theology, 12 hours of New Testament and Old Testament, spiritual formation, hermeneutics, book studies, at least 9-12 graduate hours of Greek and 6-9 graduate hours of Hebrew, church ministry classes (including pastoral counseling and homiletics), and possibly some philosophy of church ministry classes (including church growth and missions). It may or may not include a thesis (its length may vary from school to school).

If you are interested in pursuit of any doctorate in theology, most of the time you will need to have an MDiv. Sometimes, an MA is sufficient for a PhD program, but significant requirements must be met first. Some of these degrees are:

Master of Arts in Biblical Studies

Schools with this degree tend to design it as an MDiv for those with an undergraduate degree in Bible or Theology. The program is typically 45-60 total hours and includes much of what is in the MDiv, with notable absences tending to be homiletics and some of the church ministry classes. I know of at least one student who had reduced language requirements because they had already done translation work in their undergraduate degree. The only potential downside of this degree is that other schools may not accept it for entrance into their PhD programs (that is to say, while some schools undoubtedly will, acceptance will vary from school to school and likely depend upon the school you are coming from in the master’s).

Master of Arts in Religion

This is a degree with 45-60 hours required. In many cases there is no language requirement. The feature of this type of degree is that, typically, schools allow one largely to choose his track of study. That is, while there are anywhere from 15-24 hours which are “non-negotiable,” the remainder amount to either free electives from a particular field or electives between two options. It is best for the student already involved in ministry (or in some cases on the way to an MDiv). A student who wishes to take basic courses in comparative religion, apologetics, New Testament and Old Testament will find this useful. NOTE: Secular schools will find an MA in Religion to be sufficient for their theology PhD programs, provided certain requirements are met. However, if one is committed to a Christian school for their PhD, the field (at least in the United States) is seriously limited. This is a great degree for those who wish to have a master’s degree but do not wish to go on to a doctoral program as well.[1]

Master of Arts in Theological Studies

This degree is offered by schools primarily as an introduction degree. It is almost exclusively best for those with little to no formal education in theology or Christian doctrine. It is usually 36-45 hours and almost always involves a New Testament/Old Testament introduction section, hermeneutics, a theology and apologetics section, and the remainder electives (in some cases the degree is nearly fully-defined for you). Again, this degree would not be the best option for those moving to doctoral work, or for one without undergraduate work in Bible/Theology. It is perfect for the layman who wishes to know more about the Word and get a degree in the process. In some cases, it may be ministry-vocationally better for someone to do this degree, just in the case it requires any graduate degree and he does not desire to go the way of the MDiv.

Master of Ministry

Schools offer this as an extended training for those who already possess an undergraduate degree in Bible or Theology. It is typically 32-45 hours and may or may not involve a finishing ministry project (typically 30-50 pages, maybe more). This is almost always a terminal degree; this doesn’t usually even transfer into an MDiv program. This is a good degree for those already involved in church work wishing to broaden their horizons and gain a better feel for ministry and church growth/life.

If you are a student with an undergraduate degree in something other than Bible/Theology…

You will almost certainly want to take the MDiv. This is not only a must for most doctoral programs, but also a must for many denominations if you have not had Bible/Theology as an undergraduate major. However, if church-staff ministry or a doctorate is not your ultimate goal, any of the above degrees would work for you, depending on your time and what exactly you’re looking for. Which brings us to our next point:

What should I look for in a seminary?

This will also vary based on your ultimate goals and situation in life. For instance, suppose you are a 40-year-old man who is married and has four kids, the oldest of whom is 16 and the youngest is eight. For most going to seminary in this situation is out of the question. But now an online degree is possible! This, if properly researched, can be a wonderful tool. In many cases an entire MDiv can be completed online (as well as anything in between). Whatever your situation do not look for an online degree because you think it will be easy. Schools that are doing it correctly actually end up making the course fairly difficult (this can be especially so in shortened modules).

With any degree it is important to check the accreditation status of any school. While some unaccredited schools can be quite rigorous, one should recognize this of necessity limits your choices (though it must be stressed other schools and employers do recognize unaccredited degrees, it cannot be denied that many places disqualify on the basis of accreditation). Further, schools which claim to be accredited sometimes fudge the details. They’ll omit the fact their accrediting body is not recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA at Or they’ll claim what’s called “theological accreditation” or say they are “fully accredited,” listing an accreditation agency which is affiliated with a similar-sounding name to a legit agency (or even a similar sound to CHEA). Finally, sometimes these unscrupulous schools will say their accreditation is through a specific agency, and it turns out it is one the school formed themselves! My advice: stay away from any school which claims accreditation (using that word) but is not recognized by CHEA.

Any school which is unaccredited may yet be quite acceptable, but a) make sure their reputation with “good schools” is solid, and b) make sure any delimiting factors which come along with this degree are known and acceptable to you.

A couple of notes on online degrees: 1. Language classes, in most cases, are not offered. I attend Liberty and I know that while language tools are offered (which might be considered first-semester level) no actual introductory or exegesis classes are offered in either Greek or Hebrew. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Piedmont Baptist College apparently do, however, and I’ve heard good things for both. 2. It is not easy to develop any relationships. Most students are themselves very busy and do not check their school e-mail much, and the professors are typically adjuncts who have other, full-time jobs. Because of this it is also nearly-impossible to get a reference for anything.

The seminary you select should allow you to achieve your goals. Note what I did not say. I did not say that a seminary should agree with all of the doctrine you agree with. Especially if you are firmly grounded, a divergent view here and there shouldn’t be a problem. In fact, to a certain extent, it should be encouraged.[2] Look at it this way: if you’re wrong about the issue then you’d want to know and look at the options. If you’re right you should know how to develop and defend your view. And let’s face it: chances are you’re wrong about at least one of your currently-held views.

The seminary you select should have academic and ministerial courses available to you. The faculty should not all be “inbred” (as I have heard the term) in that most of them should have their terminal degrees from different schools than the institutions in which they teach. Their academic material should be challenging, meaning you should have to read and write quite a bit. Finally, don’t trust any school which offers a degree mostly or solely on the basis of “life experience,” or the writing of a few papers. There can be exceptions (after all, terminal degrees in the UK are researched-based and so awarded solely on the basis of writing), but most of these degrees should be viewed as suspect. Rule: If it looks too good to be true, then it’s probably a garbage degree.

What else do you have to advise people on? Comment below!

                [1] One may note this is exactly my degree and I am going on to a PhD program (at least in theory). But it is also true that I have had to consider both secular and international options (in addition to scheduling courses that will transfer into an MDiv should I need to complete this degree as well).

                [2] Of course, there are limits for every person. For some, it would be tolerable to enter a completely secular school (or one which is secularly-based) like Yale Divinity School or Duke or the University of Chicago. Others would want to keep to a school in the evangelical tradition, while others would want a specific denomination. Whatever your choice, make sure that your limits placed in this area are not due to a desire to remain comfortable.

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

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Kalam and the Infinite

The kalam cosmological argument’s second premise is “the universe began to exist.” While modern science is virtually united in this premise’s affirmation, some philosophers of science have taken to denying this premise. Philosophically, there are arguments demonstrating an actually infinite number of things cannot be instantiated in reality. In this case, we will examine the case for an infinite amount of time. If time is not infinite, then the universe is not infinite.

William Lane Craig puts the argument this way:

1. The series of events in time is a collection formed by adding one member after another.

2. A collection formed by adding one member after another cannot be actually infinite.

3. Therefore, the series of events in time cannot be actually infinite.[1]

(1) is easily defensible on an A-theory of time.[2] Given that, we should turn to (2). The idea is that if time is infinite, then an infinite number of moments have already passed. If that is the case, then the present moment should have already arrived. Think about that for a moment.

In fact, one may inquire as to why every moment has not already arrived, since an infinite number of moments encompasses any moment. From any moment in the past that is chosen, an actually infinite number of moments would have already passed, so that every moment should have already come and gone. But this leads to an even greater absurdity: if every moment were added to every other moment to form the successive collection of an actually infinite number of moments, no moment could ever arrive! The present moment, however, has indeed arrived. Therefore, the forming of the set of each successive moment to the other cannot be actually infinite.

Some counter with the objection that this ignores Cantor’s set theory, in which it is possible, as a whole, to have a set with one-to-one correspondence which is actually infinite. Craig dispels this well when he writes,

But on an A-theory of time the universe does endure through successive intervals of time. It arrives at its present event-state only by enduring through a series of prior event-states. So before the present event could occur, the event immediately prior to it would have to occur . . . and so on ad infinitum. . . . Thus, if the series of past events were beginningless, the present event could not have occurred, which is absurd.[3]

A somewhat less-abstract example could commend itself in the following example. Suppose you had a shovel and you wanted to fill a hole. Now this particular hole is a bottomless pit. Fortunately, you are supplied with an infinite amount of time and an infinite amount of dirt. Were you to start filling the hole, when would your task be complete? The answer is obviously “never.” For no matter how much dirt was successively added, you would never fill the hole completely because the hole is bottomless; it doesn’t matter if you filled the hole with two tons of dirt per day every day for a trillion years; you’d never be any closer to completion than you were the moment you started! This is highly absurd.[4]

Finally, consider a final example involving the orbits of two planets. Planet A completes 2.5 orbits for every orbit completed by Planet B. It takes B one year to complete this orbit. If they both start at the same time, how many orbits will A and B have after ten years? The mathematical answer is A=25 and B=10. Extrapolating to 100 years, we know that A=250 and B=100. If these two planets have been orbiting for an infinite but equal amount of time in the past, what are the values of the orbits for each planet? The correct answer is somehow the number of orbits are the same! Even stranger, because of an actual infinite, “the number of completed orbits is always the same.”[5]

How do we apply this apologetically? First, we must use this philosophical defense to show that an actually infinite time has not passed. This means time had a beginning. Second, we must show if time had a beginning, then it is impossible that the universe is beginningless. Third, we must draw our listeners back in to the kalam itself. Pointing out, then, that we must accept “the universe began to exist,” we can couple that with the intuitive idea that “whatever begins to exist had a cause,” and thus conclude the universe had a cause. It is at that point we may discuss God and evidences for Christianity!

                [1] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 120.

                [2] A discussion of the A-theory vs. B-theory is not in view here, but one should recognize an entirely different argument would commend itself were the B-theory to be true.

                [3] Craig, 122.

                [4] Thanks to a discussion with Max Andrews in which he presented the basic idea of this illustration.

                [5] Craig, 123.

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, March 26, 2011

Some Thoughts on Thought Experiments

Thought experiments are extended analogies. They appeal heavily to the hearer’s intuition. They are stories intended to show an argument as true or another as false. They are not typically formal arguments in and of themselves.

A thought experiment is most often functioning as a counterexample to a specific premise or argument. For example, pretend I claimed “all people do only that which they desire to do.” You may combat this by presenting a brief illustrative story showing that the man with a gun to his head does not want to break a window, but he does want to live.[1] Or perhaps you state “one cannot be tempted if it is impossible to fulfill that temptation,” and in response I share an anecdote of a man who is tempted by forbidden chocolate cake in the refrigerator all night, only to discover it had been eaten the afternoon before without his knowledge.[2]

As an actual, formal argument thought experiments aren’t very good. The reason is that the thought experiment is essentially question-begging. It assumes, in asserting the counterexample’s possibility, that the principle being advocated is false. However, the thought experiment holds an even greater value than formal argument, if done correctly. It appeals to the intuitive nature of the hearer. It raises the point that, if the principle in discussion is in fact true, this highly-intuitive scenario is in fact false. The idea is the counterexample is so undeniably obvious that it is far more plausibly true than the premise in question.

How to Defeat a Thought Experiment

Some may disagree and have different ideas (share them below), but these are just mine.

1.      Show the thought experiment as false.

This involves attempting to show the counterexample does not accomplish what its conclusion suggests. This can be very difficult, especially since one who takes this track is liable to commit what I call the “distinction without a difference” fallacy.[3] The key to success here is to show the conclusion (e.g., “the point is that one may be tempted even though its fulfillment is impossible”) is not suggested from the thought experiment itself.

2.      Show the thought experiment has not overcome the initial argument.

This is a tactic which grants the conclusion but not its force or applicability. In continuing with our example, the opponent of the experiment may say, “yes, but the temptation is due to epistemic limitations, which do not apply to our overall discussion.” Again, a potential problem is to point out a distinction without a difference, so make sure it truly makes a difference!

3.      Suggest the thought experiment has deleterious consequences which are counterintuitive, or at least less intuitive or plausible than the original premise.

This involves a bit of a counterfactual form. “If what you’re saying by this thought experiment is true, then Christ was not omniscient, nor was he omnipotent.” Obviously, if true, this is a high price to pay (one that orthodox Christians will not accept). Therefore, the thought experiment loses its force. The danger in this tactic is the tendency to overstate or overdramatize the case. One must be sure that the consequences really are unavoidably that certain way. If they are not (that is, if it is possible to be otherwise), then discuss the alternatives and why they are less plausible than the evidence for your position. In this way, you have honestly framed the debate in terms of the thought experiment, and shown it by no means renders your argument implausible.

Constructing a Thought Experiment

In constructing a thought experiment, you must be aware of a few things.

1.      Make sure the analogy works.

If you are attempting to show something is logically possible, it needn’t be actually occurring nor even likely to occur. It merely needs to be logically possible! Similarly, if your counterexample is intended to show that something is in fact the case, then it must be actually occurring (or at the least, plausible to occur). Be sure to state the conclusion and its applicability to the premise clearly.

2.      Don’t overstate the case.

It’s important not to say, “this proves your premise could never be right!” but rather something less aggressive, such as, “this suggests the premise in its current form is incorrect.” If you overstate the case, you’ll typically make a mistake within the application. If your discussion partner realizes this mistake, it gives the impression the thought experiment is a total failure. While incorrect, you still do not want to have to go back and build from the beginning. Better to debate what really matters to the argument in question.

3.      Anticipate objections.

This does not mean cover everything in painstaking detail. On this blog, I have used thought experiments, specifically in relation to “Greg and Compatibilism.” In this, I try to cover common objections that would be used to invalidate it at crucial points. The key is knowing what potential objections to your experiment would be, and trying to incorporate brief details which also remain plausible. A defense of those details need not be done in the thought experiment itself.
Thought experiments are awesome tools to demonstrate the intuitive appeal of your claim. Many times, people agree intuitively with your position while expressing something which is completely opposite. This is usually due to a failure to appreciate all of the nuances involved in the topic. It can, and does, happen to everyone (myself included). Hope you have fun with it and feel free to comment below!

[1] Please put aside whether or not you agree with the premise or the counterexample. The point is merely to illustrate what a thought experiment looks like in the course of a discussion.

[2] Thanks to William Lane Craig for this example.

[3] This fallacy involves pointing out any difference between an analogy and its referent and proclaiming the analogy false.

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, March 25, 2011

Methodological Naturalism vs. Metaphysical Naturalism

There is a common confusion among people who discuss apologetic issues and Christianity with naturalism. Some affirm naturalism is wrong regardless of the adjective before it. Others, on the atheistic/agnostic side, report science has established nature is all there is; hence we ought to accept only naturalistic hypotheses. Which of these positions are right? For the truth-seeking mind the answer is neither.

There is a difference between metaphysical naturalism and methodological naturalism. First, we should discuss the latter. Methodological naturalism is exactly as it sounds; a scientific method. It deals exclusively in naturalistic explanations. For example, if a scientist wanted to understand the moon’s gravitational effect on the tides, he would not say, “It seems a good hypothesis is there are unicorns on a hidden, invisible base on the moon which use magical rays to pull back the water and then forward again. They just happen to do it in a way in which it appears the moon is involved.” Postulating magic just won’t work in methodological naturalism.

In this method of science the scientist must look for natural causes. Further, he must test his naturalistic hypotheses in accordance with other, known facts about the universe and the way things operate. This is an essential of modern science. This is not a bad thing. Finding out the way the natural world works is exactly how mankind has been able to cure diseases, bring technology as far as it has come, put a man on the moon, etc. In summary it is a method for knowledge of the world around us; it is a method for knowledge of the world God has created.

However, some scientists have, from methodological naturalism, mistakenly inferred metaphysical naturalism. Metaphysical naturalism is the view that “nature is all there is,” or there exists no realm of the supernatural, non-physical, or even mental. Aside from its attended problems, there just is no link between finding out how the world works in terms of naturalistic explanations and there being nothing in existence which is non-natural.[1]

In fact, science is not even equipped to answer the question of metaphysical naturalism. Since methodological naturalism focuses on naturalistic causes and effects to the exclusion of anything else, science cannot hope to find out whether or not anything non-natural exists without defying its methodology. A priori, the methodological naturalism of science precludes its operating in terms of ultimate metaphysics. When science then engages in this behavior on the basis of science itself, it is merely begging the question.

How then can metaphysical naturalism be held as true? Only metaphysicians, or philosophers (or even philosophers of science) are equipped to answer this question. But only in the case that one has good reasons to think God does not exist does one also have good reason to think metaphysical naturalism is true! Even then, the problems referenced in the footnote before must be adequately addressed. So, the methodological naturalist has no basis for embracing metaphysical naturalism. What is required for this basis is both good reasons to think God does not exist and a coherent answer to the critics. In any case, scientists do not have good reasons, a priori, to accept metaphysical naturalism. They are not even using the right tools for the question!

[1] Alvin Plantinga, Victor Reppert, and other theists have argued (convincingly, in my view) that metaphysical naturalism is counterintuitive and self-defeating.

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.

A New Defense of The Law of Noncontradiction

Fairly recently it has come about that some people are not accepting the law of noncontradiction as valid. This logical law states no propositional statement is both “a” and “not-a” at the same time and in the same sense. People intuitively believe this to be true; this is evidenced whenever a person makes any assertion. It is her basis for saying “X is true”; she believes she is correct and a contradictory view is incorrect.

All apologists and many laypersons know how to defend the law generically. That is, to anyone who claims the law of noncontradiction is false, the Christian can respond: “That statement is self-defeating. In order to deny the law is true, you must assume the law. You are saying the law is not in fact true but that it is only false.” This is typically enough for the objector.

However, some people dig further than this. They ask, “why can’t it be true that only some statements are necessarily true or false, and others are both true and false?” In order to invalidate a universally-quantified statement only one counterexample is needed. The idea is that simply because a statement like “the law of noncontradiction is false” assumes that it is only true or false and not both, it does not follow that all such statements are true or false. They bolster the argument further by clarifying this isn’t saying all statements are both true and false, but simply at least one is. How does one respond to this?

First, one must point out the inherent epistemic difficulty in affirming this. How is one to know which statements are both true and false and which are not? Someone may respond that whichever statements are both true and false are thus (and that we should not expect to see many of them). However, this is reasoning in a circle. Second, there is the ontological problem. For any statement, there remains no recourse for why that proposition should be viewed as only true or false, rather than both true and false. Any such rule proposed will be some variant on the law of noncontradiction. Since what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, if the law can be invoked in the sense of one proposition it can be in another.[1]

Since there is no non-arbitrary limit it seems either every proposition is both true and false or no proposition is both true and false. If the proposition “some statements are both true and false” is both true and false, then no propositions are true and false, all propositions are true and false, and some propositions are true and false. The sheer incoherence of this is enough to say that the statement itself must be either true or false. Advocates who say this statement is only true can only do so on a contradictory basis; a rule which says contradictory statements are not true. Without this, it is sheer arbitrariness to designate this statement as true. The law is inescapable, even if a counterexample is intended to function only rarely.

[1] After all, the only way to know a proposition is in fact both true and false is to assume it is both true and false. Nothing can be shown to be false whatsoever, since the basis of falsehood is contradiction to truth. Since life cannot be lived that way, truth then comes down to intuitive feeling. If we think it is either true or false, and not both true and false, then that statement is. The subjective nature of the problem then is revealed to be contradictory, since no one would hold that the statement “some statements are both true and false” is both true and false!

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, March 22, 2011

Comments on Isaiah 1:1-15

This post concerns the prophets and their message. In LaSor's book, Old Testament Survey, mention was made of the prophets not only telling the future, but speaking within the framework of the culture as well. This point is emphasized when he says, “A careful study of the prophets and their messages reveals that they are deeply involved in the life and death of their own nation.” (Old Testament Survey, 229) It is not that the prophets never foretold the future; it is simply that most of the messages involved present-time preaching to Judah or Israel.

I found the interpretive rules set forth to be enlightening. Especially of note is the rule that instructs to examine the passage as a whole unit. It simply will not do, for instance, to read Isaiah 4:4-6 and proclaim a message found therein. The interpreter must locate the beginning of the message (or “oracle”) being delivered, as well as the end, in order to determine the theme of the message. Once the theme is developed, another rule comes into play: the literary context. As with the rest of Scripture, one cannot pick and choose verses in combination to create his/her own text and the meaning. The placement of the oracle itself may be indicative of the continuing theme. For example, in Isaiah 1:1-15, the theme is clearly the sinfulness of the people of God, whereas in verses 16-31 the theme concerns an appeal by God himself to be reconciled from that sin.

The next rule of note that will affect a prophetic hermeneutic is that of the historical context. It is impossible to grasp fully the implications of a prophetic oracle without any consideration for the context in which the prophet delivered his message. One may argue that with respect to actual future-fulfillment passages, the prophet’s historical context is moot. This, however, would be faulty. There is usually a “near” fulfillment for the people of Israel as well as a “far” fulfillment for each prophetic oracle. This rule, though controversial, helps to make sense of a literal hermeneutic (without which we cannot hope to achieve objective understanding of a text).

The passage is Isaiah 1:1-15. It is clear the oracle begins in verse 2 (with verse 1 as a historical setting). Isaiah uses metaphorical language from the beginning, calling for the earth to “hear” and the heavens to “give ear.” This immediately takes the reader back to Genesis 1:1—“heavens and the earth” encompasses all of creation. This announcement therefore is very important. Other comparisons include “seed [or offspring] of evildoers,” (v. 4) “wounds, bruises…and sores,” (v. 6) and others.

It seems contrasting parallelism is used in verse 3 with the phrase:
            The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib:
            But Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.

Isaiah uses the metaphors of illness and weakness for God’s people, explaining the whole or complete of the body is sick; there is no part of them unaffected by sin. The pictures he uses are in regards to a lone cottage in a vineyard, and a city surrounded in a siege. The picture is of a people cut off from help. The prophet then engages in a startling bit of irony in referencing Sodom and Gomorrah (vs. 9-10). While explaining that without the Lord’s mercy, the people of God in Judah and Jerusalem would be wiped out like Sodom, he then proceeds to refer to Judah as Sodom! This surely would have felt like a slap in the face. That God’s chosen people would be set up as sinful Sodomites sends the message Judah is more like the villain of the story than the hero. The question, after the shock, is why?

Isaiah does not hesitate to tell them. “Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting....when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.” (vs. 13, 15) The prophet clearly illustrates through parallelism and poetry that Judah’s sin is so putrid it is an abomination, as was Sodom’s. He need not worry about at least grabbing the hearer’s attention!

As an application to the modern church, this passage reflects God’s attitude towards sin. While we go about our daily business, doing our rituals in church attendance and good services with music and church fellowships, God finds our lack of holiness appalling. I am reminded of 1 Samuel 15:23, in which it says “to obey is better than sacrifice.” Especially in the American church, we believe if we go through the motions of Christianity, God may be fooled. Verse 11 reminds us that such activities have a purpose or meaning. That purpose is not an end unto itself. Isaiah’s call for Judah rings true for our churches today. We must repent, but we cannot do that without recognizing our own sinfulness.

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, March 19, 2011

Some Thought Experiments on Moral Responsibility

I have previously stated I believed moral responsibility was bound up in causal responsibility. That is, if one is causally responsible for an act then he is morally responsible for that act. However, I’ve come to reconsider this as an all-encompassing statement.

First, consider the bank robber who holds a gun to the head of the bank manager. The robber demands the bank manager give him all of the bank’s money. In effect, the bank manager is being asked to steal. At the very least the bank manager is causally responsible for the money’s leaving the bank’s possession. One may protest that the bank manager did not exercise his will freely, but in fact he could have refrained.[1] Yet we do not assign moral culpability to that man in this case.

Now consider a man who does a home invasion with the intent of killing all at the home. He holds a gun to the wife’s head, gives her some poison which will cause death immediately, and demands the wife to give it to her husband. If she does not, he warns, he will shoot the husband in the head in front of her, and then kill her as well. The poison pill would be painless. However, most Christians would assign moral blame to the wife in this case were she to give the pill to her husband.

What this suggests is that not only is moral intent involved in assigning moral culpability, but being utilized as a tool may have something to do with it as well. In the first example, it’s not enough to claim the scale of the crime dictates the blame—for then we are not deciding whether or not moral blame is to be placed, but whether punishment is warranted.

One possible solution is to suggest the bank manager is only causally responsible for the act of putting the money into the hands of the robber. It is the robber who is responsible for stealing the money. As to the second scenario, the wife wouldn’t simply be enabling the would-be killer (nor is it a sufficient justification to claim he would have committed the act anyway)—she would be herself the killer. In any case, it seems there is more to moral responsibility than mere causal responsibility (though such a responsibility is surely necessary to any theory of moral culpability). What do you guys think?

                [1] While the exact post escapes me, Alex Pruss of Baylor University explores this concept when he says someone in this type of scenario is choosing something after all: he is choosing act X and life over not-X and death. < >

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, March 17, 2011

Edwards, the Will, and Determinism

This is taken from:

Edwards’ article here touches on the faculty of the will, moral responsibility and agency, and God as the source of morality. From the source article itself, it seems one of his presuppositions is that the will has to have some determining reason it chooses as it does. In philosophy, “determine” is that which causes the will to choose. It is not simply a reason, it is a coercion. Essentially, he is asking “what causes the will to choose as it does?” However, to ask such a question implicitly presupposes a denial of the will as it is explained! That is, we must assume the definition of the will as given is false. This is begging the question. A true conception of the will is that one may either choose or refrain from choosing. Something may act as a persuasive influence on the will, but there is nothing outside of the agent himself that causes the will to act as it does.

Edwards also presupposes the will is the faculty of choice. He presupposes the will is the property of a person, thus making each person a rational, choosing agent. This seems basic in the normal discourse, and thus I feel it needs little to no defense.

It is also clear Edwards views the will as identical to desire, or motive. This is to say every action is in effect the greatest desire. He seems to view actions as having causal consequences for the actions of others, or even of future actions of the self. “By determining the Will, if the phrase be used with any meaning, must be intended, causing that the act of the Will or choice should be thus, and not otherwise: and the Will is said to be determined, when, in consequence of some action, or influence, its choice is directed to, and fixed upon a particular object.” As one can see, his presupposition that the will is not indeterminate (or rather, self-determined) leaves the only other option to be causally-influenced decisions.

Edwards does not offer much biblical evidence, but that is primarily because this is a philosophically-themed article. The Bible was not written to be a textbook on philosophy so it may not expound clearly (e.g., the Bible affirms the reality of the will but not the exact nature of its operation). He does mention Genesis 1:26-27 (and 9:6) as the passages which show God created man in His own image. He does this after establishing that God is the moral lawgiver and a moral agent. Thus, we are moral agents as well. He does not present external or outside evidences, except for a passing reference to the determinist philosopher John Locke.

Edwards’ logical construction is actually very rational assuming one grants his presuppositions. If his premises are true we may extrapolate that either someone or something determines the will (presumably God). He hints at this by placing the argument concerning our being in God’s image right after the argument for the determining of the will. However, one may challenge his presuppositions.

For instance, a couple of thought experiments should be used against the conception that the will is identical to the “greatest apparent good,” “motives,” and/or “desire.” First we should examine motives/desire. Suppose Gary is at a subway station, with a trapped baby on a left track, and a trapped baby on a right track. Suppose Gary further notices both babies at the exact identical moment from his vantage point. Two trains are coming: one down the left track and one down the right, at identical rates of speed and at identical distances away. (This would never happen, but it is logically possible.) The babies are an identical distance away from Gary and he has no prejudice or predisposition toward either of the baby. Gary only has time to save one of them. We shall also stipulate Gary is altruistic and wants to save both babies equally. According to the desire/motive theory, given the circumstances, what would Gary do? Indeed, what could Gary do? The answer is “nothing.” Gary would be frozen, unable to act.

There are a couple of objections that could possibly be pursued. 1. One may admit to the outcome, but contend it would never happen. Answer: This just misses the point. It does not matter if the scenario would happen but if it could. That Gary logically could not act suggests this desire theory is not sufficient for a philosophy of action. This is especially true in light of the fact that we intuitively believe in such a situation Gary could act (which itself requires a denial of one of the parameters). 2. One may say it is impossible that Gary should value two things equally, and thus the experiment is invalid. Answer: Aside from being ad hoc, it seems nothing precludes two things being desired equally in the realm of logical possibility. I know of no non-question-begging argument for this as of yet. In any case, Edwards does not mention it.

A second thought experiment is relevant to the “greatest apparent good” theory (and possibly to all three conceptions of the will). Suppose you are in a shady part of town in New York City. As you pass an alley, you witness a mugging in progress. You are somewhat of a fearful person and you believe you will be beaten up if you interfere. Nonetheless, you do interfere. Yet your greatest desire, your greatest apparent good, is self-preservation! This suggests we may override our instinct or desire for self even if no apparent good comes out of it. Objection: One would only engage in this choice if he believed it was the greatest apparent good/or desired to do this act the most. Answer: The latter objection is easier than the former. In this logically-possible scenario you desire to avoid punishment the most. You do in some way desire to help, but you are making a rational, not a longing-type, choice. That the greatest apparent good is not the impetus behind this choice is, I think, clear. The reason? The one doing the act is convinced his efforts are futile and will indeed result in harm to him, thus violating his greatest desire. Now, if Edwards identifies will with desire, and desire with the greatest apparent good, then the greatest desire (to stay alive) is also the perceived greatest good. This suggests the will is not a mere cause-and-effect.

Edwards’ conception of the will extends to God. However, if something causes God to act, then what? The laws of logic? Edwards does not here say. However, a troubling entailment from this is that God Himself would be forced to act the way He does: God, as a necessary being, could not have done anything differently. This means God was forced to create us (note not simply forced to create, but forced to create the world in which we now live. This means you and I could not have failed to exist!). Such a philosophy leads down a dark road that ironically ends up denying God’s sovereignty, which is exactly what Calvinistic thinkers seek to preserve.

With respect to moral agency Edwards takes it that we are morally responsible (he seems to believe this is axiomatic). He thinks we are morally obliged because God has given moral commands. While this is perfectly reasonable, in light of his view on the will, I would think man is not morally responsible. On a causally-deterministic view of the will, man is no more responsible for his actions than is a baseball bat. If such a bat struck a window, and I were to take that bat and scold it, you would think I was a lunatic. Why? Not because the bat is inanimate, but more potently: because the bat was not the primary cause of the act. Now suppose it had been revealed that I had slammed the bat into the window. The primary cause of the act is myself and the secondary cause is the bat. Just as the man who pushes the rock with the stick is said to be the cause of the rock’s moving, so is any primary cause the true bearer of actually objective moral responsibility. In Edwards’ conception of the will man is not the primary cause of the will; he is the secondary cause. The primary cause is something external, whether it be other acts, or ultimately God Himself. In that case it is that external cause which is morally responsible for the act.

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, March 16, 2011

Some Tips on Informal Debate

Informal debate, when done correctly, can be a vital part of any believer’s apologetic ministry. Debates should not be angry rants against atheism, agnosticism, or other religions. They should be designed to be educational and defensive; one should seek to inform about theism and Christianity without being condescending. This article will seek to demonstrate some techniques for discussion using some real-world examples.

First, if you are presenting an argument for Christianity, try to put it in syllogistic form.

This is especially important for simplicity’s sake. Your audience or opponent must be able to understand clearly what it is you are saying. Take this brief paragraph as an example:

We need God to ground the truth of objective morality. There are no other candidates for it. Without God no morality would exist. Everyone believes in some kind of morality they consider to be binding upon others, and so we are rational to accept objective morality exists. Because of these facts, God exists.

Now the philosophically-astute reader may naturally pick out the premises and understand the inference being drawn. But there are two problems with this. 1. Not everyone is philosophically-astute, and 2. You have lost an opportunity to frame the debate. Now try this syllogism:

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
2. Objective moral values do exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.[1]

Here one appeals to the intuitive belief nearly all of us (save psychopaths) share in premise 2, [2] while also appealing to the truth that not only can God be the grounds of objective morality, but there are no plausible alternatives to ground objective morality! In this way, you have “framed the debate”—you are controlling what will be discussed.

Second, in overcoming objections or using examples, stay focused.

This is the most difficult. Sometimes objections to examples you proffer have nothing to do with the value of the example. For instance, I was in a friendly debate with someone concerning the eternal sonship of Jesus. I mentioned he believed God caused all things, and so caused the Son. I offered a brief reason not to believe this; God does not cause sin acts. Instead of disputing this, he went into a discussion on how sin was not any thing whatsoever. He had completely missed the point. In this case, you would have to remind him why the point was brought up in the first place!

Sometimes people will go off on tangents because they are trying to avoid a discussion of the actual issue. You should kindly and gently remind them of what the discussion is and how the original analogy or point applies. Others simply do not understand the terms or argument being used and get side-tracked as a result. I had an atheist demand to know how God grounds morality. I explained that God, as a metaphysically necessary being, is the locus of objective moral values in his nature. Since his nature is necessary, whatever is a natural property is metaphysically necessary as well. His response? “Necessary for what? For your argument!” He simply did not understand the terms involved, and it affected his response to the argument offered.

If you get “stuck” in a side-issue debate, I suggest re-framing the debate. You do this through this next point.

Third, take any objections, discuss what they entail, and then show how they apply/do not apply to the actual debate at hand.

Suppose you posited that God is the ground of objective morality, if it exists at all. Further suppose your atheist/agnostic friend says, “you have to explain what is good! If you cannot do that, the argument does not get off the ground.” However, you do not need to know the content of what is “good” and “evil” in order to know they exist! That is conflating moral epistemology (knowing) with moral ontology (being). Don’t get bogged down in trying to define what is good.

If you use analogical arguments, they may be “shown false” by your opponent by pointing out a difference between the analogy and the actual argument—albeit a pointless one. For example, in response to my argument that there’s no purpose for asking where God’s nature came from, since it is like asking on libertarian free will, why did Jones choose as he did?, one atheist said: “By bringing in free will, you have supported one controversial argument with another.” But he missed the point! The analogy doesn’t at all depend upon free will being true.

You should discuss in what context each argument was used, what it was used to suggest, and whether any responses to it have been successful. Here’s an edited post I used to avoid getting into a lengthy discussion of side-issues.
“Hi _____, this will be my last post, for we are simply repeating ourselves. I’ll leave you to have the last word! The point of the analogy was that something is judged to be closer to a standard based upon that standard, and it is better to be closer to that standard…

The concept of God’s metaphysical necessity is only posited in respect to the question of why a God grounds objective morality. Your objection wasn’t an objection to the coherence of this, but rather some sort of appeal to ridicule whereby you insisted there was a metaphysically necessary being which also was a fairy. Ockham’s razor will shave away such an attribute, all things being equal…
…I have defined objective moral values as that which is ‘good’ and ‘evil’ which is true and binding whether anyone believes in them or not….You have pressed for what that means, but I have responded this is an ultimate explanation….You have responded by wanting to know the content of the moral values, but this is irrelevant, a category error conflating epistemology and ontology.

Finally, you did not answer how objective morality exists without God. At best, you attempted to offer an explanation of morality in terms of ‘arbitrariness,’ which is exactly the opposite of objective morality.”

Fourth, summarize the argument as plausible, untouched by the objections, and do not get frustrated.

The argument should be summarized in a six-to-eight sentence paragraph where you show that what you are defending is plausible and that no other explanation or objection is as plausible or is unsuccessful. This accomplishes at least two things: 1. It keeps the conversation focused. 2. It allows any follower of the debate to know exactly what’s going on and why your position is correct. Here is an example from the same exchange I had:

“So we see we have no reason to reject the first premise (if God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist)….We also should only reject such if we believe either God exists and objective moral values do not exist, or if we believe God does not exist and objective moral values exist. I have provided a logically consistent model, and no plausible, logically consistent model has been offered for either of the two aforementioned criteria for rejection. As such, it seems the moral argument, at least on the basis of its first premise, remains more plausibly true than false. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist. Even many atheists grant the force of this premise. They just think God, and hence objective moral values, do not exist.”[3]

Show what you’ve discussed, what it would take to show the argument is false, mention that has not been shown (if it indeed has not; if it has have enough humility to at least mention you’ll get back to them while you look into it), then restate the argument. Conclude with some forceful statement (without overstating your case) and let them have the last word.

The final piece of advice in this major point is not to get frustrated. Just know that people are not going to agree with you. That’s life. So Jim doesn’t accept God as the ground of morality, and totally didn’t understand the logic behind what you said. So Jane thinks Christianity is irrational even after your great argument. Why should their lack of belief make you any less secure in your belief? It shouldn’t. So rejoice that you offered an answer for the hope which lies within you (1 Peter ) and pray for them.

                [1] This is the version of the moral argument defended by William Lane Craig.

                [2] I emphasize “intuitive” here because while people deny moral values are objective one thing they tend to agree with is objective moral values are very intuitive.
                [3] Please understand that I am only speaking from experience. I am not trying to promote myself or bill myself as the know-it-all of debate, nor am I writing this for the sake of “winning.” The goal is education, evangelism, and equipping (of the saints)!

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.