Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sea World and Reptentance

This last week, my wife and I went to Sea World Orlando. I have never been, and Jodi hasn’t been since she was four years old, so we were both looking forward to it. The shows were fascinating (I found it interesting that by going to some of the same shows the following day one could see what went wrong in the first day [or the second!]), and the few rides they had were a lot of fun. Jodi even found herself trying to teach passerby kids and adults about a puffer fish we saw hiding in the corner. “Look, dear, this nice lady found a fish for you to look at!”

One of the last rides we went on had a line stretching back to nearly the beginning. A nice lady and (presumably) her little daughter were waiting in line just in front of it. At some point near the ride’s loading point, the line split into those who wished to join the front row only, and the other three rows (our line). Despite the fact there seemed to be no one in the front row line (we could only see until the “line” went around the next corner), we elected to stay in our line. The reasoning was simple: for every one group of four that moved in the “front” line, three groups of four moved in ours. We would be sure to catch them.

Nonetheless, the woman and her child ahead of us started to go to the front line. For a moment all looked well. They turned the corner and were out of sight, presumably moving oh-so-close to the fun of the ride. A few minutes later, however, we turned the corner and saw the sight: there were at least 10-12 groups of four ahead of our friends in the other line, while we had merely three or four turns before we would be riding.

As she turned to look at us, she knew she had made a mistake. She had it written all over her face. I gestured in front of me, where I had left a two-person gap. “Would you like to come back?” I said with a (non-condescending) smile. She laughed and said yes. My pastor, Tom Messer, has taught me to pray to see everyday life events as illustrations. I rarely do. But this time, it was as though God brought to mind the idea of the prodigal son, and repentance.

We see our own way (even after salvation sometimes!) to the payoff, and it seems pointless and hard to do it God’s way. After all, if only God would let our lives be in our hands things would be so much better. At least it looks that way. When we realize what a mistake we’ve made, what a mess we have made of our lives, it is then we look at God. We find out he’s been knowingly watching the whole time, and he lovingly gestures toward the right path; it is the path of restoration of fellowship (relationship) and reconciliation with God (salvation). “Do you want to come back?” Well, do 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.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Romans 8:28 and Gratuitous Evil

There is some disagreement among theologians and philosophers as to whether or not there exists gratuitous evil in the world. Gratuitous evil is generally defined as evil that does not serve a greater good or purpose. Those who deny gratuitous evil, then, would claim each and every moral evil or works together to serve the greater good. Those who affirm gratuitous evil claim that while God is in control, he has necessarily limited himself by endowing creatures with free will, so that there really is individual evil that itself does not work toward some greater good. Romans seems to indicate that there really is not gratuitous evil in the world.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Let us first point out the things this verse is not saying. It is not saying that “all things are good.” This is not only counterintuitive and counter-experiential, but counter-biblical as well. There are things, actions, and events which are clearly bad and anti-God. Next, it is not saying that “all things work together for good to everyone.” Not every thing that happens is going to be good for those who will ultimately be lost forever in an eternal Hell. That itself should be obvious. So, this means that there may be some evil that happens to unbelievers that does not serve any sort of redeeming purpose at all as it relates to them specifically. “Aha!” one may say, “gratuitous evil does exist!”

Not so fast! We must cover what the text does in fact say. It says that all things work together for good to believers! It seems the text does indicate that every single event, good, evil, and morally neutral, works together for the ultimate good of believers. That sure sounds a bit like a greater good theodicy to me. Consider just one of the implications of this view of the text: there are actions and events that are totally evil in and of themselves but that nevertheless work together with other things to bring about an individual to believe and receive salvation! This, along with all other events, work together to form the set of all believers that would believe. Analytically, this goes right along with the idea that the world that God created was the world that had the optimal balance of those who are saved to lost and the highest number of those saved.

Some may object that this verse may be hyperbolic in nature. However, consider the context. Romans 8:18, 22-23 mentions:

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.

This is not hyperbolic, but an encouraging promise of the apostle Paul to his Christian audience. See the idea in these preceding verses? All of creation groans and suffers; all of the believers share in that suffering. But there is ultimate glory, and all things really do work together for good. So is there gratuitous evil? I don’t think so. Even evil is used by God to serve a greater purpose.
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, July 20, 2011

Possible Objection to the Kalam

The following is a question that came in to me recently, and I found it really interesting!

"To me, it seems logically possible that the sun could revolve around the earth. It's not a logical contradiction, therefore it's logically possible. But would it make sense for me to say that, in fact, it IS logically impossible for the sun to revolve around the earth given initial conditions of the universe? As long as the law of gravity is in play, it's logically impossible. (Now I guess we could say that using an inductive argument for gravity isn't very strong but still.)

Using this type of argument for minds, it's logically possible that a unembodied mind exists. However, via induction (the only minds we know to exist has bodies) it's logically impossible for an unembodied mind to exist in THIS universe. (Just like it's logically impossible for the sun to revolve around the earth in THIS universe).

Now I know the KCA gives us 3 good reasons to think that the cause of the universe is an unembodied mind, so I think that an inductive argument fails because of that (that's the type or argument I would use to counter this). But what would you say to such an argument?"

Your last paragraph is sufficient to defeat any attempted claim such as the one above. But I would like to amend the definition of what is logically possible: a proposition or state of affairs is logically possible given that it is internally coherent (is not a self-contradiction) and does not violate a necessary truth.

Now, given the laws of physics and gravity and the like, I only see how the statement "the sun revolves around the earth" is physically impossible. For consider: the statement is still not self-contradictory, and the truth, "the laws of physics and gravity exist" has not been shown to be necessarily true (only contingently). Now let's dig further into the objection, just for fun.

Suppose one replies, "yes, but perhaps we can frame the argument this way: 'The law of nature is X, the sun revolving around the earth is not-X. The law of nature is X is true. Therefore, it is necessarily false that the sun revolves around the earth, or not-X."

The problem is that this commits a well-known (and difficult to master) modal logic fallacy. It takes the form of this:

1. Either P or not-P.
2. Not (P and not-P).
3. P.
4. Therefore, necessarily P.
5. Therefore, necessarily not (not-P).

Plug in anything you like for the values "P" and "not P" that makes sense. In short, if this were valid, then literally every truth would demand the necessary falsehood of its opposite. But in that case, there just is no possible world in which that opposite exists. This means that literally everything that is, was, or will be must be, and could not be otherwise. I hope that alone is enough to show its fallacious. A simpler way of saying it is to say that just because a certain proposition is true, it only follows that its negation is false; but it doesn't follow the negation is necessarily false (in the modal sense).

What that means for us is that given the laws of nature, all that follows is that it is not the case that the laws of nature do not exist; not that it cannot. What is impossible is the composite state of affairs of both being true. So this would not be a good objection to lodge against the kalam at all, for its major premise cannot get off the ground, being fallacious.
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, July 19, 2011

What Good are Logical Entailments?

What Good Are Logical Entailments? A logical entailment can be viewed as a necessary consequence of a given premise or argument. It can often be expressed by a strict if-then conditional; i.e. If I do this, then he will do that. For a specific instance, take the argument that if Calvinism is true, then God is the author of sin.[1] When this statement is being made, it is a rather informal way of stating that Calvinism’s being true logically entails the fact that God is the author of sin.

There is yet some confusion, however, over legitimate uses of logical entailments and how they may be applied to an opposing position. That is to say, within a debate there are several different ways the entailment is applied. First, we should examine how not to use these in debate or discussion.

We cannot and should not use the entailment to claim this is the position of our opponents. Rephrased: simply because a position held X logically entails another position Y, it does not follow that everyone who holds X holds Y to be true. Perhaps they are unaware X entails Y, or perhaps they disagree X entails Y. In any case, especially if Y is an unfavorable view, it is uncharitable to ascribe to them a view which they probably do not hold. Thus, to use my above example, it would be unfair of me (in most situations) to claim, “Jim is a Calvinist. Calvinism entails God is the author of sin. It is obvious Jim should be ashamed that he thinks God is the author of sin.”

So when should we bring up logical entailments? I think we can and should bring them up in any examination of a teaching, doctrine, or philosophical claim. While we need not accuse our opponent of believing any number of false doctrines or other claims, we should always be evaluating the consequences of a belief or proposition. The proper way to do this is to examine the overall claim (“Calvinism is true”) and follow the chain of logical progression, eventually building to the overall consequence to be avoided (“God is the author of sin”). Here is a relatively easy example:

1. Calvinism is true.
2. If Calvinism is true, then man cannot help but to choose sin.
3. If Calvinism is true, then the world is exactly as God chose it to be.
4. Whatever God chooses he wants for his glory (analysis of [1]).
5. Therefore, man cannot help but to choose to sin (from [1-2]).
6. Therefore, the world is exactly as God chose it to be (from [1, 3]).
7. Therefore, God chose man to be unable not to sin for his glory (analysis of [1, 4-6]).
8. If man is unable not to sin, then he must be determined to sin.
9. If man is determined to sin, then it is because of man or God.
10. Man could not start this causal chain.
11. Therefore, man is determined to sin (from [1-2, 5, 8]).
12. Therefore, God determined man to sin (from [9-10]).

From this, we can conclude “If Calvinism is true, then God determined man to sin (same content as God being the author of sin).” (If P, then Q; If Q, then R; If R, then S or T; Not-S; If R, then T=If P, then T, or PàT)

While I won’t argue for its truth or falsehood here, this is perfectly valid. Further, the way one would develop this is by expanding the argument into a situation where accepting the entailments is not realistic for the opponent or hearers. For example:

13. If Calvinism is true, then God determined man to sin.
14. God did not determine man to sin.
15. Therefore, Calvinism is not true.

A careful student will also note this is a reductio ad absurdum where (15) and (1) are logically incoherent when taken together, so that some premise or premises must be rejected in order to avoid the conclusion. Some may ask, “How is this not the fallacious ‘appeal to consequence?’” Good question. In an appeal to consequence, the idea is that one saying, “If X is true, then Y is true, and you don’t want Y to be true. Therefore, X.” Another example is, “if you don’t believe this, then I will never speak to you again!” What makes appeal to consequence fallacious (and vastly different from modus tollens) is that entirely irrational reasons are what gets one to the conclusion. The emotional desire to want something to be true or false does not make it so (nor does it count as evidence generally), and although you may want me to speak to you again, that won’t make it any more appealing logically to believe in whatever it is I am trying to make you believe.

In any case, logical entailments can be powerfully persuasive or they can be used as weapons, attempting to discredit those with whom we disagree (ex. “He believes in pro choice; he believes in killing babies!”). Simply because Y is a logical entailment of X, it does not follow that Joe believes in Y, even if he does in X. We should have a gentle and gracious spirit, but we should stand firm in pointing out these logical entailments. We should further examine our own position, to see if possibly there are some beliefs of ours we need to refine!

EDIT: Thanks to Sean Choi for helping to correct my mistake in listing "strict conditionals" as "material conditionals"!

                [1] Forget, for the moment, whether or not such a claim is true. The point is to illustrate a common way one sees the logical entailment of a position presented.

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, July 18, 2011

Blog Spotlight: J.W. Wartick is the site of a very good blog done on Christian philosophy and apologetics. J.W. is not afraid to tackle tough issues ranging from the implications of open theism to the depths of atheistic thought and objections.

Some of his best work for laypeople is, in my estimation, his book reviews. He manages to capture the main thrust of the book while detailing both points of agreement and possible objections in a concise and understandable manner. The books reviewed can be theological, philosophical, or apologetic in nature. These benefit the Christian in that one can get a good grasp on varying points of theology from an interesting viewpoint.

He also includes top posts from around the internet in relation to topics of interest for the believer in addition to writing original content. Some of my favorites include his interaction with "professional philosopher" Cathy Cooper (it's a classic, truly ;) ) and "Letter to a Free Thinker." While I do not always agree with J.W., I think you'll find his blog stimulating and resourceful.
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, July 16, 2011

Book Review: When the Word Leads Your Pastoral Search

As part of a blogger review program, I am reviewing the book When the Word Leads Your Pastoral Search, by Chris Brauns, Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2011. The book is a must-read for any search committee before any major meetings are held.

This is a mostly philosophical work dealing with both the biblical requirements and duties of a pastor. It is designed to assist the pastoral search committee of a local church. His main focus is on the pastoral ministry of preaching. I felt that he may have overemphasized its importance, but it is clear from Scripture preaching of the Word is very important. I will review some of the main ideas from the book in order.

First, Braun emphasizes the importance of avoiding self-reliance. This concept is all too common in search committees because of a focus on worldly marketing or interviewing tactics. Instead, he counsels such a committee to rely on prayer. He writes, “The biggest clue to the self-reliance felt by pastoral search committees is the small amount of attention they devote to prayer” (p. 25). I thoroughly enjoyed Braun’s approach to prayer being central to the search for a pastor. Too often, prayer is ignored in our personal lives, so why would we expect it to come naturally when we gather corporately?

After directing church members and leaders to pray specifically for the pastoral search committee, he turns his attention to the idea of finding the right members. It is not simply enough, in Braun’s estimation, to place the “smartest” people or to have equal representation from all groups. The problem, according to Braun, is that in the attempt to unify the church through this representation, more problems are created than they solve.

The major idea in the pastoral search is that both the committee and candidate be Word-centered. The committee ought to be Word-centered by evaluating the pastor by biblical standards, and the candidate ought to be Word-centered by fulfilling those requirements. He suggests some very practical unity-building exercises on p. 48. They center on the Gospel itself, and the mission of the church.

The majority of the rest of the book focuses on the homiletic skill of the potential pastor. Braun teaches how to evaluate sermons and make sure they are properly interpreted and applied. He centralizes on the common theme of “bullet sermons,” or sermons that have one major point. I believe the sermon is a very important aspect of being pastor, if for no other reason than that the Word of God must be handled correctly (Matt. 4:4). However, he seems to place more emphasis on this aspect than any other. Perhaps it is a function of the purpose of the book rather than the level of importance.

A minor point of disagreement I had with the author comes on page 120. He mentions that there is a difference between that which “accords with sound doctrine” and “sound doctrine” itself. But this seems to be philosophically confused. When Braun says one ought to teach that which accords with sound doctrine, he must realize “doctrine” just is teaching. This means that if the teaching “accords with” sound teaching, it is itself sound teaching! While I understand that the apostle Paul wrote that to indicate that the teachings taught must be in harmony with previously revealed teaching, I think Braun misses the point (even while making a correct point by saying doctrine should “show . . . the kind of behavior that ought to adorn their lives.”).

After this particular chapter, I actually think the best is yet to come from Braun. Starting on page 128, several checklists or forms are shown as examples for evaluation. Also following this are several interview questions, examples of these questions and their purposes, and the type of answers one is looking for. This is perhaps the most valuable resource the pastoral search committee could have. This book is a must read for any church in transition, as it also provides external and current resources that any church can utilize.

He recommends good benefits for pastors and candidates (that is, reimbursing their expenses), but I wish he had touched on the issue of pastor’s wives. Too many churches think that pastor’s wives are co-pastors, so that churches get two full-time employees for the price of one. This is wrong.

This book comes highly recommended. Even though it is highly philosophical (as in theoretical), it also balances out with some very well thought out advice in practicality. This is a must read for any church going through a pastoral change, or any church leader or pastor who wishes to interview or prepare his church for his departure. This is highly recommended for all other church leaders for future reference.

I received this book free from Moody Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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, July 14, 2011

God, Consciousness, and Existence

A friend has asked me to review a particular article, which is somewhat lengthy, concerning Christian theism. He attempts to demonstrate that the idea of the Christian God is internally inconsistent, and thus logically incoherent, and therefore false. His argument, if I am representing it fairly, is thus:

1. Whatever is true is derived from existence, not consciousness.
2. If there is a God, we are derived from consciousness.
3. There is a God (Christian claim).
4. Therefore, we are derived from consciousness (from [2-3]).
5. We exist.
6. Therefore, we are derived from existence, not consciousness (from [1, 5]).

Of course, (4) and (6) are contradictory, and thus we have a classic reductio ad absurdum. So is Christianity doomed? Well, his argument is logically valid. But are the premises sound? What is his justification for the argument?

First, he supports premise one by stating that

You wouldn't say that Albany is the capital of New York only if you agree that it is, would you? Of course not. You recognize implicitly that Albany is the capital of New York whether you agree or not, whether you knew it or not, whether you wish Syracuse were the capital instead. That's call [sic] the primacy of existence. It is the recognition that the objects of consciousness hold metaphysical primacy over consciousness.

However, it must be noted that this is only an argument for the logical priority of ontology to epistemology. Therein lies the problem with the argument. In fact, it seems as though there is the fallacy of equivocation happening on the term “consciousness” as it is meant in premise 1 and as it is meant in premise 2. No Christian, to my knowledge, would say “we derive our existence from epistemology.” Rather, we would say we derive our existence from the existence of the first consciousness; consciousness being ontological. It is difficult to see why there cannot be existence that is also conscious, so long as we think persons also exist.[1]

Now the article turns to a very small, minority view among Christian theists: the view of determinism. He claims, “The Christian conception of the universe is analogous to the fictional realm of a cartoon. This realm is controlled by an all-controlling, all-determining agent which can create any object it wants and revise their nature whenever it wants.” This radical view was probably not held by any major thinker since maybe Descartes. Add to that the fact that most Christians aren’t theological determinists (nor fatalists), and we have a classic strawman.

The remainder of the article is his correspondence with other Christians, and as nearly as I can tell, it all relies on either irrelevant issues or the argument as presented above. Arguments that trade on ambiguities are often the most difficult to defeat, for the fallacy lies within the definition of the terms being used. If we tease out the usage of “consciousness” in premises 1 and 2, however, the argument becomes baffling:

1*. Whatever is true is derived from existence, not epistemology.
2*. If there is a God, we are derived from personhood.
4*. Therefore, we are derived from personhood.
6*. Therefore, we are derived from existence, not epistemology.

Yet here, (4*) and (6*) are not logically incompatible (at least not without further argument). The author asserts later on that he does not in fact claim “ontology precedes epistemology” (even though he agrees with that statement), but rather that the consciousness does not precede existence. However, this does not make the argument any better. In this case, the first premise really seems to be saying:

1’. No consciousness can ever precede existence.

But that is manifestly false. For my father’s consciousness is metaphysically prior to my existence (both temporally and logically). So perhaps he (more charitably and more likely) means:

1+. For any A, A’s existence metaphysically precedes A’s consciousness.

(1+) is clearly very true. But in that case, what would (2+) be?

2+. Our existence is derived from God’s consciousness.

But in what way does (2+) go against (1+)? We may say God’s existence logically precedes, if not temporally, his consciousness. But that wouldn’t preclude our existence coming from his consciousness. I don’t expect to correspond with author, if only because he seems quite condescending when challenged. It’s not attractive. He largely attempts what I call the “case by intimidation.” The idea is to quote or discuss philosophy in as abstract terms as possible, then declare your case “obvious” or prima facie, or universally recognized, or whatnot, in the hopes your opponent will be shamed or confused into an irrelevant rebuttal (or simply stop arguing at all).

His argument is not at all clear, nor does it seem to make sense once teased out in any and all of its implications (I have shown multiple ways the argument could be understood by its hearers [including its author]).

One final potential interpretation comes to me. He seems to be using “consciousness” as personhood (which contains epistemology, but is not itself epistemology). And while the first premise (1+) would still be true, the second again would be utterly mystifying. Why is it that we cannot derive our existence from God’s personhood? If we move to suggesting that no being can derive its existence from another person, I think again that is demonstrably false; but even if all such counterexamples fail, I find that particular premise utterly unjustified. If the author expects people to take the argument seriously, he owes an account of which of these above options he intends, and if none, a better argument itself!

                [1] This is not to say that whatever exists is a person, but rather the converse; whatever is a person exists. Thus, we shouldn’t be surprised if a conscious person also exists.

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, July 11, 2011

Debate Tactics

Though I do not condone debate tactics for the sake of winning a debate, I do want people to recognize when particular tactics are done to them. We ought not to be concerned primarily with debating, or even being right. We rather ought to be concerned with knowing and being in alignment with the truth of God. That said, many times atheists/skeptics (and even believers) evince some confusion (or outright dishonesty) when it comes to debate tactics. Here are a few of the more common ones:

1. The burden of proof is on you, not me.

This is perhaps the most common objection believers are given by unbelievers. Note this is not actually an objection against the existence of God. It is an epistemological objection to the soundness of the premise itself.

This myth springs largely from the pragmatic considerations of formal high school debate and the American system of legal justice. In the former it is a matter of form, and of proving one specific case. In the latter, it is a concern that one is not imprisoned falsely, so the government needs to be as sure as reasonably possible that the person is guilty in order for them to be convicted.

The reality in life is that any positive claim bears a burden of proof. “Aha!” cries the objector. “My claim is not positive! It is that God does not exist!” The problem should be immediately obvious. Every claim to negation is actually the positive claim that it is the case that the negative proposition is true. After all, the atheist is saying “It is the case that ‘God does not exist’ is true.” Unless they think it is false, or they do not know. In the former case they are theists, and in the latter they have to move to a position of non-acceptance. A lack of acceptance does not entail an outright rejection, but frequently skeptics will oscillate between accepting the aforementioned idea but retaining the benefits of claiming rejection. This does not work. If all they wish to do is to not accept the proposition “God exists,” they won’t be able to claim that he doesn’t.

2. God or X is impossible/incoherent/necessarily false. Prove me wrong.

This tactic could take a lesson from the one above. Briefly, it states that a certain idea is logically impossible, or the contrary idea is logically necessary, so that your proposition is impossible to be true. I have had (on more than one occasion) people claim that the universe or the laws of nature are necessary and so cannot be false. They offer no proof of this, typically.

The way to show something is possible is if the idea is coherent (that is, internally consistent and not self-refuting) and that it does not violate any known logically-necessary truth. In the first case, it seems obvious that the statement, “the universe could have had quarks different than what they are” is not self-contradictory. Yet then without any proof the argument that the universe is necessary just becomes question-begging. As I once remarked in comparison, this is like the theist saying “If you’ll just grant me the premise that God exists, you’ll see theism is true!”

3. There is no objective truth.

This idea states that it is not the case that everything that is true is a true statement for everyone; i.e., that truth is independent of people and their beliefs about it. In the unusual but not too rare case someone brings this up, ask them if the statement “there is no objective truth” is true just for him, or for you too? If he says it’s true for you too, then there is objective truth. That is, whether you believe it or not, there is no objective truth. This, of course, relies upon the notion of objective truth. If he answers that it’s only true for him, then two things follow. First, you may say that if the proposition “there is no objective truth” is only true for him, then it is false for you. Hence, for you, there is objective truth. But then it follows that there is objective truth for everyone, by definition. Second, you may ask him if the proposition “the truth ‘there is no objective truth’ is true for me only” is true for him only or if it’s also true for you. Rinse and repeat. Or better yet, make this a quick conversation. After this brief explanation, if the person does not believe in objective truth, you won’t get anywhere with them.

4. Don’t you know that X has already been proven wrong in many different studies?

This is one of my favorites. It is often a complete bluff. It might be something they heard, or something they surmise is probably true, so they don’t mind telling the white lie. It can take various forms. On a CNN article I was reading once, in the comments section, a responder wrote something like, “They proved the Pentateuch was an exact copy of the Book of the Dead.” I mean seriously, people.

The more popular versions are the Christ-myth stories of other ancient near eastern religions. They include “details” of mythological characters that are either misconstrued, or in many cases, outright fabrications. The major idea is to intimidate the Christian into silence. After all, how silly do you look, going on about the Bible, when everybody knows it’s already been disproved!? The way out of this is to call them on the carpet. Ask them for the study or source that has shown this. About a third of the time, you won’t get a relevant reply. Another third of the time they will actually cite some website, and most of the time it turns out to be poorly-researched and not undertaken by any actual scholars. The other third of the time, be prepared. These people will be able to point to a study or two. But generally, these people’s claims are less brash than “Jesus never existed,” but are close—like that of Richard Carrier.

I hope something fundamental is noticed here. In all four of these, the proposition “God does not exist” or even “the Christian God does not exist” isn’t even being defended. These are all side issues designed to avoid the implications of biblical evidence and theism. Sometimes borne of ignorance, other times of malice, we must always be ready to give an answer. We must do it with gentleness and respect. We must answer in love. But we must have an answer!
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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Question about PSR

Tonight we consider a question that came in to me:

I wonder if you could help me understand something about both the Leibnizian CA and the Kalam CA. Is there a difference between the PSR in the LCA and the 2nd premise in the KCA? They sound the same to me. I do have a problem with the PSR though, namely that if we reduced everything to explanations, e.g. "Why did the bottle fall? Because the law of Gravity caused it to." We would be led to a point where an explanation seems to be unnecessary. In the example above, it would be something like "Why is the law of Gravity like this and not like anything else?". Now if we say that the natural laws are necessary therefore do not need an explanation, then the argument for God fails because a completely naturalistic account of how this all came to being is more plausible. But if we say that there is no explanation as to why the laws behave in the way they do, then this seems to violate the 2nd premise of the KCA, in which it is possible to say that the universe just happened. I'm especially curious with how the PSR would work with the laws of logic, and God's relation to logic. What if logic were just a human construct based of science? If that were true, then Christianity is in trouble!

The PSR (Principle of Sufficient Reason: It states everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause) is very different than the second premise, for two reasons. (1) The PSR as presented in the modern LCA or the argument from contingency is compatible with a necessary natural being, person, thing, or state of affairs that did not begin to exist, while the second premise affirms that the universe began to exist (to be clear: the PSR is compatible with both necessary and contingent things that exist or did not begin to exist). As such, the PSR could apply even if (2) is false or true, meaning they are not identical. (2) The content of the premise "the universe began to exist" cannot entail explanations of everything else that exists without begging the question against theism.

Now you seem to be on that track by asking "what if someone postulated the physical laws are necessary?" But that's a huge assertion that requires at least some evidence. It won't do to say that the laws are all we know, again for two reasons: 1. That's an appeal to ignorance, and 2. To say something is necessary in the absence of any evidence in a positive category is to say that its negation violates some known necessary truth or entails a contradiction. The bottom line is, they won't be able to give you any logical contradiction without begging the question.

Now if we say there is no explanation for the laws of nature, I do not think this violates the second premise of the kalam. Why not? Well, consider we have a postulated God who, without the world, decides to create the universe. He wants there to be humans, but doesn't want to force the constants and laws. So he creates the idea of quarks, say. Then, he consults a randomizer that only takes into account universe-like domains that are built upon quarks, this God being content to accept whatever the randomizer throws out. Now, as it turns out, the randomizer spits out this universe, with these physical laws. I think we can see the universe still could have plausibly began to exist with the constants having no causal explanation. Now of course, you may reply, what kind of ridiculous experiment was that?! The odds are so unlikely that it would never happen in one shot! And thus, what we see is that if the physical laws have no explanation, then really it contradicts the second premise of WLC's argument from design.

In any case, you're forgetting that third alternative: the laws of nature act the way they do because God constructed them that way. That no atheist will accept this premise does nothing to undercut its force, nor does it avoid the problematic alternatives if they choose to reject it. But in any case, in order to avoid the highly intuitive PSR, they'll need to come up with a counterexample, and the universe just ain't it.

As to the laws of logic, these cannot be denied without their usage. See my article, "A New Defense of the Law of Noncontradiction" here on this site.