Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Penn is "Telling" you There is No God

Penn Jillette of the magician duo “Penn and Teller” has given an interview (back in 2005) to NPR on why he does not believe in God. Along the way, he evinces some misunderstandings and fallacious appeals. What are those misunderstandings?

First, Penn claims atheism is “not believing in God.” Aside from the fact this is the non-traditional definition, it also ignores the fact that theism is the proposition “God exists,” while atheism is negating that proposition. The position he describes more closely resembles that of classic agnosticism. Further, he fails to distinguish atheism from agnosticism on this view (what makes one different from the other on this view?).

Next, he oversimplifies when he claims one cannot prove a negative. First, this is self-refuting, for “one cannot prove a negative” is itself a negative proposition. So, either it is false or we must conclude that “one cannot prove a negative” strictly cannot be proven. In either case we need not believe it. But perhaps what he really means is only in the realm of existence. That is also false. If a being can be shown to be incoherent, then it is logically impossible for it to exist, and hence one has proven that being’s non-existence.

Perhaps then Jillette would say God’s existence is coherent, but yet one cannot prove a logically coherent being does not exist.[1] As his example, he postulates an elephant in his trunk. Yet such a being is defeasible in the sense that all one must do is open the trunk. That is one way to prove a being does not exist; if the parameters are of a sufficiently limited scope, one may examine those parameters and see if such a being exists. He then proposes to redefine elephant to include abstract properties and a “spare tire.” But in that case we can still prove the non-existence of a being. If a being has the essential property of being a spare tire, and there is no spare tire in the trunk, then there is no such being in the trunk!

Third, Jillette admits his belief that no God exists is a leap of faith. The reasons he gives for not believing in God are mostly pragmatic and are at times puzzling. For instance, he offers that his atheism does not prevent him from being happy. But why think that what one ought to believe in order to be rational comports with happiness? Or that if a belief makes you happy, it therefore ought to be considered true, or at least not plausibly false? He also claims atheism prevents him from being solipsistic. This is truly baffling, as there seems to be no link between belief in God and belief in other minds, except to say that if one believes in God then he believes in other minds![2]

He continues on to set a straw man, implying Christians claim belief in their “imaginary friend.” I know of no Christians who think God is imaginary. He sets up a false choice between no God and a God who “causes” suffering. He simply does not bother to show why this must be the case. He then claims that no God means the possibility of less suffering in the future. But this is not at all clear. After all, on atheism, sooner or later, man will go extinct and the heat death of the universe will take over. Ultimately, suffering and death win. There is no physical possibility to avoid it. Penn’s view is really just rhetoric, and not particularly good rhetoric at that. It’s what passes for New Atheism these days.

                [1] Interestingly, this track admits the first premise of the modal ontological argument, and hence God must exist of necessity. It is unlikely Jillette recognizes this problem.

                [2] It is also not at all clear he understands the meaning of the term from the paragraph in which the term appears.

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, September 27, 2011

Top 13 List for Christian Debates

This list is mostly a joke. I just wanted to poke a little fun at Christian debate, especially Internet Christian debate. The following is in no particular order (except for the end), and details my (sometimes not so) mild annoyance with these kinds of things. Enjoy!

How to Annoy Me, or How To Beat Me in a Debate

1. Claim my argument is not found in Scripture, especially right after I show a verse where it is found.

2. Pretend your position is the default one to be preferred until proven otherwise.

3. Accuse me of wishing to worship myself or my ideas instead of God.

4. State that I do not believe in the “God of the Bible.”

5. Use slippery slope arguments whenever possible, so that any mild disagreement results in calling Jesus a liar.

6. Accuse me of denying inerrancy.

7. Misstate my position subtly, then defeat that and proclaim my position untenable.

8. Misstate my position obviously, then defeat that and proclaim my position untenable.

9. In the midst of a critique, randomly mention other, unsubstantiated objections. But quickly move on, thus allowing the critique to have the appearance of being warranted.

10. Bring up several objections, allowing me to dispel each of them one by one. After a while, bring up the first one again.

11. Repeat all of these, ad infinitum. Or at least until I get frustrated. Then…

12. Claim I have never dealt substantively with any of the criticisms/I don’t understand your position/I’m not spiritual.

13. Finally, if you happen to be rude during any of this, claim Jesus and Paul did it too.
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, September 21, 2011

Christian Blog Carnival

Possible Worlds is proud to present the Christian Blog Carnival, featuring submissions from the Christian blogosphere on a wide variety of topics. For those who may have submitted but do not see their post, please note that I only included around 20 submissions this time, and thus it was nothing personal. Inclusions do not necessarily indicate agreement with the article, but they do indicate interest.


“The Bronze Snake,” by Russ White at Thinking in Christ", is an interesting look at an Old Testament judgment.

Matt Zowada examines differing idols in our lives, including the possibility that morality is one, in “Idolatry: Morality.”

In “From Genesis to Revelation,” Kaleb passes on a neat listing of Jesus in the Bible.

Over at Reality in Red, Timothy Payne provides an allegory for sin in the lives of the lost worth reading.

David R. Wells gives us an interesting look when he says, ‘Slavery is Illegal,” and it’s worth checking out.

At American Church History blog, Chris Price gives a brief but interesting look at the separation of church and state and what the Founding Fathers had in mind.

Richard H. Anderson provides a fascinating look at the dating of the book of Luke, and hence the other Gospels as well.

Reflections in the Word tackles the often-thorny problem of biblical authenticity, and what that may mean.


Daniel Smith over at Rational Theism gives a brief summary and response to the logical problem of evil using an interesting method of God’s benevolence.

Tom Gilson at Thinking Christian has provided a wonderful review of the film “Metamorphosis” and how it relates to scientific apologetics. has some apologetic and theological resources one may find quite interesting.

The Leibnizian Cosmological Argument is examined by yours truly at Possible Worlds.

Christian Life

Rob Sisson, at In Faith, writes of the true faith we must have in our lives when we approach Christ.

Ridge Burns shares a powerful story of being Jesus to the world in everyday circumstances.

Joy Shepherd at takes a good look at the top 10 Bible colleges in the United States and what makes them that way.

“But it’s just a little thing,” by Violet, shows that grumbling and complaining in the Christian life is not acceptable.

Joe Plemon wants to know what we are willing to give up in order to follow God.

Rebecca LuElla Miller reminds us of the importance and primacy of serving God—even if it means going against our country, in “Treasonous Prayer.”

At Strawberry Roan blog, Shanyn examines some devotional and emotionally-stirring thoughts following the events of 9/11.

Lynn Dove wants to know if chivalry is really dead, and what attitudes our cultural norms today represent.

Please check out the Christian Blog Carnival on a regular basis at:
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, September 19, 2011

The Worst Objection to the KCA

Sometimes it amuses me when I see to what lengths some people will go in order to deny the cosmological argument. Sometimes, they are good, thoughtful objections. Other times, they are bizarre rants. This is an example of the latter:

"1. God did not have a cause (according to theists)
2. God did not BEGIN to exist at some point (according to theists)
3. Therefore, God does not exist (my conclusion per Kalam argument in reverse)"

This is not a logically valid argument. There is no rule of inference of the form “X is not-Y. X is not-Z. Therefore, X is not A.” This is the fallacy of four terms. Further, I’m not sure what “kalam in reverse” even means. The kalam, as one may recall, is:
4. Whatever begins to exist had a cause.
5. The universe began to exist.
6. Therefore, the universe had a cause.
The only thing I can think of is that the objector is trying to use modus tollens on the first premise. But then all that follows is:
7. Therefore, God did not begin to exist.
What they really need in order to be successful is the premise:
8. Whatever did not begin to exist and does not have a cause does not exist.
However, this is just question-begging. That is, without other argument(s), the only reason to take (8) as true is because one already believes (3) is true. Further, we seem to have decided counterexamples to (8). First, consider numbers, rules of mathematics, and laws of logic. There are Platonists and neo-Platonists who believe these things exist, and do so necessarily (that is, independently of a cause). For really, (8) necessarily implies:
9. There are no necessarily-existing objects.
(9) seems absolutely unsupportable.
But further, consider the atheist herself has a defeating counterexample to (8), and hence (9). The universe itself! For most atheists will claim the universe has always existed, and, since they deny the conclusion of the kalam, deny it has a cause. But then the universe fulfills both conditions for non-existence, and hence by accepting (8), one accepts the absurdity that the universe does not exist.
Finally, it is unclear which, if any, premises of the kalam this was supposed to undercut or defeat. In theory, this is perfectly consistent with the causal principle, the universe’s coming into existence, and therefore the universe’s having a cause. It simply eliminates a God who was not caused and/or did not begin to exist—but only if successful (which obviously, it was not). This was just an academic exercise, and yes, I picked the worst objection to the kalam I have seen in a while. But it sure was interesting.
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.

God, People, and Moral Perfection

1.    Any agent A that is not morally perfect (MP) and has a free will shall ultimately/eventually commit a sin.
2.    A is morally innocent only in the case that A has freely refrained from any sin and has moral obligations.
3.    Any A that is MP cannot sin, and has no moral obligations.
4.    Therefore, any A that is MP is not morally innocent.
5.    Therefore, any A that is morally innocent is not-MP.
6.    God is MP.
7.    Any man created by God would have been morally innocent.
8.    Therefore, any man created by God is not MP.
9.    Therefore, any man created by God with a free will shall ultimately sin.

I think (1) is true because of what it means to be MP. Moral perfection is not merely lacking a blemish or a negative standard. Rather, perfection is in complete conformity to a standard. A sports analogy may be helpful. Sometimes it may be said, “this team is perfect this season” and yet it has not played a single game. Is such terminology accurate? Of course not. We don’t mean the same thing there as we would if it were applied to a team who had played some games and yet not lost. This tells us merely lacking a mark against or a blemish is a necessary but insufficient condition for perfection. (1) is also not saying that any specific sin cannot be avoided. It’s merely a recognition that being not-MP entails an eventual sin.
The second premise is very plausible. For of what can one be guilty or innocent except moral obligations, which come from moral commands or intuitions? Further, sufficient freedom of the will seems to be necessary in order to merit moral praise or blame. Hence, (2) should be accepted.
That any A that is MP cannot sin and has no moral obligations might be less than obvious. However, I think this is true because in order to be morally perfect, one must be the standard. While perfection, in normal usage, means complete conformity to a standard, we also intuit that real perfection is the incapability of failure; on the simpler definition there is always the possibility of failure. This is not so with perfection. If that is true, then any A that is MP is both the standard of morality and cannot sin. If A is the standard of morality, then A owes himself no moral obligations, per se. (4) and (5) are conclusions and hence analytic entailments of the prior three premises.
The sixth premise is true for any theist or person who would describe God in terms of being morally perfect. (7) seems to be true prima facie. That is, any MP being would bring into existence beings who at least lacked the deficiency in character and who had no sin. One may object (7) begs the question, but this isn’t quite true. If one has already accepted the reasoning for (1-3), then (7) is an entailment (rather than the alternative, that God would create beings who had the property of being MP). (8) and (9) are logically-entailed conclusions, and hence cannot be denied of themselves.
This has serious ramifications when it comes to the problem of moral evil. If any being created by God will, given free choice and sufficient time/opportunity, freely choose to sin, then God is not able to avoid the scenario of creating a world of significant moral freedom and relationship to God in the relevant way without sin. Now God could choose not to create anything at all, or create only beings who lack significant moral freedom. But why should the world be robbed of the great good of those creations of God because someone else would have chosen wrongly? Why should your existence be snuffed out because it is true someone, somewhere, would sin? Why should the joy and bliss of billions in eternity be negated because some sin, somewhere, would be committed? Consider also that this criticism really only applies in cases where God cannot do anything to rectify that situation.
“If God were to create free beings who will inevitably sin and can do nothing to save their souls, then God should refrain from creating,” is almost in need of no defense. But God can do something, and he has. He sent his Son Jesus Christ as a real, historical person. He was God in the flesh. He had multiple, ancient, eyewitness accounts of his life and claims. He claimed to be God. He was executed by the Roman government at the request of his religious opposition. Three days later, people experienced independent visual experiences of Jesus, seemingly in full health and quite well. These appearances coincided with an empty tomb. This tomb was guarded night and day by a contingent that had good reason to protect the tomb. The followers of Jesus were hopeless at the time of the empty tomb and had scattered, many going back to earning a living fishing. There was no one to steal the body. Jesus Christ died and was resurrected by God himself, vindicating his claim to be the Son of God.
But in that case, Jesus really did come to pay the penalty for sins—yours and mine. In order to have our sins forgiven, all we must do is: a) believe the claims of Christ-that he was God and he paid for our sins, b) believe that he died and was raised to life again by God the Father, c) want to be saved and forgiven for your sins, and d) place your trust in God to forgive you of your sins. It’s not enough to simply believe in your head these things happened, and it’s not enough to wish that you were saved from separation from God. You must actively trust in God, and in that moment you do so, your sins are all forgiven. You can now live for Christ!
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.

Leibniz's Cosmological Argument

A common formulation of Leibniz’s Cosmological Argument is as follows:
1.    Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence (either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause).
2.    If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
3.    The universe exists.
4.    Therefore, the universe has an explanation of its existence [1, 3].
5.    Therefore, the explanation of the universe’s existence is God [2, 4].[1]
Since this is a logically valid argument (that is, it follows a proper form known as modus ponens), if one wishes to avoid the conclusion then she must deny at least one or more of the premises. (3) is true so long as one is being rational. Moreover, consider that the first premise, also known as the Principle of Sufficient Reason, is highly intuitive. Some may retort the PSR is highly controversial, but I suspect the main reason it’s so is that people wish to avoid the conclusion of a God, not because things or state of affairs being explained is so controversial.
As Craig notes, this PSR is wholly compatible with there being brute facts about the world.[2] This undercuts the major objection to the PSR. He goes on to note that “explicability is the default position and that exceptions to the principle therefore require justification.”[3] That justification doesn’t seem to be forthcoming. Moreover, as Groothuis objects, it seems quite ad hoc to require explanations for existence and states of affairs in science and other areas of life but not as it relates to cosmology or the universe.[4] In fact, it remains literally inexplicable why just anything exists if the PSR is false, ultimately.
Perhaps the skeptic or atheist may wish to accept the PSR (as seems eminently plausible) yet reject (2), or perhaps they reject this in addition to rejecting the PSR. They may wonder just why they should accept that God is the universe’s explanation, if there is one at all. First, one must note the contrapositive of the premise: If the explanation is not God, then the universe has no explanation. This is a line repeated by more than one atheist (including Bertrand Russell, who famously thought there simply was no explanation for why there is something rather than nothing). But since any premise’s truth-value necessitates the same truth-value for its contrapositive, atheists who take Russell’s track are already committed to the truth of (2)!
Perhaps an objector may wish to claim the universe is necessary rather than contingent (and hence affirm [1] and deny [2]). But in that case, not only must the universe exist from an infinite past, but also must exist into the infinite future. That is to say, the universe cannot fail to exist, or cease to exist; there cannot be a state of affairs of nothingness as it relates to the universe. But that is a radical claim. Since we can conceive of the universe’s non-existence, what non-arbitrary reasoning can there be for affirming its necessity?
Next, Groothuis shows reason to reject that the universe just exists without an explanation and that it is necessary. “The metaphysical implication of rejecting the principle of sufficient reason with respect to the cosmos is that the cosmos is meaningless . . . nothing has any ultimate meaning, and . . . everything is gratuitous.” Essentially, this amounts to nihilism.[5] Further, one must reject the universe as a “being that explains itself” because of the highly-plausible conception that the universe can or could have fail/failed to exist. “If the universe were . . . self-explanatory and self-existent, such a question [why is there something rather than nothing?] would be radically out of place—on the order of asking, Why is the law of noncontradiction true?”[6] But it is not so radically out of place.
In conclusion, it seems the PSR is extremely intuitive, the universe exists, and it does not explain itself. But if that is the case, then a final self-explanatory being is in mind; exactly what we call “God.”[7] We may then conclude the God of monotheism is the best (and really, only) candidate for this being. From that, Christian evidences can and should follow. What a great argument!

[1] William Lane Craig, “Argument from Contingency,”, accessed September 19, 2011.

[2] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 107.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 212-13.

[5] Ibid., 212.

[6] Ibid., 213.

[7] Craig, Reasonable Faith, 99.

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

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Obligations Owed to Persons

Do I owe an obligation to someone who does not exist? The question, on the face of it, seems absurd. But it may have some interesting consequences from its answer. First, let us examine the scenario of a possible person who does not now nor will ever exist.

Consider the case of Jim-Bob Jones III, who could have been a son of a daughter of John F. Kennedy. The daughter could have been born in 1965. But, since Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, this is clearly a case where Jim-Bob not only does not exist, but will never exist. Do I owe him any obligations? Any praises for a job well done? Any moral duty to treat him well? Notice I am not asking that if it were the case that Jim-Bob existed, would I owe him any moral obligations. Rather, it is do I owe him anything at all as the state of affairs stand. It seems not (how ludicrous, since ought implies can, and we have no possibility of fulfilling obligations to persons who do not now nor will ever exist).

Next, we can make the question much more interesting. Do I owe an obligation to a person who does not now exist but will exist at some time in the future? It certainly seems possible. Consider the case of the man who will become a father, say, five years in the future. While it is true he cannot now owe his son any direct obligation (e.g., the man cannot owe his son the obligation of going to his baseball game, or providing him shelter, or feeding him, or anything, now), it is nonetheless true that he will owe his son at that time some specific moral obligations that may have ramifications in the present. For instance, in order to fulfill his obligation to protect his son, he will have to refrain from the use of cocaine or other such drugs. Since they are highly addictive and damaging, if he becomes an addict he will not be able to fulfill his obligation to protect his son.

Now an interesting point comes about from all this: there’s no way of knowing such future persons and what scenarios may present themselves. Therefore, if these obligations are only owed to persons who both exist/will exist and will be in our lives, then morality is not truly objective, but subjective to particular circumstances. So whether or not heavy drug use is a problem depends on whether or not certain persons are around and whatnot. That seems wrong. Yet it seems very intuitive that obligations are owed to a person. Therefore, it seems at least somewhat plausible that objective moral obligations are ultimately owed to a transcendent person; that is, a person who exists in every circumstance.
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, September 16, 2011

Blog Carnival

I'm pleased to announce that Possible Worlds will be hosting the Christian Carnival II blog carnival on Wednesday, September 21. Submissions are now being accepted here, at

The submissions should be from anytime between September 15-September 20, with the 20th being the submission deadline. Topics especially encouraged are on apologetics, theology, and Christian philosophy. No financial posts or solicitations, please. I'm very much looking forward to seeing what we get!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Geisler-Licona Controversy

These are my few thoughts about the controversy surrounding Mike Licona and Norm Geisler, two very competent Christian scholars. A dispute has arisen over whether or not Licona’s view of Matthew 27 amounts to a denial of inerrancy. I’m not convinced it does, even if he is dead wrong about his interpretation. Consider the following:
Inerrancy is true if and only if for any proposition, fact, truth, or event P that the Bible affirms, P is true and not false.
Inerrancy is false in the case that for any P that the Bible affirms, P is false and not true.
Any agent X believes in inerrancy in general just in the case X believes for any P that the Bible affirms, P is true and not false.
Any X believes in inerrancy specifically just in the case X believes the Bible has affirmed P, and X believes P is true and not false.
X’s belief about P entails inerrancy’s falsehood in the case the Bible affirms P and X believes not-P.
First, we should note that one can affirm inerrancy even in the case that he believes something contrary to what the text actually teaches. For the text means what it means independently of our understanding of it, so that if P is actually true, but we teach not-P, we may nonetheless affirm inerrancy if we believe the Bible teaches not-P in the first place. This means Licona may be well within the bounds of orthodoxy in terms of whether or not he is an inerrantist.
Next, notice the final proposition means that, if X’s belief about P is true and it opposes what the Bible actually teaches, then inerrancy is false. Note what it does not teach: that X believes the Bible is not inerrant. Further, we should see that this would make anyone who held an interpretation of a text that we found to be incorrect one who denies inerrancy (that is, if the final proposition means one is not an inerrantist [which I submit it does not]).
Third, I believe we may formulate a brief argument against the final proposition’s conclusion. The Bible is inerrant. If the Bible affirms X, and A teaches not-X, then A is incorrect. The Bible affirms X and A teaches not-X. Therefore, A is incorrect. Or keep the first two premises and add in: A is correct. Therefore, it is not the case that the Bible affirms X and A teaches not-X. One of the two is false. Inerrancy is thus safe from human error.
Finally, I realize that the above may be constituted by some as a “safe haven” to question the Bible everywhere. But in relation to inerrancy, this is just not so. For if they actually believe the Bible teaches one thing, but they say another, they are guilty of denying inerrancy. Now what of those people we think are wrong about major interpretive issues? We take it up with them on those grounds. Those grounds that are biblical truth are sufficient to correct an error. People can be inerrantists and have poor interpretations. Some people have taken just this track to Licona’s interpretation of Matthew 27, which can be made independently of the charge of denying inerrancy.
As it so happens, I think Licona is incorrect regarding his original assessment of Matthew 27 (which he may end up revising, anyway). I dealt with the issue briefly in a Q & A on this blog. Atheists and skeptics often get quite the laugh at our expense in these issues, and the people on the sidelines shake their heads. Let’s get charitable. Argue, debate, and correct: but there’s no need to try to drag someone through the mud.
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, September 13, 2011

Calvinists and the Well-Meant Offer

EDIT: I would also like to add that this argument I reject, since I think premise (1) is false.

There is much discussion and debate between Calvinists and non-Calvinists concerning the offer of the Gospel. Many Calvinists wish to retain the “well-meant offer” of salvation to the lost for pragmatic purposes. What is the well-meant offer? Are Calvinists able to offer this in consistency with their other beliefs? My contention is that they cannot. Consider the following argument:
1.      For any individual X, God controls X’s desire to accept the Gospel.

2.      Some X’s do not and will not ever desire to accept the Gospel (unsaved).

3.      If God controls some X so that X will not accept the Gospel, then God does not desire the salvation of X.

4.      If God controls X and does not desire the salvation of X, then God cannot have a well-meant offer for that individual.

5.      Therefore, God does not desire the salvation of X.

6.      Therefore, God cannot have a well-meant offer for that individual.

(1) is a standard Calvinist claim (specifically five-point Calvinism), so this should not be denied by them. (2) is true for any non-universalist interpretation of biblical passages, and so also should not be denied. (3) seems obviously true, and should only be denied if one thinks that God controls an unsaved X so that he remains that way and yet still desires X to be saved. (4) would be denied by five-point Calvinists, and we will return to it in a moment. (5) is a conclusion (1-3), and so cannot be denied without denying at least one of the other three. (6) is true in the argument only in the case that all of the others are true, and hence (6) may be denied only if one of the premises are. Back to the justification for (4). If Calvinism of the sort under discussion is true, then our offering the Gospel to all is a matter of pragmatism; we don’t know who will respond in what ways, and God has asked us to do this. But we cannot, in good conscience, say things like “God sent his son Jesus Christ to die for you.”

How much worse it is for God! For God knows exactly whether or not any given person would respond. Since only those who have their sins paid for will respond, God cannot say “I sent my Son to die for you,” not out of ignorance or uncertainty, but because such would be a lie! Further, while we can be sincere in offering something that cannot possibly be true in a counterfactual format (such as is the case if I were to say, “If you were to jump into space without a suit, I would go with you”) the same sincerity cannot be applied in cases where one controls or causes the antecedent’s falsehood.
Consider if I were to say, “If I loved you, then I would marry you,” yet I despised the person, while that may possibly be a true counterfactual, it nonetheless does not constitute a sincere offer of the consequent. It’s just telling you that if I wanted to do X, then I would do X, and then Y obtains. Or consider: “if I cared about the homeless, I would feed them.” No one should think this is my sincere offer to feed the homeless. So it is with God. “If you would believe, then you would be saved,” when applied to those for whom it is impossible to believe on account of God’s choice not to allow them should not be constituted to be a sincere offer of the consequent. It seems God does not really intend for them to be saved at all, and it is indeed impossible, metaphysically, for them to be saved. In that sense, it is no more well-meant than any other offer that it is within one's power to achieve but not one's desire to achieve.
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, September 12, 2011

What Follows if God Does not Exist?

This is not an apologetic argument for non-believers. That is, I fully expect some or even all of the premises to be denied by non-Christians. This is more of an "intellectual devotion" time. I am examining the claim that God is logically necessary, and without God, nothing would exist, neither would anything be true. I claim if God is the ultimate explanation of why anything is true, then the lack of that explanation necessitates nothing is true. But then it would be true something is true. Hence, the conditional is impossible.

It's not merely the antecedent's being false that makes this problematic, but rather the antecedent's being logically impossible that creates the problem. What we are really saying is the state of affairs of nothing being true cannot exist. But if God is logically necessary and the ground of all being/truth, then that's just what it means: it means there is no truth without God (else God just happens to be the source of this truth, rather than being the source of necessity). I don't find calling the impossibility of his non-existence to be very controversial, for that is all it means to say that one is logically necessary. Consider the following argument:

1. If God is logically necessary, then he cannot fail to exist.

2. If God is the source of all truth, then he is so necessarily.

3. God is logically necessary.

4. God is the source of all truth.

5. Therefore, God cannot fail to exist.

6. Therefore, God is the source of all truth necessarily.

It follows analytically from (5-6) that:

7. If God did not exist, then truth does not exist.

8. Truth does exist.

9. Therefore, God exists.

If one questions (7), consider a parallel premise:

10. If numbers do not exist, then mathematics do not exist.

By (10) I mean the concept of numbers. Yet we can use and conceptualize numbers and movements all the time: the very numbering of the premise makes the antecedent false. Further, most people believe the antecedent is necessarily false, and hence impossible to be true. Yet it seems to be true as a datum that mathematics would not exist without numbers, even if it is impossible for mathematics to fail to exist! In the same way, I maintain it is true that without God, nothing would be true. The Christian should embrace this as a thought for devotional reflection.
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, September 10, 2011

09/11 and the Apologetics Bloggers Alliance

As I mentioned in my last post, the Apologetics Bloggers Alliance is writing this weekend on the problem of evil and suffering, with special attention to the events of 09/11. Whenever evil strikes, it is a tragedy. But not all tragedies are alike, and we felt it was important to try to answer the various issues surrounding the problem of evil. We wish to provide comfort, both intellectually and emotionally. This is not primarily argumentative. People can and should trust in the God of the universe, who works all things together for good to them that love him. The following is a list of the postings so far; please visit these wonderful posts!

"Divine Commands Post 9/11," by Matthew Flannagan

"The Problem of Evil: Whose Problem is It? Is it a problem?" by Steve Wilkinson.

"9-11, Jihad, and the Christian," by Letitia Wong.

"9/11 Memorial: Christianity Offers Authentic Hope in the face of Suffering," by Gabriel Pagel.

"Atheism, Evil, and Ultimate Justice," by Luke Nix.

"Resources on the Problem of Evil," by Brian Auten.

"Do all roads lead to God?" by Scott Smith.

"Evil's Three Faces and a Christian Response," by Rob Lundberg.

"Where was God on 9-11? A Response to Rabbi Kushner," by Neil Mammen.

"Where was God on 9/11?" by Stephen Bedard.

"Did God allow the Attacks on 09/11 for a Greater Good?" by Erik Manning.

"Ground Zero," by Carson Weitnauer.

"America After 9/11: Is Religion Evil?" by Mikel Del Rosario.

"9/11: Full Cognitive Meltdown and Its Fallout," by Tom Gilson.

"If God, Why Evil?" by Christiana Szymanski.

"On September 11th, harmless things became fearful," by J.W. Wartick.

"9/11: Where is God during a Catastrophe?" by Arthur Khachatryan

"Christianity and 9/11: Guilt by Association?" by Tom Gilson.

"Suffering and the Cross of Christ," by Holly Ordway.
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.

The Need for Moral Choices and Consequences

Why do bad things happen to good people? Why did God let 9/11 happen? Why didn't God stop them from taking over the plane? Why is evil allowed to exist? What can God do about it? These questions and more are being tackled by the Apologetics Bloggers Alliance this weekend. The ABA (not a lawyer's association) is a sub-division of the Christian Apologetics Alliance. 20 or more posts are being offered on various concerns in relation to the problem of evil, many of them focusing on or incorporating the events of 9/11/2001. See also: the listing of all the posts here!

Must there be choices and consequences for those choices? The first part of the question is easy to ascertain. If God wishes to have creatures who freely choose to love him, then they must be free in some moral way to choose the good (God) or evil. However, some might be tempted to ask, “but why couldn’t God simply allow the choice to be made and then take away the consequences?” After all, if a man fired a gun, intending to kill his target, we still hold him morally guilty even if he misses completely. God could cause every shot to miss the mark, or the bullet to disappear, or for it to strike but do no damage nor inflict pain.

The answer is that in order for significant moral choices to be made or moral growth to take place consequences must be a regular part of life. First, let us examine the significance of moral choices. Most people would admit that, were there to be no negative consequences, they would not have too much difficulty in robbing a bank. This is not the same as saying, “if I could get away with it, I would rob a bank.” Rather, the customary reasons for actually refraining from robbing the bank are absent. You would not be prosecuted under any circumstances. There is no economic impact. There is no psychological impact to anyone. No one, including the bank or insurance companies, has actually lost any money.

Some may say, “I would refrain because stealing is wrong!” However, when pressed, many people will offer the above reasons as to why stealing would be morally wrong. Hence, stealing really isn’t wrong after all in these circumstances. Yet God has commanded against it. Only people with a desire to serve God completely would refrain from stealing.

Moral choices also tend to lose their significance when the consequences of nature are regularly interrupted. Geisler concludes that such a move by God would rob any human thinker of his moral intuition. He claims, “Rational decisions are dependent on knowing that events will unfold regularly . . . we will not know what acts would be harmful and what would be helpful . . . we would not have a rational basis for knowing [some act is detrimental or wrong] . . . this is why we do not hold little children culpable.”[1]

I think the above quote is very correct. If God regularly interrupted the consequences of moral choices, then the only way we would know actions were good or evil is by information transfer. We would have no idea why these things were wrong, and anyone who did not already believe the information they were given would have no moral compass whatsoever (for their rational basis for moral obligations [not merely values] is gone).

Next, a lack of consequences for moral actions means that no moral growth is taking place. If there were no moral consequences and there are no moral lessons learned experientially, how can one possibly grow? To grow morally means to conform better to the objective moral standard by one’s character. But how can one’s character be expected to improve upon whatever its default status is without any sort of consequences to the moral choices made? I do not see how it can be done in the context of a free will.

Consider 9/11 for our final point. Ten years ago tomorrow, two airplanes changed the course of the United States. Couldn’t God have prevented that? Of course he could have. Since it is true that moral growth requires choices and consequences, and moral choices (to be rationally informed) also require moral consequences, it seems the burden of proof is on the objector. That is, the question becomes why God intervenes when he does. The answer must be: when something will ultimately turn out better than it would have otherwise.

The victims of 9/11 all had different lives, and their lives in turn touched others. In fact, an entire nation was affected by this act. Many of us grew as people as a direct or indirect result of the consequences of a horrible moral choice. Does that mean the act was not terrible? Of course it is terrible. Moral growth does not make the act itself any closer to being good than it was before. Rather, God’s working through moral consequences is a necessary result of free moral action coupled with a moral growth that would not take place otherwise.

Geisler maintains, and I agree, that a God who simply takes away all consequence is just as unloving as the parent who gives their child everything they ever wanted.[2] In the end, it simply spoils them, not helps them. What happened ten years ago was meant for evil, but God meant it unto good.

                [1] Norman L. Geisler, If God, Why Evil? (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2011), 88.

                [2] Ibid., 85-86.

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, September 7, 2011

Is God limited by our actions?

The following was sent to me recently, and what follows is my answer:


Is God ever limited by our action or inaction? I would love to have your thoughts and insight if you have time.



Hey Luke,

It all depends on what sense we take “limited” to be in! On the one hand, God is not limited, for he is omnipotent. This means he has maximal power—not just the maximal power of any being that does exist, but rather the maximal power that is possible.

Secondly, God is not limited in that whatever he has ordained to come to pass will in fact come to pass (we see this multiple places, including Isaiah 46:10). So while God may not prefer and even detest certain actions (like all sins), if for whatever reason he ordains a world with sin (which he has), we can be sure that world will come to pass as God ordains it, no matter what our actions are.[1] It’s also worth noting I think God can ordain a world with sin and evil without willing or desiring sin or evil—a situation that puts me at odds with both Calvinists and Arminians, as far as I can tell. I can explain more of that later.

Anyway, in another sense, God is quite limited by our action or lack of action. Suppose it is true that if God creates Jones with a free will and places him in a specific set of circumstances at a specific time, Jones would freely choose to mow the lawn. If that is the case, then on pain of logical contradiction, the truth of Jones’ choosing to mow the lawn in those circumstances is not up to God. It’s up to Jones. Now God can decide that he will or will not actualize a world with precisely those circumstances, so that if God wants a world where Jones does mow the lawn, God gets it, and if he doesn’t, then he gets it. This holds true for every single free decision that every single free creature would ever do in any possible set of circumstances. This is how God could potentially be limited by our actions.

Now consider our inaction. Suppose it is not true that Jones would freely choose to mow the lawn in those same circumstances. Well then, while it was possible that Jones could have chosen it, it’s not true that he would. So, strictly speaking, God could not instantiate or actualize such a world with those identical circumstances where Jones freely chooses to mow the lawn. God could force Jones, but then Jones does not do it freely. So if God wants Jones to mow the lawn at a specific time, the circumstances antecedent to the proposed action would have to be different in some way. But not just any way will necessarily do; the antecedent circumstances must be changed in some way that allows it to be true that Jones would freely mow the lawn. Of course, for whatever reason, there may be no such circumstances that also work together completely; or perhaps there are, but God does not wish to have different circumstances over Jones not mowing the lawn. Also consider that any set of circumstances will include actions that God himself either has done or directly influenced.

One last thing: though this can be very complicated to work out, it is really only the common sense view expressed by Christians throughout the ages: God freely chose, of his own will, to give us free will. We can use that free will to do evil or good or any number of things. God knows what we could do, what we would do in any set of circumstances, and what we will do. He’s not taken by surprise, but he has chosen to limit himself by giving us free will.

                [1] This is not an endorsement of fatalism. Rather, it is saying because God has ordained the world, no matter what we might choose to do, God has ordained that.

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.

Faith and Reason

I have recently read an article on people who leave Christianity in which the author proclaimed something like, "if your faith is true, then it should withstand arguments to the contrary."  Is this true? I don't see why it should be. In fact, something may in fact be true that we have no way of knowing for sure. Something may be true in spite of evidence to the contrary (we see this in everyday life; in situations in which we have plenty of reason to declare ourselves rational in asserting a proposition, it turns out the opposite was true).

Further, we may question what is meant by "withstand." Based on the fact it is one's own faith that is supposed to do the withstanding, we can reasonably infer that if one loses his faith, then it did not withstand. Hence, perversely, if one loses his faith it was not true. But this claim depends on a number of assumptions, one or all of which may be false.

First, it assumes one understands his faith in the relevant and appropriate ways.

A common criticism of Christians, from other Christians and non-believers alike, is that, as an entire group, we are too ignorant--even of our own beliefs. Well we cannot have it both ways. If one is incorrect about the rationale for his faith, then its failure to stand up to rational inquiry is not an indictment of the actual ontology of the faith, but rather of the epistemic truth-status of certain beliefs or doctrines, many of which may be non-essential.

Second, it assumes one has understood the counterarguments in the relevant and appropriate ways.

This one is huge. It seems nearly every time one witnesses a Christian "de-convert," it is on the basis of some horribly fallacious reasoning. This point is not meant to argue these specific counterarguments here, but it is worth it to say that if one receives a poor counterargument against Christanity/God and it causes him to lose his faith, it does not follow that the ontological status of the propositions "God exists," and "Christianity is true," is false.

Third, it assumes an objective, rather than emotional, examination.

While pure objectivity is never possible, it is nonetheless possible to be closer to or farther from objectivity when examining a subject. When people start questioning a long-held belief sincerely, a funny thing happens: they get reverse confirmation bias. That is, any evidence to the contrary of their proposition counts with more weight than any for its truth, regardless of how much weight it should actually carry. Couple that with the emotional issues people typically have, and one's faith may well crumble even though its referent is actually true!

Finally, it assumes if one does not know an answer to the objection, the objection must stand.

With all of the bad arguments against Christianity, there are some decent ones. None that I think are sound or actually true, but some clearly better than others. Suppose there is a highly complex argument presented to you. Suppose further that you haven't the slightest idea of how to refute it. The conclusion seems wrong, but you are so unfamiliar with the concepts in the premises you just do not have an answer. Assuming the conclusion to be true until conclusively proven otherwise is simply not rational. Only if you have examined the proposition and find it to be true should you embrace the conclusion. Otherwise, as long as belief in God is properly basic, there's no need to give it up.

Now I am not endorsing the idea that the faith is illogical or unreasonable. I think there are good reasons to believe. I am concerned with those who think because some people's faith has failed, it is therefore false. There is no good reason to think that is true, as all four of the above assumptions must be true in this case.