Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Open Letter to David Cloud

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Bless,

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

When Fallacies are not Fallacious

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

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

Whatever reasons from the parts to the whole is fallacious.

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 25, 2011

When I ignore Arguments

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

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

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

When a person evidences their non-seriousness

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

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

When a number of Christians or serious unbelievers ask

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What if God commanded murder?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Question about Freedom and Possible Worlds

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thoughts on Luke 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Slippery Slope Fallacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 17, 2011

When is an Appeal to Authority Fallacious?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                [1] I do not support evolution.

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Question about Feasibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Question about Possible Worlds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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