Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Christian Carnival II

Possible Worlds is proud to host the Christian Carnival II!


Rhapsody of Realities presents The New Life In Christ!: Who Is The Holy Spirit? posted at Rhapsody Of Realities, saying, "get full christian doctrine on the NEW CREATION"

Isabel Anders presents Spinning Straw, Weaving Gold posted at Isabel Anders' Uncommon Mother-Daughter Wisdom, saying, "Spinning Straw, Weaving Gold is Isabel Anders' sequel to Becoming Flame (2010)"

James Moffitt presents Faith posted at Lightourworld.


Kerin Gedge presents Kerinthian's: The Demise of the Christian Artist posted at Kerinthian's, saying, "Just some random thoughts about being a creative Christian and how frustrating that can be..."

Melanie Grant presents 1000 Gifts: It's all about Perspective posted at Mel's Mouthful on Mothering.

That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of christian carnival ii using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

Including an article among these listed does not necessarily indicate total agreement by Possible Worlds with any article, its authors, or its contents.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Will of God

Can one be out of the will of God? Can he get back in the will of God? How is this accomplished? Before we can tackle these questions we must define our terms appropriately.

What does it mean to be out of the will of God? Someone could say that being out of the will of God means to do something contrary to what God wants. In that case, I think the answer to whether or not someone can be out of the will of God is unequivocally “yes.” Philosophically, we have the ability to act freely and choose what we wish (all things being equal). Theologically, God is the maximally perfect being who is the locus of all moral goodness, and thus cannot want us to do sin (even though we do). Biblically, God desires that all people are saved (1 Tim 2:4), and yet very clearly some are not. So it seems it is the case we can be out of the will of God, and back in, with every action that aligns with what God wants.

Now the preceding may be quite uninteresting. I suspect that most people really mean something like this: the will of God is his plan for one’s life as it relates to the plan for all of creation and eschatological concerns, etc. In that case, if one can be out of God’s will, then he can thwart God’s plan (and its said entailments). But these entailments and plans will occur. Therefore, one cannot be out of God’s will.

I think that reasoning is basically correct. However, I do quibble with the usage and terminology. The terminology “will” implies that this is what God’s desire is; it illicitly assumes that whatever God has planned entails his will over each event. But this is not necessarily so. Consider a couple’s plan to have a child. They know the child will disobey them, and not infrequently. Yet no one says, upon hearing the couple’s ultimate intentions, “So, you want your child to disobey?” This is enough to show that to will ultimate intentions that will be coupled with actions or events resulting from those intentions does not suggest that one has willed those actions or events, even if one has effectively ordained them.

So, can one be out of the will of God? Absolutely. Can she ever find herself in a situation or event for which God did not plan? Absolutely not.
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, May 16, 2012

Question: What about Moral Intuitions?

Question: I'm having some issues when discussing objective morality. My conviction, of course, is that there are moral facts. There are things that are really good and things that are really evil. We have an obligation to do the good and to avoid evil.

Unfortunately, it seems that I have to appeal to intuitions when trying to support this view. Like I've said to you before, many people I talk to just don't consider that evidence. Yes, we all have strong intuitions about good and bad, but that doesn't mean there's some extrasomatic fact of the matter. I'm wondering what would be considered evidence for objective moral values and duties if this doesn't work.
I can sympathize with some of your frustration, having even only recently dealt with the doubt of moral intuitions. No, I did not doubt that objective moral values existed, nor did I doubt that I was justified in knowing so through my intuitions. But up until recently, I didn’t really have anything to say when people complained that it was “only” intuition.
The problem, at least I think, is that people are misconstruing what is meant by “intuition.” They’re using a colloquial version of “intuition” whereby one is appealing to his “gut feeling,” or how strongly he believes something is true, or something mystical guiding him into truth with a feeling of peace, or some other sixth sense type of “knowledge.” For a relevant analogy as to why this is not a correct way to look at terms, see the use of “theory” in academic vs. colloquial language.

When we speak of intuition, we don’t mean that at all! We mean “rational intuition,” or the way that I know “if p, then q; p; therefore, q” is true. Notice no appeal to logic can work here, for we would be presupposing logic in order to show that logic is true. But no serious epistemologist takes this to be an intractable problem; no one thinks we are being irrational for insisting logical inference is true (and knowable). The same thing holds for sensory perception. William Alston has shown (quite convincingly) that any problems with knowing an immediate religious perception of God as veridical attend sensory perception as well, and all attempts at justifying sensory perception external to itself fail.[1]

The same holds for intuitions. Since intuitions are not only justifiable but necessary to the epistemological enterprise, it simply is nonsensical to rule out moral intuitions simply because they are intuitions. Something stronger must be there; the objector must either have an overriding defeater (something in virtue of which the intuition cannot be true) or an undercutter (something in virtue of which the intuition is probably not true or is stripped of its warrant). Essentially, the only defeater I can think of is that God does not exist (provided the objector accepts that God is the only or most likely only source of objective moral values). Whatever undercutter there is needs to be held stronger than the intuition. I think it’s safe to say that the vast majority of non-psychopathic people intuit objective moral values very very strongly indeed.

It is at this point someone may object that this intuition is really just an appeal to emotion, fancied up for argument’s sake. It is to that I respond twofold: first, simply because something entails an emotion, even a very strong one, does not make it false, or unreliable (or even more likely to be unreliable). In fact, it makes more sense, all things considered, that we have strong emotional reactions to fundamental issues of morality, if they exist. Second, how do they know my intuition is really just emotion? Simply because they think their intuition in this case is purely emotional, why should it follow that my faculties have similarly failed me?

Finally, in case someone still has doubts about the reliability of intuitions, imagine some skeptic claiming, “yes, but how do I know I am here, and not just a brain in a vat? Simply because I see everything around me doesn’t mean I and those things are actually here,” or “We all believe we can see. But really, we just think we do. It doesn’t mean there’s actually some fact of the matter about sight,” or “Of course it appears as though logic is truth-discerning inference, but that’s simply circular, and there’s no way to know that there is a fact of the matter about logic and its truth.” How silly!

While all, in a very strict sense, are true, it wouldn’t follow that we are being irrational for accepting the truth claims in question. In fact, it would follow that the super-skeptic was being irrational for rejecting the claims in every instance. Something very important follows from this. It follows that not only can one be justified in appealing to intuitions in order to know something, but that one can be unjustified in ignoring those intuitions in knowing something.

Notice what we have not done, as many (most?) objectors think. We have not appealed to intuitions in order to show objective morality is true. Instead, we have appealed to the fact that nearly everyone strongly intuits objective moral values to know they are true. Thus, in the absence of an overriding defeater or a strong enough undercutter (which moral skepticism is not) the objector is not only justified in believing in objective moral values, but unjustified in withholding such belief.

To the last part of your question: I don’t really know what other evidence would show them there are such moral values without being non-useful. For instance, if you were to show that an ontological argument along the lines of Anselm’s or Plantinga’s succeeds, then you could argue it is metaphysically greater to be the source of objective moral values (assuming they are at least possible) than not, and hence they exist. But I suspect people who are interested in rejecting objective moral values do not do so because they are eager to embrace Anselm or Plantinga in this regard.

                [1] William Alston, Perceiving God (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991).

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, May 8, 2012

Question: God and Necessity

Here is a question I recently received concerning God as a necessary being and what that may suggest.

“Hi there Randy.
I hope you're doing well.

I had a discussion with an atheist during which time I said that God is by definition a necessary being and thus cannot not exist. He then said that existence is not and cannot be part of the definition of anything. And since necessity implies that God *must* exist, saying God is necessary is simply defining God as an existing being, which, he says is just slight of hand. He also mentioned that existence is not a predicate.
So, I was wondering if you know how to respond to this. If you've written about this on your blog I'd love to read it.

Thanks and all the best,”


Glad to see you're taking on the difficult questions of philosophy of religion! I would be very interested to know the context of this discussion, but I think I can help nonetheless.

The atheist is right in the sense that, traditionally, people have sided with Kant in stating existence is not a predicate. Douglas Groothuis has an excellent discussion of why he thinks Kant's arguments against existence being a predicate fail in his Christian Apologetics work that came out last year. Moreover, I suspect that half (or more) of people who state "existence is not a predicate" are merely parroting, and couldn't make this argument on the spot if they had to. But never mind. Let us suppose that he's right, and that existence is indeed not a predicate. Well who says your argument relies on that?

What is interesting is how we come to state God is a necessary being. First, God is necessary as the metaphysically ultimate explanation (MUE) of the "world" (that is, all of reality). As such, if God is the MUE then he exists necessarily. Next, there is God as the maximally great being (MGB), or of the various ontological arguments (such as Anselm's). John S. Feinberg wrote of these types of arguments the following:

John Hick believes . . . that it [Anselm's argument] tells us what kind of existence God must have if he exists . . . . That is, what Anselm actually proved is that a contingent being could not be God. Any being worthy of the title "God" must be a necessary being, for necessary existence is surely greater than contingent existence. But none of this establishes that in fact there is such a being . . . .Only a being with necessary existence would qualify as God, the greatest conceivable being.[1]

In the modal ontological argument, the MGB is construed as necessary as an entailment of the argument. After all, the MGB has all great-making properties (properties it would be metaphysically better for a being to have than to lack) taken in a maximal way (where it applies: not only is MGB good, but he is perfect; not only is MGB knowing, he is all-knowing, etc.). Necessary existence is just in fact this type of great-making property (notice this avoids the trap of existence being a predicate). This is because if we were to take two beings, MGB and MGB2, and they were identical in every respect except MGB existed necessarily (that is, in all possible worlds) and MGB2 existed in most worlds, but not all (contingent), which is metaphysically greater? It seems MGB is, because he is displaying the maximal great-making properties in more worlds (namely, all of the worlds MGB2 exists in plus all of the worlds in which MGB2 doesn't exist) than MGB2. MGB is just what we intend to mean when we speak of God.

Finally, let's consider a silly and pedestrian example to show that if God exists, it must be necessarily. Suppose I say to you, "There is a blue ball that exists in every possible world." This means every metaphysically possible world contains this ball; it does not contain just any blue ball, but the same blue ball which we are thinking of. Well then suppose we discover a possible world that does not contain this blue ball. "No problem," you say. "We just amend that ball's existence to match the facts." Not so fast. For what we have construed is a necessarily-existent ball, but it remains in whatever worlds we do in fact find this ball, it is not necessarily existent, so that we do not find this blue ball at all, but rather some other blue ball (remember MGB and MGB2). It also follows there just is no possible world where it is true that the necessarily-existent blue ball exists; which is to say it is necessarily false that such a blue ball exists; which is to say it is impossible such a blue ball exists! See the correlation? If God is construed as necessary (and there are good reasons to think so [cf. MUE and MGB]), then his existence is either necessary or impossible!

Think of the burden placed on the objector. No longer can he remain in agnosticism; he must either formulate an argument to show God's existence is impossible or else concede God does, in fact, exist. Of course, your atheist friend may at any point bite the bullet (in any case many do) and admit he cannot prove God's existence to be impossible. Yet he may then claim that neither have you shown God's existence to be possible. Well that seems to be not too difficult or very difficult, depending on the goal. If your goal is to make anyone who wishes to remain agnostic about the metaphysical possibility of God's existence to be hopelessly mired in irrationality—that will be somewhat difficult. If you wish to show that people who would accept the argument (skeptics included) are being quite rational and are justified in doing so—that will be relatively easy.

Metaphysical possibility involves showing logical coherence (that is, a lack of self-contradiction). But this isn't quite good enough for metaphysical possibility all by itself, for there is no logical conflict in stating "Randy is the number 45." There are, however, no possible worlds in which "Randy is the number 45" is true, so that it is actually necessarily false that "Randy is the number 45" is true. This brings us to the next criterion: there must be no necessary truths which entail the proposition's falsehood. The objector might claim we must do an inductive search and know all necessary truths, but that doesn't seem to be the case (we can adjudicate matters of metaphysics without knowing this). All that follows is that in the presence of a necessary truth that entails our premise's falsehood, we recognize it would constitute a defeater of said premise if the necessary truth is in fact true. Nor is it the case we must know all of the properties of the MGB before we pronounce a decision. We can appeal to rational, modal, intuitions (again, in the absence of defeaters) to support the claim it seems there really could be a being who is omnipotent, omnibenevolent, omniscient, and so on. I hope that helped!

God Bless,


[1] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), 192.
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.