Saturday, July 28, 2012

Myths from the Gay Marriage Debate

The gay marriage debate is in full swing once again. There are several myths and misconceptions surrounding this debate, and a few of them will be tackled here. As always, it's important to hold this discussion in respect and love. Chick-Fil-A has been attacked from all sides concerning its support of traditional marriage. I stand with Chick-Fil-A in complete and total support, and several of the myths below have been applied against Chick-Fil-A, and wholly without merit. I call for intellectually honest dialogue on this subject between Christians and homosexuals.

Myth #1: If one is against gay marriage, then he hates/fears homosexuals/homosexuality (i.e., is a homophobe).

The fact is I have never seen an argument even attempted that shows this is true of most (much less all) traditional marriage advocates. This really only serves as a piece of rhetoric designed to avoid debate or discussion of the issue. The idea is that if someone is simply asserting a position because he hates people to whom it applies, we should find such morally reprehensible.[1]

The only argument I can think of is to say that if someone makes a moral judgment concerning some act or behavior that she must hate or fear that person. But in that case, most gay marriage advocates will readily claim such a position is morally bad, which is itself a moral judgment. Would it then follow that these people hate or fear the homophobes? This can be avoided if one asserts there are no moral values. But even if this is avoided, one is still faced with the challenge: why should we think the above claim is true? I see no reason to think it is. Until this challenge is met sufficiently, no one should perpetuate (1).

Myth #2: Advocates of traditional marriage wish to outlaw or limit the rights of homosexual behavior.

Occasionally, I will read an impassioned comment, status, or article defending the rights of homosexuals to live their lives how they see fit. How dare Christians, say these, try to take away the civil rights of other Americans who are minding their own business? Something should be made abundantly clear: the debate is emphatically not about homosexual behavior (or their rights to live the lives they choose). Virtually no one is saying homosexuality should be outlawed. In any case, the strong majority simply wishes to retain the definition of the institution of marriage as between one man and one woman.

Myth #3: To reject homosexual behavior is to reject homosexual persons.

You can't separate "being gay" from who I am. I have often heard this statement made. The fact is that who a person is does not simply come from what they do. That is to say, a homosexual person is more than just homosexual behavior. My wife can love me greatly even if I do some action that she finds to be wrong, annoying, or otherwise offensive. Similarly, one can have great love and respect for a person while morally disagreeing with his behavior.

Myth #4: Advocates of traditional marriage do not want equality for homosexuals.

This myth has the basic argument that everyone should be equal. This line of argumentation is notoriously ambiguous. After all, does this mean that everyone should be treated exactly the same in all situations? Should it mean that everyone has equal opportunity? If the former, why think so? Should we require everyone to pay business income taxes, even if they do not own a business? If not, then not every person in every situation should receive the same treatment. If the latter, then one can easily point out everyone does have equal opportunity for marriage: no one is stopping homosexuals from marrying in the traditional sense—one man, one woman. Most traditional marriage advocates have no problem with civil unions (for things such as tax benefits), and I personally do not have a problem with people going through their own ceremonies and calling it whatever they want; just don't expect it to be recognized by society as a legitimate marriage.

The issue really boils down to two things: first, is marriage fundamentally between a man and a woman? If so, then any other arrangement, whatever it might be, is simply not marriage. Second, if marriage is fundamentally between a man and a woman, whatever the role of government, it should not actively promote the contrary.

                [1] It's worth noting that, in and of itself, this is not a good reason to reject the truth of some position. Simply because someone is acting immorally it would not follow necessarily that the position being asserted is itself incorrect.

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, July 20, 2012

CARM on Molinism

CARM is a Christian apologetics ministry dedicated to defending the faith against other religions, Christian cults, and skeptical/atheist attacks. Yet, like any good Christian, they also learn and teach a bit of theology over there. Unfortunately, however, they have misunderstood (and quite grossly) the claims of Molinism and middle knowledge in an article. More than one attempt by more than one person has been made to correct some basic factual errors; this is the reason I choose to publish something on this topic now.

They start out well enough by describing the founder of Molinism and that it rests on the idea of libertarian free will (their description of LFW is not entirely accurate, or at the very least quite vague, but we can let this go for now). Next, CARM moves to discuss the three logical moments (the two traditional moments, "natural" and "free," with Molina's scientia media sandwiched between them). His descriptions are accurate, though one may ask precisely what is meant by describing free knowledge as necessary.[1]

A problem arises when the article states the following: "Basically, we can see Molinism as the teaching that God knows what the potential free will choices of people will be and chooses who will be saved based on that knowledge.  In other words, God sovereignly predestines and saves those whom He knows will choose Him."

It is important to note it is not the case that Molinism teaches God elects based on what the potential choices will be; this is in fact free knowledge. What makes it middle knowledge is what these choices would be were certain circumstances to obtain (the counterfactual knowledge of creaturely freedom [or CCF]). CARM may have meant this correct usage, but its interchange of terminology is confusing at least and misleading at worst.

The real problem begins, however, with this quote: "First, it means that God looks into the future to see what people will do and saves them based on their choices."

This is neither what Molinists claim nor is it an entailment of anything they do claim. In fact, were God to look into the future and then base his plan on that, those CCFs that were true would be either actual or counterfactual regardless of God's choices, which surely is not what is being claimed by Molina or any contemporary defender of Molinism. In point of fact, Molinists are quick to point out these discussions of God's omniscience represent logical relationships, not actual chronology.[2] Instead, God would know those CCFs the same way God knows anything (and most, if not all, Molinists would agree that God doesn't know truths perceptually as much as intuitively or instrinsically as part of supercomprehension or some such sort).

The next problem is that the article asserts that Molinism requires that God saves someone based on a quality ("the ability to make a right choice") that the person possesses. But this is erroneous for two major reasons. First, Molinism proper is not a discussion about soteriology or even providence. It's about omniscience. As such, foisting upon Molinists this claim could result in the Molinist merely stating, "well I don't believe that, so what's the problem again?" The second error is found in the fact that, according to Molinism, everyone possesses free will sufficient to choose salvation (though there was some fierce debate over how much and in what way God was involved, most Molinists today believe God's Spirit acts in some way, convicting the person; all of this is incidental to whether or not CCFs are true in a libertarian sense). So it won't do to say that God saves based on some quality. It's completely consistent within Molinism to say there are billions of worlds open to God in which vastly different people (or maybe all people of a completely different set) are saved; it makes no claim as to what kind of world God must create.[3]

Contrary to the article's claim that middle knowledge entails God's showing partiality, it is instead a logical restriction God has essentially placed on himself. Consider it true that in world P Jim would freely choose to be saved, and in world Q Jim would freely choose not to be saved. Now suppose God actualizes world Q. In this case, it is not possible to have the entire composite state of affairs of "the actual world is Q and Jim is freely saved." Not because Jim lacks the ability to choose, but because of the truth that Jim would not choose freely! Rather than partiality to those who would, it's just a logical fact (a reflection of God's nature).

The article then questions what it could be about libertarian free will that enables a man to choose God or not. This question truly baffled me, as it's quite like asking "what is it about circles that makes them round?" It's definitional! To ask for a reason Jones chooses X over not-X is perfectly valid; not-X entailed things Jones does not find pleasing, and so on. But to ask what made Jones choose as he did is just to assume he does not possess the kind of free will one is talking about in the first place!

The next quote is the most egregious, in my opinion: "Second, Middle Knowledge means that God learns what the actual choices of people will be only when they occur.  God would then be ignorant about man's future choices."

First, one should notice this blatantly contradicts another point CARM made earlier—that God looks into the future and knows their choices with respect to salvation. One cannot have it both ways here. Next, CARM offers absolutely zero citations for this claim, nor do they attempt to show it is an entailment of middle knowledge or Molinism. In fact, this wording is so similar to another (also uncited) source, that it makes me believe that CARM's source for this claim is this man's also-unsubstantiated claim (click here for a dissecting of that argument at Possible Worlds).[4] I challenge anyone to produce a paraphrase or quote that shows Molinists have ever believed this. Of course, if they believe this is a logical entailment, it would be much better-received had there been an attempt to show such. On the contrary, Molinists believe that, logically prior to God's decision to create, he knew precisely which CCFs were true, and then chose a possible world for whatever reason he so desired; the point is that God knew which CCFs were true without any of them occurring.

These are my main gripes with CARM's article on Molinism. Notice my gripes are not with the fact that they disagree with Molinism, nor with the fact they disagree with LFW, nor with the fact they believe CCFs are true in God's free knowledge. All I ask for is a fair critique.

                [1] In complete fairness, it certainly appears as though CARM is using necessarily independently of the content of free knowledge, in which case I wholeheartedly agree. But in English it is notoriously difficult to discuss modalities appropriately.

                [2] William Lane Craig, Four Views on Divine Providence, eds. Stanley N. Gundry and Dennis W. Jowers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 80. In fact, Craig's quote is quite clear: "For whether God is timeless or everlasting throughout time, in neither case are there truths that are unknown to God until some moment . . . the 'when' mentioned above refers to the point in the logical order concerning God's creative decree at which God has hypothetical knowledge." (emphasis in original)

                [3] Though given that God gives man LFW, some logical limitations arise, it would not follow that this world is the only one in which people are saved. Perhaps there are multiple other "mirror worlds" that have the same number and balance of salvations, but mostly different people, or some other distinction (be it minor or major).

                [4] Compare CARM's quote above with McMahon's: "God, then, cannot know anything in this manner as true and absolute unless it has first occurred."

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

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Ought Implies Can Principle

A friend and I were talking about the recent blog post and the "ought implies can" principle. We agreed that we should make the principle explicit in a somewhat philosophical form, so here goes:

S is morally obligated to do X at t if and only if S is commanded to do X at t and it is within S's causal power to do X at t in the actual world.

This formulation prevents against the idea that whatever one can do, one ought to do (hence the "command" clause). It also helps avoid problems that arise when it is possible for S to perform X at t in one sense, but not in another. For instance, if S is commanded to fly (without any aids) it is logically (and even metaphysically) possible for S to fly; yet, if S is a human, S cannot perform this act. In fact, it is physically impossible for S to fly, so that it is not within S's causal power to fly at time t. So, if someone could possibly perform some morally-commanded action in the actual world, then they have an obligation to do such. If, however (per impossible, as I happen to think), S is morally-commanded to do some action at a time that lies outside of her causal power in the actual world at that time, then S would not be morally obligated to do such a thing at that time.

H/T to Pranav Bethala. Although, I wouldn't tip my hat even if I had one, so perhaps we can change it to "hat throw"?
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.

Another Argument from Justice

1. All wrongs ought to be made right (principle of justice).

2. If something ought to be done, then it can be done.

3. Therefore, all wrongs can be made right (from 1-2).

4. If God does not exist, then not all wrongs can be made right.

5. Therefore, God exists (from 3-4).

This is a valid argument, as (3) serves not only as the conclusion to the first syllogism, but the minor premise in the next one. All that remains is to know whether or not the premises are true. The first premise is just the principle of justice. Whatever one may think when she reads "all wrongs ought to be made right," all that it does mean is that individual acts of injustice or wrong must be brought to justice; this is a fairly straightforward moral and ethical theory.

(2) is the common moral principle "ought implies can." Some people would disagree with this. However, it is difficult to formulate a good objection to this principle, for the following reason. Consider a man who is morally obligated to do some individual act which it is impossible for him to do, or a woman who is morally obligated to refrain from some act from which she cannot refrain. How does it follow they are morally culpable? In fact, doesn't the placing of the obligation imply that they are able to fulfill that obligation? Wouldn't it be somewhat irrational to hold such a moral expectation of someone who cannot, in fact, fulfill that expectation?

(3) is simply a conclusion of (1-2) and so cannot be denied on its own. (4) may seem counterintuitive at first, but consider if a personal God were not behind morality, there are certain acts for which there cannot be justice, even in principle (such as the man who murders his family and immediately kills himself; even though there is a life for a life, there is nonetheless no justice).[1] However, in the suicide example, God may very well bring justice to the individual for his sins. In fact, within Christianity, God sent his son Jesus Christ into the world to die on the cross, paying the penalty for humanity's sins, and raising again the third day. Thus, justice is served potentially for every wrong that has ever been (or will ever be) committed. But then it follows that God exists, and Christianity may well be (and is, in fact) the greatest and most wonderfully correct option of those theistic religions of the world.

                [1] We are supposing that impersonal forces, such as karma and reincarnation (both of which would be needed for our example) are false, and that the major alternatives are theism/deism/morally perfect personal beings and atheism. While reincarnation promises justice and retribution, it not only seems unlikely on the face of it, but also may present its own problems (with justice being an abstract object, for example).

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, July 15, 2012

Argument for God from Justice

1. Justice is an objective moral value.

2. Whatever is an objective moral value is so in all possible worlds.

3. If some morally evil act X goes unpunished or is not rectified, then justice has not been served for X.

4. If there is no God, then there are possibly some X's that go unpunished (justice is not served).

5. If justice is not served for X, then there is a possible world in which justice is not served.

6. Whatever is necessarily-construed that fails to exist in at least one possible world exists in none of them.

7. But justice is possibly exemplified (i.e., there is some possible world in which justice exists).

8. Therefore, justice is served for X (from [5, 7]).

9. Therefore, God exists (from [4, 8]).

The first premise should be accepted except in the case one denies objective moral values. The second premise may sound controversial, but it makes complete sense (at least it does to me) when one considers that these objective moral values are so independently of (created) persons, and hence it seems they are true across all possible worlds. (3) is virtually definitional for "justice." With (4), by "God" we mean the locus of objective moral values. In any case, it should only be denied in the case that one thinks if there were no God, it would still be the case that it is impossible for any X's to go unpunished.

Now the astute reader will note that (5) seems to rely on the idea that there is a possible world such that all of the X's are unpunished, something that seems to be at odds with (1-2). So really we have a reductio. One may deny (5) by insisting that any such world, even ones with only one X that goes unpunished, is impossible. But on the absence of God (or a God-type being) this seems highly implausible. What accounts for X's being rectified or punished so as to render its lack of punishment logically impossible? It seems nothing. Moreover, in light of (4), there are probably many, if not virtually all, X's that can avoid justice. What would make it the case that X, being possibly unpunished, suddenly becomes not-possibly unpunished in some other world? I think we actually have reason to think (5) is true in the absence of these cases.

(6) is definitional to necessary truths and so cannot be denied. (7) should only be denied if one is convinced objective moral values are necessarily false. (8-9) are conclusions and hence cannot be denied on their own. What do you all think? Does this argument from justice succeed, or fail? Are there better versions (there probably are)? Let me know!
All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Purposes for Evil

Gratuitous evil means some evil act that serves no purpose; it contributes to no greater good or specific end of a morally-good God. Dialectically, what ends up happening is the atheist or skeptic will assert there is gratuitous evil, the Christian will assert some version of the Greater Good Defense (or even theodicy), and the skeptic will reply with some seemingly random, but still relevant, case of evil and/or suffering. Their challenge is typically something along the lines of "Show me how this is used in God's plan!" or "So you're telling me that this cat being tortured by this psychopath was necessary in order to achieve God's greater plan?"

I don't think these are burdens the Christian defender needs to bear. First, a Christian need not be forced to say they know how some act of evil works in God's plan, just that it's completely possible (and even plausible, given other positive arguments) that it does. Second, I think we're too hasty to admit the idea that each and every act of evil or suffering itself is necessary to achieve the greater good of God's plan. It seems to me that there is a way to justify the evil in the world even if each and every evil act was not itself necessary to the outcome; it needs only to be the case that the evil serves some purpose on its own and that there is not some world such that the same good outcome can be reached with less evil and suffering.

But Randy, one may say, doesn't this entail the world was necessary for that specific outcome? Not particularly. For we can imagine that there may be a world where some other cat died, or some other person was treated wrongly, or the same person was mistreated only at a different time, etc., with the same results or end goals achieved. Perhaps this is the case, perhaps not. But the point is this: each individual act of sin perpetrated in the world need not be shown to be necessary in order for the defense to succeed. It only needs to be shown that it is possible, for all we know, that each act of evil contributes to some morally-justifying end(s). Any arguments of incredulity will depend on intuitions that actually tell us we are not in a position to know how each act of evil impacts the overall scheme of the world. This actually helps the Christian's case, for then it cannot be asserted with any confidence that there is no purpose to evil in the world.
All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Koukl and Molinism

Greg Koukl is a very influential Christian apologist (and rightly so). His book Tactics comes highly recommended (it does not teach people how to debate, but instead teaches people how to communicate with others interested in a dialogue with Christianity). Koukl made a video concerning Molinism and middle knowledge. However, in his discussion on Molinism and middle knowledge I believe he evinces some misunderstandings. I wish to clear those up here.

Some of the mistakes are minor. For instance, Koukl has framed the debate in terms of Molinism's being Arminian. For some, that would constitute a poisoning of the well; it perhaps implies that if one were to be a Calvinist, he would reject Molinism. However, this is not true. Ken Keathley seems to come from a somewhat Calvinistic perspective in his soteriology despite clearly being Molinist in his thinking. Bruce Ware and others have similarly adapted the concept of middle knowledge (albeit incorrectly); in any case, these people are not Arminian (even if many of them are). This is because Molinism, strictly speaking, is not about Calvinism vs. Arminianism. It is about omniscience.[1]

Some of the mistakes are quite major. In his description of natural knowledge, Koukl rightly states that it involves possibilities of what might occur. In his description of middle knowledge, he states that it is what a free creature might do in any given set of circumstances. This isn't quite true, and it's extremely important. Rather than might-counterfactuals, middle knowledge discusses would-counterfactuals. That is to say, the content of middle knowledge is what any free creature would freely choose to do under any given and fully-specified set of circumstances.

He then moves to explain why he does not believe in Molinism and middle knowledge, offering a particular view of many Molinists about election to salvation (many Molinists believe God actualizes the possible world in which the largest number of people freely choose to believe; this is simplistic but roughly accurate [there are some distinctions that are crucial to that topic but unimportant here]). The problem is that such a view is not entailed by Molinism proper, so that a rejection of this view just is not a rejection of Molinism.

He also rejects Molinism because of God's decision to elect a world and not individuals. However, there are two major problems with this interpretation. First, it's an equivocation on "election." What Molinism actually states is an actualization of a world. Now it is a world that God chose to create, but it by no means must be understood as referring exclusively to a soteriological state. Second, nothing in Molinism necessitates that one believes God only elects entire worlds to the exclusion of individuals. Moreover, even if a Molinist says this, we can safely assume he is false because a possible world is a maximally-described set of circumstances, which entails individuals and their choices! This means that even an election of worlds entails an election of individuals. However, even supposing a Molinist took the route of believing in a corporate election (which many do), this is not a tenet of Molinism.[2]

Moreover, Koukl makes the claim that he holds "middle knowledge" under "natural knowledge." The problem is twofold: first, if this is the case, then the knowledge is not in the middle of anything. Second, if would-counterfactuals are true under necessary knowledge, then not only could God not control their content, but not even individuals can control their content. Since all natural knowledge is necessary knowledge, the counterfactual "If Peter were in C, he would not freely deny Christ" (where C is the set of biblical circumstances surrounding Christ's crucifixion) is not only false (as it is in fact), but also impossible! Such a claim strikes me as needing a serious argument.

Koukl is a fine representative of the Christian apologetics community, but he got it wrong on this one.

                [1] Please feel free to refer to the subject label for Molinism on this blog.

                [2] This is analogous to not believing in God because some people who believe in God believe in speaking in tongues and someone else does not. That would not be a very good reason to reject 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.