Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Doctrinal Disputes

1 Corinthians 2:10, and the surrounding verses, give believers reason to claim that the natural (or unsaved) person will not understand the deep things of God. As such, we should not be surprised that Christians and non-Christians disagree about these things. But what about Christians disagreeing with other Christians? Does this biblical passage actually teach that those who do not understand the deep things of God are not being spiritual? If that is the case, one could argue that anyone who disagrees with me about “deep” doctrine is in fact being unspiritual (so long as I truly believe that my doctrine is correct). Surely that is not right.
First, contextually, verse 16 states that “we [Christians] have the mind of Christ.” Since believers possess that mind and yet still disagree, it cannot be the case that mere disagreement over these issues indicates a worldly attitude. Instead, the passage seems to be teaching within the context of salvation (and the power of God). In these cases, Christians must be united. The very Gospel is at stake, and one who does not believe the Gospel is not saved. So, within the context of the Gospel, if someone disagrees, then yes—they do not have the Spirit of God within them. However, outside of this context, the Lord allows us free will (in my opinion, this free will with respect to at least some of our doxastic functions indicates a correlation between rationality and free will. However, even if it turns out none of our non-Gospel doxastic functions are voluntary the case above is still intact. After all, how can one be punished or decried for something he could not very well help, change, or influence causally?)
The point is that Christians should be very charitable toward one another in areas of non-Gospel doctrine. This does not mean that everyone is correct, or we cannot have doctrinal disputes and debate. We can, and should, have those discussions—within reason (here’s looking at Calvinism-Arminianism-Molinism-Augustinianism-Whateverism). But in all things, let there be charity (1 Cor. 16:14).

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Edification Apologetics

Within the discipline of Christian apologetics, there are several sub-disciplines, philosophy being among them. Apologetics can be done in an “offensive” way (where arguments are presented for Christianity’s truth) and in a “defensive” way (where a defense of Christianity is made against anti-Christian arguments and objections). However, another method I am interested in serves as an apologetic to believers (rather than simply unbelievers). The point in these cases is not to convert as much as it is to strengthen. This could be called “edification apologetics.” 

In general, this could involve either positive arguments for God or defenses of the coherence of Christianity or whatever it might be. There is a definite distinction in the way edification apologetics is utilized compared to the traditional method. In discourse with atheists or other non-believers, I will find that the objector claims (or acts in such a way as to claim) he will not believe unless rationally compelled to do so. This is quite the tall order for almost any argument. Instead, the goal of edification apologetics is not to believe only what one is rationally compelled to believe, but rather to embrace what one is justified in embracing.

Justification for believing some proposition or truth is not an easy thing. Volumes have been written about epistemology and I will not go too far with this here. However, it certainly is not the case that justification necessarily involves certainty, or necessitates one is rationally compelled to believe the truth that he does believe. In fact, it’s entirely plausible that one is justified in believing some proposition that turns out to be false.[1]

I have found that if someone insists he will not believe unless compelled to do so, then he simply will not have the kind of belief needed to justify faith. Certainly, faith is not blind and has its reasons, but it’s difficult to see a scenario in which one is rationally compelled to believe the Gospel and faith is involved. Instead, I find it far more productive to show believers they are rationally justified in the faith. What good does this do?

First, a strengthened believer can go on with his Christian life. Many believers, when stuck in a season of doubt, are frozen in their spiritual walk. Perhaps it is the case they keep on performing their activities and duties, but on the inside they are non-functional. Second, a strengthened believer will be dissuaded from a season of apostasy. I talk to believers all the time who are desperate for answers to questions that torment them, only to hear their questions have been dismissed or just to “have faith.” If these believers do not get answers, 90% of the time they will eventually fall away (arbitrary number used for effect). Third, a strengthened believer will be a better part of the body of Christ (Eph. 4). The Christian who understands more about God and logic is better prepared to serve the body of believers than he was when he was in doubt. Finally, a strengthened believer will be better equipped to do evangelistic apologetics to the non-believers (and unbelievers) of the world.

An example of edification apologetics, or showing the believer he is justified in his belief, could be the moral argument. "If objective moral values do exist, then the best explanation of their existence is God. Objective moral values do exist. Therefore, their best explanation is God." One may claim he is not rationally compelled to accept either of the two premises, but one is certainly justified in doing so (who would think, for example, that claiming moral values exist is utterly bereft of justification? Skepticism I can understand; outright denial of the obvious seems less so).

I have no doubt that edification apologetics is necessary for Christians to be able to be successful in evangelistic apologetics. We must prepare believers to give an answer for the hope that lies in them, and the hope of the world, Jesus Christ.

[1] Of course, when the subject realizes the proposition is false (or comes to know the evidence or facts that should rationally lead someone to the knowledge of its falsehood), he is no longer justified in believing it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

11 Objections to the Kalam

I received 11 objections, indirectly, from someone who does not find the KCA convincing. I thought I would tackle them one by one!

1. "Something cannot come from nothing" is disproved by quantum mechanics.

Answer: This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the claim. The claim of the first premise is "whatever begins to exist had a cause." It's often demonstrated by listing the causal principle "something cannot come from nothing," or ex nihilo, nihilo fit. Quantum mechanics does not in fact posit something coming from nothing, but rather things coming from the quantum vacuum--which is not "nothing."

2. Truth cannot be discovered wholly from reason.

Answer: It's true that one needs some level of empiricism in order to judge many things. However, one absolutely needs reason to judge all things. I just don't see how this is an objection against arguments, for it must use reasoning (of some metaphysically-ultimate sort, even if it's a brute fact) in order to tell us reason doesn't tell us the whole story. Well, how will we know if the reasoning behind this claim is telling us the whole story? The answer: because this is the kind of claim that can be reasoned out. The KCA is just such an argument, by its very nature.

3. Some truths are counterintuitive, and therefore intuition cannot be a guide to truth.

Answer: This is a classic non-sequitur, on par with "some people have incorrect thoughts, therefore thoughts cannot be a reliable guide for truth." The point is this: why should I doubt my intuition because someone else got theirs wrong? Indeed, why should I doubt my own intuitions even if I have been wrong in the past? I mean, if I am insane or intuiting on things I have frequently been incorrect on, or if there are necessary or empirical truths that overcome my intuition, or even if I have a competing intuition that I hold stronger than the original, then fine: I should abandon it. But otherwise, rational intuition is at the very core of reasoning. It is said that by rational intuition, we mean the way we know "if X, then Y; X; Therefore, Y" is true. Therefore, it may be argued that not only is jettisoning intuition wholesale unjustified, but actually irrational (by definition). "But wait!" I can hear one protest. "Just because you intuit this doesn't mean I do." Fair enough. But since I do, I am free to accept the ramifications, unless one of the conditions for jettisoning an intuition apply. In fact, we ought to accept our intuitions in the absence of these undercutters or defeaters, unless there is some reason to suspect our cognitive function is impaired.

4. Since science is not itself a metaphysical enterprise, the arguer cannot apply science to a metaphysical argument.

Answer: That science is not a metaphysical enterprise is, I think, absolutely correct. However, it does not therefore follow that science cannot be employed in a metaphysical claim. This is somewhat akin to claiming philosophy and science don't mix, which is surely impossible (how can anyone come to a scientific claim or know anything without applying reasoning to what has been observed?). The KCA does not have science itself do the metaphysical work; rather, it simply uses the best and most current science to show that the universe most likely had a finite beginning and does not avoid it. It's then the philosophy that takes over given this.

5. The first cause is logically incoherent because it existed "before" time.

Answer: First, it should be noted that this is not an objection to either premise, and thus one could claim this and still believe the universe had a cause. Second, the foremost proponent of the KCA, William Lane Craig, points out that the First Cause need not be in existence before time, as there is a first moment--the incoherence runs both ways. So what we have is a timeless, unchanging (because it is timeless) First Cause whose first act is bringing the world into existence. If the objector wants to insist this is impossible because the First Cause existed before time, he must remember that positing a moment before time began is incoherent, so his objection cannot get off the ground. The first moment is itself identical with the first act of bringing the universe into existence.

6. If some metaphysical truth is not well-established, one is unjustified in saying it is true.

Answer: It's difficult to know what is meant by "well-established," but it seems to mean something like "gained wide acceptance among philosophers." But that's a fairly poor way of evaluating an argument: a poll! Sure, philosophers are more likely than your average peson to be able to evaluate the argument properly, but let's not pretend this is the only way to discover truth. Moreover, this is an impossible epistemology. If no one is justified in believing some metaphysical claim to be true unless a majority of philosophers accept it, then either no such majority will exist (because the vast majority will stick with this claim) or if such a majority exists it will be a "tipsy coachman" kind of group (where they are right for the wrong reasons). Surely this is a poor epistemology.

7. There could be other deities besides the Christian God.

Answer: Again, it must be noted that this is not an objection to either premise and hence not the conclusion. It is an objection to the application of the conclusion. However, it must be noted that the KCA is an argument fornatural theology, not revealed theology (cf. Charles Taliaferro, The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, ch. 1). It is not the domain of natural theology to discuss, explicitly, the Christian God. Of course, we Christians happen to believe this being is identical to the Christian God ontologically. However, let's take a look at some of the properties: timeless, spaceless, changeless (logically prior to the Big Bang), immensely powerful, and the creator of the universe. Hmm, sounds far more like the God of Christian theology and the Bible than any of the other alternatives, doesn't it?

8. There are non-theistic explanations that remain live possibilities.

Answer: This objection attempts to state that although the universe had a beginning, some non-theistic explanation is just as possible (or even probable) as God. The multiverse, aliens, whatever. However, most of these examples (such as a multiverse) can really best be described as objections to the second premise, not the application of the conclusion. The multiverse, for instance, really doesn't solve the problem, but merely places it back one step. One may reply the multiverse could be identical with Lewis' plurality of worlds, so that every logically-possible world actually exists, and it was impossible that any such possible world fail to exist. However, this is extremely ad hoc, and there is literally no reason to believe that if there is a multiverse, it is as complete as Lewis claimed (in fact, there's decent reason to believe such a state of affairs is impossible, if identity across worlds holds).

9. Popular-level science teaches the universe had a beginning, but someone says the real science shows it doesn't.

Answer: This is a bit of an odd claim. We aren't given any argument as to why it's really the case that a potentially-successful model for the beginning of the universe shows no finite beginning. We're simply to take someone's word for it, when we actually have physicists and scientists admitting these theories don't work.

10. The KCA relies entirely on current science, and science can change.

Answer: It's very true that science is changing, and any claim should be held tentatively (even gravity--seems dubius though, right?). However, two points remain. First, simply because some claim remains open to change does not mean that claim cannot be accepted as true. It seems bizarre to say that because some claim is in the purview of science, one should not claim it as true. Of course we can claim it is true! Second, the KCA does not rely entirely on science. In fact, the second premise ("the universe began to exist") can be defended solely on rational argumentation. One may think these arguments fail, but to claim the KCA rests almost wholly on the science demonstrates a lack of familiarity with the basic defenses of the KCA's premises.

11. There is some problem of infinite regress of a first cause.

Answer: Presumably, this is the "Who created God?" problem (I can't for the life of me think of any other problem). I don't see why this is a problem, given the formulation of the argument. "Whatever begins to exist had a cause." God did not begin to exist. "Ad hoc!" one might cry. But they would be mistaken. There is a very good reason for stating this. The application of the conclusion demands that the First Cause precede, logically, all else. The First Cause's act of bringing the universe into existence is the first moment. Hence, if the First Cause was not really the first cause after all, then the first moment of time would already have existed. But it did not exist. Hence, the First Cause was the first.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Molinist Solution to the Problem of Evil

The Molinist solution to the problem of evil is an elegant one. It was first proposed in contemporary philosophy of religion by Alvin Plantinga. The idea is, in the words of a great gentleman and scholar, that “God knows something you don’t.”(1) Some have tried to seize upon this proclamation by stating that it actually makes the problem worse, not better. For on Molinism, the objector claims, God would know precisely what factors would be necessary for evil not be in the world, or for everyone to freely be saved, etc. Not only this, but God would know how to accomplish such a feat as well (via his middle knowledge). So, rather than solving the problem of evil, middle knowledge actually exacerbates it.

Naturally, the Molinist will suggest that it is perhaps the case that there is no possible world feasible for God in which everyone freely believes and is saved. The response from the objector would be that saying there is no such possible world is tantamount to saying that the set of circumstances is impossible, which clearly has not yet been shown. In fact, he would continue, it seems our modal intuitions at least suggest such a world is possible, and it does seem to be logically consistent. So, has the Molinist solution to the problem of evil failed after all? I don’t think so.

First, there is dialectical confusion. The logical problem of evil is a statement of logical inconsistency. Namely, that there is some inconsistency between (A) The existence of a loving God and (B) the existence of evil (or the lack of universal salvation). The syllogism might look like this:

  1. If a loving God exists, then evil would not exist.
  2. Evil does exist.
  3. Therefore, a loving God does not exist.

The entire argument is an asserting of (1-2). In response, (1) is undercut by the Molinist response (MR). This is hugely important. MR does not presume to act as a defeater for the argument. Rather, MR merely gives us reason to doubt the veracity of or warrant for (1). Merely stating that one hasn’t proven MR shouldn’t give us any reason to think that (1) is successful or that MR has failed.

Second, there is category confusion. Much of the counterargument to MR is based on the epistemological conflating with the ontological. For all we know, such a world is possible. But that doesn’t mean such a world really is possible after all. But wait!, the objector states. We really can derive modal ontology from modal intuitions. Fair enough. However, modal intuitions are always subject to the way things actually are. For instance, if something seems to our modal intuitions, but our best evidence and arguments demonstrate it really isn’t, we ought to adjust our beliefs to align with this instead of our modal intuitions. I don’t hold my modal intuition that such a world is possible stronger than I hold that God is good. Hence, if one is to go, the intuition does. This leads us to our final point.

Finally, this leads, at best, to a dialectical standoff. But any such standoff favors the defense. The counterargument to MR would look like this: 

  1. If middle knowledge is true, then God would know how to prevent evil and know which world to actualize to achieve this.
  2. Such a world exists.
  3. Middle knowledge is true.
  4. Therefore, God knows how to actualize (2) worlds.
  5. Therefore, God would actualize (2) worlds (from original [1]).
  6. Therefore, evil does not exist (reductio against original [3]).

So, clearly, (1-9) is inconsistent. I think (1) is true, but (2) is surely debatable. How can we know this world exists? Modal intuitions tell us it is possible, but the Christian will surely believe that God is good and (2) worlds don’t exist over believing (2) worlds exist but God is not good. But then, the entire argument, in convincing the believer, rests solely on the idea that God is not good. Since this is exactly what the problem of evil seeks to prove, Christians don’t have any non-question-begging reason to accept it. 

Perhaps the objector will say that his accusations have not been proven false. However, the Christian may rest assured in that there is no real value to this argument. The only people who should accept it are people who already think a loving and good God does not exist.

(1) Conversation with Tim McGrew