Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Some Thoughts on Baptism

Baptism is an interesting subject. Much could be written about it, but I only intend to discuss a few points from Matthew 28:19, which states, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” First, the command was given by Jesus to his disciples. It’s generally agreed that this command is not confined simply to the eleven who happened to be there, but rather to any follower (disciple) of Christ. Therefore, what follows can plausibly be applied to every believer.

Second, baptism is most plausibly believer’s baptism. There is certainly debate about the issue, but the passage clearly teaches the message of the Gospel, and then baptism from those who would learn. The debate need not be explored here, since the point of the article is what follows from these things.

Third, if the command was given to every believer, then, at least on the surface, every believer may baptize other believers (who have not yet been baptized). This would mean ordinary laymen could perform baptisms, or even women. I mention this because throughout my church tradition, only ordained pastoral staff baptize people. However, there is nothing biblically precluding this, and moreover there is nothing inherent in biblical pastoral duties stating only they may baptize (in fact, Philip was not even functioning as a pastor when he baptized the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8).

Now this is not to say church’s traditions should be overthrown or directly challenged. After all, it may be somewhat odd to start having 11-year-olds baptize people in front of the congregation. There’s a distinct sense in which baptism ought to be done within the purview of the local church, and there’s a good practical argument to be made for pastors and deacons to be the primary baptizers. There may be considerations for women baptizing other women, or whatnot. The point is just to say that perhaps baptism should not be restricted quite as much as it is. What do you think?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

More Answers on Molinism

With the last post on Molinism, I realized there may still be some confusion as to God and whether or not there was ever a chronological point where God did not know something. There was not. I wanted to provide an explanation, so I have reproduced below a follow-up response to more questions generated by that first article.

The issue of God's not knowing counterfactuals' truth values in necessary knowledge is agreed upon by virtually all views. This is because of the nature of necessary knowledge: it contains only and all necessary truths. Since counterfactuals of the sort we are discussing are stipulated to be of creaturely freedom, they cannot belong to necessary knowledge. In fact, the only view that can claim God knows the truth of counterfactuals in necessary knowledge is the view that claims all such counterfactuals are necessarily true (and hence, they are not free). In this case, it would just be some metaphysical truth of the world or a logical truth that "In C, S would A" (as we would need to drop "freely"); it would neither be true because God willed it nor would it be true because we willed it--it would just be a metaphysically brute fact that it is necessary!

Now, what God would know in this moment is all logical possibilities (since philosophers recognize that whatever is possible is necessarily possible). But that doesn't get God to know "In C, S would freely A." Instead, he gets "In C, S could freely A," "In C, S could freely B," and so on. Now Aquinas sought to solve the problem by stipulating counterfactuals were made true in God's "free" knowledge (what he called the "second" moment). The contents of God's free knowledge are true in virtue of being chosen by God, as well as the truths of necessary knowledge are also true in the actual world (by definition). However, this gets you full-blown determinism (God chose which couterfactuals were true), and hence, Calvinism. If the moment of necessary knowledge is what one "could do," then free knolwedge is what one "will do."

It is the second moment, or what one "would do," that helps "inform" God. They are simply man-made divisions of logical relationship. God cannot know what he will create unless he knows what is possible, and Christian theology (and common sense intuition) claims God could have created differently or even refrained from creating at all. Hence, the set of what is possible is larger than and distinct from the set of what is actual, and what is possible and necessary is logically prior to what is actual. But, if counterfactuals are not mere possibilities/necessities, and if determinism is false, there must be a distinct set of truths--truths that must be known and come explanatorily after possibilities and before God's decision to create.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Causality and "Doing"

In a recent discussion, it was brought to my attention that causing some act is not doing some act. I suppose that in considering two different senses that's quite true. First, if I press "play" on my DVD player, I am not doing the action of reading the disc (even though I caused it). But these are two different senses of "cause." In the physical sense, I did cause the button to press which placed a series of intermediate physical causes resulting in the desired effect of the DVD playing. Anyone who insists I did not play the DVD is just mistaken.

Let's consider a thought experiment. Suppose there is a nuclear bomb, a single domino, and a mad scientist supervillain. She wants to destroy the region of the world where she is, but has a whimsical side as well. She sets the scenario so that when she flicks her finger on the domino, it falls and triggers the bomb (suppose she has enough time to get away or does not care if she dies). Has she detonated the nuclear bomb? Of course she has. She has both caused and performed the action.

Now let's add one more domino, and line it up so that when our supervillain scientist strikes the first domino, it, in turn, strikes a second, and that second domino detonates her nuclear bomb. Has the addition of the second domino affected the causal or "doing" relationship? It seems not. For the mechanism was still caused to run by the supervillain. Moreover, the counterfactual truth of "if the first domino were to strike the second, it would fall and trigger the bomb" is not a sufficient cause of the bomb's being detonated. Now add a third, and a fourth, and so on, until an infinite series of dominos are set up so that each one triggers the next to fall, until eventually the nuclear bomb is triggered. Even in the case of an infinite number of intermediate causes, the mad scientist supervillain has still caused and done the action of detonating the nuclear bomb.

The same goes for God in hard determinism. In this case, God causes each and every action (including sinful ones). It would not matter if he used one or many intermediate causes to bring the action about; he has done it (especially since, on hard determinism, the subject lacks free will). What of soft determinism and compatibilism? This fares no better. Think back to the DVD analogy. According to compatibilism, human beings can only act in accord with their nature. It is the same as when the power button is pressed on the remote; the DVD player can only act in accord with its nature. But if I have caused and done the action of playing the DVD, then God has caused and done the actions of human beings, including sin. In this case, we now have an argument:

1. If determinism is true, then God causes and does acts of sin.
2. Determinism is true.
3. Therefore, God causes and does acts of sin.
4. God cannot cause and do sin.
5. Therefore, determinism is not true.

Obviously, we have a reductio; we can hold (1, 2, and 3) or we can hold (1, 4, and 5), but we cannot hold all of the premises. The first part of this post substantiates (1), so that can be safely accepted. (3) and (5) are entailed conclusions, and so cannot themselves be denied. So, we can safely create another premise:

6. Either determinism is true or God cannot cause and do sin.

The only obvious way of escape is to claim that God can, indeed, sin. I am not sure if anyone would take this escape route. If anyone would, it's worth remembering that God would therefore not be the paradigm of moral goodness. There is another way. (1) can be denied on the grounds of theological voluntarism. That is to say, while (1) is true in that if determinism is true, then God causes and does acts that for humans would be a sin, these are not sins for God. This is because God can simply will to do them, and whatever God wills is right. There are a number of consequences to this. First, the other horn of the Euthyphro dilemma comes to light: morality is not really objective, but arbitrary. That not only seems absurd on its face, but one would have a hard time even coherently defining such nonsense. Second, it would mean obviously absurd things, such as that God could will the torturing of babies, or that God could lie, or any number of things. In any case, it seems much more plausible that God cannot cause and do sin than that determinism is true!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Stephen T. Davis on the Ontological Argument

"I think for example of that statement that appears in many versions of the ontological argument, namely 'The Greatest Conceivable Being is a possible being.' Many (including me) would claim to know this statement, but surely many others would dispute such a claim. And I see no way of proving the statement apart from showing that the Greatest Conceivable Being is actual (all actual beings are possible beings). Nevertheless, if this being seems to me to be a possible being, and if I have apparently answered successfully all the known arguments to the contrary, then I know to be plausible the statement, 'The Greatest Conceivable Being is a possible being.' Accordingly, I can rationally believe the statement, and I can use it as a premise in a successful theistic proof." Stephen T. Davis, God, Reason, and Theistic Proofs (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997), 7.

I think Davis' point is a salient one. Namely, that one can be justified in believing in certain theistic arguments, like the ontological argument, even if you cannot rationally compel a skeptic to believe it. Too many young apologists are obsessed with offering proof such that no rational person could refuse to believe in God. However admirable and lofty a goal, faith, while not devoid of evidence or blind, is nonetheless not contingent upon rational compulsion. Whatever rational compulsion is, it is not sufficient for biblical faith. Rationality itself, however, is important for the believer. So Davis' contribution here is that believers can be quite rational in holding to certain theistic premises and arguments. What do you think?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Some Questions on Molinism

The following is a response to an email I received about Molinism. Hopefully it helps!

1. Did God create S in such a way that He would definitely commit A? If so I don't see how that's any different that Calvinism.

        You're right that it would be some kind of Calvinistic determinism, assuming that by your sentence you mean that God's creation is a factor in the counterfactual truth of "S would do A." So the answer is "no"; on Molinism, whether or not S would freely do A is independent of God's willing some set of circumstances in which S does (or does not) A.

2. If God did not create S in such a way that he would definitely commit A but only actualized the world once He knew that S would commit A, there appears to be a logical moment when God did not know what S would do (whether or not he actualized that world seems irrelevant).

        That's right. There is a logical (not chronological, keep in mind) moment in which God does not know the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (namely, the moment of necessary knowledge). "Logical moment" is just a technical term we use to signify logical relationships; it signifies what God has to know first in terms of priority, or what needs to be known in order to know something else.

3. If we get rid of the "once" in #2 above and instead say "actualized the world He knew that S would commit A", I don't see any difference between that and Calvinism either - I don't see where S had any choice.

    Well we would have to understand that in the second moment, God knows the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, which state "In C, S would freely A," where C is a fully-specified set of circumstances, including the history of the entire world up to that point. If God is actualizing something by exercising his will (which he does prior to the third moment), he is just stating " 'In C, S would freely A' is true and actual," as opposed to " 'In C, S would freely A' is true." So long as there's no problem with the counterfactual being true by itself, I wouldn't think there's any particular problem with God deciding that this world, as opposed to another, is the actual world. Now, if one says that he objects to the state of affairs of counterfactuals being true, then it becomes clear that the "God part" of the objection is irrelevant, as the problem is not with God and his activity in the world, but with the truth of counterfactuals themselves. But that is a different story! :)

Hope that helped!