Tuesday, February 26, 2013

If Atheists Exist, God Does Not?

The following is an interesting argument presented to me by Ben Williamson. The originator of the argument is unknown to me at this time, but seems to be an acquaintance or friend of a friend of Ben's. In any case, it is interesting, and I evaluate it below.

D1: God is defined as omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent 
D2: Revelation is Gods disclosure of Himself to His Creation
D3: Evidence is propositional knowledge
D4: Revelation is experiential knowledge
D5: Resistant nonbelief is a disposition to incredulity 
D6: Nonresistant nonbelief is a disposition to credulity, while being unconvinced 

P1: God desires that mankind achieve a filial knowledge of Him
P2: God can be known propositionally and/or experientially
P3: Propositional knowledge does not entail, but may result in, filial knowledge
P4: Experiential knowledge does not entail, but may result in, filial knowledge 

P5: If it is the case that God is omniscient then He is aware of states of affairs that would bring about filial knowledge of Him
P6: If it is the case that God is omnipotent then He is capable of actualizing states of affairs that would bring about filial knowledge of Him

P7: If it is the case that God has made His existence propositionally known in the past then such a state of affairs is logically possible
P8: If it is the case that God has made His existence experientially known in the past then such a state of affairs is logically possible

P9: God has actualized states of affairs that have led certain individuals to filial knowledge of Him
P10: God has not actualized states of affairs that would lead certain individuals to a filial knowledge of Him

P11: The degree to which Gods existence is known propositionally is at His discretion
P12: The degree to which Gods existence is known experientially is at His discretion

P13: There is a necessary state of affairs for individuals that would bring about their filial knowledge of God

P14: If it is the case that it is not logically possible for God to actualize a necessary state of affairs to bring about filial knowledge Him, then such a state of affairs is logically impossible

P15: States of affairs, which are logically impossible, do not entail culpability 

C1: If nonbelief occurs it is either the case that God has not actualized states of affairs that would bring about filial knowledge, or it is the case that such a state of affairs is not logically possible (D1, D2, D3, D4, D6, P2, P3, P4, P5, P6, P7, P8, P9, P10, P11, P12, P13 and P14)

C2: Nonresistant nonbelief is inculpable (from D6, P2, P3, P4, P5, P6, P7, P8, P9, P11, P12 & P13)

C3: Resistant nonbelief is inculpable (from D5, P14 & P15)

P16: Inculpable nonbelief is incompatible with a God as defined in D1

C4: If it is the case that nonbelief occurs, God does not exist

Accepting all of the definitions, to whatever degree of ambiguity they may be (for instance, what do we mean by experiential knowledge? Is it just any revealing of God’s self?), we can now turn to the premises themselves. We must evaluate each premise in its strongest light (so as to be fair and charitable), and then see if the conclusions follow. What follows will be a discussion of every premise, to know exactly where we stand.

I shall take P1 to mean that “For each and every member of mankind M, 'M comes to a filial knowledge of God' (where “filial” shall be taken to mean “saving” in its theological sense) is God’s desire." In that case, I agree.

P2 is just to state that God can be known and can choose to reveal himself to M. Things can be known about God through truth and reason, and the revelation of God’s Word. I would agree with that as well.
P3 is not as clear. Is it saying that although M can have propositional knowledge of God and not saving knowledge, nevertheless propositional knowledge alone can result in saving knowledge? This is plainly false. For it is not intellectual knowledge, but trust in God (as a matter of the will, not simply the intellect). However, this could simply be stating that propositional knowledge is a necessary, if not sufficient, condition, and that this propositional knowledge, coupled with something else, may eventually lead to a saving faith for M. In this latter case, I agree with P3. For the sake of charity, let us use this meaning for P3.

P4 suffers from a similar lack of clarity, as it is in the same structure, just with “experiential knowledge” (defined as revelation) instead of propositional knowledge. In this case, P4 ought to be taken as the fact that experiential knowledge is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition of saving faith for M, but may, when coupled with other factors, contribute and lead to M’s saving faith. It should also be noted that in order to avoid internal Christian debates, one ought to broaden experiential knowledge as revelation to include things like the Holy Spirit’s drawing M to believe (just to be clear).

P5 is crucial. It assumes, quite rightly (and as the argument later stipulates), that there are states of affairs containing M coming to saving faith (where M is one member). In that case, so long as there is at least one M who has saving faith, I agree. To be fair, it is perhaps the case that the person who created this argument intended that “For every M, if God is omniscient, then he is aware of states of affairs that would bring about the saving knowledge of God for M.” If P5 means the former, then it’s important to note the conclusions of the argument do not follow.[1] So, charitably, we ought to assume it intends to say the modified P5.

However, in this case, I do not agree with P5. I see no reason to think that every M has a state of affairs that would bring about saving knowledge of God.[2] Perhaps it is the case that there are some M’s who have no states of affairs in which they are instantiated where the relevant CCFs are true, sufficiently bringing about M’s free choice to be saved. Obviously, God cannot be aware of something that is not true (that is, he cannot know something as true that is not true). This is only an undercutter of the premise, and not a defeater. But if the arguer expects to convince people who do not already believe the conclusion, he will have to justify this move. So, perhaps he backs off a little and states the more modest
P5* Probably, it is the case that there are such states of affairs containing the relevant CCFs for each and every M to come to a saving knowledge of God, and, necessarily, God knows them.

But how can we know this? Probability is based on background knowledge, and CCFs are based on the closest worlds to this actual world where each M freely chooses to be saved. It’s not even clear one can know very many of his own counterfactuals. Being modest, I would say that at least it’s not clear P5* is true. It certainly appears as nothing more than conjecture.

P6 is also crucial to the debate. Again, its ambiguity seems to indicate that it means something like, “If there are such states of affairs, then if God is omnipotent, he can actualize them.” As we have seen, it may not be the case that there are such states of affairs for every M (but we could happily agree with the interpretation of P6 were this to be our only problem). However, there is another, major problem. It is epistemically possible that CCFs that make up states of affairs make those states of affairs mutually exclusive, as a matter of logic (call this “feasibility”). Suppose, for instance, that John will come to saving faith in circumstances C, and James will come to saving faith in circumstances S. Suppose further that the relevant CCFs are true so that James would not believe in C and John would not believe in S. Finally, suppose S and C are either exhaustive of the states of affairs feasible for God or exhaustive of the types of states of affairs (that is, states of affairs where John and James believe for saving faith). Thus, logically, it cannot be the case that both John and James come to saving faith, because there are no feasible states of affairs in which they both do so. Traditionally, Christians do not believe that God can do the logically impossible, as they believe that is a violation of his nature (as the foundation of truth).
Now one may protest that all I have done is stipulate something to be the case, rather than defend it. True enough. However, I only intend for this to be an undercutter. The same problem of justification and epistemology attends P6 as does P5. We should not accept either of them.

I shall assume P7 means that if God’s existence has been propositionally known in the past, then the state of affairs of some M knowing God propositionally is logically possible.[3] It may be that the arguer intends to say that if God’s existence has been propositionally known by some M’s in the past, then the state of affairs of every M knowing God propositionally is logically possible. Although I am not entirely convinced that follows, I do believe it is at least in principle possible for every M to have such propositional knowledge.[4] So, in any case, it appears as though we should accept P7.

P8 has a similar problem of meaning. It may mean, “if it is the case that God has made himself known experientially by some M’s in the past, then the state of affairs of some M’s knowing God experientially is logically possible.” If that is the case, we can agree: after all, we are merely describing a trivial truth (if X occurred, then X is logically possible). However, it may be that the arguer intends to say “if it is the case that God has made himself known experientially by some M’s in the past, then the state of affairs of certain M’s (or any M’s) knowing God experientially is logically possible.” While I think that is true, in that there is no logical contradiction involved (nor metaphysical absurdity), considerations of feasibility come in. It does not follow that because some M’s are in states of affairs that contain true CCFs for saving faith, that other M’s are also in that state.[5] However, to be charitable, we ought to assume that logical possibility is taken at face value. In that case, I heartily agree with P8.

P9 is pretty straightforward and should be accepted. P10 is somewhat unclear. Is it claiming that “there are states of affairs such that some M, who does not come to saving faith, would come to saving faith, and it is the case that God has not actualized them”? Or is it simply saying that “God has actualized a state of affairs in which some M does not come to saving faith”? The latter makes no comment as to whether or not there are such states of affairs, and it seems almost obvious.[6] The former suffers from the same epistemic-justification problem that plagued P5 and P6. Because the simpler reading of P10 does not yield the conclusions, then plausibly this former meaning is what the arguer intends. In that case, we ought to reject P10 as well.

One might be surprised to note that I will disagree with P11. If doxastic voluntarism is true, or at least true with respect to belief in God, then the degree to which God is known, propositionally, is not (at least in part) up to him. It depends, in part, on the willingness to believe. Of course, on the other hand, if all M’s really do know God exists, then P11 is true (but only at the cost of the arguer admitting he knows God exists—which is counterproductive for his purposes). As far as P12 goes, this all depends on meaning. If we mean that the extent to which God reveals himself to M’s is in the full control of God, then that is correct. I think this is the most charitable interpretation of P12, and so I will affirm it.

P13 is a little confusing. Taken in a straightforward way, it seems to indicate that there is a state of affairs for each individual M that would result (in a CCF way) in saving faith, and that this state of affairs is necessary. In that case, everyone has saving faith! But, plausibly, this is not what the arguer meant. Perhaps he meant that, necessarily, there is at least one state of affairs such that for every M, M would freely come to a saving knowledge of God. But does that mean for every possible M? For every actual M? If we take this interpretation, it suffers the same problem of P5, P6, and P10, and so ought to be rejected. Finally, perhaps it means there is a state of affairs for each individual M that functions as a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for M to come to saving knowledge of God. But in that case, the same problem attends. How do we know the relevant CCFs are true for each M, so that even if the necessary conditions are in place, the sufficient will follow? I see no reason to think that if the sufficient conditions are not true, the necessary must be.[7] I am not sure which of these two is more charitable or plausible in terms of intention, but in either case I would reject P13.

Because of prior ambiguity, it is difficult to know what, precisely, P14 is asserting. It may be saying that if it is the case that a conjunctive state of affairs with the relevant CCFs true such that for every M, M freely comes to a saving knowledge of God is not logically possible for God to actualize, then it is not logically possible at all. Here considerations of feasibility ought to be employed, as well as a discussion of necessity, and accidental necessity. I am inclined to say that there is a logically possible world PW, such that in PW every M (that is, every M in the actual world) freely chooses to be saved. In this technical sense, we can happily agree to P14. But that is a far cry from claiming that there is such a world FPW, where every M would freely come to a saving knowledge of God. Perhaps there are no such worlds.

“Aha!” says someone out there. “So that means it’s not logically possible for those people to be saved after all!” There are two problems with this statement. First, it commits the modal fallacy of distributing the necessity of an entire state of affairs to some individual parts. Just because John is only saved in C and James in S, it does not follow that it is impossible for James to be saved, were C to be actual. The second problem is that it does not account for the necessity of a statement. If something is logically impossible, it is so in all possible worlds. But, as is quite plausible, it is not the case that any one M exists in all possible worlds. Thus, at best, what one can argue is that, for certain M’s, it is a necessity de dicto that they do not believe in any possible world.[8]

For P15, it seems to be stating that if some action X is a logical impossibility for M, then M cannot be held responsible for not doing X. It is the “ought implies can” principle, and I agree with it wholeheartedly. Therefore, I endorse P15.

Notice now that either the conclusion C1 does not follow, or it is wholly innocuous. For under our interpretation, we deny P5, P6, P10, P11, P13, and possibly P14 (though we will accept it with the notes above). Ostensibly, all of these are needed in order to yield C1 (and certainly the denial of five of them will be sufficient to avoid C1). It is basically a false dilemma. The third option is that if non-belief occurs, it is because the relevant CCFs that need to be true for M to come to a saving knowledge of God are not true in any world in which M is instantiated.[9] On the other hand, we can decide to take other interpretations of the disputed premises, and all that follows is that God has actualized a state of affairs in which some M does not come to saving faith, which, of course, makes absolutely no comment on whether or not God could have done so, whether there are any such states of affairs, which CCFs are true, etc.

Because of denied premises, C2 also fails. C3 does not follow, either because we have rejected P14 (because of the modal fallacy), or because P14 is true but P14 and P15 do not yield C3, or because of the fact that necessary conditions do not entail sufficient conditions, and/or because the relevant CCFs are not true precisely because of M’s choice or would-be choice (or some combination of these). It all depends on the meaning of P14, but in any case, the intent of C3 can be avoided.

P16 can be regarded as true, in that if the Christian God exists, then whomever withholds belief (in the saving sense) is culpable for having done so. However, since other premises have been denied (and in turn their respective conclusions), C4 does not follow. We have examined each of these premises in this interesting argument. We have attempted to be as charitable as possible in interpreting them. We have shown that many of them are fundamentally flawed, or require further explanation or some strengthening in order to be taken as true. Because of this, I would say this argument against God’s existence can be regarded to have failed.

[1] If one doubts this, she can plug in this “fleshed-out” definition into P5 and run the argument.

[2] I am also assuming, for clarity’s sake, that “would bring about” is not causal, but more akin to Molinist counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (CCF). If “would bring about” is essentially describing causal mechanisms, we must reject even this modified P5, for God desires not automatons, but willing participants in the relationship.

[3] It’s worth pointing out that if God “made his existence propositionally known,” it’s difficult to see how this is different than “revelation,” or experiential knowledge (according to D2 and D4), and thus P7 does not differ in content from P8.

[4] Indeed, it may be the case that every M does have such knowledge. See my article, “Do Atheists Know God Exists?”

[5] In this case, what is logically impossible is not the individual state of affairs of some M coming to saving faith, but rather the conjunctive state of affairs of competing CCFs (as discussed earlier). No logical impossibility should be distributed to the individual conjuncts.

[6] Obvious, that is, except to universalists.

[7] I once had an atheist insist he was absolved from believing in God because belief in God is necessary for salvation. He argued that he should have at least that. My response is that if someone shoves you out of a plane (without a parachute) from 35,000 feet, assuming you will die, will it become better if you are shoved out at 30,000 feet? No. The same result will happen, even though the necessary condition (not being shoved out of a plane from 35,000 feet) for survival in that case will have been accomplished.

[8] Notice that even this does not follow from the objection. For perhaps it is the case that there are worlds in which M believes, but that in PW (or FPW) the relevant CCFs are not true for M.

[9] There can be variants to this third option, so that really there are more than three.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Three Tests of 1 John 4:1-6

Note: You will need Teknia Greek font to read the Greek font correctly. This can be obtained at http://www.teknia.com

In 1 John 4:1-6, the prepositional phrase ejk tou: qeou:: occurs no less than six times. How does John use this phrase to instruct his readers how to discern whether or not prophets they encounter truly speak in the name of God?

In this passage, the apostle John is attempting to give clear instructions on how to identify false teachers (and, by extension, how they may identify good teachers of God as well). There are three tests. First, there is the test of confession. The first usage of ejk tou: qeou: is found in verse 1. The issue here is one of belief. My translation of this verse was, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but try the spirits, whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world." "They are from God" was the translated portion of the phrase. This indicates that for John, believing a teacher is not a matter of blind faith. The issue is to test each teacher to see whether or not he aligned with the Word of God.

The second and third verses expand on this theme by explaining that the Word of God is in this case the incarnate Word—Jesus Christ. The true test of a false teacher is to see whether or not he can confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. If he cannot do this, he is not a teacher from God.

Continuing the Johannine method of teaching by contrast (a very Jewish way of teaching), verse 4 puts ejk tou: qeou in the light of referring to believers. This is called the test of contrast. "You are of God, children, and have overcome them [the false prophets], since greater is he that is in you than that which is in the world" (my translation, brackets inserted comment). Therefore, it can plausibly be said that those who are of God are the ones who overcome; if one does not overcome, then he is not of God.

The final test of the three tests is the test of hearing or obeying the word of the apostles and sound doctrine. In order, the three tests for discerning false prophets are: confessing that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, overcoming false doctrine/teachers, and believing and obeying sound doctrine and the apostles. In this way, one can identify true believers, and even know whether one believes himself!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Ed Feser on Scientism

The following quote is from Ed Feser’s blog, and it can be found in its original context here.
“Scientism claims to be ‘reality based’ but that is precisely what it is not. It recognizes only aspects of reality, and in particular only those susceptible of study via its favored methods. When those methods fail to capture some aspect of reality – God, consciousness, intentionality, free will, selfhood, moral value, and so on – scientism tends to blame reality rather than its methods, and to insist that the reality either be redefined so as to make it compatible with its methods, or eliminated entirely.”
It’s quite a powerful, and apropos, statement. I do not think it needs further comment, other than to say scientism is obviously wrongheaded.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Wonders of Modus Tollens

Modus tollens is a way of arguing in formal logic that focuses on denying the consequent in syllogisms. A formal example follows: If p, then q. Not-q. Therefore, not-p. Some people have either misunderstood or deny the validity of the argument from this abstract example alone, so I will provide a specific example from Christian apologetics:
1.      If naturalism is true, then persons do not think about anything.
2.      Persons do think about some things.
3.      Therefore, naturalism is false.
In this example, p represents “naturalism is true,” and q represents “persons do not think about anything.” Since denying q is, literally, “not-persons do not think about anything,” we must introduce the concept of logical equivalence. If it is not the case that persons do not think about anything, it is the case that persons do think about some things! Of course, the conclusion then follows. The reason the logic works is because since we accept (1), we know that persons wouldn’t be thinking about anything if naturalism were true. However, since persons are thinking about some things, it cannot be the case that naturalism is true (since if it were true, well, you get the idea).
MT is particularly confusing when negatives are involved (because then we have introduced double negatives). I once had an argument criticized strongly because nothing follows by affirming the consequent. He was right, of course, in that nothing follows by affirming a consequent. But I denied the consequent. Here is an example:
1.      If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
2.      Objective moral values do exist.
3.      Therefore, God exists.
His mistake was in thinking (2) being “positive” entailed an affirmation of the consequent. A careful reading of the form, however, shows that q would be “objective moral values do not exist.” Not-q, then, would literally be “not-objective moral values do not exist,” or in language, “it is not the case that objective moral values do not exist.” In logical equivalence, then, it would be (2). But as we have seen, that is simply denying the consequent, or MT!
The application for Christian apologetics is to be very familiar with basic forms of logical thought, interpret the major premise correctly, and apply logical equivalence to the discussion. It is only with this full understanding of an argument that one can critique it.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Identity and Predication

Back in the 1990s, President Bill Clinton famously avoided being found guilty by saying something to the effect of, “it all depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is.” He was widely ridiculed for the statement, but there may be something to it after all.[1] We are going to take a look at the word “is” in philosophy.
First, it should be understood that there are two kinds of “is.” There is the “is” of identity and the “is” of predication. What is identity? That should be easy enough. Without delving into many complex issues, identity is, roughly, A=A. Here are some examples: Imagine you are a first-century Jew seeing Jesus, and you recognize that he fulfills the expectation of the prophet spoken of in Deuteronomy. So you say to your friend, “He is that prophet.” You are here making an identity relationship; you mean to say that these two are not separate individuals but the same person. Other ways include, “Luke, I am your father,” “I am Randy Everist,” “A mountain is a rock,” and so on.
What is predication? In English as well as philosophy, predication of a subject describes something about that subject. It is not the same as identity relationships. For instance, if I say to you, “the basketball player is tall,” I do not mean that there is such a thing as tallness, and the basketball player is it! I mean that the property of tallness can be ascribed to the player. They are descriptions of their subjects. “I am angry,” “It is difficult,” and other such linking verbs with adjectives are all examples of the “is” of predication.
Why is it important to maintain this distinction? First, it holds biblical and theological importance. In 1 John, where the Bible says “God is love,” does it mean, philosophically, that the two are identical? If so, one can say “love is God,” as Augustine famously did. If it is of predication, then does this mean that there can be love independently of God? Is this the same as free will (where free choices are made independently of God, but the fact we can have free will is not)? Some interesting issues are raised.
Second, it can help us avoid misunderstandings on a philosophical and apologetic level. In the moral argument, for example, or in the defense against the Euthyphro dilemma, God is good in the sense of identity. The nature of good is God’s nature, and thus goodness is necessary. Identity and predication may be fascinating to some and boring to others, but they must be differentiated in order to understand properly the philosophical issues.

[1] Please note this is not to make any kind of political statement or to say that Clinton was correctly applying the principle or not; it’s just a segue into philosophy.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Rationality of Christianity

The point of Christian philosophical apologetics, I think, is to show that one is reasonable when he accepts the Christian faith. I don’t think the point is to dispel every objection, answer every question, and otherwise rationally compel every unbeliever and skeptic to faith on pain of contradiction or irrationality. Simply put, I am content to show that should one choose to become a believer, he has enough support to be rational in doing so. This distinction is crucial.
First, as already suggested, it implies that one need not bear such a staggering burden of proof as is often demanded by unbelievers. Second, it implies that far more Christians are acting rationally in accepting their beliefs than first thought. If one should only believe religious truths that he is rationally compelled to believe, then many Christians have little warrant (in the relevant sense) for believing what they do believe. However, if one is simply reasonably justified in holding his beliefs, many more are acting within the bounds of rationality.
Third, it means a rational skeptical denial does not count against the reasonableness of Christianity for a given individual. Simply because it is rational for some unbeliever to withhold belief, it does not follow that I am acting irrationally for holding my beliefs. In fact, so long as Christianity is shown to be reasonable for at least some persons, then no amount of reasonable denial should affect these persons, by definition.
Fourth, it means that while there may be intellectual barriers to faith for skeptics, it’s not the actual root issue. If doxastic voluntarism is true with respect to belief in God in the relevant sense, which I think it is, it means, for many unbelievers, the issue is a matter of the will (not the intellect). If one can reasonably be a Christian, then so can the skeptic (at least, this is plausibly so for many). But if one can reasonably be a Christian, and refrains from it with this knowledge, then the skeptic cannot claim that he would be a Christian if only intellectual barriers were removed.
I am quite satisfied to show Christians and non-Christians alike are reasonable in holding their beliefs. But the question of faith inherently involves volition. I believe, of course, that the evidence for Christianity outweighs the evidence for atheism. But I think, given Christianity’s rationality, one has no excuse before God. She ought to throw herself at the mercy of God and accept the sacrifice of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for her sin (moral offenses toward God). Romans 10:9: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Ethical Argument Against Abortion

I have not before entered the waters on the abortion debate, but it seems to me to be a moral issue; either it is permissible to abort a baby or it is not. I contend that it is impermissible to abort a baby at any stage, given a few basic assumptions. I will briefly sketch an argument for this.
1.      If something is a person, it has intrinsic moral value.
2.      Whatever has intrinsic moral value ought not to be killed unless there is a morally-sufficient reason.
3.      Human beings are persons.
4.      Therefore, human beings have intrinsic moral value.
5.      Therefore, human beings ought not to be killed unless there is a morally-sufficient reason.
6.      It is not morally permissible to end the life of an innocent human being to save one’s own.
7.      Unborn babies are innocent human beings.
8.      Therefore, unborn babies are persons.
9.      Therefore, unborn babies have intrinsic moral value.
10.  Therefore, unborn babies ought not to be killed unless there is a morally-sufficient reason.
11.  Therefore, it is not morally permissible to end the life of an unborn baby to save one’s own.
A few brief comments are needed. First, I ask that one lay aside emotion and rhetoric and look it from a stance of pure logic and reason. Second, please notice that, so long as the premises are true, a woman’s right to choose or psychological reasons to be against abortion or sexism are simply irrelevant. Third, statements 4, 5, and 8-11 are conclusions of deductively-valid arguments and cannot be denied. Premise 1 could be denied in the case that one declares there are no objective moral values. However, most people who take this road in hopes of preserving abortion do not realize that I can just say, “Well then it’s not morally impermissible for me to restrict a woman’s right to choose, is it?” In any case, most people will be forced to agree there are moral truths. Someone could affirm objective moral values but deny that persons have intrinsic moral worth; this would be something I could not even begin to grasp.
Premise 2 seems reasonable enough on any moral theory; one could affirm it even if there are never any morally-sufficient reasons for killing anything of intrinsic moral worth. Most will agree with premise 3. Some might object that not all human beings are truly persons, but I struggle with saying certain human beings are non-persons. In any case, some non-arbitrary definition ought to be applied that does not marginalize the mentally disabled, or someone who was in a car accident, etc.
It is also difficult to argue with (6). When we say “innocent,” we are using it in a univocal sense in this argument, and it means “morally innocent with respect to a particular situation.” Suppose two men were struggling in the ocean with only one life preserver. We would rightly be appalled at one man if he were to drown the other just for the opportunity to save his own life. Now suppose a crazed terrorist has kidnapped someone to launch them from a cannonball directly into you. The speed and impact will kill you both. Is it morally permissible then just to kill the other innocent party? Perhaps someone would do it, in desperation, but the right answer is no. Just because it’s one or both of you who will die doesn’t make it right to kill an innocent party. Finally, (7) is almost true by definition, at least biologically and morally. For an unborn baby, or fetus, is not biologically different from a human.[1] Moreover, the unborn baby is innocent in the relevant sense. But then we see abortion is not morally permissible.
So we have seen it is not morally permissible to abort an unborn baby. Notice we did not appeal to women’s rights (or lack thereof), death of the mother, or in the cases of rape, incest, or other terrible things. We did not minimize any of these things. But it is incontrovertible that these things are not relevant to the argument above. The cost of denying any of these premises is too high, epistemically, compared to rejecting abortion. But if none of the premises are denied, then all of the conclusions follow.

[1] How curious would it be to say two humans can reproduce something non-human, biologically, that somehow later turns into a human! Moreover, it is just genetically human.

Monday, February 4, 2013

William Lane Craig vs. Alex Rosenberg Debate Thoughts

I am not planning on doing a full review of Feb. 1’s William Lane Craig-Alex Rosenberg debate. I will say, however, that I was very disappointed in Rosenberg’s performance—and not simply because he was obviously uncomfortable with the debate format (then why do it?). His arguments ranged from outdated (in the sense that there have been easy answers to the problems he raised for decades of which he seemed totally unaware) to contradictory. Below are simply my observations. Feel free to add yours in the comments section!
1.      Dr. Rosenberg had a poor attitude.
Literally the first words out of his mouth were something like, “Wow! I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Hopefully you didn’t have to pay for this,” implying that Craig’s speech was so terrible (or precisely the same as always, which wasn’t, strictly speaking, true, as Craig added new arguments I’ve not heard from him before) that no one should have incurred any expense. He continued most of the first half of his speech essentially insulting Craig/theism and/or explaining why he didn’t like debates (not a good sign in the opening). Often seeming annoyed or even angry, he once claimed he found Craig’s argument(s) “morally offensive.” I found it sophomoric and uncharitable, a kind of ploy more than anything else.

2.      Dr. Rosenberg was confused about what constitutes the Logical Problem of Evil.
He introduced what he called the “logical problem of evil” by saying that he couldn’t believe all of the evil in the universe was absolutely necessary in order to make the kind of world goodness demanded (and alternatively that a good God would never permit evil). That is not, strictly speaking, the logical problem of evil. The LPoE is that there two statements or states of affairs, namely, “God exists” and “evil exists” that are strictly incompatible, in a logical sense. Dr. Rosenberg said (paraphrasing), “Well I gave a logical argument against God using evil.” Insert forehead smack.

3.      Dr. Rosenberg contradicted his own views on objective morality.
While Dr. Rosenberg never explicitly stated there were no objective moral values during the debate, he did explicitly state such during the Q&A (and moreover affirmed the conclusions of his book, aka the conclusions of science, whatever that means). Curiously, he said, on more than one occasion, that certain of Craig’s arguments, objections, and defenses were “morally offensive” to Rosenberg. What? I thought there are no objective moral truths? If there are not any, it’s just a dressed-up way to say “I don’t like it.” But what relevance is that? Furthermore, the whole point in Rosenberg’s bringing up that it was morally offensive is that he was hoping we would think so too. So either Rosenberg was hoping we’d all just opinionate Craig’s views away, which is foolish, or he was thinking that there are at least some objective moral truths, after all. It occurs to me perhaps Rosenberg was speaking counterfactually (e.g., “if there were to be objective moral truths, then Craig’s arguments offend those sensibilities as I see them”), but again, I don’t see the point (especially since he neither mentioned nor alluded to this). Rosenberg seemed to be absolutely unaware of the third option in the Euthyphro dilemma, stating at several points, “We all know that God only chooses his commands based on what is good.” No, no we do not all know that.
4.      Dr. Rosenberg was confused about the Principle of Sufficient Reason.
Rosenberg’s view of the PSR was that it was “everything that is an effect has a cause,” and moreover conflated the kalam and this argument from contingency. The PSR has to do with explanations, which is different than the strict causal principle. As such, defeating the causal principle (which he did not) doesn’t do anything to the PSR.

5.      Dr. Rosenberg, hence, was confused about the kalam.
He seemed to vacillate between criticizing the kalam and the argument from contingency, and only bothered to bring up quantum indeterminacy as a possibility. Craig’s main principle used in these arguments is the so-called “something/nothing principle.” It is the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” and the statement, “something cannot come from nothing.” Rosenberg treated all of these as pretty much identical, which is a mistake.

6.      Dr. Rosenberg was confused about the aim of the arguments.
Rosenberg seemed to take the deductive nature of the arguments to proclaim that he was justified in rejecting the major premise if it was even epistemically possible to reject. First, that is quite a heavy burden for any argument to bear. Second, it reveals that Rosenberg literally will not believe freely (at least as it stands now). Third, it misses the aim of the arguments, stated by Craig and displayed on the big screen. “God is the best explanation of . . .” which essentially weakens the major premise. Effectively, it’s not good enough to sit back and demand the premise’s denial be logically or metaphysically impossible (in some arguments, it’s still true that the major premise needs to be airtight [like in the argument from design]). By refusing to offer alternatives or even criticize the arguments in some cases, Rosenberg effectively conceded each one.

7.      Dr. Rosenberg was completely unprepared for the debate.
Let me be clear and honest: Dr. Rosenberg is an intelligent man. He is the chair of a world-renowned philosophy department at Duke. He’s no slouch, intellectually. So why the poor performance? It can’t be mere debate. He did poorly from his opening speech (for which he had weeks or even months to prepare). My only conclusion is that he is simply not a philosopher of religion. It’s not his main specialty by his own admission, and his objections betrayed the fact that he had not seemingly read anything from current theistic arguments and discussions from the last 40-50 years. When Craig took down metaphysical naturalism from quotes from Rosenberg’s own work, all he could do was insist these were conclusions drawn from science. Charitably assuming the best, I can only speculate that philosophy of science is not Rosenberg’s specialty either (since his defense against Craig’s arguments that metaphysical naturalism is wrong was essentially to insist that metaphysical naturalism was not, in fact, wrong). It was a shame.