Friday, March 28, 2014

Mailbag: Converting under False Pretenses?

Richard writes: Suppose someone comes to faith by way of the KCA and the evidence for the Resurrection. What if we find out later that the KCA is a false argument and the evidence we had for the Resurrection which inspired this person's faith was bunk? I don't think it's enough to say, "Well, it was ultimately the Holy Spirit that guided them and not the arguments." -- true. But what about the vehicle used? There is something to be said about the potential lead someone to Christ under false pretenses.”

Randy: This is a good question! The question will be, I think, whether or not he was justified in coming to Christ. And that justification is plausibly there even if there were no arguments. But let's set that aside. The hypothetical believer could be justified in taking the kalam to be a sound argument, even if it ultimately turned out to be false (after all, people have justified false beliefs all the time). And if, in concert with other beliefs (that will be entailments for the kalam and Resurrection), that leads him to Christianity, he would then have been justified. The real interesting question is whether such a believer would retain justification in light of the falsehood of the kalam (or whichever of the arguments worked for him). If his only source of justification were those arguments, and those arguments were to be unsound, then even if the conclusions were true, he wouldn't be justified.

So, here's how it breaks down: initial conversion of the new believer: justified; new believer comes to believe the arguments are unsound; new believer has no other source or reason to think he is justified--then at that point the new believer would be unjustified in holding to faith. The believer who uses the arguments is only acting irresponsibly if he thinks the argument's premises are not sound or are dubious, but uses them anyway (that would be the false pretenses). As the kalam stands, it seems one is justified in thinking it is a sound argument at this point, so that even if it turned out to be false, I wouldn't thereby be deceiving someone. Only in the case that I believe it is unsound and use it anyway would that apply.

But I think this question highlights a very important point about justification and the believer. I think a believer is justified in taking the truths of the Gospel to be true even in cases where no arguments or evidences establish the conclusion that “God exists” just in the case that it is actually true God exists. Such a project was the task of Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief. This means that any complaints about a believer being unjustified are going to be about the de facto question—that is, the question as to whether or not God exists in fact. This means the dismantling of all theistic arguments will not be sufficient to show that a believer is unjustified in holding his faith: what will make him unjustified, or unwarranted, really (there is a definite difference in Plantinga’s account), is if one can establish that God does not exist. In the absence of such an argument, every believer is justified in taking it to be the case that God exists, and warranted just in the case that God’s non-existence hasn’t been established and we should expect to function the way we do in the case that God does exist.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Asking for Definitions

This is going to be a very brief post on asking for definitions. Ever been in a conversation with someone, and they say, “What do you mean by ‘that’?” They want to know the definition of your terms. This can be a good strategy, or it can be a disingenuous game. How can we tell the difference?

The difference is this: if you’re asking the definition of something to understand precisely what is being claimed, then you’re all right to ask. If you’re asking the definition of something in order to bog down the debate, then no—you’re just wasting time. Similarly, if you’re only asking the definition of something so that you can start some infinite chain, and then claim the term isn’t defined well enough, that’s not OK either.

Asking for definitions can come in handy, in a legitimate way, if you want to expose circular reasoning. Another time is if you aren’t sure which of two or more options the person you’re debating means. It saves so much time if you just know what is being claimed!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Coherency of Omniscience and God's Free Will

Because I am interested in coherence of theism issues, I think I’ll tackle these arguments. They come from this YouTube video here. The arguments supposedly support two contentions, in order: A. God cannot know that he knows everything, and B. God cannot act contrary to his own predictions. What follows is first the argument for (A), then some comments, and then the argument from (B), followed by comments. It was difficult to represent these syllogistically in a valid manner. I did try to represent the argument fairly, however.

1.     God cannot know that there isn’t a God higher than God, which places him in a deceptive simulation (Cartesian demon idea).
2.     This works as an infinite regress.
3.     Therefore, there is some amount of doubt, for God, to the claim that God knows everything.
4.     Therefore, God cannot know that he knows everything.

Now, technically speaking, (4) doesn’t follow from (3) unless we also add that it’s a truth that God must know with certainty in order to satisfy omniscience. That premise I am willing to grant. Now what is omniscience? It seems to be that a naïve but generally functional view is to say that omniscience is that God knows all truths and believes no false ones. It’s important, in fact vital, to note that the above criticism is supposed to be an internal issue of coherency. Internal criticisms will grant, for the sake of argument, the issue under contention, and then try to show that either it is incoherent (hence, a coherency objection), or otherwise factually false (entails some fact which we are more likely to reject than we are to accept the issue under contention as true).

Why, given omniscience, should we think (1) is true? If omniscience entails that God knows all truths and believes no false ones, and if there is a truth of the conditions of (1), then God would know it. So God would know “I am not being deceived about omniscience.” The reason Cartesian doubt works is precisely because Descartes (and other humans) are not omniscient. If omniscience is true, it is not so much as logically possible that God is being deceived by an evil being.[1] You can’t assume omniscience is true, posit the above claim, and then ask, “How does God know that?” By omniscience, of course! There is also the further fact that, if Perfect Being Theology (or something very much like it) is a correct representation of what God would be like, then God would be both omniscient and the Greatest Conceivable Being. But from these two it follows: “There is no other God so construed” and “God knows that there is no other God so construed,” which renders the objection doubly moot.

Argument against Predictions

1.     If there is a true prediction, then the event must occur.
2.     God supposedly makes true predictions.
3.     Therefore, the events God predicts must come true.
4.     If this is so, then even God cannot bring it about that what he has predicted will not come true.
5.     This includes events that God predicts involving himself.
6.     Therefore, God does not have free will with respect to his predictions.

The idea trades on a modal fallacy that is all-too-easy to commit. The argument boils down to this scenario: God is infallible, he predicts he will do X at T, T comes, and God decides to do not-X at T, this falsifies his prediction. God’s prediction cannot be falsified; therefore, God cannot decide to do not-X at T given that he has predicted he will do X at T.

The modal fallacy occurs when the necessity of some whole is distributed to the parts of the scenario. All that is necessarily false is the complete idea that “God makes a prediction about free actions and that prediction fails to come true.” For a quick example, the following proposition, as a whole, is necessarily false: “Diane planted exactly six rosebushes at T and Diane planted exactly ten rosebushes at T,”[2] where we take all of the terms to be univocal and T to describe both time and place. Yet it would be fallacious then to infer that one of these was logically impossible. Surely either of them could have been true; what’s logically impossible is that they both are.

So it is with the argument above. All that’s impossible is that God makes a prediction and the prediction fails to come true. So how could this be resolved? God doesn’t make the prediction at all, God makes it about himself on the basis of what he knows he will choose, etc. After all, if God is omniscient, then he would know that, if he made some prediction X, that when the time came, he would do X or not-X, and so would predict that accordingly. Seen as such, these arguments should not be very persuasive.

[1] For Descartes, the logical possibility of the evil demon was an epistemic possibility (i.e., “For all I know, I am being deceived by an evil demon”). But, given omniscience, this epistemic possibility evaporates, by definition.

[2] This example was adapted from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy <>, accessed March 25, 2014.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Apologetic Tuesday: What is the Practical Benefit to Having Christian Philosophers?

What good are Christian apologists and philosophers? I have argued elsewhere that we provide strength for our Christian brothers and sisters. However, many people, I suspect, are not too impressed by this. First, it may be a sense of piety, for them, to believe without any (or even in spite of the) evidence; perhaps, for some, the very idea of raising questions in this arena is untenable. But second, and perhaps more relevantly, many, perhaps even most, Christians, have very few questions, or do not significantly rely on intellectual argument. If that is the case, then what’s the overall practical benefit to Christian philosophy and apologetics? Where are the results in the grand scheme of things?

Setting aside the fact that the direct impact on believers is small numerically, but large qualitatively (and possibly indirectly large numerically), there is a definite benefit to evangelism. In what way? The Trinity functions as a good example. See, there are four main categories of objections to Christian belief (surely some objections cross categories, and some will quibble with them, but indulge me!). First, there are factual objections. These are objections that state that, as a matter of fact, Christianity doesn’t line up with the way the world is. Second, there are rationality objections. These are objections that say we don’t know (or perhaps can’t know) whether or not Christianity is true, but that Christians are acting irrationally by believing in God. Third, there are emotional objections that essentially state someone’s dislike of Christianity. Finally, there are logical objections. These objections deal with the logical coherency of Christian belief.

This is where the Trinity comes in. Out on the mission field, one encounters adherents of many other religions. These religious adherents, if exposed to the teachings of Christianity, find the doctrine of the Trinity extremely strange, if not logically contradictory. For them, it’s no more possible that the Trinity could be true than that 2+2=76! Many missionaries may be utterly stuck here, unable to advance more than the ideas that Christians ought to have faith, or whatnot. What a Christian philosopher/apologist can do is engage in evangelism on the front lines. She can defend the Trinity from objections such as the “1+1+1=3, not 1” objection.

This objection is that the Trinity is a form of polytheism (specifically, tritheism), and thus cannot be a monotheistic religion (a complaint often heard from Muslims). Especially with respect to Muslims, so long as this objection remains, they will not convert. The answer is to reply, “One what plus one what?” If they say “God,” then that just begs the question against Trinitarianism (e.g., Trinitarianism doesn’t claim, for example, that the Trinity is composed of three gods, so to present it this way is just to assume what one is trying to prove). If they say, “being,” we can again reply that the Trinitarian conception is “one God and three persons.” With that in play, we can now understand that Trinitarian theology agrees with “1+1+1=3, not 1,” by affirming that the things to be added are persons.[1]

While Trinitarian discussions can go on and on, the point is that a simple objection that may throw the average missionary can be handled on the front lines of evangelism by the Christian philosopher/apologist (or at least by one who has training in these areas). If there are practical benefits to having Christian philosophers on the front lines of the Great Commission, then there are consequences to their total absence. I shudder to think at where we would be. In the future, if we do not have Christian philosophers involved in the Great Commission, the state of the church will be very poor indeed.

[1] To insist that this formula needs to be 1+1+1=1 with respect to persons, we’d really be endorsing a kind of modalism, where there is really only one person, so that there’s not really any math going on at all.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Another Look at How to Argue Against God

The previous entry discussed both the inconsistencies and insufficient definitions of the article entitled, “How to Argue That God Does Not Exist.” I don’t want to focus on this too much, but I did want to continue in examining two more areas: the irrelevancies and inaccuracies. It should prove somewhat interesting!

III. The Irrelevancies.

Something is irrelevant just in the case its affirmation or denial can be accepted by either party who disputes some other claim. So, for instance, that the North Pole is north of Canada is irrelevant to whether or not the 40th president was John F. Kennedy. Its truth doesn’t have any implications for the claim under consideration. With that in mind, we turn to a couple of examples in this article of irrelevancies.

First, he claims that “morality does not require any religious belief.” That seems a bit ambiguous, but fortunately for us, he explains what he means. “The ability to distinguish right from wrong does not require any religious beliefs.” While this disambiguation is itself ambiguous (is it really the ability to distinguish right from wrong does not require God or that religious belief be true, or the ability to distinguish right from wrong does not require belief in God or belief in religious claims? It’s not 100% clear, but I lean toward the latter for his meaning.), it seems he is reacting against the perceived claim that atheists act immorally. Well, taking his meaning, I think we can agree. It seems obvious that atheists can act immorally or morally, independent of their religious beliefs.[1] However, this is just irrelevant to the truth of the Christian God’s existence (or really, any god). It doesn’t follow that God doesn’t exist from the truth of “atheists can act in such a way as to conform to moral duties and obligations.” It doesn’t even follow from that that the argument for God from morality fails! That is, one is completely consistent in affirming this claim and the claim that God grounds morality.

Second, it is claimed that religion has been used to control the masses. Again, it’s not clear what’s being claimed here: does he mean that, for every religion, there is at least one instance of it being abused to control people? Or does he mean that, for every religion, it is always and only used to control people? Or does he mean that, for every religion, it is usually used to control people? Let’s say the first definition is under consideration. What’s supposed to be the argument? There is none given, so we have to infer it. I suppose it would be something like: “If any religion X has ever been used to control the masses, it is false.” But why should we believe something like that? That claim is, essentially, that if some arena’s power structures abuse that power, that the factual content of beliefs that they do hold are false. I don’t see any reason to believe that. Without such a claim, however, it’s clear that the definition is irrelevant. Let’s look at the second definition. Not every instantiation of Christian exercises has been used for control purposes, so it would just be false (consider charities, amongst other examples). The third definition also needs some kind of argument in order to avoid irrelevancies. It occurs to me we can try to strengthen the argument thusly: “If any religion X normally abuses its power by way of its beliefs, then those beliefs have come about for irrational reasons, and are not justified in being held to be true.” This is the strongest version of an argument that I can come up with. Unfortunately, it’s just not true. This is because it’s not only possible, but even likely, that the beliefs were formed first, and then these beliefs are used to control the masses. So, for instance, depending on what we mean by control, Christian churches will insist that one accepts the deity of Christ, and may even use that rule as a control on membership. But most, if not all, of these church leaders of individual churches adopted belief in Christ’s deity before the belief that this needed to be a control on church membership.

Third, the next irrelevancy concerns the “why” of one’s holding of their faith. This is actually spread out over two points. First, he wants a reason of “why they believe so strongly in their faith besides being raised in the dogma’s environment.” It looks like we can discern two senses of “why” here: first, the sense of the origin of belief, and second, of the reasons for belief. This will be important to remember on the next point. The reason this is irrelevant is that even if the believer has absolutely no other explanation for why he believes, and no argument for why God exists (good or otherwise), it won’t follow that God does not exist. At worst, it’s a fact about the purported rationality of a given individual for believing that God does exist.[2] The second point he makes is a counterfactual one. If you were raised in another religious tradition, would you hold the religious beliefs you do hold? Presumably, the answer is supposed to be “no,” and then from there, it (presumably, since he doesn’t say) follows that one is unjustified in believing God exists. But again, the reason this is irrelevant is because one can happily concede he is unjustified in saying that God exists, but that it won’t follow that we should believe God doesn’t exist.[3]

IV. The Inaccuracies.

This next section will tackle a few inaccuracies of this article. First, there is the issue just discussed: the counterfactual “truth” that if one were raised in another environment, he would adopt other religious beliefs than what he has; therefore, one is unjustified in holding the religious beliefs he does hold. That won’t work for more than one reason. First, it’s a textbook example of the genetic fallacy: the origin of one’s belief does not indicate its truth or falsehood. Second, it’s not clear the counterfactual is true in every case (in fact, it’s not). There are people who convert to other religions than their native environment all the time (that it’s not the majority case makes no difference). So it’s “doubly fallacious,” as it were.

Next, there is a section that talks about life after death. In an amazing claim, he urges his fellow atheists to “ask them to explain near-death or death experiences that many people have related, and why they never speak of seeing any ‘heaven,’ ‘god,’ ‘angels’ or anything of the sort.” This claim is just inaccurate. In fact, Gary Habermas has contributed to a large volume arguing differently (and even arguing from “non-spiritual” NDEs to supernaturalism, which is not acceptable on naturalism, obviously). Even if Habermas is ultimately wrong, it still follows that the claim is inaccurate.

Third, there is something resembling an argument from scientism. The first premise is “if something exists, it can be scientifically quantified,” with the second premise being, “scientists have quantified millions of items.” The conclusion of the argument is, “Therefore, if something cannot be scientifically quantified, then it does not exist.” The problem is that the conclusion is simply the contrapositive of the first premise, so that the argument is circular.[4] While the inference from the first premise to the conclusion is logically valid (though circular), the second premise doesn’t serve to prove either the conclusion or the first premise. In fact, if we decide that really there’s only one premise trying to support the one conclusion, then the argument isn’t logically valid at all. So why think that if something exists, it must be scientifically quantified? Based on his description, only those already committed to physicalism should accept this. Presumably, theists are not physicalists, so while it’s an interesting fact about physicalism, it’s not compelling.

There is so much more that could be said (including the denial that atheism is a belief precisely one sentence before declaring that they have to prove God does not exist [presumably they at least believe what they’re trying to prove, don’t they?]; the naïve philosophy of science whereby they conclude that “almost everything” in science has been proven; the Who Made God? objection as decisive, etc.), but these two articles have given this how-to more attention than it deserves. Please feel free to comment or ask any questions below!

[1] I am consciously choosing to overlook the fact that, if Christian theism is true, then it is quite plausibly immoral for the atheist (at least the usual one) to reject the message of the Gospel. It would not advance the conversation, and we can give this indulgence quite easily.

[2] And I don’t think it’s nearly so problematic as the author seems to think. For it must assume a few dubious premises: first, that the origin of one’s belief counts against the truth of one’s belief; second, that if one cannot articulate an argument for a belief one holds, he is unjustified in holding it; third, that if one is unjustified in holding a belief, then he ought to believe its denial.

[3] Of course, criticisms of this sort don’t even accomplish the factual view they think they do. That will be discussed in the next section.

[4] This is because of the logical equivalence of contrapositives; acceptance of one necessitates acceptance of the other. Therefore, the first premise is the logical equivalent of the conclusion, and thus only people who already accept the conclusion should accept it.