Thursday, July 30, 2015

Skeptic's Not Knowing God Exists is not Necessarily an Excuse

I was thinking today about a common theme in discussing what skeptics and non-believers may say if confronted by God in the afterlife. A typical retort is that they did not have enough evidence or reason to believe in God, and so did not know God existed or of their need for repentance. This relies heavily on the traditional analysis of knowledge as “justified, true belief.”[1] The argument, then, would look like this:

1.     If one does not know he ought to do x, then it is not the case that he ought to do x.
2.     One does not know he ought to do x.
3.     Therefore, it is not the case that he ought to do x.

The argument seems straightforward enough. The unbeliever does not, by definition, believe in God’s existence and so does not, by definition, believe he must repent. If he does not believe these things, then by the traditional analysis, he does not know these things (since belief is a necessary condition). Thus, the unbeliever is not actually obligated to respond to the Gospel, for one can hardly know what he thinks is untrue, and so he’s off the hook!

The typical Christian response is to accept (1) and deny (2). Romans 1 and 10, Psalm 19, and other passages suggest strongly that everyone knows there is a God. Thus, there really are no such things as atheists, in the strict sense—everyone believes or knows, deep down, even if it is suppressed to the point of the subconscious. While I think this response, if carefully nuanced, can get to the truth of the matter (that is, I agree with the Bible), it’s not always helpful to tell the atheist what he “really believes.” Rather, I intend to attack (1).

While initially plausible, I think (1) is not impervious to objection. Consider a person who is responsible for being in his current predicament, even though he cannot now alter his current state. That person, if in circumstances in which he ought to refrain from performing some action, still ought to refrain from performing that action, if he was responsible for being in the particular state he is in now. Take a drug addict, and assume one ought not to abuse drugs. Suppose further, as has been argued, that there is at least possibly some circumstance such that, were a drug addict sufficiently addicted, he could not now refrain from shooting up with heroin (without some external intervention). In this case the drug addict, if he chose to use drugs of his own volition and became addicted through that free choice or series of free choices, is responsible for his current predicament. Additionally, it is plausible that he is morally responsible—not just for the initial acts, but for the subsequent acts, and the act within the situation that now confronts him. In other words, even though the drug addict fails to have now a necessary condition for being such that he ought to refrain from abusing drugs, he nonetheless still ought to refrain from abusing drugs—because he is completely responsible for being in the situation in which he finds himself.[2]

So how can we apply this to our situation with the unbeliever? It seems we could say that if an atheist is responsible for his initial state of unbelief,[3] then he is responsible for his current state as well. So, if we have someone who decides to walk away from Christianity, or will not accept it, and they chose that state, then even if they do not now believe (or even find themselves unable to believe!), it was within their power to believe and so are still obligated to trust and repent. Now it’s obvious that a non-believer can dispute our account here; but this is not the point. The point is that (1) is not nearly as obvious as a first glance may suggest, and is even plausibly false.

Plausibly, we can capture the intuitive force of (1) as:

1’. If one is not responsible for his current state of not knowing he ought to do x, then it is not the case that he ought to do x.

2’. One is not responsible for his current state of not knowing he ought to do x.

3.     Therefore, it is not the case that he ought to do x.

(1’) and plausible instances of (2’) seem right. But now notice that this is not the state most non-believers we’ve been discussing find themselves in. They usually are responsible for not believing the Gospel. While some may claim that no beliefs are chosen, I find this hard to believe (and if they’re right, I couldn’t have chosen to believe it anyway). I think at least some beliefs are chosen, and even if they aren’t, the argument plausibly needs only that sense of responsibility that anyone would have about anything anyone has concerning their current states and/or formation of character. But again, a skeptic need not accept this alternative account in order for us to show that the original account, and hence the original excuse, fails.

[1] Let’s leave to one side Gettier cases or attempted counterexamples for the sake of argument.

[2] This has some interesting implications for “ought-implies-can” which I will, for now, leave to the reader to work out.

[3] Here we may want to distinguish between states of infants and states of what I shall call “responsible knowers,” which will coincide with a state of moral responsibility. I will appeal to this latter state, though I will not endeavor here to figure out when that begins.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Oxford Trip Summary, Part 2

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Today was an interesting day. After breakfast (cereal again; no one get excited), I headed out to find the Oxford train station. I got a little turned around, but eventually got there OK. I picked up my tickets both for my journey into London tomorrow and Monday’s journey to Birmingham (where I’ll hopefully meet up with Joshua Brown). The people were all friendly and understanding of my ignorance of how to do any of this. Right after this, I wandered into the admissions office at Oxford, and they were both knowledgeable and helpful with questions about their doctoral program in philosophy.

After a very brief lunch, we headed off to the bus to go to the Kilns and the home of C. S. Lewis. We had to eat so quickly and leave that we accidentally left Dr. Eccher behind (as he was not present when we started to leave—in his words, “I was gone for 90 seconds, and it was like the Rapture happened!”).

While we were waiting for the bus, an older gentleman asked where we were going. When Dr. Keathley responded that it was to the Kilns, he responded “Oh, I live out there. Why are you going there with such a large group?” When Dr. Keathley answered that it was to see the home of C. S. Lewis, the man replied, “I do not like C. S. Lewis!” and turned away. Later, he would describe our group as a “disgrace” for “filling the coach” before it actually happened. Some people are insistent on being angry about something or other. Dr. Keathley happened to remark to us: “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country…”!

The Kilns was an excellent place. It was not a large house; in fact, one could be in and out in a few minutes. But it was fun to hear the history that surrounded it and how an American couple bought it (who now live there). After dinner, we walked around town, just taking it all in (there was a group of five altogether). After I headed back to my room, eventually four of us guys found our way into my room, where we sat around drinking soda or water and talking philosophy, theology, and distance learning at SEBTS. These guys have a desire to serve God, and to do it with their minds. It was a fun time!

Friday, July 10, 2015

London is truly one of the world’s great cities. With people coming from around the world to see it, you can’t help but notice all of the different types of people and languages around you. Today was one of my London days (this time I was on my own). I first arrived at Paddington station, where I got an all-day tube pass and hopped on. It’s pretty easy to navigate, which is good for a person like me. I got off at Marylebone station and walked the five minutes or so over to Baker Street, where I was one of the first that morning to enter the Sherlock Holmes Museum! Located at 239 Baker St. (since Baker St. ends just another two or so shops away), they are recognized as the official museum for the great detective. The whole thing cost £15 and I got through it all in 30 minutes at most, but it was still worth it. The employees were dressed in Victorian-era clothing, and the house almost seemed to be “preserved” from the stories, as if he really did live and these were artifacts of his time in London.

I had received some advice to head to Regent’s Park across the street, so right after the museum I did so. It’s like London’s version of Central Park, and it is large and beautiful. After asking a local for directions, I made my way to Primrose Hill. From this hill, you can view the entire city in the distance. It was a warm and clear day, and so that only added to the atmosphere. From there, I wandered until I got to a bus stop and travelled to another tube station, looking for lunch. I found this nice Italian place—for those who say there is no good food in England, I suggest they haven’t been there in a while! The pasta and sauce was good, and they seemed to be Italian people making the food, so good enough!

From here I needed to get around to the London Eye pier. I was walking on a bridge area to see what I could when I noticed a Jehovah’s Witness. I couldn’t pass it up. I introduced myself to him, and asked if I could ask him some questions. Now unfortunately, JW’s tend to go into “rote-memory mode” when you ask them questions. I pressed him on whether Jesus is God, and while at first he did not answer, he agreed that if God is the most excellent and powerful being there is, then Jesus is not God (since Jesus is “a god” in a lesser sense of being a spirit). I told him that was a major sticking point for me (I try to put the onus on them to convince me). He responded with a question for me: When Jesus died, who ran the universe? That seemed easy enough: it would have to be God. “But,” I added quickly, “I don’t think this is a problem for me, because, after all, it wasn’t like Jesus ceased to exist—they killed his body, not his spirit.” Add to that the fact that Jesus and the Father aren’t the same person, and I don’t see this as being much of an objection. At that, he was polite, but just shut down. There was no rote response for him for this situation. I thanked him for his time, made a book recommendation, and moved on. He seemed very confused, and I felt bad for him.

I went to the river cruise where I was joined by many British schoolchildren. We went up and down parts of the Thames receiving very interesting facts about the city and buildings (for instance, London was established by the Romans, and they called the city “Londinium” and the river “Tamesis.”). It was about 45 minutes long or so, and well worth it. I went straight from this to the London Eye itself, where I had a guide with my group of disparate individuals. This was amazing, with the great views of the city at every point.

I grabbed dinner at a pub, where the bartender (this is from whom you order your food in a pub), upon finding out I was American and new to London, couldn’t wait to pour me a British beer. She was a little disappointed when I said I was refraining from alcohol, but would love a Coke (it felt a bit like having a child proudly ask you to look at her school art project and slapping it away instead!). I had a fish-and-chips sandwich, where they had mushy peas on it. This is not nearly as bad as it sounds and looks. Basically, if you’re OK with peas, you’ll be OK with this. I met an Irishman who was down on his luck. I’ve lived in places with plenty of homelessness before, so I also know when you’re being “sold,” and I wasn’t quite fooled. However, I did want to share the Gospel with him, so I did give him a few pounds. He seemed dismissive of the Gospel (“Yeah, I’m a Christian”), and once he figured out I wasn’t going to give him any more (or my tube pass), he quickly exited the pub.

That was about it for my day; I hopped on a train home to Oxford, where upon arrival, I was hanging out with Danny on the night scene (just observing from the outside, mind you). It was a cool evening and a great way to end the day. Stay tuned for the next day in London!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Oxford Trip Summary, Part 1

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

We arrived without any incident at Heathrow. Like Atlanta, you have to take a train to direct you to various terminals (our coach was waiting for us in Terminal 5). The trains are really nice. We were all very tired, but were instructed to stay up until at least 7pm local time in order to adjust better. After an hour or so bus ride from London Heathrow to Oxford, we arrived at Regent’s Park College. We unloaded and were immediately given our room assignments. We each get our own room (much like the students who attend college here). The college itself is relatively small, and the rooms are old, with outdated carpet. But there’s something awesome about it—mostly that you’re in Oxford.

We had a lot of time in between this and lunch, so I took the opportunity to aimlessly wander in a direction in which I saw a lot of people moving. I didn’t get very far, but I took some good pictures. Lunch was…all right. Chicken and rice with red and green pepper things that I swallowed whole. After lunch, we eventually had an orientation and introductory lectures. I was so tired I had to fight to stay awake. Even thinking about it resulted in me catching myself falling asleep again. The best part was when we walked to the city center at about 4:30. Dr. Yarnell spoke for a few minutes about the martyr’s monument (built in response to an Anglo-Catholic movement as a reminder of what evangelicals had gone through there). He then told us we were free to wander. Dr. Eccher and I decided to hit the town up (he was very interested in all the clothing stores). I bought a drink and scouted the phone stores for a SIM card (which I still don’t have).

I closed out the day with dinner (which was salmon and awesome), and while most people went to bed, I headed out with my new friend Danny to see what we could see. The day had been warm enough to make you sweat a little while walking a lot, but now (even though still light) in the shadows you could feel a cool breeze (enough to where I’m glad Jodi made me take a jacket—side note: I have been glad for everything Jodi made me take). We saw an open-air Shakespeare play (but only from a distance as we didn’t pay), and heard more foreign languages than English accents. I bought some fish and chips (because I was hungry!) from a street vendor. It’s remarkable how much like a junior New York City Oxford is (with respect to tourism and tons of people everywhere).

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Today there was so much to do and see it was virtually impossible to keep track. First thing was breakfast, and I just kept it real with cereal. Turns out they do have Frosted Flakes in the UK. Right away, I went downtown to the EE to pick up a SIM card and a new UK phone number (pointless, since I have absolutely no one to call, but I can use the data). I arrived about 20 minutes early and I saw a younger guy there. He let me know they opened at 9, and I found out he was an employee there waiting for another with the keys. We talked for a while. His name is James, he has a family, and he’s not anti-religion. He considers himself open-minded, but because of his family obligations he doesn’t have time to “do religion.” It was unfortunate that he seemed to believe salvation was primarily about doing! We had a very brief conversation about Christ coming to provide redemption for the sin that we’ve all done, but it could have gone better. He was very polite through it all.

After this time, we took a two-hour tour of the Regent’s Park College at Oxford (where we are staying) and their Angus Library. This Library was one of the greatest treasures of Baptist history that must be around. It had letters between Fuller and Carey, original-run tracts from Martin Luther in the 1500s, Thomas Cranmer’s study Bible, and so on (many of my pictures can be found on Facebook).

After lunch, we did a walking tour around Oxford (where the town is intertwined with the colleges that make up the University—essentially, if you’re in Oxford [the town], you’re in Oxford [the university]). This was a beautiful and informative journey that took us to the home of Dorothy Sayer (passing by), the river where Anabaptists would first baptize converts (during which time jeering and insults were hurled at them from the banks), and Christ Church College, where parts of Harry Potter were filmed. Lectures were conducted at various points along the way, and it seemed everywhere we turned there were beautiful buildings, historical points of significance, or both (in the case of St. Mary’s University Church, where Thomas Cranmer took back his recantation and would not go back to being Catholic).

After dinner, I went with Drs. Eccher, Gould, Grace, and Keathley (and a PhD student at SWBTS) to walk around town and eat some ice cream (I think I actually had sorbet). So what’s next? Touring the home of C. S. Lewis is on the agenda for tomorrow, and I really look forward to learning even more about Baptist and evangelical heritage, and how the UK played into all of that (especially with respect to the early Baptist missionaries of the modern missions movement).

Pray especially for boldness and wisdom for me as I interact with people. There are masses of people here from around the world, and most of them, as far as I know, do not know Christ. Pray God will work in their hearts and that they will respond!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

England, UK, Great Britain--What's the Difference?!

I just want to say sorry to my UK readers upfront. But seriously, some of my American brethren aren’t even aware there is a difference between England, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom (and let me tell you, the Olympics and the World Cup don’t help). And here I am purporting to sort out the difference, and I’m pretty sure I’ll still get something wrong.

Anyway, I’m writing this in preparation for my impending UK Oxford study tour. I’m leaving Monday night, and really looking forward to learning, seeing, and interacting with all of the rich British evangelical and Baptist history. And I hope I meet some real live British people!

Back to the regularly scheduled program: England is a country and located on an island just off of continental Europe (across the English channel from France). Take a look at this map to get a sense of it:
England: They Really Do Color the Border Red

England is located on an island called Great Britain. This island is home to three countries: England, Wales (to the west), and Scotland (to the north, which is not fully in view in the picture. Sorry.). These three nations, in addition to Northern Ireland (located at the northern end of the island of Ireland), form the United Kingdom. Finally, the British Isles are an archipelago made up of tons of islands including Ireland and Great Britain. Get it?

For reasons not really known to me (but I’m sure are easily searchable), the UK competes as Great Britain in the Olympics (and it includes athletes from Northern Ireland who do not live on the island of Great Britain). And I suppose because they invented soccer, the four individual nations all get their own national teams. This also likely means we shouldn’t refer to England’s soccer team as “the British team.” So, hopefully this has been helpful for some of us Americans (including the media) who may have been understandably confused at all the nuances that exist in the United Kingdom!