Sunday, January 31, 2016

Passing on Our Implicit Principles to the Next Generation

The birth of my son grows closer each and every day, and we are growing more excited. Despite all of the excitement, however, I do have genuine concerns. Among them is the concern that I will not be able to teach my son the appropriate principles and reasoning skills he will undoubtedly need in the ever-changing world. What I mean by that is this: it is very easy to teach someone what you believe, but very hard to prevent them from taking that and running off in a completely unintended direction. Sometimes that unintended direction is great: it provides new insights and fresh thinking. Other times, that direction is horrible, and results in apostasy, or immorality, or cruelty, or shameful acts.

What makes the difference? I have heard it often said that a teacher’s students will take writings and teachings much farther than they were ever meant to go. But how does such a thing happen? It seems to me that what is often simply assumed, instead of taught and argued for, are the background assumptions and principles. We may think we are teaching some particular principle, when in fact our children and students hear something completely different.

Here is a concrete example: Christian young people often see homosexual actions and marriage in at least a permissible light (if not a promotional one!), and many adults are absolutely baffled as to where they have gone wrong. Many have called for stronger doctrinal teaching, stronger hermeneutics, stronger ethics, and more. And to a certain degree, all of this would be quite helpful. But I can’t help but notice particular background assumptions that they either have absorbed from the current culture or else derived on their own from the Christian teachings they have heard. “Love one another!” they will say. “Doesn’t this mean that love is good? Who are we to judge? Let them love one another!” They often thus see prohibitions against homosexual behavior as prejudiced as efforts to subjugate black people in America.

And yet I wonder where they would be if the background assumptions never made explicit were taught to them. Namely, some of these principles are: marriage has a particular essence, and is not a “nothing-but” legal contract; God created the biological sexes to function in particular ways; that love, justice, and moral values are all intertwined, not at odds, and thus following God’s moral laws are inherently loving, while violating them is inherently unloving. Many more could be stated.

These background assumptions are strongly tied to worldview. Worldview studies strongly suggest that worldviews, at least initially, are absorbed, and they are done so through culture and immediate influences. This is why parents cannot simply sit back and not teach their children anything. It is not simply that it should not be done; it is that it cannot be avoided. Our children will learn something from us; what will it be?

I suspect one of the main reasons these presuppositions were taken for granted is that they themselves were often inherited by the parents. They assumed it would pass on; but when culture changes, many of the old assumptions do not transfer to the next generation. That can be good or bad. The good news is that worldviews can be changed; assumptions can be challenged. Nonetheless, we are now in a culture that has their own largely unexamined worldview assumptions, and sadly, many times they are not up for debate (e.g., approximately 99% of abortion debates talk past each other. I mean, seriously: if you know a pro-life person opposes abortion because they think it is murder, why in the world would you counter with, “A woman has the right over her own body!”? Unless they have a background assumption that murder is permissible in these cases, they should instead focus on arguments that address the belief that abortion is murder.).

This is where we need good apologetics, theology, and philosophy. And above all that, we need godly wisdom.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

How Incorrect and Unexamined Background Principles Can Affect Your Thinking

In the last post, we discussed how principles are present in everyone’s lives. Now in this post, I’d like to discuss a very important way this can affect you. Lurking in the background of every attempt at reasoning, whether excellent or terrible or anywhere in between, is a set of principles. Now I’m not advocating that we go out and list these principles any time we’re about to engage in reasoning; but being aware of these can help.

I read a recent “deconversion” story of a former Christian-turned-atheist recently. In his story, he explained how he loved Christ and wanted to be a Christian. Further, he wanted to have strong proofs for his faith. He mentioned something like, “I wanted to find irrefutable arguments and evidence for God’s existence and Christianity’s truth, or at least arguments that were so good no one could deny them.” When he didn’t find such arguments and evidence, he abandoned the faith.

Now this post is not to discuss the various evidences and arguments for Christianity’s truth and God’s existence, though I certainly think those are quite good. I do want to discuss his principle. It’s quite unreasonable.

I see a variant of this thinking quite often—sometimes even from budding young apologists—but what I don’t see is anyone attempting to justify it. Why, in order to be justified in being a Christian, must the evidence be so good that no one can deny it? I don’t see a good reason. Even the “extraordinary claims” line often tossed about doesn’t justify such thinking (it only justifies “extraordinary evidence,” not evidence so good no one could deny it).

In fact, not only do we not see a reason to accept the standard, we can actually see a reason to reject it. Given that the goal of Christianity, so to speak, is not merely to believe in God, or even merely to believe in the intellectual facts of the Gospel, but instead to enter into a loving, trusting relationship—with God as our Father and Christ as our Savior where we follow him with our lives—that we call “faith,” it would actually be counterproductive for God to have the world be such that we could not deny the truths of the Gospel. God does not want compulsory relationships; in fact, love is such that “compulsory love” is an oxymoron.

Notice the wide gulf that exists between “can deny x,” and “cannot accept x;” they are not identical. There is no good reason to accept such a standard. In fact, such a standard implicitly says, “If I am not forced to believe, I will not believe.” But this, then, is a dispositional matter of the will, not the intellect. And that is something for which we need God and his Word.

Principles or Pragmatics?

Pragmatism vs. Principle. Which one should win? This comes up in many areas of life, including politics, religion, finances, etc. In either case, the popular idea seems to be that if you want to get the result you truly desire, pragmatism is king. And there is a certain sense in which that is technically correct: there are times where our principles will not yield us the results we want.

However, I think there is a fundamental issue often overlooked in the popular discussions on pragmatics: the issue that pragmatism is itself a principle. Just as one cannot avoid having a worldview or particular philosophy (on pain of self-refutation), so one cannot avoid the snare of principled thinking, even in pragmatic considerations.

For consider this: one thinks one should be pragmatic in a particular situation, in order to gain x. After all, the only reason this is even a debate is because people do what works. The “principle of pragmatism” is applied any time pragmatic considerations are invoked precisely because the very definition of pragmatism entails doing what works.

Why is this important? What affect can this have on discussions? It seems there is only one contribution I have with this idea: one must admit that principles govern his life, and he must be aware of them. Being aware of our principles allows us to evaluate them and the way we see the world. This is important because we want to have an accurate picture of the world, instead of a distorted one.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Where Have I Been, and Where Am I Going?

So, where have I been, and what will I be doing? As some of you may know from prior posts, last semester was quite busy. I was wrapping up both coursework and my thesis for my MA in philosophy of religion. It was a lot of work, but finally, Molinism and “Divine Voodoo Worlds”: A Critique of Dean Zimmerman’s Anti-Molinist Argument was both completed and successfully defended. Because of that, and making it through my classes, I graduated with that degree this past December!

So now, what’s ahead? I’ve currently applied to half a dozen PhD programs, and there are a few more I am considering. It’s tough going getting into one; there’s no guarantee I do so at all. One thing that some “lay people” are not aware of: just because you are smart or talented or have a great track record or test well (or all of these things), doesn’t mean you’ll get into a PhD program. At this level, very often all or nearly all of the applicants have all of these things going for them. I don’t profess to be any kind of expert with respect to admissions criteria; nonetheless, I do know it is very difficult. In any case, I just ask for prayer for God’s will to be done with respect to where Jodi and I may be going (well, our whole family really).

And this brings me to my next subject: in early March, Jodi is due with our first child—a son! We are both very excited and grateful God would bless us with a child. We realized the other day that we are not remotely ready with respect to the room and the responsibility. Nonetheless, we believe strongly that with preparation and divine guidance, we will be OK. Plenty of people have done this before, right? Right?!

I’ll try to post more as the weeks go on. Until then, we just ask for your prayers for our family. God bless!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Substance Dualism, Life after Death, and the Intermediate State

This essay concerns my view of post-mortem survival and whether or not there is an intermediate state. Being a Christian, I do believe in post-mortem survival (as all of us do, considering the resurrection). In this essay, I provide an account and support for what I believe, and defend against a few philosophical and theological objections.
Despite the fact that all Christians believe in a post-mortem survival, many Christians disagree over the nature of that survival. I believe in a resurrected body at the end of this particular time; once Christ has returned, he does so to judge the earth. At the resurrection, a new kind of body will be given to us, as foretold by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, and confirmed in Revelation 20:5-6. This is an embodied state, joining soul and body together in a harmony not to be divided for the rest of time; it is the final, permanent, and eternal state with God. Those who do not believe are also resurrected. However, their resurrection is not to be with God, but to be without him in conscious and everlasting punishment.
What happens when one dies? It is my view that an A-theory of time is correct. If this is so, then when one dies, one is not removed from time in any real sense. Instead, moments pass and time moves forward for all. 2 Corinthians 5:8 suggests that “To be absent from the body . . . [is] to be present with the Lord” (KJV). If this is so, then upon death, the soul is separated from the body and goes to Heaven for the intermediate state. If one is an unbeliever, then he goes to an intermediate state of punishment (cf. Luke 16, possibly). This soul just is the person, as a real existence is needed in this eternal state. If the soul is not identical to the person, then the person does not exist in the intermediate state, which seems contrary to what Paul is saying here. Further, while one may argue that consciousness takes place even if a person is not technically in existence, it seems natural to assign consciousness to personhood; there just is not the kind of self-aware consciousness natural to humans without personhood associated with it. Thus, in order for a person to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord, the person must be, at least in principle, separable from his body, and so enters the intermediate state.
There are a number of objections that can be lodged against my position. First, one can argue that either there is no intermediate state, or else that the biblical evidence for such a state can be undercut. For example, earlier in 2 Corinthians 5, Paul seems to be stating that we would be “naked” without a body, and we will not be found that way. Another interesting point is that the chapter does not seem to be speaking about the intermediate state at all, but rather connects this absence from the body with the judgment seat of Christ (cf. v. 10). If this is so, and Paul is concerned with the eschaton, then this passage refers not to any intermediate state whatsoever.
The answer to this objection is not definitive, and yet I still believe my view can survive. Consider the chapter itself, and a careful reading of the text will show that the heavenly house referred to in v. 2 is not necessarily the resurrected body. Instead, while it may very well include this information, it seems to be fitting in with Paul’s contrast between the temporal (or temporary) and the eternal (or everlasting) coming from the end of chapter 4. If this is so, the point is to show the distinction between the two competing things. The deeds done in the body do matter, but they matter precisely because of the judgment and because of who God is (and what he has designed us to do and to be). Further, there is a not-implausible interpretation of the text that suggests judgment occurs for the believer at death (cf. Hebrews 9:27, NASB). If this is so, then the intermediate state comes for the believer at death and upon the judgment seat of Christ.
Another objection could be that one should not even believe in an intermediate state (or at least not this version of it), because hylomorphic dualism is true. In this family of objections, you either need your numerically identical body or else some body that is yours; given the lack of a resurrection and the disembodied nature of the intermediate state, “you” do not exist in Heaven at all. Thus, either the intermediate state should be abandoned, or this particular view should, in favor of a diminished or otherwise-embodied existence.
I am not sure how much it makes sense to have a diminished existence where my soul is present but not me. To illustrate: what if it were reversed, and my body was present, but not me? I can only picture a zombie-like mass, without me there. With my soul, I could see responses to basic stimuli, but again, nothing like a person without me there. The point is only to say that diminished existence seems to be nothing like personal existence at all. Second, while one could receive a loaned body, it does not seem to be indicated anywhere in Scripture; it is only required philosophically on a particular form of hylomorphism.
Philosophically and theologically, one could also object that this is a kind of Gnosticism, where one places a higher value on the soul than on the body. But this need not be the case. First, the body should be valued due to stewardship concerns. God gave us these bodies and they should be taken care of well. Second, the judgment concerns our actions, all of which are done in the body. Thus, what we do here is of eternal significance, even on this view of SD. The view that states either the body is necessary to existence or else Gnosticism follows is making an error in evaluation.

Finally, a materialist could insist that there is no intermediate state since there is no evidence that such a state obtains. One could respond that there seem to have been credible near-death experiences (NDEs), and if there is even one accurate NDE, then dualism follows. While one could not draw many conclusions from NDEs, as they contain competing religious or metaphysical claims, all of them have a baseline agreement: there is a soul, and it survives the death of the body. NDEs warrant more, and careful, discussion and consideration. I believe the SD view of post-mortem survival is an accurate one, but I am open to having my mind changed on these issues.