Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Gender and sex

This weekend, a person I know who will remain anonymous told me that there is a difference between gender and sex. Sex has to do with your physicality, specifically your reproductive organs and chromosomes. Gender has to do with your self identification. So, for example, if you have a Y chromosome and a penis, but you think of yourself as a woman, then your gender is female and your sex is male.

Now, I generally don't like to have arguments over the meaning of words. I'm totally utilitarian when it comes to words. I think their sole purpose is to facilitate communication. What matters is the substance behind your words, i.e. what you actually mean by them. As long as you are clear about what you mean, then you can communicate effectively, even if the other person doesn't prefer to use those same words the way you're using them.

Words would be meaningless sounds or scribblings if we did not invest them with meaning. What gives them their meaning is how we use them and what we mean by them. What makes them capable of facilitating communication is that we have a general consensus on how they are used. Communication would be very difficult if everybody poured a different meaning into their words.

I'm 40 years old, and for as long as I can remember, 'gender' and 'sex' have been used interchangeably. They refer to whether something is male or female, and whether something is male or female depends on its chromosomes and reproductive organs. Now, I understand that over time words can take on new meanings as they are used in new ways. That's why it's hard sometimes to read literature that's over a hundred years old. Some of the words don't mean the same thing then as they do today because people use those words differently today than the did back then. But I wasn't sure if said anonymous person's definition of 'gender' was what was meant by the word all along or if this was something entirely new. So I've been looking at dictionaries on the internet.

Now, I realize a dictionary doesn't determine what a word means. As I said already, words get their meaning from common use. But a good dictionary will try to capture the various ways that words are used. That's why there's usually more than one definition. Words have what's called a "semantic domain," i.e. a range of possible uses. A good dictionary will also order the various uses according to how common they are with the most common use being first and the least common use being last.

After looking at a lot of dictionaries on the internet, it seems like the word "gender" is commonly used in two different contexts--grammar and sex. In grammar, a gender refers to whether a noun, pronoun, or whatever is masculine, feminine, or neuter. For example, "she" is feminine, "he" is masculine, and "it" is neuter. But when gender refers to people, it's synonymous with sex. It just refers to whether a person is male or female. That's it.

So I suspect this idea of making a distinction between 'gender' and 'sex' is meant to accommodate transgendered people--people who identify themselves as being members of one sex but who physically are members of the opposite sex. That way if a man thinks of himself as a woman, he can honestly say his gender is female. Now think how many times you've filled out an application, and it asked you for your "gender." Do you see how this could be useful? I can't prove it, but I'm willing to bet that people who promote making a distinction between "gender" and "sex" do so because they think if we can get everybody to say that a man's gender is female, pretty soon we'll start treating him as if his sex were female as well. That way, he can use the girl's bathroom in public.

I just looked up "transgendered" on wikipedia while writing this, and according to that article, the first time somebody suggested that gender had to do with how one identifies themselves was in 1979. That's farther back than I expected. But I wonder if this new use of the term has really caught on. Considering the fact that I haven't heard it up until now, it can't be that common. And it certainly can't be the meaning of the word.

On the one hand, I can see how it might be useful to adopt this new meaning, though. It's certainly useful to transgendered people. Of course I think if we do adopt it, then we ought to stop using "gender" on applications and switch to "sex" instead just to avoid ambiguity. Most of those applications don't care what's going on in people's heads. They just want to know if the person is actually male or female.

I wonder, though, if more is going on than simply changing the meaning of a word. If transgendered people actually think of themselves as being the opposite sex of what they actually are, then surely there's something ontological at stake. In that case, we might be doing them a disservice to go along with their redefinition.

I have to confess here that I don't understand transgenderism very well. It's not something I've thought much about or read anything about. But it strikes me as incredibly odd because from what I understand, these people aren't so delusional that they actually think they are the opposite sex than what they are. A man with a penis knows he has a male body, so he's got to know he's male. It's not as if when he's taking a shower he looks down there and sees a vagina, and it's not as if he's ignorant about how reproduction works and what the difference is between males and females. But by their own description, they self-identify as the opposite sex. What on earth does that mean? I confess I don't have a clue. If you know you're male, then what does it mean to say you identify yourself or think of yourself as a female? I'm sure it's not as absurd as it sounds to me because these people aren't stupid, but just on the surface, it sounds like they're saying, "I know I'm a man, but I believe I'm a woman." It just sounds like a blatant contradiction to me. So I don't know what men mean when they say they identify as a woman or think of themselves as women.

Now if it really is as absurd in reality as it strikes me at first glance, then I don't think we should go along with this new meaning of 'gender.' If there are men who really think they are women, and vice versa, then these people are deluded, and by going along with their peculiar terminology will just enable them to continue living in their delusion. It would be like somebody who identifies himself as a duck, and we all went along with it and agreed to refer to him as a duck and to swim around in the pond pretending to be a duck. If there really were people who thought they were ducks, wouldn't we just think they were mentally ill? Why is transgenderism any different?

So my only reservation about going along with this new meaning of 'gender' is that I'm not entirely sure we're simply being asked to invest a word with a different definition. I think we're being asked for more than that. We're being asked to really think of these people as male or female wholly apart from their physicality, just as they identify themselves as male or female apart from their physicality. And I can't do that in all honesty. I would just be playing make believe. I'd feel just as silly as if I went along with a person who thought he was a duck. And I don't think we're doing anybody any favors by going along with their delusion. I don't even expect my atheist friends who think I'm delusional for believing in God to go on pretending as if they think God exists.

But I admit my objection may just have to do with the fact that I don't understand what transgenderism is or what's really going on in their heads. I don't understand what it means for a person who considers themselves male when they know good and well that they are female or vice versa. I do know, though, that something is awry when that happens. Whatever is going on, surely we can all agree that there is a mismatch between their mind and their body one way or another.

After googling around a little more just now, I've discovered that some transgendered people seek to have sex changes, and others don't want to have sex changes. I find that very interesting. Apparently, some people who think of themselves as women are perfectly okay with being physical men. I don't get that. I mean I would get it if they just don't want to have surgery because it's expensive and scary, but if you really think of yourself as being female, why would you not want to be, you know, female?

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Chiggers and fingernail polish

I took my nephew, Jake, to his first 3D archery shoot this past Sunday. Although he was fine, I got eaten alive by chiggers. By Monday, I was seriously hating life. I went to CVS and got some Cortizone, but it didn't do anything, and I had a miserable time trying to sleep that night. I got up early on Tuesday morning, went to Walgreens, and got some "bite & Sting Relief Spray" with 5% Benzocaine in it, but that didn't help either. So last night I went to Target to get some Benadryl in hopes of at least being able to get some sleep, and the check out lady told me to use fingernail polish. I was skeptical but desperate, so I bought some.

And it worked!!! It wasn't an instant heal or anything, but the itching subsided substantially within minutes. That, combined with the Benadryl, gave me a beautiful night's sleep, and when I got up in the morning, I was at peace with the world.

I got on the internet to read about it, and all the medical professionals poohed poohed it. I think what they had a problem with was the popular theory about it. You see, a lot of people think the fingernail polish suffocates the chiggers, killing them, but that's a myth because chiggers don't stay on you. It's just the proteins in their spit your body has an allergic reaction to, and that's what causes you to itch. However, regardless of HOW the fingernail polish works, it does, in fact, work. It does a great job of relieving the itching. I don't know why.

So I wanted to share this find with any of you out there who are attached by chiggers. IT is Wednesday now, and although the redness and swelling hasn't gone away, the itching is very minimal, and from what I've read on the internet, I should expect the redness to go away within the next few days.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

God's right to take life

A long time ago, I read this article by Greg Koukl called "Does God Have to Obey the Ten Commandments?" where he argued that God has the right to take life on the basis that he created life and he can do what he wants with what is his. At the time, that made a lot of sense to me.

But then somebody raised the question of whether God would be morally justified in raping somebody on the basis that he can do whatever he wants with what is his. That seems to rub my moral intuitions in the wrong way more so than God killing the innocent. I wonder how Greg Koukl would respond to that.

I was just thinking about another justification God might have for taking life that is also based on the fact that God gives life. This is an argument from analogy. I just thought of it, so don't be all nasty and condescending if you disagree with it. I haven't given it that much thought. I just want to see what you think.

Let's suppose that the only way a doctor could do surgery on the brain, heart, lungs, or whatever, is to temporarily cause you to be clinically dead. But once the operation was over, he could revive you without causing you to have any brain damage. If that were the case, I doubt many of us would object to the doctor taking our lives. If the doctor had the ability and intention to bring us back, then none of us would object to him taking our lives. But if the doctor had no such ability, we would call it murder, and we'd all object to it.

Well, God is the only one who has the ability to raise the dead to life. In fact, according to Christian theology, everybody is raised from the dead, whether they are Christians or not. So the argument is that since God is the one who gives life, and since he is the only one who can give life back to those from whom he takes it, God is justified in taking life. He has the right.

I guess I should clarify. I didn't just now come up with the idea that God is justified in taking life on the basis that he can raise a person from the dead. What I just now came up with was the doctor analogy.

Of course you might object that when a doctor takes life, he does so to help the person have better health, whereas when God takes life, it doesn't necessarily serve that purpose. He doesn't take life for the purpose of fixing what's broken in the person. He could do that without taking life.

But suppose there was a medical procedure that made it very easy to temporarily cause a person to be clinically dead, then to bring them back. Did you ever see that movie, Flatliners, with Kevin Bacon? That's the sort of thing I'm talking about. They wanted to see what it was like on the other side, so they would put each other to sleep, so to speak, then wake each other up, so to speak. Suppose this procedure was so simple that anybody could do it in their own home without any difficulty. And suppose that it was such a common practice that there were shops around the world where you could go take one of these "death trips" just as easily as you could go see a 3D movie. Would that be immoral? After all, the purpose for doing it isn't to fix your organs. It's just entertainment.

It seems to me that if it's moral for entertainment purposes, then it's moral for no good reason at all. And if it's moral for no good reason at all, then God doesn't need any further justification other than the fact that he can and will bring the person back to life.

I suppose one final objection a person might have is that we wouldn't consider it moral to flatline a person without their consent. But even so, it's doubtful that we'd convict a person of murder if they flatlined somebody without their consent. It would at least be a lesser crime than straight up killing. Also, it doesn't seem like God would need our permission the same way somebody else might need our permission. After all, he's our heavenly father. When we were kids, our own parents had rights over us that adults don't have over each other. If God is the uber Parent, then perhaps he's justified in flatlining us without our consent.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Speech Jammer

I remember when I was going to UT Austin back in the 90's, I was walking to school from my apartment one morning thinking about how whenever I walk, I monologue or have conversations in my head, and the sentences flow freely, and my train of thought is unbreakable. But when I try to talk out loud to people, my words are jumbled, I'm inarticulate, and I frequently lose my train of thought. On this particular morning, I came up with a theory for why that was happening.

You see, whenever you say something, it begins as an idea in your head. Then you have to convert that idea into words. Then you have to say the words. Having said the words, the sound reaches your ear, a signal is sent to your brain, and your brain converts the signal into a meaning. Between the time you first begin to speak and when the words get back to your brain, there's a slight delay, so while you're mind has moved ahead, you're kind of hearing an echo.

So basically, I figured what was happening was that I was literally being distracted by the sound of my own voice. I thought that was a funny explanation, and I used to tell people that just to be funny, but I didn't actually believe it.

But then recently, I started seeing videos on youtube where people are using a "speech jammer." The speech jammer is an iphone app. You put on ear phones, and when you talk, the speech jammer creates a slightly delayed echo. You can adjust how much delay there is, but even with a very slight delay, it makes it really difficult to talk clearly. So the videos are kind of funny because people are struggling to speak clearly while using the speech jammer.

This struck me as interesting because the difficulty people were having in talking is the same sort of difficulty I have when talking out loud. It's not as bad with me, probably because I've been dealing with this for a long time. But since it's the same sort of thing, I wondered if maybe that explanation I came up with a long time ago was actually true. Maybe I really am distracted by the sound of my own voice.

People who know me may not think I'm inarticulate or that I stumble on my words a lot and lose my train of thought, but that's only because they have no way to compare my speech with what's going through my head. They only hear the speech. But talking is a struggle for me, and that includes just having normal conversations with people.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Life changing books

A friend asked me in an email conversation yesterday to list some books I've read that had a life-changing affect on me. I thought my response might make a good blog post.

The Case for Christ was a turning point for me because it was my first introduction to the subject of the historical Jesus, and it lead to me reading a lot more academic books on the subject and getting really interested in it as well as the history of Judaism from the exile to the bar Kochba rebellion. Also, it was the first time I had heard an historical argument for the resurrection of Jesus, and I remember putting the book down and thinking, "Holy cow! It actually happened!" I mean, I believed it before that, but believing it for a good reason was something completely different. It's like the difference between being told something is true by somebody you trust and seeing it for yourself. It became very real to me, so it had a big impact on my whole Christian life--how I lived, how I prayed, how I thought, etc. It also introduced me to a lot of good Christian thinkers like J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig. I read a lot of their stuff, and it opened my mind. The Case for Christ was the book that introduced me to the whole field of apologetics. I bought several copies of it to give away because at the time, I thought it was the best book I had ever read.

Another book that had a big impact on me was Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-air by Greg Koukl and Frank Beckwith. It was a critique of moral relativism and a defense of moral objectivism. I found the subject to be especially useful because it's directly related to the gospel. There can't be an atonement if there is no sin, and there can't be sin if there is no right or wrong in any objective sense. One of the chapters in there was on tactics in communicating with people, and that had a big impact on how I interact with non-believers and people in general who disagree with me. It introduced me to the whole concept of "self-refutation," and how a lot of the typical slogans people use to disparage Christianity are self-refuting and incoherent. This book got me interested in logic and critical thinking, which I went on to study from other sources. It also introduced me to Stand to Reason, and I read nearly every article on their web page and started listening to the radio show. I learned a ton from Greg Koukl. He was unique among apologists for a few reasons. First, because he didn't just focus on conveying information. He focused on the practical aspects of apologetics and evangelism, i.e. how to have productive conversations with people. Second, because he is extremely articulate and is able to convey very complicated ideas in a way that is easy for the average person to understand. I found his ability to do that very helpful because it does no good to have highly sophisticated arguments if nobody can understand them. Third, because his ministry focuses on all aspects of being a Christian ambassador--knowledge, wisdom, and character. I found this refreshing. A lot of my thinking was influenced by Greg Koukl.

Another book was The Potter's Freedom, by James White. This is the book that was most instrumental in my conversion to Calvinism. He gave an argument in there from John 6 that I found to be just about as air tight as it's possible for a theological argument to be. I didn't convert right away because I wanted to read around to see how non-Calvinists got around the arguments he made, and I soon came to realize there was no way to get around them. I was kind of forced to convert, even though I was very uncomfortable with it.

Another book was The Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards. This book has become one of my favorite of all time. It completely changed my view about the nature of the will, and it solved every philosophical problem I had with Calvinism since converting. It allowed me to be an intellectually and emotionally satisfied Calvinist.

So those are the books that have had the biggest influence on me. Here are a couple of honorable mentions:

The Forgotten Trinity by James White (the same guy who wrote The Potter's Freedom. There was a time when I denied the Trinity. Before reading The Forgotten Trinity, I read a book responding to Jehovah's Witnesses and was taken aback by some of the arguments for the deity of Christ. But reading The Forgotten Trinity sealed the deal for me, and it has also influenced the way I defend the Trinity when talking with Jehovah's Witnesses or other people who reject the Trinity. I even taught a three or four week Sunday school class on the Trinity, using the information in this book for the most part.

Scaling the Secular City by J.P. Moreland. The chapter that influenced me the most was chapter 3--"The Argument from Mind." I used to be a materialist. That is, I believed that we were purely physical beings, and that when we died, we stayed dead until the resurrection. There was no immaterial aspect to us that survived and went to be with God to await the resurrection. Moreland's chapter changed my mind and made me a substance dualist. It also had a big impact on my thinking in a way that's hard to explain. I guess it felt like the cobwebs in my head suddenly got swept away, and I could see clearly. That's the best way I know how to explain it. There are a couple of things Moreland has said in his talks and writings that struck me as being contradictory, and I had the chance in 2008 to finally ask him about them. He was a great guy to talk to. He has also had a big influence on my epistemology, which affects pretty much every other area of thinking. Scaling the Secular City is still the book I recommend to people who want a one-book comprehensive defense of Christianity.

I could probably talk all day about good books I've read and how they influenced me, but those are the biggies. And it's not necessarily because these books were the best of their kind. It has more to do with the fact that they each introduced me to something new and changed the direction of my life in some way.

Monday, March 03, 2014

What have I been up to?

A long time ago, I used to occasionally post stuff about my hobbies and interests outside of theology, philosophy, and apologetics. Then I got on facebook and stopped doing that. I deactivated my facebook account in November, so I thought I'd show the other sides of me here.

Back in 2011, I started doing triathlons, and I was loving life. I enjoyed it so much that when I wasn't racing, I was volunteering. Biking was my favourite part of it, followed by running. I never got very good at swimming, and that limited me on what I could do.

While training for a half marathon, my knees started giving me problems. I wasn't able to do the half marathon, and I ended up selling my bib and volunteering at a water station instead to cheer on my name's sake. The guy I sold it do averaged something like 9 minutes per mile for the whole run!

I did a little physical therapy for my knees and tried various things, and signed up to do another half marathon the following year (January 2013). Again, the knees said 'no.' Discouraged, I quit running, started drinking Dr. Pepper, and got fat. I may try again this year. The problem is that I work out of town a lot now. I have to stay in hotels most of the week, which makes it really hard to eat right.

A long time ago, I told you about how I make longbows, then about how I took up making arrows as well. I've picked up a few more hobbies since then, all of which entail making things. I guess I just like to make things.

I took up knitting in October of 2011. It wasn't until about a year later that I admitted it on facebook. I don't have a whole lot of knitting pictures on my photobucket account, so I can't show you much, but here's a sweater I knit for my cat, Aristotle, for Halloween. I patterned it after Freddy Kruger. I figured since he already has the claws, he could be Freddy Kruger for Halloween.

That white ring is a stitch marker I accidentally knit into the sweater. I decided to leave it there so I can use it to attach a tag if I want.

Here's a bow sock I knit to match a bow I made. I named the bow "Gryffindor," because of the colours, and I patterned the bow sock after the Harry Potter scarves in the movies.

I have taken up making knives. I tried blacksmithing because I wanted to make bodkin points for my medieval arrows, but blacksmithing turned out to be harder than I thought it would be. I still use my forge to heat treat my knives, though. Here's the first knife I made:

Notice that the handle matches the bow above. That's because it's cut from the same wood. That's Osage and padauk. The heat treating on my first couple of knives didn't go very well. I'm getting the hang of it, though. The most recently knife I made turned out really well. I'm giving this one to my brother. This is my fourth knife.

Before I make my knives, I make a prototype out of a piece of wood so I can see if I like the shape and everything. Maybe some day I'll make a sword. Here's a sword I made out of some scrap pieces of wood.

The blade is made out of maple and walnut. The bolster (or guard) is made out of Osage. The handle is made out of white oak. The pommel is made out of purple heart. It actually does a good job of balancing the sword. I wish I had a use for this thing.

I've been experimenting on dying the back of my bamboo backed bows. Most of my experiments have been failures, but here's a few I liked:

Speaking of bamboo, I've also taken up making arrows out of bamboo. Here's my first set of bamboo arrows:

I've started processing my own turkey feathers, too, which were donated to me by my brother (the same one who is getting the knife). Here's my second set of bamboo arrows with the turkey feathers:

Here's a crossbow I made for my brother-in-law:

Here's some cordage I made out of the leaves of a yucca plant.

Here's a replica of the One Ring I made out of Osage.

That was originally part of a wooden tankard I was making for a friend. That's another things I've taken up--making wooden drinking vessels. Here's some of my first ones:

Here's a turkey call I made out of some scrap pieces of cedar.

I've also taken up making nets, but I don't have any pictures of that.

And I've taken up paracording. Here's some dove loops I made out of paracord:

That's all I can think of right now. As you can tell, I'm still single.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

William Lane Craig against Calvinism, a response, Part 5 of 5

Part 4

5. Universal, divine determinism makes reality into a farce. On the deterministic view, the whole world becomes a vain and empty spectacle. There are no free agents in rebellion against God, whom God seeks to win through His love, and no one who freely responds to that love and freely gives his love and praise to God in return. The whole spectacle is a charade whose only real actor is God Himself. Far from glorifying God, the deterministic view, I’m convinced, denigrates God for engaging in a such a farcical charade. It is deeply insulting to God to think that He would create beings which are in every respect causally determined by Him and then treat them as though they were free agents, punishing them for the wrong actions He made them do or loving them as though they were freely responding agents. God would be like a child who sets up his toy soldiers and moves them about his play world, pretending that they are real persons whose every motion is not in fact of his own doing and pretending that they merit praise or blame. I’m certain that Reformed determinists, in contrast to classical Reformed divines, will bristle at such a comparison. But why it’s inapt for the doctrine of universal, divine, causal determinism is a mystery to me.

The reasons Craig gives for why divine determinism makes reality into a farce are points he raised earlier in this series that I’ve already responded to. I’ve already shown that divine determinism is consistent with us being moral agents responsible for our actions, so that doesn’t count as a reason for why reality is a farce. And God is not the only real actor, as I showed in the last post.

Craig’s reason for thinking divine determinism denigrates God and is insulting to him has also already been dealt with earlier in this series. Craig thinks it’s insulting to suggest that God would determine somebody’s action, then punish them for their action. But that is exactly what God did to Pharaoh, so Craig’s view is at odds with Scripture.

Craig’s analogy between humans whose actions are determined by God and toy soldiers that God plays with has also been dealt with except that in the previous post, Craig used the analogy of a stick moving a stone instead. In both cases, the analogy broke down because sticks and toy soldiers do not have minds. They do not act out of any motives, desires, inclinations, goals, habits, or anything. Their “actions” are not choices. Ours are.

I’m not totally sure what Craig means by saying reality is a farce under divine determinism. It is not true that under the reformed view that “the whole world becomes a vain and empty spectacle.” To be vain and empty is to serve no purpose. But, as Jonathan Edwards argued in The End For Which God Created the World, the ultimate purpose in creation and everything God ordains is for the praise of his glory, and God is glorified in the demonstration of all of his attributes. So God has a purpose in some people rebelling against him—to demonstrate his wrath (Proverbs 16:4, Romans 9:22), and he has a purpose in rescuing some people from his wrath—to demonstrate his mercy (Romans 9:23). I highly recommend reading Edward’s book on this subject. It shows demonstrably that God’s absolute sovereignty does not render reality a farce. Quite the opposite!

After all, it is under Craig’s view that so many events in reality serve no divine purpose and are only inconveniences that God must work around or live with. If reality can only have meaning if there are events in reality for which God has no purpose, then that seems to suggest that it's not really all about God. It's about us.

However, the scriptures reveal that God has a purpose in everything (Proverbs 16:4). All things exist for him and for his glory (Isaiah 43:6-7, Romans 11:36, 1 Corinthians 8:6, Colossians 1:16). Even the reason God saves people is for his name's sake (Psalm 106:8, Isaiah 43:25, Ezekiel 36:22). Since it's all about God, not us, everything has meaning even if we don't have libertarian freedom.

And that's about all I have to say about that.

The end.

Monday, February 24, 2014

William Lane Craig against Calvinism: a response, Part 4 of 5

Part 3B

4. Universal, divine, determinism nullifies human agency. Since our choices are not up to us but are caused by God, human beings cannot be said to be real agents. They are mere instruments by means of which God acts to produce some effect, much like a man using a stick to move a stone. Of course, secondary causes retain all their properties and powers as intermediate causes, as the Reformed divines remind us, just as a stick retains its properties and powers which make it suitable for the purposes of the one who uses it. Reformed thinkers need not be occasionalists like Nicholas Malebranche, who held that God is the only cause there is. But these intermediate causes are not agents themselves but mere instrumental causes, for they have no power to initiate action. Hence, it’s dubious that on divine determinism there really is more than one agent in the world, namely, God. This conclusion not only flies in the face of our knowledge of ourselves as agents but makes it inexplicable why God then treats us as agents, holding us responsible for what He caused us and used us to do.

Craig already raised this issue in part #3. He claimed there that if God determines our actions, then we are not responsible for them.

Craig apparently thinks you can be an agent, or you can be an instrument, but you cannot be both. The prophets disagree.

In Isaiah 10, it says that Assyria is the rod of God’s anger (v. 5) and that he sends it against a godless nation to capture booty, seize plunder, and trample them down (v. 6). So Assyria was God’s instrument, but does that mean Assyria was not an agent? No, because Isaiah goes on to say that although God sent Assyria to punish a godless nation, that was not Assyria’s intention. Rather, Assyria’s intention was to destroy and cut off many nations (v. 7). In spite of the fact that God sent Assyria to trample and plunder, he nevertheless treats them like moral agents. He goes on to say in verse 12 than when he is finished with all he sent Assyria to do, he is going to punish them.

We see the same thing in Jeremiah about Babylon. God calls Nebuchadnezzar “my servant,” and says he will bring him against Jerusalem and the surrounding nations and destroy them (Jeremiah 25:9). Then he says he will punish them (v.12). God sent the Babylonians to punish the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to destroy the Temple, but then he says he is going to arouse the spirit of the kings of the Medes to destroy Babylon for the sake of vengeance for the Temple (Jeremiah 51:7) and vengeance for the people of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 51:35-36).

So both Assyria and Babylon are used as instruments of God to punish Israel and other nations, and God still treats them as agents by punishing them for what they did. So Craig has made a false dichotomy between being an instrument in the hands of God and being an agent, responsible for their actions.

The difference between a stick used in the hand of an agent to move a stone and a human used in the hand of God to punish another nation is that the stick does not act out of any motive, intention, or desire. It is passive in the whole affair. Humans, however, are active, even when being used by God. We act out of desires and inclinations. We do things on purpose. God was able to use Nebuchadnezzar to do his will because “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he wishes” (Proverbs 21:1). When Babylon and Assyria acted, they acted out of their own motives. While God had his intentions for arousing Assyria against Israel, Assyria acted out of its own intentions (Isaiah 10:7), which is what makes Assyria an agent and distinguishes Assyria from a stick.

Craig is quite right in saying we know we are agents. When we act, we do so on purpose. When we do something on purpose, we know that we are doing it because we want to. We are acting out of our own inclinations. That is quite different than having a muscle spasm or an involuntary reflex. Acting out of our own inclinations is perfectly consistent with God determining our actions since God has influence over the heart.

God also has influence over all the numerous factors that go into us having the desires and inclinations that we have. To some degree, we even have some power over each other. I can cause somebody to choose to look at me just by saying, “Look at me.” That creates a motive in them to act, and they act on that motive.

Craig says, “But these intermediate causes are not agents themselves but mere instrumental causes, for they have no power to initiate action.” By the “power to initiate action,” Craig is referring to a libertarian free will act, which is an act that arises spontaneously without any cause, reason, or condition whatsoever being sufficient to determine that act. “Agents,” in Craig’s view are capable of being first causes, i.e. of initiating causal chains without themselves being caused to do so.

But it seems to me that it is on Craig’s view that people are not agents. To be an agent, one must be in control of one’s own actions and do them on purpose. But we have no more control over a spontaneous event than we do over an event that is causally determined by blind mechanistic causes. That is the problem with libertarian freedom. It is hard to distinguish a libertarian act from a random blip or an accident.

Suppose, for example, that your every desire is to turn to the right, and you have no desire whatsoever to turn to the left. But you turn to the left anyway because on libertarianism, no desire is sufficient to determine what you do, and in spite of your desires, you can still do otherwise. Would it make sense to ask why you turned to the left on libertarianism if you had no desire or reason to? No. The answer would be that there is no reason you turned to the left.

In fact, on libertarianism, even if you are influenced by some desire to act, the desire is never a sufficient reason for why you acted as you did. If somebody asks you why you did what you did, the correct answer isn’t, “Because I wanted to,” or “Because I was motivated by a sense of duty,” or anything like that. Rather, the correct answer would be, “Partly because I wanted to, and partly for no reason at all.”

Some libertarians have tried to get past the random blip problem with libertarianism by saying, “the agent is the cause of the free action.” This is what they call “agent causation.” But this just creates more problems.

Since it's the action that we say is free, that must be where the will is located since that is the volition. But the whole notion of free will (at least as Craig defines it) is that the will is not caused. If an action is caused, then it’s not free.

The strange thing about saying "the agent is the cause of the free action," is that it seems to imply that there is a distinction between the agent and the action such that one causes the other.

If the volition or act of will is the same thing as the free action, then what does it mean to say that the agent causes it? Is the agent causation itself an act of the will, or is it a "random blip"?

If it's an act of the will, then to say "the agent causes the free action" seems equivalent to saying, "The choice causes the choice," which doesn't solve any problems with random blips vs. control.

But if it's a random blip, then we're saying, "A random blip causes the choice," which doesn't solve any problems about control either.

It seems like, to be consistent, "free" should modify "the agent causing" instead of "action.” In that case, "The agent freely causes the action." That would be more consistent with libertarian freedom because that way you don't have anything that's free being causally determined.

But then you're still stuck with the random blip problem since there is no reason for why the agent freely causes the action.

I really think compatibilism is the only coherent way out of this quagmire. An action is ones own to the degree that a person's own desires and motives play a hand in bringing about that action. The less hand one's own desires and motives have in bringing about the action, the less those actions are one's own. The more hand our desires and motives have in bringing about our actions, the more those actions are our own. It follows that our actions are completely our own when our desires and motives have everything to do with our actions, i.e. when they determine our actions. That is possible under divine determinism, so divine determinism does not nullify human agency.

Part 5