Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Four views on the fall of man

Somebody asked me recently why God would create man knowing we'd sin, introduce evil into the world, and God would have to send Jesus to die for all that. At the time, I was trying to explain the difference between essential and non-essential Christian doctrines and how Christians disagree with each other over non-essentials but remain Christians. So rather than answer his question in light of my own theology, I explained to him how different people would respond to his question in light of their own theology. Here's what I said to him.

The way a person answers this question will depend on what theology they subscribe to. Rather than push my own view, I'll explain the way four different kinds of Christians might respond.

  • Open theism
  • Arminianism
  • Molinism
  • Calvinism

Open Theism

Open theism is the view that for God, the future is an open question. Some people accuse open theists of denying God's omniscience because God doesn't know all the future free will choices of his creatures. Open theists themselves will deny this accusation on the basis that God can only know what is true, and there are no truths to contingent future free will choices. So, for example, whether you will choose Sprite or Coke tomorrow isn't something God knows today because there's no truth to the matter. As long as you have free will, it could go one way or the other.

It's probably obvious to you by now how an open theists would answer your question. God didn't know what would happen when he created Adam and Eve because they had free will.

Arminianism

Arminians subscribe to simple divine fore-knowledge and libertarian free will. This means that our actions are not determined by antecedent conditions. They are spontaneous events. And God knows what we will do.

Arminians justify the creation of mankind, in spite of his knowledge that they would sin, on the basis of weighing the pros and cons. The good that comes from free will outweighs the bad. Some of the goods that comes from free will include goodness itself (since in their view, morality isn't even possible without free will), love (both love for each other and love for the creator), and rationality. Under this view, life would be meaningless without free will because we'd just be a bunch of pre-programmed robots.

Molinism

This is the view Craig subscribes to. According to Molinism, people have libertarian free will, but God has what's called middle knowledge. This is knowledge of counterfactuals concerning free will decisions. For example, "If Jim meets Bob on Tuesday, Jim will offer to buy him lunch." So under this view, God knows what each person would do under every circumstance.

Prior to creating the world, God surveyed all the possible worlds with all of their contingencies, and he actualized the world that contains the greatest number of saved people, or the greatest ratio of saved to lost. So whatever evils there are in the world are here because the world where the most people get saved happens to also have a lot of evil in it.

Under Molinism, God can't just actualize any possible world he wants. He's limited by the counter-factuals of human freedom. Consider these two worlds:

  • World 1: Jim meets Bob and offers to buy him lunch.
  • World 2: Jim meets Bob and does not offer to buy him lunch.

Both of these worlds are possible. If Jim has libertarian freedom, he can choose either way. However, prior to creating anything, there is a counter-factual that is true about any world containing Jim. It goes like this:

  • If Jim meets Bob, he will offer to buy him lunch.

This counter-factual tells God what Jim would do if he met Bob. Now, if that counter-factual is true, then God obviously couldn't actualize World 2 because that would lead to a contradiction. Any world in which Jim meets Bob will be a world in which Jim offers him lunch. It's up to Bob what choice he makes, but God has some limited control over what happens because God can actualize states of fairs, and he can do so according to his knowledge of all the counterfactuals of human freedom.

So it may just be that given all the counter-factuals God knows about all the possible people that could come into existence, there just is no world that he could actualize that doesn't contain some evil. And this may be the optimal one that gets the greatest number of people saved.

Calvinism

Under Calvinism, God is absolutely sovereign over everything that happens. That means that for everything that happens, God intended it to happen because God has a purpose it. Most Calvinists are compatibilists. A compatibilist is somebody who thinks that free will and determinism are compatible. They reconcile free will and determinism by defining free will differently than libertarians. Whereas under libertarianism, there are no conditions prior to and up to the moment of choice that are sufficient to determine what that choice will be, under compatibilism, our choices are determined by our antecedent desires, motives, inclinations, biases, preferences, intentions, etc. So under compatibilism, God can have complete control over every choice that every person makes since he has some control over the antecedent conditions that determine those choices.

Not all Calvinists are compatibilists. Some Calvinists subscribe to libertarian freedom under some circumstances and compatibilism is limited to the choice of whether to accept or reject Christ. But in either view, God is sovereign over everything that happens. God has a detailed plan for the whole history of the world that he meticulously brings about, and that includes the fall of Adam and Eve.

Calvinists deal with your question in a number of ways. One way is simply to say that God has an overriding morally good reason for allowing history to unfold the way it did. He has a purpose in everything, though we may not know what that purpose is. But it's a good and holy purpose.

Some Calvinists take it a step further and identify what his purpose is in disposing the world in such a way that evil was inevitable. It's because God's ultimate motive in creating the world was to glorify himself, and God's glory consists of all his holy attributes. God didn't just want to have certain attributes, and leave them dormant. He wanted to express them, exercise them, display them, etc. Since God is the greatest possible being, all of his divine attributes are great, and since his divine attributes are great, then a world in which they are all expressed is better than a world in which many of them lie dormant.

Some of God's attributes can only be expressed in a world containing evil. For example, God is merciful and forgiving, but he is also just, and he hates sin. God can't forgiven unless there's something to forgive, and that entails that there must be sin. Likewise, God can't express his wrath toward sin without the existence of sin.

So under Calvinism, God is glorified both in the judgment against sinners and in the salvation of sinners. That means the greatest possible good can only be fully expressed in a world containing evil.

Conclusion

I think the key to explaining why God created man, knowing he would introduce evil into the world, is to know what God's motive in creation was in the first place. But a person doesn't need to know what God's motive was in order to maintain a reasonable belief in God in spite of the difficulty. Suppose we don't know why God created a world with evil. Our ignorance doesn't tell us anything about whether God actually has a reason or not. If an almighty God who knows everything has some reason for doing things the way he did, there's no reason to expect that creatures as limited as ourselves would necessarily know, or be able to figure out, what that reason is without him revealing it to us. As long as it's possible that God has a morally sufficient reason for creating a world containing evil, the existence of evil shouldn't pose a problem to somebody who is disposed to believe in God. Before one could make a sound argument against God from the problem of evil, they would have to rule out that possibility.

For further reading

"A quick and dirty response to the problem of evil"

Sunday, August 18, 2019

No True Christians (or Scotsmen)

I wanted to make a clarification about the No True Scotsman fallacy because I've seen a lot of people on the internet recklessly accuse people of committing this fallacy whenever they say something that merely resembles a "no true Scotsman" statement. Here's the no true Scotsman fallacy in a nutshell.

Jim: No Scotsman puts pineapple on his pizza.

Bob: Wait a minute. Dan is a Scotsman, and he puts pineapple on his pizza.

Jim: Well, Dan isn't a true Scotsman, though.

Bob: Why do you say that?

Jim: Because he puts pineapple on his pizza. No true Scotsman would do that.

Jim is committing the No True Scotsman fallacy. He makes a claim about all Scotsman, and when presented with a counter-example to his claim, he merely redefines "Scotsman" in such a way as to rule out the counter-example. Unless not putting pineapple on your pizza is part of what it means to be a Scotsman, this is an illegitimate move on Jim's part.

And therein lies the mistake a lot of people make when accusing others of committing this fallacy. Whether it's a fallacy or not depends on whether Jim is making a generalization that may or may not be true, or whether Jim is giving a definition, which would entail that it's true of necessity. Some people have a knee jerk reaction whenever any claim resembling, "No true Scotsman" is made. I've heard people say things like, "You're in No True Scotsman territory," and their use of territory seems to be a way of hedging their accusation in case they've misidentified an occasion of the fallacy.

But let me give you an example of a No True Scotsman-Like statement that does not commit the fallacy so you can see what I'm talking about.

Jim: All archers shoot bows.

Bob: Wait a minute. Dan is an archer and he doesn't shoot a bow.

Jim: Well, Dan isn't a true archer.

Bob: Why do you say that?

Jim: Because Dan doesn't shoot bows. All true archers shoot bows.

Obviously Jim hasn't committed any fallacy because shooting a bow is an essential part of what it means to be an archer. An archer is somebody who shoots bows. It's Bob who has made the mistake here because he thinks somebody is an archer who doesn't shoot bows.

As a side note here, you may quibble with the fact that I said, "all archers" instead of "no archers." But these are horns on the same goat. To say, "All P's are Q" is logically equivalent to saying, "No P's are Not-Q." So if all archers shoot bows, then there are no archers who do not shoot bows.

This confusion about the No True Scotsman fallacy comes up in the context of Christians sometimes. One person will make a claim about all Christians, somebody else will come up with a supposed counter-example, and the first person will dismiss the counter-example on the basis that the person isn't a real Christian. Now, it could be that in a lot of these cases, the No True Scotsman fallacy really is being committed. Here's an example of when the fallacy is being committed.

Jim: All Christians vote Republican.

Bob: Dan doesn't vote Republican.

Jim: Dan isn't a true Christian.

Bob: Why not?

Jim: Because he votes Democrat. No true Christian would vote Democrat.

Jim commits the No True Scotsman fallacy because whether you vote Republican or Democrat (or whatever) isn't part of what it means to be a Christian. Nor does voting for one party or the other exclude one from being a Christian. But consider this conversation:

Jim: All Christians are followers of Christ.

Bob: Dan is a Christian, and he doesn't follow Christ.

Jim: Well, obviously, Dan isn't a real Christian. All real Christians follow Christ because that's what it means to be a Christian.

In this case, Dan is just confused about what it means to be a Christian. That's how he managed to misidentify somebody as being a counter-example to Jim's claim. Jim wasn't telling Bob something that just happened to be true about all Christians. He was telling Bob what it means to be a Christian. He was giving Bob a definition of "Christian."

Now, there is some gray area here. Consider a case in which some property may not be part of the definition of a class of people, but it is nevertheless how we usually identity people of that class. For example, we usually identify Mormon missionaries as people who wear Latter Day Saint Elder name tags while they're out and about doing their missionary work. Now consider this dialogue:

Jim: All Mormon missionaries wear name tags when out witnessing.

Bob: Dan doesn't.

Jim: Well, Dan isn't even a Mormon missionary.

Bob: Why do you say that?

Jim: Because if he was a Mormon missionary, he'd be wearing a name tag. No true Mormon missionary goes door to door without their Latter Day Saint Elder name tag.

Has Jim committed the No True Scotsman fallacy? Maybe and maybe not. Wearing a name tag isn't what makes somebody a Mormon missionary, and it's at least possible for a Mormon missionary to go door to door without their name tag. That would indicate that Jim has committed the No True Scotsman fallacy. On the other hand, the name tag is one of the primary ways we identify Mormon missionaries, and since it's practically unheard of for one of them to go about witnessing without their name tag, the fact that somebody isn't wearing one is a good indication that they're not a Mormon missionary. If Mormon missionaries happen to be really good about remembering their name tags, and if there happen to be imposters out there, then the lack of a name tag is a good indication that somebody isn't actually a Mormon missionary. So maybe Jim isn't committing the No True Scotsman fallacy after all. He's just giving a piece of evidence to indicate that Dan is probably not actually a Mormon missionary.

There can be gray areas in the case of Christians because Christians disagree amongst themselves about what is essential to Christianity and what excludes somebody from being a Christian. For example, most Christians think belief in the resurrection of Jesus is essential to Christianity and that if you don't believe in the resurrection, then you're not a true Christian. Other people disagree. There are what's called "liberal protestants," who consider themselves Christians but who may or may not believe Jesus literally rose from the dead. Here's Jim and Bob again.

Jim: All Christians believe Jesus literally rose from the dead.

Bob: John Shelby Spong doesn't believe in the literal resurrection, and he's a Bishop of an Episcopal church. Obviously, he's a counter-example to your claim.

Jim: Mr. Spong is not a true Christian. He's a fake.

Bob: Why do you say that?

Jim: If he was a true Christian, then he'd believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus.

Some people are going to think Jim committed the No True Scotsman fallacy, and some aren't. It depends on whether you think belief in the literal resurrection of Jesus is essential to being a Christian or not. If it is, then Jim isn't committing a fallacy. If it's not, then he is committing a fallacy. I happened to be one of those who thinks the literal resurrection of Jesus is essential, so I don't think Jim is committing any fallacy. I have no qualms whatsoever in identifying John Shelby Spong as a fake Christian on the basis that he claims to be a Christian but denies the literal resurrection of Jesus. The same thing is true of John Dominic Crossan, though I have a lot of respect for Crossan as an academic. There are a lot of people who claim to be Christians but who aren't. There have been since the earliest days of Christianity.

The resurrection is a case where the definition of "Christian" is the deciding factor, but the case that usually comes up has more to do with identifying people as Christians by looking at their behavior. For example, people sometimes will cast dispersions on Christians in general based on the behavior of some people who called themselves Christians. The defense against these accusations is to say, "Well, those people weren't true Christians, and we know that because of their actions." This is a gray area because, on the one hand, all Christians sin, and being a Christian doesn't mean you'll never sin. But on the other hand, a person who has been regenerated by God will be sanctified by the Holy Spirit, and as a result should exhibit the fruit of the Spirit--love, joy, patience, kindness, self-control, etc. So there is a degree to which one can observe somebody's life to determine whether an actual conversion has taken place or not. And this is important because there have been times in history when claiming to be a Christian was expedient even if one was not actually a Christian.

The case of Adolf Hitler is a good example. He was attempting to become a leader of a predominantly Lutheran country. As a typical politician, we should expect him to say things that are friendly to Lutheranism. But apart from that, when you look at his life, there's no reason in the world to take his Christian claims seriously. He obviously wasn't a Christian because no true Christian would behave the way he did.

But how bad can a person be before it's obvious they're not really a Christian, in spite of their claims? I don't know. I've done things that made me question my own Christianity. I do think that when people doubt other's Christianity on the basis of their behavior, they are in No True Scotsman territory, but whether they've actually committed the fallacy or not is sometimes hard to tell.

Further reading

"Epistemological and ontological assurance of Salvation" This is about how behavior can serve as evidence of whether somebody is really a regenerated Christian or not.

"ad hominem, no true Scotsman, and arguments from authority" This one has a little more on the No True Scotsman fallacy.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Review: Logically Fallacious by Bo Bennett

Logically Fallacious: The Ultimate Collection of Over 300 Logical Fallacies by Bo Bennett

Here is a book I've been recommending to people for a while. I started recommending it to people without having finished it, though. I was initially impressed by the fact that it contained so many fallacies, gave all the various names that each one goes by, and especially by the fact that Bennett explained the exceptions to informal fallacies, which a lot of other authors don't do, and which I think is very important.

I put the book down along time ago, but I picked it up and finished it recently. Now I regret having recommended it so much in the past. I knew Bennett wasn't a Christian and that he occasionally used Christian talking points as examples of logical fallacies, but that little bias didn't bother me that much since I figured as long as he's teaching the fallacies correctly, that's the most important thing. But as I read through the book, I began to realize that the book isn't really about logical fallacies. It is packed so full of straw man versions of typical Christian defenses, that it's actually just a biased straw man attack on Christian defenses masquerading as a collection of logical fallacies. Either Bennett is blinded by his bias against Christianity, or it was an intentional means of manipulating the reader by creating a bias in them.

Here is my Amazon review:

This book was a big disappointment. It was recommended to me by an atheist who assured me that although Bennett did use religious examples that the book was nevertheless fair and that I could learn a lot from it. But the bias in this book was so strong that Bennett committed many fallacies of his own. In many cases, the Christian examples he gives are straw men. Bennett could, of course, defend against that accusation by saying that he's heard somebody give these bad arguments at one time or another, but the impression a person gets from reading this book as a whole is that "Christians consistently make really bad arguments." And you get that impression from the fact that Bennett has cherry picked his examples. Cherry picking is a fallacy.

Bennett could defend against the cherry picking fallacy by claiming that of course he has to use examples of bad reasoning if he's trying to show logical fallacies. But the fact that he uses the book, not so much to teach logical fallacies, but to cast Christianity in a bad light, makes that defense vacuous. If it's not the cherry picking fallacy he's guilty of, then at the very least, it's poisoning the well. Anybody who reads this book who hasn't actually read much literature from Christian academics is going to come away from it with a strong bias against Christian apologetics. I run into atheists all the time who cannot hear what I am saying because they have been so indoctrinated to recognize the straw man version of what I'm saying that they can't help but hear the straw man instead of what I'm actually saying. I'm afraid Bennett's book will only serve to perpetuate that habit.

Bennett should call this book what it actually is. It's a "case against Christianity" book or a "case against Christian apologetics" book disguised as a book on logical fallacies. It's a clever gimmick, and I'm sure a lot of ambitious young atheists, eager to win arguments with Christians, will fall for it. If Bennett was actually trying to improve the critical thinking skills of atheist apologists, maybe he should've used a few examples of the bad arguments atheists make.

Some of the "fallacies" aren't even fallacies. They're just conclusions that Bennett thinks are wrong. A fallacy is a mistake in reasoning, not a wrong conclusion. Toward the end, Bennett even admits that some of the "logical fallacies" he lists are not, strictly speaking, logical fallacies.

One last complaint I have about this book is the lack of organization. He simply lists the logical fallacies in alphabetical order, not in any logical order, and he makes no distinction between formal fallacies and informal fallacies. He should've at least grouped those together. And he should've explained that there are classes of fallacies and examples of each. For example, the red herring fallacy is a broad category of fallacies that include any kind of distraction. The ad hominem fallacy an example of a red herring. At one point, he even lists the "non sequitur" fallacy as if it were a separate and distinct fallacy. But "non sequitur" just means "does not follow." All reasoning fallacies are non sequiturs!

The book isn't all bad, though. There's some really good stuff in there. One of the things I liked about this book is that when it came to informal fallacies, Bennett explained exceptions to them. A lot of books on informal fallacies don't do that, and their failure to do that results in people misidentifying occasions of fallacies. When it comes to formal fallacies, Bennett always says that there are no exceptions, and he's correct. That's one of the key differences with formal fallacies--there are no exceptions to them.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Review: Hidden In Plain View by Lydia McGrew

This is the same review I left on Amazon.

Hidden In Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts by Lydia McGrew

I really enjoyed this book. I had heard about undesigned coincidences before, and I wondered why, in light of the fact that there were supposedly so many of them, the same ones kept being brought up in talks, blogs, and interviews by various people. Now I understand. It's because there's only a handful of them that actually amount to undesigned coincidences. The rest of them seem to have more to do with the creativity of the author (whether Lydia McGrew, William Paley, or whoever) than with there actually being an undesigned coincidence.

Let me give two examples. One is a compelling undesigned coincidence, and the other doesn't seem so to me. These are right next to each other in the book.

The first is on page 85. In Matthew 10, the twelve apostles are listed in pairs, e.g. Simon and Andrew, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, etc. Mark 6 says that when Jesus sent the apostles out to preach, he sent them out in pairs. Lydia thinks this is an undesigned coincidence because Mark explains why Matthew lists the apostles in pairs the way he does. If this argument is sound, then supposedly Matthew pairs them up according to who traveled with whom. But this seems like a stretch to me, and I see no reason to think the sending of the twelve in pairs has anything at all to do with why Matthew lists the twelve in pairs. Granted it's possible, but I think you need more than mere possibility to use this as historical evidence of some real event. You'd have to have some good reason to think one thing actually IS the explanation of the other thing before this argument would work.

But suppose I'm wrong, and it does indicate some historical reality. What would that reality be? That Jesus sent the apostles out in two's? Or that the pairings in Matthew correspond to who traveled with whom? I don't see how. Maybe the apostles were paired up for some unknown reason, and if we knew that reason, it would explain both why Matthew would list them in pairs and why Mark would say that Jesus sent them out in pairs. But we can't really know what that historical reality is, so even if this is an undesigned coincidence, we couldn't draw any historical conclusions from it, at least not with any confidence. You can't say that A explains B when there's a possible C that explains both A and B independently of each other, especially when it's far from obvious that A is actually the explanation for B.

The other undesigned coincidence is on page 87. In Matthew 14, Herod hears news about Jesus and tells his servants that he thinks Jesus might be John the Baptist risen from the dead. Then in Luke 8 we find out that one of Jesus' followers is the wife of one of Herod's servants. So that explains how we know what Herod said to his servants. What makes this an undesigned coincidence is the fact that Luke was not trying to explain anything about what was said in Matthew 14, yet it's hard to think of a better explanation of how this information ended up in Matthew. How could anybody have known what Herod said to his servants in private unless his servants relayed it to other followers of Jesus?

That strikes me as being a good example of an undesigned coincidence. Now the question arises whether Lydia's book has more examples like that first one or like the second one. I didn't keep count, but my guess is that it's about 50/50. So I rounded up and gave Lydia 3 stars. Besides, I think it's a very valuable book even if not everything said in it was persuasive. I gave her an extra star because the book is really well written and a pleasure to read.

Lydia said somewhere in the book that we shouldn't expect every example to be compelling. Her hope was that the cumulative effect would present a strong case for the reliability of the gospels and Acts. But I don't think examples like that first one contribute anything to the cumulative case. As William Lane Craig once put it, "Two bad arguments don't make a good argument." With enough creativity, I think somebody could probably come up with all sorts of examples of undesigned coincidences that aren't really there, but the only way they really count in a cumulative case is if we have good reason, and not mere speculation, that one thing explains another thing in an unintended way. We do have that in the second case above, but not in the first case.

Thanks for writing this book, Lydia. Somebody needed to write this book. I hope that through the process of natural selection (or peer review if you prefer), we'll weed out the bad arguments and hone the good ones.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Natural theology, deism, and theism again

In my previous post, I was talking about how the arguments for God from natural theology only rise to the level of deism (or so it is claimed), and do not bring one all the way to theism, much less to any specific God, like YHWH. But this morning, I was thinking about how it would be quite the coincidence if the God of the Abrahamic religion didn't exist and yet these philosophical arguments were sound.

I'm not aware of every creation story there's ever been, but I have read or heard a lot of them. In just about all of them, they presuppose that some things already exist besides the creator. Hardly any of the stories go all the way back to the beginning of everything. They explain how things were made out of previously existing stuff or circumstances. None of the gods in most other religions are anything like the God of the Abrahamic religions in the sense of being this being who stands completely apart from the natural realm and brought it all into being.

If the typical philosophical arguments for God are sound, then they cohere much more nicely with the God of the Abrahamic religions than they do with just about any other god of any other religion. I say that provisionally because, as I said, I'm not aware of all creation stories.

That, by itself, isn't enough reason to think the God of the Abrahamic religions is one and the same with the God of the philosophers. After all, it's possible there's a deistic God and all religions are made up. But it is good reason to look into the Abrahamic religions, I think.

Consider this, though. The idea of the Abrahamic God was already around before all these philosophical arguments became wide-spread, which means belief in the Abrahamic God did not originate from these arguments. It arose independently of the arguments. That means if those arguments are sound, and the God of the philosophers actually exists, then it would be a huge coincidence if people happened to invent a God that resembles the actual God in so many ways. It seems more likely that the God who exists actually revealed himself to people, and that's how they came up with the Abrahamic God. The Abrahamic God is the God of the philosophers.

Let me see if I can put this another way. According to both the Jewish and Christian scriptures, God created everything that came into being, and that includes everything on earth and everything in the heavens (Genesis 1:1, John 1:3). Colossians 1:16-17 puts it like this: "For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together." That sort of absolute exhaustive creation only exists in the Abrahamic religions as far as I know, and that's precisely the same sort of God you get from cosmological and teleological arguments. The God of Abraham is also absolutely sovereign, autonomous, and authoritative (Daniel 4:35, Psalm 135:6), which is what you get from the moral argument. If the God of the cosmological, teleological, and moral arguments actually exists, then either he revealed himself to the Hebrews or else they made an extraordinarily lucky guess when they made up YHWH. After all, they didn't come up with YHWH through cosmological, teleological, and moral arguments. They either made him up and got lucky, or God made himself known to them.

So I don't think the arguments from natural theology are merely sufficient reason to look into the Abrahamic religions; they are sufficient to strongly suspect that at least one of the Abrahamic religions is true. It's just a matter of which one at that point. It's Judaism, Christianity, or Islam.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Deism and philosophical arguments for God

Some people complain that the typical philosophical arguments for God are not sufficient to bring one to theism, but that if they are sound, they only rise to the level of deism. Deism is the view that God created the world but does not intervene in the world. That would mean that any revealed religion, like Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, is not true. It could be that under deism, God doesn't intervene because he is unable to, or it could be that God doesn't intervene because he isn't interested. One could hold to either view and still be a deist.

It seems to me that if God created the world, it's unlikely that he'd be unable to interact with it. So any version of the cosmological argument would undermine the claim that God is unable to interact in the world.

The moral argument seems to undermine the claim that God is uninterested in the world. I remember reading somewhere that Benjamin Franklin thought God would judge sinners, but that in the meantime he doesn't intervene in the world. But it seems to me that if God is interested in how we behave, especially in how we treat each other, he would have a motive in intervening in the world. To the degree that our moral obligations are for our own good, they show that God cares about our well-being. If he cares about our well-being, we should expect that he would intervene in some way. At the very least the fact that God would have standards that he expects us to follow, and the fact that he bothered to let us in on it, shows that God is not indifferent about us.

The fact that we know right and wrong shows that God must have intervened in the world in order to impart this knowledge. Humans came into the world fairly recently by cosmological standards. God had to have created us in such a way as to impart this knowledge. The only other possibility is that when he created the world, he set the initial conditions in such a way as to guarantee not only our existence, but that our brains would be hardwired in such a way as to know about his moral standards. Although possible, that seems unlikely to me. I suspect our knowledge of morality, if it reflect God's morality, had to have been imparted to us by a divine intervention in the physical world at some point in the history of the universe.

Of course the argument from evil (or suffering) is invoked to show that God does not care about our well-being. The moral argument answers the problem of evil, though, by showing that God is perfectly good and therefore must have a morally sufficient reason for allowing or causing evil and suffering, whether we know what that reason is or not.1 So in spite of evil and suffering, there is still reason to expect that God would have a motive to intervene somehow in the world. According to Christianity, he intervenes primarily by saving people from his wrath by providing atonement through the death of Jesus Christ. He also promises that he will intervene by raising the dead, judging sinners, and granting eternal life to the redeemed. But he also answers prayers and rescues people from calamities. Why he rescues one person and allows another to suffer is a mystery.

So the cosmological argument and the moral argument together seem to rule out the two reasons for why, under deism, God doesn't intervene in the world. I don't think this is a definitive proof against deism, but I do think it's a reasonably good reason to doubt deism or to reject the claim that the typical theistic arguments only amount to a deistic God. They don't prove that God intervenes in the world, but they do undermine any reason to think he can't or wouldn't.

NOTES

1. See A quick and dirty response to the problem of evil.

Friday, July 05, 2019

The double edged sword of evangelism from a Calvinist perspective

I've been working on a book for a long time now that's designed to explain, in a sort of autobiographical way, why I think Christianity is true. My hope is that God will use it to draw people to himself, and that it will be instrumental in at least somebody's conversion to Christianity. That's one reason I'm writing it anyway, and it's the only reason that's relevant to this blog post.

Calvinists believe that whether somebody is saved or not is entirely up to God. For a Calvinist who wants to evangelize, this takes a lot of the pressure off because it means that as long as we are faithful in presenting and defending the gospel, we need not wring our hands over whether somebody will be lost because we weren't persuasive enough. It's not really up to us. God will effectively call everybody he intends to save. If people reject our message, it isn't because we have failed as apologists. Our success and failure isn't measured by how many people we succeed in converting. Our success and failure is only measured by whether or not we were obedient and faithful in presenting the gospel. Whether people respond positively to it or not is entirely up to God. And this is supposed to relieve us of performance anxiety.

Recently I was listening to some people who are not Christians, and I realized that their way of thinking was so diametrically opposed to my way of thinking as a Christian, that there was no hope of them ever being receptive to the gospel unless they had a radical change of heart. I wish I could remember the details of what was said. As I was listening to it, I found myself discouraged. That's what gave rise to this post. While I might be comforted in knowing that a person's unresponsiveness to my efforts to persuade them isn't my fault, there's a double edge sword because, on the other hand, it also means that there is no effort I could make that would improve matters. If God does not change a person's heart, there is nothing I can say to them to persuade them. If you love the person you're talking to, this can be really discouraging. It means there's no effort you can make, no matter how hard you try, that will get your loved one to convert. All you can do is pray for them and hope that God grants them grace.

But let me say something else that's related. I'm not sure it follow from the doctrines of Calvinism that how well we do apologetics makes no difference. There are some Calvinists who think that apologetics and even just announcing the gospel without defending it is pointless because if God had already determined who he is going to save and who he isn't, then there's nothing we can do that will make any difference. If God wants to convert Bob, but not Jim, then it doesn't matter what we do or don't say to Bob and Jim. No matter what we do or don't do, Bob will still be saved and Jim won't. So some Calvinists think there's no point in presenting the gospel at all. And among those who think we should present the gospel, merely out of obedience, there's no point in defending the gospel with arguments since arguments don't persuade.

I've always thought this was a mistake because even if God determines everything, there can still be causal chains that are entirely deterministic. Imagine a row of dominoes set up so that if one falls, the next one will inevitably fall. And suppose God determines that the last domino will fall, so he knocks over the first domino to make it happen. Would it make sense to say that the middle domino made no difference? Of course not. The middle domino has everything to do with why the last domino fell. In the same way, as long as God uses means to accomplish his ends, then apologetics can be used as a means for God to draw people to himself. Apologetics are not superfluous in Calvinism.1

If we grant that apologetics are not superfluous under Calvinism since God uses means to accomplish his will, then there's no reason to think that how well we do apologetics makes no difference. After all, how well we do apologetics may be the means by which God draws people to himself. If effort counts for anything at all, even under theistic determinism, then surely it matters how well we defend the gospel.

Consider any other endeavor we have. If you're a consistent Calvinist, then you must believe that God ordains everything that comes to pass. If you graduated from college with a 4.0 average, it's because God meant for you to do so. It was predetermined from before the foundation of the world. Yet your hard effort had everything to do with your GPA. If you had not tried so hard, you would not have made a 4.0. God predestined you to make a 4.0, and he used your hard work as the means through which he accomplished that end. If effort matters, even though God foreordains everything that comes to pass, then surely the effort we put into defending the gospel matters just as much as the effort we put into making good grades in school. So it ought to matter how well we do apologetics.

Jesus himself seemed to believe that delivery makes a difference. He said on one occasion that he spoke in parables so that some people would not understand him. He said to his disciples, "To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven” (Mark 4:11-12). Doesn't this presuppose that if Jesus spoke plainly that some people would've understood, turned, and been forgiven?

Jesus showed that evidence matters, too. He said, "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had been performed in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes"(Luke 10:13). Tyre and Sidon would have repented if Jesus had shown them the same miracles that he showed Chorizin and Bethsaida. Yet he didn't. So here's an example of where evidence would have made a difference in somebody's conversion.

If effort makes a difference, then we do have something to be anxious about--whether we presented the gospel clearly, whether we defended it well, etc. If it's possible for Jesus' lack of clarity to explain why some people didn't repent and be forgiven, then it's also possible that our poor arguments or poor presentation is the explanation for why some people don't repent and receive forgiveness. That does put some of the onus on us, even if God determines who he will save and who he won't. We are his instruments. But I do still think it puts us in a better position than a non-Calvinist as far as fretting over our own efforts.

NOTES

1. See also Calvinism and evangelism and Does Calvinism render apologetics superfluous?.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

An argument for strong atheism

I came up with an argument for strong atheism today that attempts to avoid the genetic fallacy even while arguing from the origin of belief in God. It's also a kind of argument from silence (or lack of evidence) that avoids committing the fallacy of argument from silence (or lack of evidence).

1. Belief in God originated either from evidence for God or from imagination.
2. Belief in God did not originate from evidence.
3. Therefore, belief in God originated from imagination.
4. If belief in God originated from imagination, it would be an enormous coincidence if he also happened to exist in reality.
5. It is more reasonable to believe in the non-existence of God than to believe in enormous coincidences.
6. Whatever is most reasonable to believe is most likely to be true.
7. Therefore, the non-existence of God is most likely to be true.

I'm sure the fourth and fifth premises could be cleaned up, but you get the idea. If you're an apologist, then you're most likely to attack the second premise. But you could also attack the first premise on the basis that there's a third possibility--that belief in God is "properly basic" or that it's a priori or something along those lines. Maybe belief in God is hardwired, and we have a natural inclination to believe in God. Maybe God himself zapped us with belief.

Of course a person could turn around and say that if God were known in this third way, then God's existence would be self-evident. Our natural internal awareness of God could, itself, be considered a kind of evidence for God. But then we'd just be quibbling over the definition of "evidence," and if we accepted that natural awareness is a kind of evidence, then we'd be back to attacking the second premise.

One could also raise a presuppositional argument for the existence of God. But I think such an argument would reveal that presuppositionalism isn't that different than evidentialism. If you claimed that God must exist in order to even make coherent sense out of the argument, or that you must presuppose the existence of God before being able to argue coherently, then you're essentially using logic and coherence as evidence for the existence of God.

One might also say that people believe in God because somebody told them stories when they were kids. But I don't see why that couldn't be considered a kind of evidence. We could quibble over whether it was good evidence or not, but if a kid looks up to and trusts their parents, then their parents' word on something serves as a persuasive reason to think it's true. So it's a kind of evidence.

Appeal to parents would be irrelevant to the first premise, though. It might explain the origin of some individual's belief in God today, but it wouldn't explain the origin of belief in God altogether. That is unless the parent made it up and didn't just take their own parents' word for it. Then we'd be back to imagination.

But if we're talking about the absolute origin of belief in God, and not the origin of some individual's belief in God today, then it would be hard to defend that second premise. One might defend the second premise on the basis that all the arguments for God fail. But it would be hard to prove that God never explicitly revealed himself to somebody in the past who then passed on the account, and you'd need to rule that out before you could make a good argument for the second premise. It seems like the best you could do in favor of the second premise is to make an argument from silence. While you might be able to argue that there currently is no evidence for God, you would be hard pressed to argue that there has never been any evidence for God available to anybody, anywhere, at any time.

I think the real reason a lot of people believe there is no evidence for God is not simply that they're unaware of any evidence for God but because they are presupposing the non-existence of God. If God doesn't exist, then we shouldn't expect there to be any evidence for him. So if you don't believe in God, it stands to reason that you're going to doubt there is any evidence for God until you see it for yourself. Of course you couldn't use the non-existence of God to prop up the second premise because that would make the whole argument circular.

And now that I think about it, there's a fourth possibility besides evidence, imagination, and being hardwired for belief in God. There's also the possibility that somebody came to believe in God through a faulty line of reasoning. Maybe they considered thunder to be evidence for God when it really wasn't. In that case, there person isn't just making up God. They really believe in God for what appears to them to be a good reason. But can you really say their belief in God wasn't based on evidence? I mean maybe thunder wasn't actually evidence for God, but it served as evidence for the person who took it to be evidence.