Tuesday, August 14, 2018

A quick and dirty response to the problem of evil

I've written about this elsewhere in more detail (see my Conversations with Angie series), but I thought it would be handy to condense a lot of it into something that's succinct since I've been doing that with other subjects. I just wrote this today in response to somebody raising the problem of evil on a discussion forum.

This argument hinges on there being a contradiction between these two claims.

1. God exists (and God is being defined as being all powerful, all knowing, and wholly good).

2. Evil exists.

If these two claims contradict each other, then they can't both be true. So, if evil exists, then God does not exist. Or if God exists, then evil would not exist.

There are three different ways that two claims can contradiction each other.


An explicit contradiction is when one claim is the negation of another. For example, "My cat is hairy," explicitly contradicts, "My cat is not hairy." Obviously, 1 and 2 do not contain an explicit contradiction.


A formal contradiction is when you have a set of claims, none of the claims explicit contradict any of the other claims, but using the laws of deductive inference, you can deduce from some of the claims, another claim that explicitly contradicts one of the other claims. Here's an example of a set of claims that are formally contraditory:

All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Socrates is not mortal.

None of the claims explicitly contradict the others. However, from the first two claims, you can deduce another claim, namely. . .

Socrates is mortal.

Now we have an explicit contradiction since "Socrates is not mortal," is the negation of "Socrates is mortal." Since we were able to deduce an explicit contradiction, then the original set is formally contradictory.

However, 1 and 2 are not formally contradictory either because you cannot deduce anything from 1 and 2 that would be the explicit negation of one of them.


That bring us to the third way a set of statements or claims can contradict each other. A set of statements are implicitly contradictory as long as there is a necessarily true statement (or statements) that when added to the set produces a formal contradiction. Here's an example.

Socrates is a man.
Socrates is not mortal.

These two claims are neither explicitly nor formally contradictory. However, the statement, "All men are mortal," is true, and when added to the set, it produces a formal contradiction. But the statement that "All men are mortal," must necessarily be true or else it can't do any work for us to show that the original statements are implicitly contradictory. If it's possible for a man to be immortal, then the two claims are not implicitly contradictory. So, if 1 and 2 are inconsistent with each other in any way, then it must be implicit. That means that to show they are contradictory, you must add statements that are necessarily true to them in order to render them formally contradictory. I'll leave it to you to do that. In the mean time, I'll give you some reasons to think they are not contradictory.

If two statements are contradictory, then they cannot both be true under any possible state of affairs. So if there is a possible state of affairs in which both could be true, then they are not contradictory. So here's a suggestion.

God created a world containing evil, and he had a morally justified reason for doing so.

We need not know if that claim is true or not. It only needs to be possible to do its work. If God were wholly good, then we should expect that whatever he does, he has a morally justifiable reason for doing it. So this claim, if it were true, would preserve God's perfect goodness even though he created a world containing evil.

Theists need not know what God's reason is. Nor should we be expected to know what his reason is. As long as it's possible that he has a good reason, a theist is not being inconsistent in believing in both God and evil. So evil does not disprove God.

But there's more. Before evil could disprove the existence of God, evil would have to first exist. But evil can't exist unless there's a moral law to distinguish between good and evil. If there is no transcendent moral law, then whether a state of affairs is good or evil would reduce to cultural or individual preferences or values. If good and evil were merely cultural or individual preferences, it would have no bearing on whether or not God exists since God would not be obligated to live according to the made up preferences and values of his creatures.

But since good and evil are value judgements, they cannot exist independently of somebody valuing something. Morality is necessarily subjective in a sense. It may not be up to the subjective values and preferences of human beings, but if it is an objective thing, as far as we are concerned, then it must originate from the subjective values and preferences of a transcendent personal being, like a god.

But what could a personal god have that we don't have that makes his subjective values objective for everybody else? Well, here's an analogy. Let's say you have a second grade classroom with 20 students and one teacher. And let's say one of the students comes up with 10 classroom rules of do's and don't's. Would any of the other students have any obligation to obey these rules? Of course not. But suppose the teacher came up with 10 rules. Now, suddenly, everybody else is obligated to obey them. It's the authority of the teacher that makes the difference.

As creatures, we're kind of all on the same level. We do have heirarchies among ourselves, but nothing sufficient for morality. We have employer/employee relationships, parent/child, commander/soldier, etc. In all of these cases, one person has authority over another person. But in each of these cases, a person's authority can be trumped by morality. A government can pass a law that is immoral for anybody to obey. Laws can be unjust. So morality is the highest sort of law that cannot be trumped by any human institution. So the authority behind the moral law must transcend humanity.

But what could possibly give this god-like being that kind of absolute authority? It's hard for me to come up with a list of necessary and sufficient conditions, but I think I can come up with a few things that make sense. Here's a list of things that would make sense of morality if they were true.

God is sovereign and autonomous. That means god has no peers, no authorities above him, and nobody to tell him what to do.

God is a necessary being who created everything else. That means god does not owe his existence to anything else, but everything else owes its existence to god. God is the being for whom and by whom everything else exists. Everything revolves around god. Everything derives its purpose from god because god made it for a purpose.

I think these things, together, make a lot of sense of morality. So let's suppose that's how it is. We have a god who exists necessarily, who created everything else, who invests everything else with purpose, and rules autonomously and sovereignly. That sounds a lot like the Christian God.

What all this means is that if there is no such god, then there can't be evil either. So any argument you make against God from evil is incoherent since you need evil to exist before you can even begin to make the argument. So the argument against God from evil is incoherent. In fact, evil is evidence for God since the existence of evil presupposes the existence of a moral law, and the existence of a moral law presupposes the existence of God.

I have one more thing to say before I finish. If God is the source of the moral law that allows there to be a distinction between good and evil, we can deduce that God is wholly good from the meaning of good and evil. By their very meanings, good is what is to be done, and evil is what is to be avoided. That is, you should always do good, and you should never do evil. If God's values and preferences are the ground for this distinction, it follows that God always values and prefers good and never values and prefers evil. That means God is wholly good.

From God's perfect goodness, we can deduce that God does, in fact, have a good reason for creating a world containing evil, even without knowing what that reason is. I suggested earlier in this post that it was a mere possibility. But now I'm making a stronger claim. It is an actuality, which we can deduce like so.

If God is wholly good, then whatever God does, he has a morally good reason for doing so.
God is wholly good.
Therefore, whatever God does, he has a morally good reason for doing so.
God created a world containing evil.
Therefore, God has a morally good reason for creating a world containing evil.

And that solves the logical/deductive problem of evil.

I could go on to offer theodicies, but this is long enough.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Sea lions

You know how every now and then, there'll be a new fad in how people say things? For example, getting upset and venting because something set you off is now called being "triggered," and people use the word, "triggered" a lot more than they used to. Well, today I learned a new phrase. It's called "sea lioning." I haven't heard it actually used yet, but somebody told me about it. He directed me to this comic strip which not only made me giggle, but it also made me think.


I agree somewhat with the point of the comic. I mean if you're going to have a debate or a discussion over some disagreement, you ought to be able to back up what you say. But it's kind of silly that a person can't express an opinion without being badgered sea lioned by somebody insisting that they prove it. And if you do want to press somebody to substantiate their claims, there's a tactful way to do it and an untactful way to do it. A lot of people on the internet use the untactful method, which is off-putting.

Nobody has an obligation to prove anything to you unless they have some desire to persuade you. Then it's reasonable to ask them back to up their claim. But most of the time people are just making conversation. If you're an apologetics junkie (or anti-apologetics junkie), it's easy to develop the bad habit of treating every encounter as if it's an intellectual battle that you must win. We ought to resist the urge to be in battle mode all the time.

My blog is kind of set up for argumentative situations, so asking me to substantiate what I say is perfectly appropriate. But in your day to day life, just be a normal person and have a normal pleasant conversation every now and then. People like to say what they think sometimes, and there's nothing wrong with that. You can say you disagree, but you don't have to challenge every little thing you disagree with. Sometimes a conversation can be nothing more than a pleasant exchange of ideas without everybody insisting that everybody else prove what they say.

If you are in an argumentative situation, or if you're just curious about the other person's point of view and why they hold it, then there's a tactful way to ask for evidence or sources. You don't have to be a jerk about it. Some of it has to do with your tone, which I can't reproduce in a blog post, but here's some examples of a tactful way to request that somebody back up their claim.

Really? Why do you say that?

Have there been any studies about that? I'm curious what they say.

What do the experts say about that?

That's interesting. Where could I go to read more about it?

How did you hear about that?

What do you base that on?

Here's some douchy ways to do it.

Oh yeah? Prove it, then.

That's an unsubstantiated assertion. Where's the evidence?

If you can't back up your assertion, there's no reason for me to take it seriously.

There's no evidence for that.

You're just making that up. Prove it.

I included those last two because they come across as being presumptuous and closed-minded. It may be that the other person has no reason for what they stated, but to treat them with contempt before they've even had the opportunity to explain themselves is rude. If you actually are closed to any suggestion that there might be evidence for what the other person is saying, a more tactful thing to say is, "Is there any reason for me to believe that?" Let them tell you there's no evidence or that they're just going on a hunch or something. Maybe they think their statement is axiomatic and doesn't require proof.

People are sensitive when you challenge their views, so they can perceive you as being off-putting no matter how polite you're trying to be. I don't have all the answers, and I screw up plenty, but I do want to encourage you to at least try to not be obnoxious or rude in these conversations. The world would just be a better place if we could all exchange our ideas and arguments in a pleasant manner. People would probably be more open about their views, too, if they don't feel badgered or on the defensive, and that will enable you to engage them more.

EDIT: Oh, and another thing. Don't ask people to prove their point of view if you already agree with them. That's just rude.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

The harm of some false teachings

There are some teachings out there that, while they may not necessarily be heresies, they are still important issues for their practical implications. I'm thinking of two in particular. One is the belief that there's physical healing in the atonement, meaning that if you're truly a Christian, you should not have any sicknesses or diseases. The other is the idea that we should all expect God to be speaking to us on a regular basis, telling us what to do, making our decisions for us, or something along those lines. I ran into somebody recently who thought he should expect God to be speaking to him in an audible voice, and it was just a matter of developing the skill to hear God.

The problem with these teachings is that they set up false expectations. When those expectations are not met, people either get really discouraged, thinking there's something wrong with them, or they lose their faith. I've actually met people who abandoned Christianity because of their false expectations. I think that's a real travesty, and it's a good reason for why we should attempt to refute these kinds of teachings. Just because these issues are not central to the gospel doesn't mean they are innocent or harmless. They can be very destructive.

Monday, July 23, 2018


While I'm on the subject of Catholicism, I thought I'd post my opening statement in a debate I had over transubstantiation. I opted to use only philosophical arguments in this debate. The resolution for this debate was The Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation is false. Here's my opening.

According to the doctrine of transubstantiation, when the bread and wine of the eucharist are consecrated, they cease to be bread and wine and literally become the body and blood of Jesus (Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 1376).

To keep things short, I'll refer just to "the bread" instead of "the bread and wine," but whatever I say about the bread should apply just as well to the wine.

There's only one of two ways that transubstantiation could happen. Either the material from which the bread is made (i.e., the molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles) remain there but rearrange themselves so that they cease to be bread and become human flesh, or all of the material from which the bread is made is completely replaced by the material of Jesus' flesh, kind of how wood is petrified by replacing molecule after molecule of wood with molecules after molecule of mineral until there is no longer any wood, but just mineral where the tree used to be.

Either scenario creates problems with identity. By "problem with identity," I mean the problem of what makes the flesh in the Eucharist actually be Jesus' own flesh rather than a replication of Jesus' flesh or somebody else's flesh.

Rearrangement of parts

Let's say transubstantiation works by the bread turning into human flesh by the parts rearranging themselves. Obviously, the bread was not Jesus' flesh before the transubstantiation. So there's nothing that could be done to the bread to make it Jesus' flesh. If none of the parts are members of Jesus' flesh before the transformation, then none of the parts could be members of Jesus' flesh after the transformation. No rearrangement of the parts could cause it to be Jesus' flesh.

If a scientist was able to grow skin in a lab that happened to resemble your flesh down to the DNA structure, but he didn't use any of your actual body parts to grow it from, but rather made it from scratch, then it could not be your flesh. The only way it could be your flesh is if you wore it and it was attached to the rest of the actual body you are animating. If it is completely discontinuous with your body, then it can't be your body. It would be like a person painting a perfect replica of the Mona Lisa. The replica would not be the Mona Lisa itself, but only a perfect duplicate.

Flesh ex nihilo

Now, let's say transubstantiation works by completely replacing all the parts of the bread with human flesh. This creates pretty much the same problem. In this case, the bread basically ceases to exist, and human flesh is created ex-nihilo where the bread used to be. This happens so quickly that nobody who was watching could tell. If that were to happen, then the flesh that came into existence could not be Jesus' flesh. It could, at best, be a perfect replica of Jesus' flesh. Imagine a wizard causes a cat to pop into existence out of thin air, and imagine the cat is an exact duplicate of another cat down to the molecule. It would still not be the same cat because one cat can't be in two different places at the same time. It would just be a duplicate. in the same way, if human flesh pops into existence that's just like the flesh of Jesus himself, then it still can't be Jesus' flesh. At best, it can only be a duplication of Jesus' flesh.

Conservation of mass

The first transubstantiation was supposed by the Catholic Church to have happened at the last supper when Jesus broke the bread, said, "This is my body," and passed it around for the disciples to eat (Luke 22:19). There is no indication in the story that Jesus lost any body parts during this meal, and I've never heard a Catholic claim that's what happened. Jesus' actual body was located at a specific place in space during this meal, so if the bread became human flesh, by either of the means mentioned above, then it could not have been Jesus' flesh. Assuming it became human flesh, that would mean more human flesh came into existence than was there before, and since all of Jesus' flesh was accounted for by being attached to the body he was then animating, the flesh being passed around for consumption could not have been his flesh.

It's even worse today. Mass takes place all over the world on Sunday, and there are probably tons of wafers that are all supposedly transubstantiated. Jesus' physical body is made of a particular amount of stuff--roughly the same amount as any man. So it is impossible that all those millions of wafers around the world could all be Jesus' body. There isn't enough of Jesus' actual body to go around.


But the problem is worse than that because the bread of the eucharist is not human flesh at all because it doesn't have any human properties. Now, Catholics are right to make a distinction between essential properties and accidental properties. An accidental property would be like a round ball of wax being shaped into a cube. Although the wax changes shape, it remains the same piece of wax. So the shape of the wax is an accidental property. An essential property would be what makes it wax. If you changed the chemical composition, then it would no longer be wax.

Catholics claim that during the process of transubstantiation, the flesh retains the accidental properties of bread, but it has the essential properties of Jesus' flesh. But the problem is that it retains all of the properties of bread and it gains none of the properties of human flesh. To be human flesh, it would have to have a human cellular structure with human DNA. But the bread of the eucharist does not. It is impossible for it to be human flesh since it has none of the properties of human flesh.

Imagine if I told you that your computer was actually a Christmas tree, but that it just happened to have all the properties of a computer and none of the properties of a Christmas tree. That would obviously be absurd. Or, imagine I told you that a square could have all the properties of a circle and none of the properties of a square and still be a square. You'd know immediately that I was talking crazy. In the same way, if the eucharist has all the properties of bread and none of the properties of human flesh, then it can't be human flesh.


Therefore, it's impossible for the doctrine of transubstantiation to be true.

Thank you.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Catholic vs. protestant interpretation of John 6

I had a debate four years ago with the resolution being, "John 6 is more consistent with a Catholic interpretation". It wasn't that great of a debate, but here's my opening.

The resolution reads that "John 6 [is] more consistent with [the] Catholic interpretation," and since "more" is a comparison word, I'll defend the reformed view against the Catholic view.

John 6 begins with the feeding of the 5000. The next day, the same crowd looked for Jesus who said, "You seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate the loaves, and were filled" (6:26), i.e. they just wanted more food. Jesus said, "Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life" (6:27). They asked what works they should do, and Jesus said, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent" (6:29). So believing in Jesus is what leads to eternal life.

The crowd asked for a sign, mentioning the miracle of bread from heaven. Jesus said the Father "gives you the true bread out of heaven," and "the bread of God" that comes from heaven "gives life to the world" (vs. 32-33). The crowd, requests this bread to always be given to them. Jesus responded, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst."

Jesus' use of the words, "hunger" and "thirst" do not refer to physical hunger and thirst, but rather the satisfaction of eternal life. "Come to me" and "believe in me" both mean the same thing. Jesus is telling them that those who believe in him will have eternal life, which is the consistent view throughout the New Testament (e.g. John 3:16). By calling himself the "bread of life," Jesus was telling them that he is the source of eternal life, and it is to Jesus that people must come in order to have it. So "eating the bread of life" means the same thing as "believing in Jesus." There is a strong parallel in John 4:14-15.

In verse 26, Jesus says that even though the crowd had seen him, they did not believe. Then he explains why. He says, "All that the Father gives me shall come to me" (6:37) The reason the crowd did not believe in Jesus is because they were not given to Jesus by the Father. If they had been given to Jesus by the Father, then they would come to Jesus.

Jesus says the reason he came down from heaven is to do the Father's will, which is that of all the Father gave to Jesus, Jesus lose none, but raise them up on the last day. In other words, Jesus' job was to give eternal life to all of those the Father gave him, and not lose any. Then he says, "For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in him may have eternal life; and I myself will raise him up on the last day" (6:40).

Jesus' meaning in these verses is plain. The Father gives some people to Jesus. Those people will come to Jesus and believe in him. Jesus will raise those people to eternal life. So the whole discourse about Jesus being the bread of life is simply saying that Jesus is the source of eternal life, and eating the bread of life means believing in Jesus.

The crowd objects to Jesus saying he came from heaven. Jesus responded by saying, "Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day" (6:44). Remember earlier that Jesus had explained their unbelief by saying all the Father had given him would come to him believing, and Jesus would raise them up on the last day. So the group of people given to Jesus in verse 37 are the same group of people drawn by the Father in verse 44. So Jesus is again explaining their unbelief. The reason they don't believe in Jesus is because the Father has neither given them to Jesus nor drawn them.

Now look carefully at what Jesus says from verse 47 to 51. He says, "Truly truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. . . I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh." Jesus is clearly equating "he who believes has eternal life" with "if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever." So eating the bread of life is being used as a metaphor for believing in Jesus.

Again, the crowd objects to Jesus giving his flesh to eat. Jesus did not all of a sudden stop talking about believing in him for eternal life and begin talking about eating his flesh for eternal life. He just continues to use the metaphor. He says, "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day" (6:54). Remember that in verse 40 he had said that "everyone who beholds the Son and believes in him may have eternal life; and I myself will raise him up on the last day." The parallel between these two verses makes it plain that eating Jesus flesh and drinking his blood mean the same thing as beholding Jesus and believing in him. After all, they both result in eternal life, and Jesus will raise them up on the last day.

The crowd persists in grumbling because, no doubt, they mistake Jesus to be speaking literally about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. They have not understood what Jesus said about believing in Jesus for eternal life. They are hung up on Jesus' use of the eating metaphor.

Jesus then says, "It is the spirit who gives life the flesh counts for nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe" (vs. 63-64). If Jesus has meant that literally eating his flesh is what gives eternal life, he would not have turned right around and said, "the flesh counts for nothing." Jesus points to his words as being spirit and life and points out that there are some in the crowd who do not believe his words. So again, it is belief in Jesus that leads to eternal life, not literally eating him.

Next he says, "For this reason [i.e. since they don't believe in him, 6:64] I have said to you, that no one can one to me unless it has been granted him from the Father" (6:65). Again, Jesus is explaining their unbelief. This whole passage is about belief in Jesus for eternal life. The reason some come to Jesus for eternal life and others don't is because it is granted to some people by the Father, but it is not granted to others.

After Jesus had said these things, a lot of people walked away, and Jesus said to the 12, "You do not want to go away also, do you?" Jesus knew they weren't going to go away because he knew they believed in him. And Peter responded just as we would expect. He said, "You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God." Peter was interested in Jesus' words, and expressed belief in Jesus because he had been given and drawn to Jesus by the Father, and the Father granted that he should believe in Jesus.

Problems with the Catholic interpretation:

1. It destroys Jesus' flow of thought. From beginning to end, it is about believing in Jesus for eternal life and explaining why some do and some don't.

2. It makes nonsense of the claim that those who believe in Jesus will have eternal life and makes salvation about eating.

3. If taken literally, Jesus' statements would entail the reverse of what Catholics actually believe. Instead of bread turning into the flesh of Jesus, you'd have Jesus turning into a loaf of bread.

4. Even if taken literally, nothing Jesus said in this discourse could lead anybody to believe it had anything to do with turning bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus.

Pro makes two arguments for why we should understand John 6 in the Catholic way. First, she points out that Jesus switches from using phago to using trogo. A metaphor doesn't stop being a metaphor just because it becomes more graphic.

Second, she points out that Jesus didn't explain himself more clearly to the 12 after everybody else walked away. But Peter's response reveals that he already understood Jesus to be talking about belief in Jesus for eternal life.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Hobbies: Instagram and FanFiction

It's been a long time since I've posted anything about my hobbies. I deleted my photobucket account a while back, but I've been posting pictures of my knives (did I mention I make knives?) on my Instagram account. There's some other stuff on there, too.

I decided to try my hand at writing a fan fiction. The reason I did this is because when I was younger, I used to start writing stories or books, but I would never finished them. Well, my daughter took to doing the same thing, and I wanted to encourage her to finish. So I thought if I finished one, it would encourage her. Well, the opposite happened. My daughter finished hers before I finished mine. That motivated me, so I went ahead and finished a story I started writing a few years ago.

It's a Harry Potter crossover with Pushing Daisies, and it also has a little Star Wars and Doctor Who. After finishing the story the other day, I posted it on FanFiction.net. I plan on posting it on one other site. I call it Harry Potter and the Pie Maker. It has some philosophy in there. If you decide to read it please leave a comment. This is the first piece of fiction I've ever finished, and I'm curious what people will think. There are lots of references, allusions, and inside jokes that I don't expect everybody will get, but it'll make my day if they do.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

A quick and dirty argument against abortion

I've had this on-going struggle to be succinct because if you're not succinct, then people won't listen to you. Sometimes you have to gut an argument to be succinct, so the struggle to is say the most with the fewest words. With that in mind, here's my quick and dirty defense of the unborn. There's nothing new here--it's all Scott Klusendorf-ish--but hopefully it's nice and tidy.

I think abortion should be illegal because it's a serious moral wrong, and I think it's a serious moral wrong because it takes the life of an innocent human being, usually without justification.

The whole abortion debate hinges on one question: What is the unborn? Most of the justifications pro choice people give for why abortion should be legal are question-begging because they only work under the assumption that the unborn is not an innocent human being. For example, they say it could spare the child pain or suffering later on in life. But nobody would use that to justify killing a two year old because the two year old is an innocent human being. Well, if the unborn is an innocent human being just like the two year old, then the possibility of future suffering is not a sufficient justification of killing the unborn either.

Here's another argument I heard just today: Abortions are going to happen whether they are legal or not, so they should be legal. But people do, in fact, kill their children from time to time. Remember Andrea Yates who drown her kids in the bathtub? So here's a parallel argument: Parents are going to kill their children whether it's legal or not; therefore, it should be legal for parents to kill their children. But obviously none of us would accept such a crazy argument because we all agree that children are innocent human beings. Well, if the unborn are innocent human beings, then this argument doesn't justify abortion either.

And you can run this argument through with most other pro-choice argumenst. Just ask yourself, "Is it okay to kill a two year old for the same reason?" If not, then it doesn't justify abortion unless the unborn are not innocent human beings.

But the fact that the unborn are innocent human beings is obvious. They are human because their parents are human, they have human DNA, and they are going through the stages of human development. They are alive because they are growing, they are using energy (i.e. metabolizing), and their cells are dividing. There's no question that they are living humans. They are also distinct from their mothers. What i mean is that they are not appendages of their mothers, like arms, legs, or organs, which are human parts. They are whole distinct human beings which is evident in the fact that they have unique DNA distinct from both of their parents, that some of them have penises even though the mother is still female, and the fact that if allowed to, they will go through every stage of human development. Each of us began as an embryo. That object that used to be inside the womb is the same object as the one that later was outside of the womb. It's the same entity. The only difference is its location and its level of development.

Location (inside or outside the womb) isn't what makes something a human being either. It's the same thing regardless of its location. Consider a surgeon who has to temporarily remove a fetus from a womb, then put it back again. Are we to believe it was non-human, then became human, then ceased to be a human again once placed back in? This is not a mere thought experiment. Surgeries like this do take place.

Viability isn't what makes something human either. Whether a fetus can survive outside the womb is a matter of technology. But surely advances in technology do not turn something that is not human into something that is human. So the fact that somebody is dependent on either a mother or a machine to stay alive has nothing at all to do with whether it's a human being or not. Many adults depend on machines for their survival. If there were a medical procedure in which they could be hooked up to another human instead of a machine to accomplish the same thing, they wouldn't for that reason cease to be human beings.

The only argument the pro-choice side has that makes any sense at all is bodily sovereignty arguments. Some argue that even if the unborn are innocent human beings, the mother still has the right to have an abortion because she has the right to say who can and can't use her body to stay alive. This argument has some weight, but I don't think a woman's right to bodily sovereignty outweighs the unborn's right to life for three reasons.

First, we are not talking about a stranger here. We're talking about the woman's own young. Mothers have an obligation to their own young that they don't have to strangers.

Second, the right to bodily sovereignty is not absolute. Suppose a woman's sole means of feeding her baby was breast-feeding. But she refused on the basis that the baby doesn't have the right to use her body. Would we not think she was a moral monster for intentionally starving her baby to death just because it was her boob?

Third, the right to bodily sovereignty is contingent on the right to life. The right to life is the most fundamental right because all other rights are contingent on you being alive.

So for all these reasons, i think abortion is immoral, and that it ought to be illegal.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Using the Bible to prove the Bible

It would seem like there's something circular about pointing to various passages in the Bible to prove that the Bible is the infallible word of God. Take these passages for instance.

John 10:35 "If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken). . ."

2 Timothy 3:16 "All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness. . ."

2 Peter 1:20-21 "But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God."

Why should we believe that these passages are true? Because they're in the Bible. And why should we think the Bible is accurate? Because these passages say so. So the Bible is true because the Bible says it's true.

Well, that's obviously problematic. It doesn't have to be, though. Consider my imaginary friend, Bob. Bob is a pretty reliable guy. At least 90% of what Bob says is true. The other 10% may or may not be true. Who knows? Well, one day, Bob said, "100% of what I say is true." If we were going on statistics alone, and not considering the particularity of this kind of statement, we'd have to assign the statement a 90% chance of being true. That means there's a 90% chance that Bob is 100% correct in everything he says.

Of course we wouldn't actually do that because there are other reasons to doubt the claim. Bob is human, humans are fallible, therefore, Bob is fallible. Plus, it's kind of a crazy claim anyway. All of those things would lead us to believe that the probability of the claim being true is less than 90%.

But all I'm trying to say is that using Bob to prove Bob is not necessarily circular. It's not in principle circular to rely on Bob's word that everything he says is true. We can rely on his general truthfulness to substantiate his claim.

The Bible differs from Bob, though. Bob is just one person, but the Bible contains the works of multiple people. To say "using the Bible to prove the Bible" is misleading. Consider Bob's imaginary friend, Dan. Dan is a pretty truthful guy, too. At least 90% of what Dan says is accurate. One day, Dan says, "Everything Bob says is true." Well, if Dan and Bob are different people, then there's no circularity in arriving at the conclusion that Bob is 100% accurate in everything he says. Since the Bible has different parts written by different authors, it's not circular reasoning to base the reliability of one author on the word of another author. That's why I say it's misleading to call this an example of "using the Bible to prove the Bible." Using Bob to prove Bob might be circular, but using Dan to prove Bob is not.

Let's say we know that Dan is wrong in 10% of what he says, but we know he's right in 90% of what he says. Not taking other background information into account (like the humanity of Dan and the fallibility of humans), there's a 90% chance that Dan's statement about Bob is true. That means there's a 90% chance that Bob is 100% correct in everything he says. There's no circular reasoning there.

So when Paul say that all scripture is God-breathed, and he's referring to all of the works of the Bible by authors other than himself, then it isn't circular reasoning to appeal to Paul to substantiate the truth of all those other books in the Bible. All we need is some reason to think Paul knows what he's talking about.

Of course if the only reason we accept the reliability of Paul is because Peter says he's reliable (2 Peter 3:15-16), and if the only reason we accept the reliability of Peter is because Paul says he's reliable, then we're using circular reasoning. But as long as we have some reason to think Paul is reliable other than Peter saying so, or vice versa, then our argument is not circular.

And one need not be 100% certain that the Bible is 100% accurate. One can believe in the infallibility of the Bible without claiming that their belief itself is infallible. It is perfectly consistent to say, "I think the Bible is 100% accurate, but I could be wrong about that." So if one is using some evidential or probablistic line of reasoning as the basis for trusting in the Bible's statements about its own authority, and not merely the assumption of infallibility, then one is not reasoning in a circle by concluding that the Bible is infallible from the Bible's own claims of infallibility.

Some people will accuse you of circular reasoning if you use the Bible to substantiate any claim, and not just the claim that the Bible is infallible. For example, let's say it's the claim that Paul met Cephas in Jerusalem. Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians, "Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days" (Galatians 1:18). If you use this verse to substantiate the claim that Paul knew Cephas, the knee jerk reaction of some people is to say, "You're using the Bible to prove the Bible. That's circular reasoning!"

To see how vacuous that retort is, you just have to apply the principle universally. Suppose I cite an article in the news paper to show that a murder took place at Peas Park over the weekend. Would the correct response be, "You're using the newspaper to prove the newspaper"? If so, then none of us could cite a source for anything at all because it would always invite the accusation of circular reasoning. Whatever the source is, one could say, "You're using the Source to prove the Source!" This knee-jerk Bible-to-prove-the-Bible retort is an argument that proves too much since it invalidates any source that you might cite to substantiate any claim.

Suppose we argue for the infallibility of the Bible by a more circuitous route. We begins with the claims of the Bible that (1) Jesus made himself out to be a prophet, messiah, and son of God, (2) Jesus was crucified for his claim to be the messiah, (3) some of his followers claimed to see him alive after his crucifixion, and (4) those same followers proclaimed that Jesus had risen from the dead. From there, we reason that (5) the appearances of Jesus were what caused them to believe he had risen from the dead, so (6) Jesus really did rise from the dead, so (7) Jesus really must've been a prophet, messiah, and son of God, so (8) Jesus was a reliable source. Also, (9) Jesus believed in the absolute authority of the Bible; therefore, (10) the Bible must be absolutely authoritative. Would this be an example of using the Bible to prove the Bible? In a sense, yes, but it's not circular reasoning as long as we don't rely on the divine authority of the Bible to substantiate the premises leading up to the conclusion. It would be circular reasoning if the only reason I believed Jesus made these lofty claims about himself or that he was crucified, etc. was because I already assumed the Bible was absolutely authoritative. But since all of the premises can be substantiated without assuming the divine authority of the Bible, the argument is not circular.

We can all agree that the New Testament is a product of the early church. It is historically value, at the very least, because it tells us something about what early Christians believed and how they lived. Historians do not naively look at primary sources and take their word for whatever they say. They don't treat the Bible that way either. But any ancient writing is historically valuable because it tells you something about the people it came from. There are criteria historians can use to determine if what a source says is true. These criteria do not amount to saying, "It's true because it says it's true." Rather, it's true because the author was in a position to know, or multiple independent people all say the same thing, or it's an embarrassing admission, or whatever. There are multiple reasons to think that what a person says was true other than the mere fact that they said it. If that were not the case, there would never be any point in calling a witness--especially the accused--to the witness stand.

Catholic apologists really do engage in circular reasoning, though. According to them, the only way we can know what books are God-breathed is because the Catholic Church tells us. We need an infallible source, like the Church, to tell us about the other infallible source--the Bible. But how do we know the Catholic Church has this authority? Well, they base that on scriptures such as 1 Timothy 3:15 where it says the Church is the "pillar and support of the truth." But how do we know we should believe 1 Timothy 3:15? Why, because 1 Timothy 3:15 is part of the canon of scripture, which the Church has defined. So we base the authority of the Church on the authority of scripture, and we base the authority of scripture on the authority of the Church. That's circular reasoning.

A Catholic can avoid circular reasoning by grounding the authority of the Church outside of scripture or by grounding the authority of the Bible outside of the Church. At some point, they're going to have to argue like protestants. They're going to have to look at history and engage in historical methods and argue, fallibly, for the authority of one or the other.