Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Materialism, Dualism, and Idealism

There's materialism, dualism, and idealism. As far as I know, that exhausts all the options. That is unless there's tri-ism or nothing-ism. But let's stick with the big three. No matter which one of the three you go with, there's a problem.

For materialism, there's the hard problem of consciousness.

For dualism, there's the interaction problem.

For idealism, there's the problem of solipsism.

Of these three, I think the materialists try the hardest to solve their problem. There are all kinds of supposed solutions to the problem of consciousness. Some people go to the extreme of denying consciousness even exists.

Idealists, as far as I can tell, don't try to deal with their problem. I think it may be because although there are difficulties with idealism, they don't amount to defeaters. I mean if it turns out that I am the only person who exists (or who I can know exists), it wouldn't follow that idealism was false. Or, if idealism is counter-intuitive for reasons I explained in an earlier post, it wouldn't follow that idealism was false.

Dualists fall somewhere in between. A lot of dualists acknowledge that there's an interaction difficulty, but they don't try to solve it. They rest on the arguments for dualism and assume there must be a solution even if they don't know what it is. Some people try to solve the problem. I thought I had a solution to it a while back, but it ended up not working out because it only allowed for causation in one direction.

But still, it seems like no matter what worldview you subscribe to, there's going to be a problem.

Friday, August 11, 2017


I've been reading Four Views On Divine Providence lately. Although I'm reformed, the representative of reformed theology in this book, Paul Kjoss Helseth, advanced the craziest theory of God's providence. He advocated occasionalism, which is the view that nothing in the natural world causes anything else. Rather, everything that's happening in each moment of time is directly caused by God. In fact, our existence in each moment of time is caused by God. He called this view omnicausality. I think it's just nuts.

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

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Feasible and infeasible worlds

According to Molinists, people have libertarian freedom, and God knows what each person would freely choose to do in whatever circumstances they might be in. That means there are counter-factuals to human freedom. A counter-factual is an if/then proposition. For example, if Pete were holding a drink at such and such moment, then he would drink it.

Since, according to Molinists, there are counter-factuals of human freedom that tell God exactly what each person will do in whatever situation, that means there are possible worlds that God could not actualize even if he wanted to. That follows from the counter-factuals.

Let's imagine two possible worlds that are exactly alike up until some precise moment that we'll call t. From t onward, the two worlds diverge because although Pete is in exactly the same situation in both worlds, he makes a different choice in each. In one world, Pete chooses to drink at t, and in the other world, Pete chooses not to drink at t.

Suppose God knew before creating anything that if Pete were holding a drink at t, then Pete would freely choose to drink at t. With that being the case, God could not have actualized the other world in which Pete were in the exact same situation at t, but chose not to drink. Even though the other world describes a possible state of affairs, God could not have actualized that world. That's what Molinists mean by "infeasible." An infeasible world is a possible world that God could not actualize because it describes a possible state of affairs that contradicts one of the counter-factuals that God knew before creating anything. If it was true all along that if Pete were in such and such situation at t, then he would freely drink, then God could not have actualized the world in which Pete was in the exact same situation at t but chose not to drink.

It makes you wonder how many possible worlds are infeasible compared to the feasible worlds. You'd think there would be at least as many infeasible worlds as there are feasible worlds since for whatever choice a person makes, they could have done otherwise, given libertarian freedom. But there are Frankfurt cases that show libertarian freedom does not require that a person could have done otherwise even if they have libertarian freedom. Still, it seems that in most of our choices, we could have done otherwise if those choices were free in the libertarian sense.

I think there would actually have to be far more infeasible worlds than feasible worlds. After all, at any moment, it's not as if the very next choice you make is either to act in some particular way or not to act in that way. At each moment, there are a whole slew of things you could choose to do. Let's say you decide to point in some direction. Well, there are a whole bunch of directions you could have chosen to point. You could choose to point north, south, east, west, up, down, or anywhere in between. You'd have 360 degrees to choose from, and that's just in the horizontal plane. But if you choose to point at some precise moment, you're only going to choose to point in one particular direction. There is some counterfactual that says exactly which direction you're going to point if you are in that situation at that particular moment. Yet every direction is possible. For every possible direction you could point at that moment, but don't, there is a possible world in which you do point in that direction, but each of those possible worlds are infeasible for God to actualize.

Think about that. At any given moment, there are a whole slew of things we could freely choose to do, but we don't. We only take one course of action. That means there must be far more infeasible worlds than feasible worlds. Of all the possible worlds, there were relatively few that were feasible for God to create.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Idealism is counter-intuitive

I don't think idealism can be proven false. The main reason I reject it is because it's counter-intuitive in a way that alternate views (e.g. materialism and substance dualism) aren't.

For this blog entry, I'm going to cut and paste some stuff I said in a conversation I had with an idealist.

I think I reject idealism more because it flies in the face of my common sense notions about the world. When I'm standing in front of a tree or a cat, I can't shake the overwhelming impression that it's a real physical object in front of me. Hearing arguments for idealism is like hearing arguments against motion from Zeno's paradoxes. I see the strength of the arguments, but they are not enough to overcome my strong intuition that something has gone awry.

The idea that a subjective mental experience, like perception, could be shared collectively strikes me as being just as problematic as the interaction problem. Even if it's the case that a single God is feeding the same consistent information into each of our minds so that we each see a tree or a cat, we're not all seeing the same actual tree or cat. In fact, we're not interacting with each other at all. At best, we're interacting with a representation of each other. The other person could cease to exist in reality, and it would be possible for God to continue feeding information into our heads as if the other person were still interacting with us. So there's little reason to think that the people wandering around in our sensory perceptions are real people at all except our hope that God is being honest and consistent.

Let me expand on this with an analogy. Let's suppose you and I both go to sleep and have a dream. And let's suppose that by some strange improbable luck, we both have identical dreams in which you and I have a conversation that goes like this:

RationalThinker: Hi philochristos. What brings you here today?
Philochristos: I don't know how I got here to be honest with you.
RationalThinker: Really? Are you suffering from amnesia or something?
Philochristos: Maybe. Anyway, it's great to finally meet you.
RationalThinker: You, too! Let's find something to argue about.
Philochristos: Hold on. I have to use the bathroom first.

If it just happened by luck than you had this dream of having this conversation with me, and I had this same dream of having this conversation with you, and we both saw the same trees and the same scenery and everything, it would still be the case that you and I were not actually communicating with each other. I was communicating with a projection of my own mind, and you were communicating with a projection of your own mind.

If it turned out that the projections in each of our minds were planted in us by God instead of us dreaming them up ourselves, the only thing that would change is that it would no longer be strange luck that we happened to have mental perceptions of this conversation happening. But it would still be the case that you and I were not actually interacting with each other. I would be interacting with a mental image that God implanted in my head, and you'd be interacting with a mental image that God implanted in your head. I would not even have to exist for you to have that exact same experience, and you would not have to exist for me to have that exact same experience.

I see that as a problem with idealism. Idealism not only goes up against our intuitions about an external world, but it also seems to go up against our intuitions about other minds.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Gregisms and Jesusisms

Way back in the mid to late 90's, I used to listen to the Bible Answer Man with Hank Hanegraaff.  After a while of listening to him, I noticed that he had certain catch phrases he would frequently use that were peculiar to him.  One of them was, "The resurrection is the capstone in the arch of Christianity."  And he would use the phrase "pale of orthodoxy" a lot.  It's been over 15 years since I regularly listened to him, and I still remember that. If I thought about it, I suppose I could remember more.

I also started listening to James White way back around the end of the 90's or the beginning of the 2000's.  I noticed that he, too, had certain catch phrases he would use frequently.  The one that sticks out most in my mind is, "in any way, shape, form, or fashion."

I haven't listened to Frank Turek as much, but one thing I noticed about him is that whenever he gives a talk, an interview, or anything, he never fails to say, "I'm from New Jersey."  That has always struck me as funny.  After I started noticing it, I would point it out to people.  Then the next time I'd hear something from Frank, he would again say, "I'm from New Jersey."  It still makes me laugh every time he says it because it's so predictable.

Greg Koukl has been my favourite Christian radio host for most of these years.  I've listened to him more anybody else.  I became so familiar with how he spoke that I started keeping a list of what I called "Gregisms."  Here are some of his catch phrases:

After a fashion
A sense in which
As it were
Such as it is

I've come to the conclusion that just about everybody has little peculiar ways of saying things or particular words they use regularly.  If you listen to them long enough, you start noticing them.  It's especially true of people who give public talks.

I don't give public talks, but I've noticed that I, too, form habits of using certain words and phrases in things I write.  It changes from time to time, though.  One friend pointed out to me a long time ago, that I said "presuppose" a lot.  I don't do that anymore.  Sometimes my speech habits get on my nerves, and I make a conscious effort to change them.  One thing that has gotten on my nerves more than anything and that I haven't been able to break out of is my habit of saying, "little."  Whenever I watch one of my own YouTube videos, and I catch myself saying, "little this," or "little that," it makes me cringe.  The most recent habit of mine that I've noticed is that I'll say something like, "Not only. . ., but also. . ." or, "It's not that. . ., but. . ." or "It's not because. . ., but because. . ." That one is starting to annoy me, so I'll probably try to change it.

Anyway, all of this got me to thinking about Jesus.  If Jesus is like most people, he probably has his own catch phrases, and I wondered if anybody had ever done a study on it or if there's enough in the gospels to pick up on patterns.  I have not gone through the gospels with a fine-toothed comb to look into this, but just off the top of my head, there are a couple of things I can think of.  One of them is that Jesus will often say, "Truly I say to you," or "Truly truly. . ."  But he will also say, "The kingdom of God is like. . ." because most of his parables are about the kingdom of God.

These must be Jesusisms because the authors of the gospels never use these phrases, and nobody else in the New Testament does. But Jesus is quoted as using them in all the gospels.  From an historical point of view, it seems like the best explanation is that Jesus really spoke that way.  His followers remembered it because they listened to him so much.  Anybody who wanted to write an account of things that Jesus said would probably include some of those phrases. They contain his voice.

I'm curious if there are any more Jesusisms one might notice if they went looking for them.  Maybe the next time I go through the gospels, I will.  If you know of any, leave a comment.

*I recently binged watched all nine seasons of Seinfeld and noticed that Elaine Benes also says, "Lookit."  I noticed that one because it's my favourite Gregism.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

To be is to be percieved

I have run into a few idealists over the years.  An idealist is somebody who thinks mind and the things that make up minds are all that exist.  There is no mind-independent material world.  Everything is perception.

This idea has always struck me as being kind of crazy.  Well, no, I take that back.  There was a time when I was very young that I entertained the idea that everything was perception, especially my own. I guess I should say that for the last 20 to 25 years, this idea has struck me as being crazy.  I mean it's one thing to allow for the mere possibility and to entertain the idea just for the fun of having and exchanging philosophical thoughts. But it's another thing altogether to take the idea seriously or to actually believe that it's true.

But I've met some really smart people who at least claim to believe it.  Some of them have even been Christians.  I'm not going to go into all of my reasons for rejecting idealism in this post.  I just want to respond to one challenge that is always put to me whenever I run into an idealist.  They always want me to describe mind-independent reality.  The reason they appear to see this as a legitimate challenge is because it will be nearly impossible for me to describe anything in the "external" world without appealing to what's going on in my head.  If I start talking about shape, size, colour, etc., these are all just perceptions in my mind. Since I cannot describe reality apart from my mind, they seem to think that means there's no mind-independent reality.

Let me parody this argument. If there are any idealists out there who think I'm misrepresenting their point when they bring up this challenge, leave me a comment and straighten me out.  In the meantime, here's the parody.

Suppose I challenged you to describe a dinosaur without using language.  Well, obviously you couldn't do that.  Aha!  Therefore, there are no language-independent dinosaurs!  Dinosaurs cannot exist independently of language.  So dinosaurs could not have existed prior to the advent of language.

Surely there's a fly in the ointment.  The fact that I can't describe a dinosaur without the use of language doesn't mean dinosaurs can't exist independently of language.  And just because I can't describe a dinosaur without appealing to perception doesn't mean a dinosaur can't exist without being perceived.  It no more follows that dinosaurs are perception than it follows that dinosaurs are language just because I use language and perception to describe them.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Calvinism and evangelism

I had a discussion on on Calvinism, and one person questioned me on why Calvinists evangelize since God determines who will come to Christ and who won't.  He was under the impression that if God decrees that some guy will come to Christ, then it will happen whether we evangelize or not.  That makes evangelism superfluous under Calvinism.

I made two attempts to explain why evangelism is not superfluous under Calvinism because he didn't understand my explanation the first time.  I was just reading over the conversation, and I thought my second attempt was about as clear as it could possibly be. So I thought I'd share it with you.

Let's suppose God wants X to happen. And lets suppose that divine determinism is true. With that being the case, there is a deterministic causal chain beginning with God and ending with X. Now, let's suppose that one of the links in that causal chain is Y. In that case, Y has everything to do with why X happened since it was part of the causal chain.

To be supfluous is to have no hand in bringing about a result. But if God uses means to accomplish his ends, then those means have everything to do with those ends happening.

Now when you raise hypotheticals like, "What if Y didn't happen," then however I answer that is going to depend on what we stipulate in the scenario. If we stipulate that Y is one of the means God intended to bring about X, then if you remove Y, then X won't happen.

But if we stipulate that X will definitely happen, and if you remove Y from the causal chain leading to X, then X will happen by some other means, it will not have been the case that Y was the means through which God intended X to happen.

So it really just depends on your stipulations. In my view, God successfully saves everybody he intends to save, and he uses the means of evangelism to do it. So evangelism has everything to do with why some people come to Christ. That means it's not superfluous. It would only be superfluous if it were not part of the causal chain leading to salvation.

You can read the whole conversation here:  I'm a crazy Calvinist, AMA

If you're interested, I did one other "Ask me Anything" thread on Calvinism here: Ask a Calvinist

I also addressed this same subject on my blog once here: Does Calvinism render apologetics superfluous?

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

By hook or crook

I've noticed something when reading conversations on discussion forums between Christians and critics of Christianity. There are two arguments critics make that seems to be at odds with each other.

When talking, for example, about the historical Jesus, some critics will say that unless we have contemporary eye-witness accounts about Jesus, we can't know about him. Everything else is second hand or "hear say," which is unreliable. And since neither Paul nor the authors of the gospels were contemporary eye-witnesses of Jesus, we have no reliable way of knowing anything about the historical Jesus if he even existed.

But then I've seen other conversations where the Christian will try to make the case that the gospels contain information that comes from eye-witnesses to Jesus. The critics will then go on to explain that eye witness testimony is "notoriously unreliable." They'll cite court cases where eye-witnesses contradict each other, where they remember things incorrectly and get details wrong, etc.

I don't know if I've ever seen the same critic use both of these approaches, so I can't accusing any individual of inconsistency, but from the point of view of somebody defending historical information about Jesus, it does seem like they face inconsistent criticism.

One could avoid the inconsistency by throwing up their hands and saying history is unknowable. Since eye witness testimony is unreliable, and hear say or circumstantial evidence is also unreliable, then history just can't be known. I haven't met many people who are generally skeptical about history, though. I've run into lots of people who set the bar pretty high when it comes to evidence about Jesus, but not as high when it comes to other questions of historicity.