Monday, April 02, 2018

Inconsistency in the intelligent design debate

I came across this video on YouTube this morning and thought I'd share my thoughts on something that jumped out at me. One of the criticisms people often make about natural theology is that none of the theistic arguments prove that the being at the end of the argument is really God. Even Christians, like Ronald Nash, have criticized natural theology for this reason. So I find it interesting that when it comes to intelligent design, it's always the people supporting the arguments for intelligent design who will say that the evidence does not warrant the conclusion that God is the intelligent designer even though they'll readily admit that they think it's God (for some other reason apparently). But then it's the critics who always insist that it must be God. In this clip, Eugenie Scott said, "Either the designer is God or somebody with the same skill set." Her argument is essentially the same as people who defend natural theology. The arguments of natural theology attempt to establish that the explanation for things like morality, the contingency of the universe, the beginning of the universe, the design in the universe, etc. has to have the same attributes that we would associate with deity and is therefore some sort of deity. Critics will say that even if they are sound insofar as they establish the existence of a being with these various properties, that is not sufficient to establish that the being in question is God because of all the attributes of God that they do not establish, like omnipotence, omniscience, the ability to answer prayers, etc.

So consider the argument from design. Natural theologians, like William Lane Craig, will use the exact same arguments that Intelligent Design people like Stephen Meyer use, only Craig claims the evidence warrants the belief that the intelligent designer is God while Meyer denies that the evidence is sufficient to identify the designer as God.

My impression is that a lot of people on all sides of the debate will say whatever is expedient. If an atheist is in a debate with a Christian apologist on the existence of God, and the Christian makes an argument for God from intelligent design, the atheist will say that even if there is an intelligent designer, that doesn't prove it's God. But if the same atheist is in a debate with an intelligent design scientist/philosopher over whether or not intelligent design is science or religion or whether it's creationism in disguise, he'll insist that the intelligent designer must be God and the intelligent design advocate ought to just admit it.

Likewise, if a Christian is trying to defend intelligent design in the context of wanting to have it taught in a public school science classroom, he will insist that the theory does not identify the designer regardless of what he personally believes. When accused of being coy, the Christian will insist that intelligent design theory will only go as far as the evidence allows, and while the evidence shows that there's an intelligent designer, it is not sufficient to show that the designer is God, which is why they don't identify the intelligent designer as God. But if that same Christian is in a debate with an atheist over the existence of God, he will gladly use the argument from intelligent design to try to prove that God exists.

Christians and atheists need not be inconsistent on these points. A Christian could admit that intelligent design does not prove something as specific as the god of any particular religion, but that the existence of a person who designed all biological life does serve as a premise in a larger cumulative case for the existence of something very much like the Christian God. An atheist could say that the evidence for intelligent design, if sound, may not entail the existence of the Christian God, but it certainly would justify belief in a supernatural intelligence. After all, if we are talking about an intelligence who designed all biological life, then whatever kind of life the designer itself is, it can't be of the biological sort.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

The genetic fallacy and the Flying Spaghetti Monster

Somewhere somebody on the internet asked, "How do we know the Flying Spaghetti Monster doesn't exist?" My reaction was immediate. We know the FSM doesn't exist because we know he was made up by Bobby Henderson as a parody of the argument for God from design.

But then I thought, "Isn't that the genetic fallacy?" After all, I thought the existence of the FSM was disconfirmed by pointing to the origin of belief in the FSM. But as I thought about it some more, I remained persuaded that since we know the FSM was made up, we know he doesn't exist. If he did exist, it would be a huge coincidence that there's something in reality that perfectly matches something we know to be made up. It's more likely that he wouldn't exist than that there would be that huge coincidence.

But I still think there is such a thing as a genetic fallacy. Let's say, for instance, that I believe the earth is round because a long time ago I had a dream in which a wizard told me that the earth is just a giant pizza, and since all pizzas are round, it follows that the earth is round. Well, that's obviously not a good reason to think the earth is round, but it doesn't follow that the earth is not round.

So I guess the genetic fallacy is like most other informal logical fallacies. There are exceptions.

Friday, March 30, 2018

iPhone battery replacement

I have an iPhone 6. For a while now it's been really slow and sometimes unresponsive. It wouldn't hold a charge for anything. I had to keep it plugged in almost all the time and carry a battery pack with me whenever I went anywhere. I kept it in "low power mode" most of the time. I was really hoping to hold out until September to get a new phone because the iPhone X is buggy. A guy at AT&T told me it was so buggy that Apple was going to stop making it in the next month or so. So I was hoping to hold out until the next version came out, but it didn't look I would be able to.

Thankfully, I googled around and discovered that since a lot of people complained back in December about Apple intentionally slowing the iPhone down, Apple is now offering to change out the battery for a discounted price. It was $79, but now it's $29. I got my battery changed three days ago, and now it's like I have a new phone again. I went a day and a half without even charging it. And now everything runs at normal speed again, too. Yay! So I can probably hold out another year or two before getting another phone. I do like the iPhone X, though, after playing with it in the store.

I'm telling you this because if you are in the same situation I was in, you can go here and click on "start a battery replacement," and make an appointment to have your battery replaced. I was able to make an appointment for three days later, and when I took it in, it took two hours before I got my phone back.

See? Sometimes I do provide useful information.

EDIT: I should add that when I made a reservation to have my battery replaced, I got an email saying I needed to reserve a battery or make sure they had batteries in stock. When I clicked the link to reserve a battery, I got a notification that said something like, "We don't do that anymore." I don't remember the exact words. But I just decided to show up for the appointment anyway to see what happened. They said they had batteries in stock, so they were able to replace my battery within two hours. Everything went smoothly.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Firstborn of all creation

One of the proof texts Jehovah's Witnesses use to show that Jesus was created is Colossians 1:15 which says that Jesus is "the firstborn of all creation." There are two reasons they think this phrase entails that Jesus was created. The first reason is because of the use of the word, "firstborn," which they take to literally mean Jesus was the first one among many to be born, i.e. created. The second reason is because of the grammatical construct of the phrase. To say that Jesus is the firstborn of all creation is to say that there's a category--creation--and the firstborn is a member of that category.

The first reason

I grant that the usual meaning of firstborn is the first child born among other siblings. There are lots of examples of firstborn being used that way. But that is not always how firstborn is used.

In Exodus 4:21-23, God tells Moses to go to Pharaoh and say, "Thus says the LORD, 'Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I said to you, "Let My son go that he may serve Me"; but you have refused to let him go. Behold, I will kill your son, your firstborn.'" In the context, it's clear that "Israel" refers to the nation of Israel, not to Isaac's son (Jacob was renamed Israel after a wrestling match with God). Isaac's firstborn son was Esau, but through trickery, Jacob robbed Esau of his birthright. Some would argue that Jacob then became the firstborn in which case firstborn refers to inheritance and/or preeminence, but Jacob/Israel was not literally Isaac's first child.

So in what sense is Israel--the nation--God's firstborn? I suspect the nation is the firstborn in a similar sense that Jacob became the firstborn. Israel was God's chosen people who inherited the promises God made to Abraham just as Jacob did. Israel wasn't the first nation that came to be. You might say Israel was God's first specially chosen nation, but there are no other nations God ever chose in the same sense, so they are not the firstborn among any peers, so to speak. You might say they have some preeminence over other nations, though, since they have a special relationship with God.

A mistake I think Jehovah's Witnesses make is putting too much emphasis on etymology. Etymology can only tell what a word originally meant, but words change meaning over time as they are used in different ways. They make this same mistake when arguing that Jesus died on a simple upright pole without a crossbeam merely because of the etymology of the word stauros. We still refer to transmission lines as "telephone poles" even though they often have crossbeams and are no longer used to hold telephone wires. We refer to fixing a computer program as "debugging" even though we no longer have to literally remove bugs from switches.

In the same way, firstborn came to mean something other than the first child born to its parents. One example is when Jacob blesses his two grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh. Manasseh was born first, and Ephraim was born second (Genesis 41:51-52). When Joseph brought his sons to his father, Jacob (aka Israel), to bless them, Jacob crossed his hands and put his right hand on the younger son and his left hand on the older. Joseph tried to correct Jacob because apparently the right hand was supposed to be laid on the firstborn to confer a special blessing on him. But Jacob insisted on keeping his right hand on the younger son, saying that Ephraim would be greater than Manasseh. "Thus," the passage goes, "he put Ephraim before Manasseh" (Genesis 48:8-22). Consequently, Ephraim was called the firstborn (Jeremiah 31:9) even though he was born second.

David was also called the firstborn (Psalm 89:27) even though he was not the first child born to his father, Jesse, nor the first king of Israel. The only sense in which David could have been a firstborn was in the sense of his preeminence. The context bears this out as well. It says, "I also shall make him my firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth" (Psalm 89:27). That's what firstborn means in this context--the highest of the kings of the earth.

Firstborn is a messianic title because it is used of David in a messianic sense in Psalm 89:27. David himself never actually gained dominion over all the kings of the earth, but Jesus, who is the fulfillment of God's promise to always have a man on the throne of David, is explicitly called "king of kings" and "lord of lords" in 1 Timothy 6:15 and Revelation 17:14. So it is perfectly appropriate to refer to Jesus as the firstborn in the same sense as David in Psalm 89:27. It fits. Moreover, the context of Colossians 1:15 appears to have this meaning in mind. It says,

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 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. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.

Jesus is the firstborn of all creation, not because he's the first thing God made, but because all things were created by him, through him, and for him, and because in him all things hold together. Creation revolves around Jesus because it all exists by, through, and for him. That gives him preeminence over creation. Like Ephraim who was "before Manasseh"(Genesis 48:20), Jesus is "before all things" (Colossian 1:17). I'll come back to this point later.

Second reason

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the phrase, firstborn of all creation, means that creation is the category and firstborn is a member of that category. So to say that Jesus is the firstborn of all creation means that Jesus is one of the things that is created. They are essentially making a grammatical claim.

There are instances in which firstborn is used as a member of a group. For example, Exodus 8:16 refers to the "firstborn of all the sons of Israel." Those firstborn are also sons of Israel. It's even used of livestock. Deuteronomy 15:19 refers to "the firstborn of your herd," and "the firstborn of your flock." In those cases, the firstborn is a member of the herd and of the flock.

But there is no grammatical rule that says a construction like Colossians 1:15 must mean that the firstborn is one of the things created. To be a grammatical rule, it would have to apply, not just to the noun, firstborn, but to anything that fits the pattern, noun1 pas noun2 where pas is the Greek word for all, every, etc. One time I searched the Septuigint and the New Testament (especially the letters of Paul) for instances of this pattern to see if noun1 was always part of noun2. I found lots of cases where noun1 was part of noun2, but I also found counter-examples. Here are a few.

John 17:2 "authority over all flesh"
2 Corinthians 1:3 "God of all comfort"
1 Peter 5:10 "God of all grace"

These counter-examples may not sit well with you because authority, comfort, and grace are all abstract nouns. We wouldn't expect authority to be a kind of flesh or God to be an item of comfort or grace in the same way that a firstborn might be a member of a herd. But there are better examples that resemble the pattern in Colossians 1:15 more closely. There's 1 Timothy 4:10 where Paul calls God "the savior of all men." That certainly doesn't mean that God is a man. Let's compare them.

1 Corinthians 1:15 "prototokos pases ktiseos"
1 Timothy 4:10 "soter panton anthropon"

Pas is spelled differently because one is feminine and the other is masculine, but they are both in the genitive case, which is why they are both translated, "of all." The "of" can mean either that one thing is a part of the other thing, or it can mean that one thing belongs to the other thing. In the case of God being the savior of all men, that doesn't mean God is part of mankind but that God is mankind's savior. In the same way, when Paul calls Jesus the firstborn of all creation, that doesn't mean Jesus is part of creation but that Jesus is creation's firstborn, i.e. creation's owner, heir, devisee, inheritor, ruler, head, authority, etc.

A third reason.

I keep editing this post to add stuff. Hopefully this will be the last edit. I wanted to respond to another reason Jehovah's Witnesses think the firstborn is part of creation. This argument is similar to the one before. It just doesn't make as strong of a claim. It's not a grammatical claim; it's an inductive argument from a pattern.

Here's the argument. Every other time you have "the firstborn of _____," it always turns out that the firstborn is part of the group. For example, when you see, "the firstborn of the flock," the firstborn is part of the flock. Therefore, when it says, "the firstborn of all creation," the firstborn is part of creation.

If that argument is sound, then so is this one: Every other time Jesus says, "Truly I say to you," the comma goes after "you." Therefore, when Jesus says, "Truly I say to you today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43), the comma should go after "you." But noooooooooooo, that's not where Jehovah's Witnesses put the comma.

I'm not trying to poo poo induction. Induction is how we discover grammatical rules after all. But there's a reason this pattern doesn't apply to Colossians 1:15. It's because of why the pattern exists. It exists because in the vast majority of cases, the firstborn refers literally to the first child, ox, sheep, or whatever born to its parents. With that being the case, we should expect the firstborn in most of these cases to be part of the group. But as I've already shown, that is not the only way firstborn is used in the Bible, and it certainly not the way it was used of Jesus. Jesus was not literally the result of procreation the way all the other firstborns in all these other cases were. Even if God did create Jesus, Jesus would still not be a firstborn in the same literal sense that human sons are literally the firstborn children of their parents since God doesn't have a wife that he procreates with and who gave birth to Jesus (unless you're a Mormon).

Back to the context

Lemme pick up where I left off above on Colossians 1:15-20. As I pointed out, the reason Jesus is the firstborn of all creation is because he created it all, and it all hangs together because of him. Since Jesus created everything, he himself can't be created. So the context indicates that the firstborn can't be part of creation. To get around this point, Jehovah's Witnesses insert the word other in various places. The New World Translation reads,

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; because by means of him all [other] things were created in the heavens and upon the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, no matter whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All [other] things have been created through him and for him. Also, he is before all [other] things and by means of him all [other] things were made to exist, and he is the head of the body, the congregation. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that he might become the one who is first in all things; because [God] saw good for all fullness to dwell in him, and through him to reconcile again to himself all [other] things by making peace through the blood [he shed] on the torture stake, no matter whether they are the things upon the earth or the things in the heavens.

That changes things. Whereas it would be complete nonsense to say, "Jesus is the first thing created because he created everything," it does make sense to say, "Jesus is the first thing created because all other things were created after him." However, if that is Paul's point, it's an awfully banal point. It would be like saying, "I'm the oldest child because all the other children are younger than me."

I don't think that's Paul's point, though. Paul's point, rather, is that Jesus is preeminent over creation because creation owes its existence to him. It was made for him, and he holds it all together. Paul is explicit in saying that Jesus is the "head of the body, the congregation." So it's Jesus' authority and preeminence that Paul is trying to explain.

Besides that, it appears that Paul is trying to be exhaustive in describing everything that owes its existence to Jesus. He says Jesus is responsible for things in "heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities." That's pretty much everything in creation. Paul's contrast between heaven and earth, visible and invisible, are meant to be extremes, which indicates that Paul meant absolutely everything in creation. That excludes Jesus from being part of creation, and it means "other" doesn't belong in the passage.

Jehovah's Witnesses attempt to justify the insertion of other on the basis that it is warranted in passages like Luke 13:2 where Jesus said, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all [other] Galileans because they suffered this fate?" Other is not in the Greek. It is added to the translation (NASB in this case) to complete the thought or make sense of the passage. Luke 13:2 warrants the insertion of other (though it's not necessary) because it explicitly tells us that it's talking about a small group of Galileans among all Galileans. Adding other to Luke 13:2 does not change the meaning of the passage; however, it does change the meaning of Colossians 1:16ff. Colossians is perfectly coherent without the insertion of "other," so it's not necessary to add it.

The use of other in Colossians 1:16ff both changes the meaning of the text and is also inconsistent with what the context suggests. So while other is called for in Luke 13:2, it does not belong in Colossians 1:16ff.

At this point, Jehovah's Witness will go to other passages they think indicate Jesus was created, then use that as a basis for their interpretation of Colossians 1:15. When they make this move, they are essentially abandoning their efforts to prove Jesus was created from Colossians 1:15. Instead of arguing from their interpretation of Colossians 1:15 to the creation of Jesus, they are instead arguing from their belief in the creation of Jesus to their interpretation of Colossians 1:15. If they still insist that Colossians 1:15 proves that Jesus was created, they are arguing in a circle. They are essentially saying, "We know Jesus was created because Colossians says so, and we know that's what Colossians says because Jesus was created." That's circular reasoning.

Having given up the use of Colossians 1:15 to prove that Jesus was created, the argument then falls to other passages, but that is beyond the scope of this post.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Some recommended books for new Christians

In 2014, I blogged on some life changing books that were really turning points for me. Today, I'm going to list some of the top books I would recommend to somebody who either just converted to Christianity or who wants a basic understanding of it. These are books outside of the Bible.

1. The End For Which God Created the World by Jonathan Edwards.

I think this is THE essential book that every Christian should read. It explains what the big picture is--God, and why he bothered to create the world in the first place. This book answers such basic questions as "What is the meaning/purpose of life?", "Why do bad things happen to good people?", "Why does God demand that we worship him?" and "What is the point of the whole salvation drama?" It turns out that it's not all about that bass, about that bass. It's not even about the Hokey Pokey. It's about the majesty, holiness, and glory of God. Edwards may not answer all of these questions explicitly, but he provides the foundation from which all of these questions can be answered. This book sheds light on just about any other book on theology you could possibly read.

2. Basic Christianity by John Stott.

Amy Hall recommended this to me saying it was an even better introduction to Christianity than Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. I would not say that Stott's book is a better defense of Christianity than Lewis' book; however, I wholeheartedly would agree with Amy that Stott's book is a better explanation of Christianity than Lewis' book.

3. What Is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert.

You may read this and think, "Yeah, I already knew all that." But I'm including it anyway because it's an essential topic, and this book does a better job than any other I know of in explaining clearly what the gospel is. It certainly does a better job than those tracts where you see a guy standing on a cliff and a cross making a bridge between the opposite cliff where God is. Have you seen that one?

4. The Forgotten Trinity by James White.

Here's an essential doctrine that most people I run into butcher whether they are Christians or not. And it's a doctrine most critics of the Trinity misrepresent and do a poor job of refuting because they confuse it with modalism or some other heresy. White gives an unusually lucid explanation of the doctrine of the Trinity, he defends it succinctly, and he shows in a simple and clear way why all the arguments against it fail. It's really easy to understand. So yeah, this one I would consider essential reading. White himself once said on his podcast that he would recommend a book by B.B. Warfield. I think it was The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity.

4. Decision-Making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen and J. Robin Maxson.

I don't know of any book on the market that comes close to this book in offering good practical advice on Christian living, specifically in making decisions. This books covers every day mundane decisions (e.g. what to eat for breakfast) and all important decisions (e.g. who to marry). It also refutes a lot of the silliness that goes on in other books and conferences on the subject of figuring out what God's will for your life is.

5. Scaling the Secular City by J.P. Moreland.

If somebody wanted to read just one book on Christian apologetics, and that's the only book they'd ever read on it, this is the one I would recommend. I keep looking at other books, wondering if another will come along, but I keep going back to this one. There are books that cover some of the subjects in this book better, some books go into more detail on this or that topic, and some cover a wider range of subjects than this one, but when all things are considered, I still think this one is the best over all one stop defense of Christianity. I'm writing a book like this myself, and when I'm finished, maybe I'll start recommending my own book instead. I figure since it'll be my own book, it'll include exactly what I would want to be in a book like this, and it'll say exactly what I would like to be said in a book like this. How could it not since I'm the one writing it? Amirite???

6. Tactics by Greg Koukl.

This is a one-of-a-kind book, and it's a must read for anybody who has any interest in apologetics and/or evangelism. There's a gazillion books out there on apologetics that just give information and arguments. This is a practical book on how to use that information to have productive conversations with people who disagree with you. It's even useful if you don't have a lot of apologetic knowledge. This book has value beyond Christian apologetics, too. I think the tactics taught in this book would be useful to anybody who had a desire to have more productive conversations with people they disagree with, whether the subject is religion, philosophy, politics, or ethics. The only shortcoming is that there is not a chapter on how to argue with your wife. There, I'll defer to my dad who said, "Don't ever argue with your wife. You can't win."

BONUS BOOKS

That's it for essential reading. This rest of this is a list of what I think are some really good books that are well worth reading.

7. Jesus Under Fire, edited by Michael J. Wilkins and J.P. Moreland.

I'm adding this one to sort of round out the ones I mentioned before. Whereas the earlier ones dealt with theology, evangelism, decision-making, and mostly philosophical apologetics, this one deals with historical apologetics. I included it because I think it's a much better introduction to the academic study of the historical Jesus than The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. The chapter on the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus is better than what Strobel presented. It's a little out-dated, though, because it's mostly a response to the Jesus Seminar which no longer exists, but there's still some good stuff in there, and it's not too academic.

8. Love Your God With All Your Mind by J.P. Moreland (the first edition if at all possible).

I say "the first edition" because the second edition removed the best chapter--the one on methodism, particularism, scientism, relativism, etc. It was such a travesty, I had to complain about it in my Amazon review.

9. Relativism by Greg Koukl and Frank Beckwith.

I mentioned this one on my "life changing books" post, but I'm repeating it here because it's really good. It has a few shortcoming that I'm attempting to patch up in my own book, but my own book could never have been written if I hadn't read this one. As a supplement to this book, I highly recommend going to str.org and getting a copy of Greg Koukl's debate with Sabina Magliocco. I don't know if they still have it or not, but if they do, you should give it a listen. If not, then google around for his debate with John Baker.

10. Miracles by C.S. Lewis

You've probably heard of "The Argument From Reason." Well, this is where it all started--chapter 2 to be exact. As much as has been written on the argument from reason, Lewis still does it the best. A lot of people misrepresent Lewis' argument. Whereas Lewis argued that materialism undermines rationality, apologists frequently water it down to where determinism undermines rationality. Besides not being true, that isn't even what Lewis argued. Lewis also gives an entertaining refutation of David Hume's argument against miracles by showing that Hume's argument is circular. I remember a long time ago reading a critique of Miracles on the Infidels web site. If you've read that critique, but not Lewis's book, then read Lewis' book anyway because that critique was rubbish (I do not remember who wrote it). I was tempted to write a refutation of it a long time ago. I wish I had. I've read several books by C.S. Lewis, and Miracles is my favourite one.

11. The Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards.

Would I be Sam Harper if I did not include this book? I've already talked it to death on this blog, so I'll spare you this time.

12. True For You But Not For Me by Paul Copan (and the sequels, though this is the best one in the series).

These books have short chapters responding to a lot of popular slogans you often here pretty much anywhere you go, and the short responses Copan gives are very good. He's got one chapter in one of his books where he addresses the question of what happens to people who never hear the gospel. His answer was so wrong it was almost right again, but other than that, I can't complain too much. He's not a Calvinist, so we have to cut him some slack in places.

13. God, Freedom, and Evil by Alvin Plantinga.

This is where Plantinga explains his "free will defense" that so many people think effectively solved the logical problem of evil. It's also where he explains his modal ontological argument. As for me, the jury is out on whether either argument is sound. I suspect his ontological argument is sound. The problem is that there's no way to demonstrate it since the argument can be turned on its head to prove the opposite. So it's not a good argument even if it is sound, and Plantinga as much as admitted that in the book. My only reservation about the free will defense is that he postulates libertarian freedom as a possible state of affairs. If libertarian freedom is a possible state of affairs, then I think his argument is sound, but I'm not convinced that libertarian freedom is even coherent. I'm about 50/50 on that. But I suspect the over all argument could be made sound. Plantinga was just offering libertarian freedom as a possible state of affairs that, if true, would entail that God and evil are logically compatible. Well, one might be able to show the compatibility of God and evil with something besides libertarian freedom, so libertarian freedom may not be necessary for Plantinga's over all argument.

So why am I recommending this book if I'm unsure of the value of either of his major arguments? It's because this book is a great exercise in critical thinking and modal logic. Reading it carefully and studying it will make you a better thinker whether you agree with his conclusions or not. Besides that, even if his conclusions are not true, he still has a lot of valuable things to say in his premises.

14. Pleasing People by Lou Priolo

This would make an excellent compliment to Edward's book, The End For Which God Created the World. Whereas Edwards showed that it's all about the glory of God, Priolo argued that the solution to fretting over what everybody else thinks about you is to concentrate on living your life to please God, focusing on his glory rather than your own. This book was a wake up call for me. I still have to remind myself of these things every day. I have bad social anxiety that gets worse when I'm all self-conscious about my own shortcomings. My anxiety gets worse when I take my focus off of Christ and the glory of God in salvation and instead put the focus on myself, what I'm like, and whether the world approves of me.

15. The Justification of God by John Piper

This is a really thorough exegesis of Romans 9 that also refers back to Romans 3 quite a bit. I think I was already a Calvinist when I read this, but I still remember thinking, "Whoa!" He went a step further than I was comfortable with. He didn't just argue for the predestination of the elect to salvation; he argued for double predestination, and it was convincing. That's why I said, "Whoa!"

16. Letters to a Mormon Elder by James White

I'm not recommending this book primarily because I think it's a good book in respond to the Latter Day Saints. I'm recommending this book because of how well James White explains the gospel in this book, and how well he explains the meaning and roll of grace in salvation. There's a chapter in there called "Grace, grace, grace." Read that chapter. Actually, read chapters 14, 15, 16, and 17 if you don't want to read the whole book. Those four chapters are just wonderful. Here are their titles:

14. The Gospel of the Grace of God in Christ Jesus
15. Faith, Justification, and Works
16. Questions from a Friend
17. Grace, Grace, Grace

17. The Potter's Freedom by James White

It could be that you're not a Calvinist yet. If not, then you need to read chapter 7--"Jesus teaches extreme Calvinism." James White makes an air tight case for Calvinism from the bread of life discourse in John 6. I mean that. The case is air tight. I don't say that about any other theological point of view I can think of. The closest to it might be the case for the deity of Jesus from John 1:3, but even that one has a possible loop hole. You may not realize the case is air tight on a first reading or from reading attempts to get around White's exegesis, but if you sit with a few Bible translations alone by yourself in a closet, and read through it carefully and think about what is being said, you will come away from it being a very uncomfortable Calvinist. In my case, I came away from it feeling very uncomfortable, but it took some more time for me to get around to calling myself a Calvinist. I had a lot of kinks to iron out, and I wanted to see what other people said about John 6 first in case there was something I missed.

EDIT: I just finished reading Drawn By The Father, which is White's commentary on John 6:35-45. I think his presentation in The Potter's Freedom is much better.

18. The "Marginal Jew" series by John P. Maier.

Way back in 1997 or thereabouts, I took a class called "The Rise of Christianity" at the University of Texas at Austin taught by L. Michael White. The next semester, I sat in on his class on "The Historical Jesus." In one of those classes, he said something like, "Until you've read John Meier's Marginal Jew series, you're not a real Jesus scholar." He heaped all kinds of praise on it. It wasn't finished back then, and I don't know if it's even finished now. I only recently started reading it, and so far it's everything Dr. White said it would be. So far, he hasn't gone into the background of Judaism prior to and up to the first century AD like other people usually do, but he has gone into quite a bit of depth about sources and methods in the first volume as well as anchor dates in the life of Jesus. I have high hopes for the rest of the series.

19. The "Christian Origins and the Question of God" series by N.T. Wright.

This one isn't finished either. I think there's one more coming out. I've read all of them except for the two volumes on Paul. This isn't just an historical Jesus series like Maier's. Wright's series only has two books on the historical Jesus, and one is solely about the resurrection. The first one is about post-exilic Judaism leading up to the first century. That was written to give background information about the world Jesus came out of. Wright is a pretty amazing writer, and it's interesting, too, so I highly recommend this one. As far as defenses of the resurrection, I think Wright's is still better than Mike Licona's big thick book on the resurrection of Jesus, although Wright doesn't go into nearly as much detail about historical methods as Licona does.

There are lots of good books out there. If your book didn't make the cut, don't feel bad. It's just that my brother is grilling lamb, and I'm hungry, so I had to end this. Your book was probably going to be next. :-)

EDIT: Okay, one more. . .

20. Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology by William Lane Craig and Quentin Smith.

This is one of my favourite books. Two brilliant philosophers going head to head on the implications of the beginning of the universe. While Craig argues that the beginning of the universe implies the existence of God, Smith argues that the beginning of the universe implies the non-existence of God. This one is just really interesting.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Should Christians be compatibilists?

I debated someone who said that "No Christian should be a compatibilist." I argued that all Christians should be compatibilists because compatibilism agrees with both scripture and reason. My opponent didn't complete the debate, but I thought I said some things that were worthy of a blog post. Most of the stuff here, I've probably already said somewhere else on this blog, but maybe not as succinctly. Here's my opening statement.

Thank you for coming to tonight's debate.

I'm going to assume a shared burden of proof. That means Pro will have to defend the resolution, and I will have to defend the negation of the resolution.

Also, Pro did not define "libertarian freedom" and "compatibilism," so I better do that as well.

Libertarianism is the view that when a person acts freely, they could have done otherwise even if everything about the universe, including their internal mental states, had been exactly the same prior to and up to the moment of choice. There are no conditions inside of or outside of a person prior to and up to the moment of choice that determine what that choice will be. That is not to say that prior conditions can't influence a person's choice; just that those prior conditions are not sufficient to determine the person's choice.

Compatibilism is the view that all of our acts are determined by the sum total of our mental states prior to and up to the moment of choice. "Freedom" is defined differently in compatibilism than it is in libertarianism. Whereas in libertarianism, freedom refers to an act being free from any determining factors whatsoever, in compatibilism, freedom means acting out of your own desires, motivations, inclinations, preferences, etc.

The debate is essentially over which view is more consistent with Christianity. I'll be arguing that compatibilism is more consistent with a Christian worldview than libertarianism is.

According to compatibilism, all of our acts are determined by our strongest desires and motivations when the sum total of our mental states are taken into account. According to Jesus, all of our acts are determined by the condition of our hearts. In Matthew 7:16-18, Jesus explained that you can recognize a false prophets by their fruits, i.e. their actions. A person's actions reveal what is in their hearts. Jesus went on to say that "a good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit." This only makes sense under compatibilism. If people were free in the libertarian sense, then their goodness or badness would not determine their actions. A good tree could produce bad fruit if it had libertarian freedom.

Jesus elaborated on these same points in Matthew 12:33-35. He made the point that "the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart," which was in answer to his rhetorical question: "How can you being evil speak what is good?" They can't because they can only speak what is in their hearts. Again, our actions are determined by what is in our hearts.

Luke records essentially the same points made by Jesus in Luke 6:43. There, he says that no good tree bears bad fruit, no does a bad tree bear good fruit, and the reason is because "The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil"

These passages are inconsistent with libertarian freedom since under libertarianism, the condition of your heart does not determine whether your actions are good or bad.

Jesus also said in John 6:44 that "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him." This passage is also inconsistent with libertarianism. If people were free in the libertarian sense, then they could choose to come to Jesus without the Father drawing them.

Finally, Jeremiah 13:23 says, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then you also can do good who are accustomed to doing evil.” The implication is clear. Whatever a person is accustomed to determines their actions, so Jeremiah teaches compatibilism, too.

Contrary to the resolution, all Christians should be compatibilsts because that's the Biblical view. But I want to also argue that Christians should be compatibilists because it is more agreeable to reason and common sense than libertarianism.

Libertarian freedom violates the principle of sufficient reason (PSR). According to the PSR, for everything that happens, there is a sufficient reason for why it happens. But under libertarianism, there is never a sufficient reason for why a person acted one way rather than not since no matter what the prior circumstances, the person still could have done otherwise.

In this regard, libertarians frequently speak as if they were compatibilists. If you ask a person, "Why did you eat that donut?" they will respond, "Because I wanted to." That answer makes sense under compatibilism because a desire to eat donuts is a sufficient explanation for why the person ate them. Whenever people state a reason for why they acted as they did, they are speaking like compatibilists.

Under libertarianism, no prior reason, motive, desire, etc. is sufficient to explain why a person acted as they did since they could have done otherwise even given those reasons, motives, desires, etc. What libertarians ought to say is, "I acted partly because I had a motive and partly for no reason at all." But libertarians never say that because they are inconsistent, and they are inconsistent because, contrary to Pro's claim, there is no innate knowledge of libertarian freedom. We are all compatibilists in our day to day lives because we all think and speak like compatibilists.

It is agreeable to our common notions that any act for which we are responsible must be an act that is done on purpose rather than on accident. To act on purpose is to act out of some prior inclination. To act on accident is to act apart from or contrary to any prior inclination. Libertarian acts are essentially accidents since they can be made apart from all prior inclinations. Compatibilist acts are the very essence of acts done on purpose since they are determined by a person's own prior inclinations, desires, motives, etc.

It is also agreeable to our common notions that a person who does exactly what he wants is acting freely whereas a person who acts spontaneously apart from their desires is not acting freely. A person whose legs and arms spontaneously move apart from the person's own desires is said to have an involuntary reflex. The very act of volition requires that a person's own mental faculties be engaged, and any deviation from the person's own mental inclinations is an involuntary act. So choice is only possible under compatibilism, not libertarianism.

So Pro is quite wrong in saying that knowledge of libertarianism is innate.

Pro also claims that libertarian freedom is the only solution to the problem of evil. But that is not so. The problem of evil can be solved by the mere possibility that God has a morally sufficient reason for allowing or causing evil to happen. And we see Biblical examples where this is the case. Although it was an evil thing for Joseph's brothers to sell him into slavery, God nevertheless meant for it to happen because he had a morally good purpose in it (Genesis 50:20). So there is some evil that God intends to happen because it serves a good purpose. I could cite other examples if there were room.

Finally, Pro claims that libertarian freedom is necessary for us to reason and believe. That claim is mistaken for two reasons. First, because our beliefs are not under the direct control of the will. You can't simply by an act of volition decide to believe one thing rather than another. Just try it. Choose to believe right now that there's a pink elephant flying around outside above you. Even if I offered you a million dollars, you couldn't simply choose to believe it. Our beliefs are caused.

And the fact that our beliefs are caused is precisely what makes them reasonable. Our beliefs can only be reasonable to the degree that they are determined by arguments and evidence. The more hand evidence has in bringing about our beliefs, the more rational those beliefs are, and the less hand evidence has in bringing about our beliefs, then less rational we are. It follows that we are most rational when evidence determines our beliefs, and we are least rational when are beliefs are arrived at apart from evidence.

Thank you.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Ad hominem fallacy revisited

In the past I used to say that insults are not necessarily ad hominems (see ad hominem, no true Scotsman, an arguments from authority) Insults are just insults. They only become ad hominems when they are meant to cast doubt on the other person's position. For example, if I say, "You're an idiot," I may be insulting you, but I'm not committing the ad hominem fallacy. It's only the ad hominem fallacy if I say something like, "You're an idiot; therefore, you are wrong."

I've changed my mind, though. Ad hominem just means "against the man." As long as your comment is against the man rather than against the argument, that's an ad hominem. Since that's exactly what personal insults are, then person insults are ad hominems.

A comment doesn't have to be a mistake in reasoning in order to be a fallacy. Red herrings are also considered fallacies even though they are not mistakes in reasoning. A red herring is a fallacy of distraction. It's meant to draw somebody's attention away from the main point. Insults do the same thing, so insults can be considered red herrings. Ad hominems of this type fall under the general category of red herring. They are fallacies because, like all red herrings, the fallacy lies in the fact that they suffer from irrelevance.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Hallucination revisited

In my post on the hallucination hypothesis I came up with a thought experiment in which you imagine seeing somebody alive standing in front of you who you know to be dead, especially somebody close to you like a family member or friend. Then I asked you to imagine what you might make of it and said there were just a few possibilities:

1. You're dreaming.
2. You're hallucinating.
3. You're seeing a ghost.
4. The person never died to begin with.
5. The person has risen from the dead.

Well, today I thought of two more:

6. They've become a vampire.
7. They've become a zombie.

I don't know why I never thought of that before. Of course a lot of internet trolls out there like to call the risen Jesus a zombie, but that is incorrect. A person who rises from the dead really is alive and typically likes to eat fish (Luke 24:42-43) rather than brains or human flesh. Zombies are the undead, not really alive, and they eat human flesh, especially brains if they are classic zombies. So there.