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.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Gay cakes and discrimination

I just heard the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the guy who refused to make a cake for a gay wedding. I haven't read the ruling, so I don't know what the reasons were, but here are my thoughts.

I think there's a difference between being unwilling to serve a certain type of person and being unwilling to perform a certain type of service.

If the cake maker were willing to make a chocolate cake for a straight person but unwilling to make the same type of cake for a gay person, then he's discriminating against gay people.

But if the same cake maker were willing to make a chocolate cake for both gay and straight people, but unwilling to make a vanilla cake for either gay or straight people, then he's not discriminating against gay people. He's only being selective about the kind of cake he's willing to make.

So if the cake maker is willing to make straight cakes, whether straight people or gay people order them, but he's unwilling to make gay cakes, whether straight people or gay people order them, then he's discriminating against types of cake, not types of people.[1]

If it turns out that only gay people would ever want to order a gay cake, it doesn't for that reason become discrimination against gay people.

I'm a knife maker. I make both kitchen knives and hunting knives. Suppose I decided I only wanted to make hunting knives and no kitchen knives. Would I be discriminating against cooks? Of course not! A cook can buy a hunting knife from me any time he wants. The fact that he doesn't want a hunting knife and only wants a kitchen knife doesn't mean I'm discriminating against him. It just means I'm not providing a service that he wants, and he should find somebody else who does.


1. By "gay cake" and "straight cake," I mean a cake that is decorated in such a way as to indicate or celebrate a gay or straight union. For example, a straight wedding cake might have a figurine at the top of a bride and groom whereas a gay wedding cake might have a figurine at the top of two brides or two grooms.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The argument for God from logic

Here's the argument from logic as best I could reconstruct it from everything I've heard about it.

1. The laws of logic are abstract entities.
2. Abstract entities are concepts.
3. Concepts can only exist in minds.
4. Therefore, the laws of logic can only exist in minds (or a mind).
6. If the mind(s) that contains the laws of logic were not necessary, then it could fail to exist.
7. If the mind(s) could fail to exist, then logic could fail to exist.
8. But logic cannot fail to exist.
9. Therefore, the mind(s) that contains the laws of logic is necessary.
10. Therefore, at least one necessary mind exists and is the ground of logic.

The only premise I have any reservation about at all is the second premise. I have run across people who accept the second premise but reject the eighth premise. They reject it precisely because they accept the second premise. If the laws of logic are only concepts, then if nobody is around to conceive of them, then the laws of logic wouldn't exist. The laws of logic are just products of human thought.

When people say that the laws of logic are just products of human thought, I can't help but wonder if there's some misunderstanding going on. If the laws of logic are just products of human thought, then it would seem to follow that before there were ever humans, the world could've been a topsy turvy place. There could've been square circles. Things could exist and not exist at the same time. All sorts of absurdities could've taken place. The universe would not have operated according to any laws at all since all laws presuppose the laws of logic.

I've always suspected that when people say the laws of logic are human concepts, what they are referring to is not the laws themselves, but either the articulation of them in language or the propositions that describe them. So they're not really talking about whether or not there could have been square circles during the Jurassic period. They're talking about whether or not propositions like "If two statements contradict each other, they cannot both be true" were just floating around with nobody thinking them.

When I talk about the laws of logic, I'm not talking merely about the concepts or propositions that we think when we think of the laws of logic. I'm talking about the way reality actually is. I'm talking the fact that in reality, there cannot actually be things that both exist and don't exist at the same time and in the same sense. I'm talking about the fact that if A is bigger than B, and B is bigger than C, then A is bigger than C. It seems to me that would be the case whether anybody was thinking about it or not.

So I wonder if there's some equivocation going on when people make the argument for God from logic. On the one hand, the articulation of the laws of logic are propositions that can only exist in a mind. But on the other hand, the reality captured by these propositions exists independently of minds. While one is not necessary, the other is necessary, but they get conflated in the argument resulting in the conclusion that there are necessary concepts that exist in a necessary mind.

In the eighth premise, I mean that the reality described by what we call the laws of logic cannot be otherwise. I mean that there are no possible worlds in which things can both be and not be at the same time and in the same sense.

It seems to me that the basic laws of logic are about as fundamental to reality as you can get. As Aristotle once pointed out, there can be no significant speech or action without the law of non-contradiction. But I would go a step further and say that there can be no significant (or meaningful) existence without the law of non-contradiction. Without the law of non-contradiction, there would be no difference between existing and not existing. The statement, "Bob exists" wouldn't communicate anything if it did not exclude the statement, "Bob does not exist." If Bob could both exist and not exist at the same time and in the same sense, then if I told you he exists, I would not be ruling out his non-existence. He may not exist even if it's true that he exists. So me telling you he exists would be meaningless. And it's not just me telling you that he exists. His existing would, itself, be meaningless.

That's why I have a hard time believing that the laws of logic depend on the mind of God. It seems to me to be the other way around. Unless the laws of logic were true, God couldn't definitely exist. God's existence would be a meaningless thing if not for the law of non-contradiction.

I do agree that the laws of logic are abstract. They are not concrete things. But they don't appear to be concepts either in the sense that they are simply ideas that only exist in thought. I agree with what Ronald Nash said: "The law of noncontradiction is not simply a law of thought. It is a law of thought because it is first a law of being" (Worldviews In Conflict, p. 84). That's why I don't think the second premise is true.

There's another category of people who either deny the laws of logic, or deny the universal validity of the laws of logic, or deny the necessity of logic. Quite frankly, I think those people are either nuts or they just haven't been able to wrap their heads around what the laws of logic actually are.

But I'm curious what you think. I'd like to know what you think of the argument as a whole, but I'd especially like to know what you think of the second premise. Also, what do you think the laws of logic are?

Friday, May 18, 2018

Apologetic gimmicks

Lee Strobel -- A journalist's personal investigation of the evidence for Jesus.

J. Warner Wallace -- A homicide detective investigates the claims of the gospels.

Pamela Binnings Ewen -- An attorney analyzes the evidence for the death and resurrection of Jesus.

I wish we could just stop with the gimmicks. The subtitles in the above works are supposed to add weight and credibility to the works of the above authors. But if you think about it, it does just the opposite. Being a journalist, homicide detective, or an attorney doesn't give you any special expertise on the subjects these authors wrote about. What all of these subtitle are really saying is this: A man/woman writes a book outside of their area of expertise. In the case of Strobel and Wallace, it gets worse with their subsequent books because the subjects they tackle are even farther removed from their area of expertise. Being a homicide detective does not qualify you to write on the existence of the soul. Being a journalist does not qualify you to tackle the problem of evil.

What Lee Strobel showed us was that there really is bias in the media. A journalist can inject his own point of view in a story by picking and choosing who he interviews and what parts of the interview he chooses to quote.

What Jim Wallace showed us was that a homicide detective has a wealth of stories from which to make great analogies.

I'm not sure what Pamela Ewen showed us, but whether Paul's letters would be admissible in court doesn't tell you anything about their historical value.

I'd be much more impressed with subtitles like these:

An historian investigates the evidence for Jesus.

A philosopher investigates the existence of the soul.

An organic chemist investigates the origin of life.

A cosmologist investigates the origin of the universe.

I have to cut Lee Strobel a little slack because his books served the purpose of directing people to historians and philosophers who really are qualified to pontificate on the subjects he interviewed them on. Lee Strobel got me started in evidential apologetics. But as a speaker, Strobel is no more qualified than any armchair apologist.

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins was a philosophical disaster, but at least his subtitle didn't read, "A zoologist investigates the existence of God." We already knew he was operating outside his field of expertise without him having to tell us.

I am not saying that people who write outside their area of expertise have nothing valuable to say. What I am saying is that I wish they wouldn't pretend that their particular job or title gives them some special qualification when it doesn't. Brandishing their job in the subtitle of their books is just a gimmick. It's a trick, and it's manipulative.

It isn't just Christian apologists who engage in gimmicks like these, either. I'm equally annoyed with John Shelby Spong's subtitles that read, "A bishop rethinks this or that," as if him being a bishop of an Episcopal church gives him some special expertise in these subjects. In reality, Spong is the quintessential wolf in sheep's clothing (Matthew 7:15). While claiming to be a Bishop of a Christian church, he does everything he can to undermine the essentials of Christianity. He claims to be rescuing Christianity, but in reality he's just trying to replace Christianity with his own made up religion that he calls Christianity. Check out Luke Timothy Johnson's discussion of Spong in The Real Jesus, pages 32-35.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Is belief in God natural?

Earlier today, somebody said this to me:

Belief in gods is not a natural state. You are not born believing in gods. Everyone is born atheist, everyone is born lacking belief in the supernatural. This is everyone’s baseline, this is everyone’s natural state.

This person appears to be arguing that belief in gods is not a natural state because we are born without a belief in gods (or the supernatural). But that doesn't seem to follow at all. In fact, it seems to be an argument that proves too much.

What does it mean for a belief to be natural? Well, it seems to me that it's natural as long as it arises automatically in the minds of all or most mentally healthy people--people whose brains function just fine, aren't suffering from mental illnesses, etc. The brain develops over time, though. In the beginning of brain development, the unborn has no beliefs at all. But it could be that as the brain develops, it produces beliefs naturally. It could be that some of these beliefs arise early and some arise late. In that case, the fact that a person doesn't hold a certain belief at the moment of birth doesn't tell you anything about whether the belief is natural or not. It could arise naturally at some point after birth.

I don't know when exactly people acquire their first beliefs--whether before or after birth. It could be that when we're born, we don't have any beliefs at all because our brain lacks the capacity for beliefs that early on. If that's the case, then by the above reasoning, complete ignorance about everything is our natural state. Our natural state is to not believe anything at all. If we do believe something, then we are in an unnatural state. That's why I say the argument proves too much. Clearly having beliefs is a natural state for human beings.

There are, in fact, natural beliefs in the sense I mentioned. Our belief in morality, the validity of deductive inference, induction, and the reliability of our memories and sensory perceptions are all natural in the sense that they occur automatically in all people with normal healthy brains. But they may not occur at birth or any time prior to birth. Some of them may not develop until much later. They are still natural, though. Believing them is our natural state.

I didn't ask any follow up questions because it would've derailed the thread, but I would like to have known why this person made this point. Supposing he's right that belief in gods is not our natural state (or that having any beliefs is not our natural state), so what? What follows from that? Does it have some bearing on whether or not gods exist or whether it's reasonable to believe in gods? If so, then the argument proves too much again because then absolutely everything we believe would be undermined. Logic itself would be undermined.

Belief in God may be just as natural as belief in other minds or any other naturally occurring belief. In fact there's a lot of people out there these days who say that our brains are hardwired for belief in gods (or the supernatural in general). If belief in gods or the supernatural is hardwired, then surely it's natural. Strangely, some atheists think the fact that belief in god is hardwired in our brains somehow undermines belief in gods. I say "strangely," because those people would appear to be making the opposite argument of the person I was talking to earlier today. Whereas the person earlier seemed to think that lack of belief in gods should be preferred to belief in god because lack of belief in gods is our natural state, other atheists think lack of belief in gods should be preferred to belief in gods because belief in gods is our natural state. So which is it? Whatever is expedient, it seems.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Review: God's Crime Scene by J. Warner Wallace

This book is an argument for the existence of God. Like Cold-Case Christianity, Wallace uses a lot of analogies from criminal investigations to clarify his arguments. While I found the analogies in CCC to be useful, they seem a bit forced and unnecessary in this book. They didn’t add to the clarity of his arguments the way they did in his first book. This book probably could’ve said just as much in half the length if he cut all those out, and it wouldn’t have suffered.

I wrote in my review of CCC that I was surprised and relieved that his use of detective work didn’t come across as gimmicky. I can’t say the same about this book. For example, he calls his end notes “Case Files: The Investigative Notes.” That’s worse that gimmicky. That’s downright cringe worthy.

I wrote these little blurbs about each chapter as I was reading them, so, for example, under chapter 7 when I said I read the chapter “last night,” don’t take that to mean last night. I did minimal editing after I finished the book, for example the parenthetical comment under chapter 5 on emergentism.

Chapter 1: The cosmological argument

Wallace gave multiple reasons for why the universe had a finite past, then jumped to the conclusion that the universe came into being from nothing. He needed more argument to justify that leap. After all, William Lane Craig, who has made this argument popular, thinks that both God and the universe have a finite past, yet the universe came into existence and God did not. So merely having a finite past is not a sufficient reason to infer that the universe came into being from nothing. This chapter just really needed more meat. Any Christian who takes this into the lion’s den is going to be torn apart.

Chapter 2: The argument from fine-tuning

Wallace presented this argument in three stages—the foundational level, the regional level, and the local level. The foundational level had to do with the fine-tuning of the constants of the universe. The regional level had to do with the properties of our galaxy, and the local level had to do with the particular features of the earth in the solar system. I think he should’ve stopped at the foundational level because the regional and local levels could easily be explained by the enormous explanatory resources in our universe. There are countless galaxies with countless stars and planets. The fact that one would be just right for life is not that remarkable. Wallace cited more sources in his discussion of the constants than he did when he got to the regional and local levels, and some of his claims seemed doubtful.

Chapter 3 and 4 The argument from biology

In chapter 3, Wallace considers the origin of life and the information contained in DNA. In chapter 4, Wallace takes a closer look at features of biological organisms that point to a designer or engineer. I don’t know enough about biology to judge the merits of these arguments, but I doubt anybody who has read Richard Dawkin’s book, The Blind Watchmaker, would find them persuasive. Wallace brings up arguments that Dawkins responded to many years ago, but he doesn’t deal with those responses. I understand the desire to want to keep the book simple since it’s an introductory type book, but I really don’t see how one could do justice to the topic in such a short amount of space. So while Wallace’s arguments are a bit thin, he can’t really be blamed in this case.

Chapter 5: The argument from mind

I thought this chapter was pretty good. He shows that the mind and brain are not the same thing because there are several things true about one that are not true about the other. And he argues that the mind is not reducible to the brain. I thought this argument needed a little more meat because it gives the false impression that materialism entails that the mind and brain are identical when, in reality, most materialists think the mind is a property of the brain. Wallace should’ve dealt with property dualism and/or emergentism (he does eventually deal with emergentism, but only at the end of the book as a supplement to his chapter on free will). One of the best succinct presentations of these same arguments is in chapter 3 of J.P. Moreland’s book, Scaling the Secular City. Wallace relied on a lot of Moreland’s arguments, but he simplified them a little too much for my taste.

Chapter 6: The argument from free will

This is the worst chapter so far. Mostly it suffers from lack of precision. Although he acknowledges compatibilism in the end notes, he doesn’t discuss it in the chapter. His view of freedom violates the law of excluded middle since he thinks free acts are neither determined nor indetermined. He advocates libertarian freedom but does not explain how it differs from indeterminism. His view of human freedom seems downright Palagian, which is odd because I thought he was a Calvinist. In this chapter and the previous one, he leaps from we have a mind, and we have free will to God has a mind and God has free will, but there’s not near enough meat in his argument to make that leap. He came back to this point toward the end of the book but still didn't say anything sufficient to make that leap. This chapter was so bad I was tempted to write a stand-alone post critiquing it.

Chapter 7: The moral argument

I thought this chapter was decent when I read it last night, but skimming back over it this morning, I wonder if my first impression is because my standards and expectations get lower as I go along. He brings up several alternatives to moral realism but hardly does anything to refute them. Like previous chapters, the arguments in this chapter are kind of thin. At the end of this chapter as well as all the others, he has a little box called “What is the nature of our ‘suspect.’” Then he lists what we learn about the “suspect,” e.g. that he is external to the universe, uncaused, a mind, and finally in this chapter, “the personal source of moral truth and obligation.” The problem, though, is that he doesn’t make any argument to show that the “suspect” in each chapter is the same entity as the “suspect” in the other chapters. He just assumes that.

Chapter 8: The argument from evil

This chapter really doesn’t do the problem of evil justice. He offers several theodicies that might be sufficient to account for some manifestations of evil, then tells us we don’t have to have every question answered before we can render a decision. Sure, but that knife cuts both ways, and it isn’t obvious that Wallace’s theodicies even account for most evil. His free will theodicy is especially weak. He says that free will (in his libertarian sense) is necessary for love, reason, and rebellion, but he does very little to defend these assertions. Even a lot of Christians, myself included, don’t agree with him. The best part of this chapter was his long quote by C.S. Lewis who argued that the real existence of evil is actually evidence for God. But Wallace didn’t say anything about the claim that Christianity is internally contradictory since it asserts both the existence of evil and the existence of a perfectly good God. That version of the problem of evil doesn’t depend on evil being an objective feature of the world. Nor did Wallace address the problem of suffering in light of God’s love for mankind, which doesn’t depend on evil at all (he does address this somewhat at the end of the book when he basically says that suffering builds character).

Closing Argument: Making a decision

In this section, Wallace tied all his evidences together and concluded that God is the culprit behind the beginning of the universe, the design in the universe, minds, free will, and morality. I thought this section was pretty good. He compared the attributes of his “suspect” in each chapter to the attributes of God in scripture and concluded that the “suspect” must be God. Very well done. This would’ve been a powerful conclusion if his case in the previous chapters had been better.

The secondary investigation

In the final section of the book, Wallace deals with objections to his arguments, especially attempts to explain the origin and design of the universe, free will, etc., without appealing to anything outside of the universe, like God. He’s not exhaustive in responding to every attempt, but then we shouldn’t expect him to be as long as he responds to the most obvious or frequent objections. There are strengths and weaknesses in this section. I won’t go into detail because this review is long enough already, but I'd give it a B. I wish instead of having this separate section at the end of the book that he had just responded to these objections in the chapters in which they applied. That would’ve made the flow of the book better, I think, and his arguments in the chapters wouldn’t have appeared as weak.


I know Wallace has more to say on these topics because I’ve seen his blog posts. But I think that in his effort to dumb these arguments down, he went too far and gutted these arguments of some necessary substance. I can’t recommend this book. I don’t think it would prepare anybody to defend these arguments. If somebody read this book, then tried to take these arguments to an on line discussion forum, he’d be torn apart. Then he’d be discouraged and might even come away thinking these arguments are useless when in reality, this book just left him unprepared to defend them. There’s simply not enough meat in this book.

If Wallace had asked me, I would’ve told him to cut out all the criminal investigation stories and analogies and give more meat to these arguments instead. He’s a very articulate person, and I don’t think adding more detail would’ve made the arguments harder to understand.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Another charge of pro-life inconsistency

I often hear pro-choicers say that pro-lifers are inconsistent because pro-lifers "pretend" to care about people before they are born, but they don't care about them after they are born. Their reasoning is that a lot of the same people who are pro-life also oppose certain social programs that would help poor mothers and their children.

But there is no inconsistency on the part of pro-lifers in this regard. Pro-lifers think it's just as wrong to kill people outside the womb as it is to kill people inside the womb, so they are consistent. If this pro-choice argument were sound, it would follow that anybody who opposes both murder and socialism is inconsistent. That's just crazy talk.

But even if pro-lifers were inconsistent on this point, I don't see what bearing that would have on whether the arguments for the pro-life position are sound. So this pro-choice retort strikes me as being a red herring anyway. It's an ad hominem fallacy. It attacks pro-lifers and ignores their arguments.

A more promising way pro-choicers might accuse pro-lifers of inconsistency might be to say that while pro-lifers claim it's wrong to take the life of an innocent human being, regardless of the cost and consequences of keeping it alive, the same pro-lifers are okay with collateral damage in warfare in which case innocent bystanders get killed. Those who plan bombings and stuff know ahead of time that innocent bystanders will be killed, but they do a cost/benefit analysis to determine whether it's worth it or not. If pro-lifers are willing to accept the taking of innocent human life after doing a cost/benefit analysis, like in warfare, then they should not simply dismiss the costs that pro-choicers bring up when trying to justify abortion.

I agree that pro-lifers should not simply dismiss pro-choice arguments, and it's been my observation that they don't. Pro-lifers also do a cost/benefit analysis when it comes to exceptional cases. Pretty much every pro-lifer I've ever met are okay with abortion when it will save the life of the mother. Most of them are even okay with abortion in the case of rape. So they do do a cost/benefit analysis. It's just that the reasons pro-choicers typically give to justify abortion are not sufficient to justify taking innocent human life. In the case of collateral damage in war, people typically think it's worth it because defeating the enemy will save more lives, especially those on their own side.

It's never easy to come to the decision to risk the life or take the life of an innocent human being. But as far as I know, pro-choicers set the bar lower than anybody else when it comes to doing a cost/benefit analysis. For most of them, the fact that the fetus is inside the womb is, by itself, enough to justify taking its life.

See also: Is it inconsistent to be pro life and pro death penalty?