Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Calvinism thought experiment

Since becoming a Calvinist, I've given a lot of thought to the issue of how people can be morally accountable for their actions if God decrees everything that comes to pass, including human decisions. Calvinists usually subscribe to compatibilist free will to reconcile the situation, but people have a difficult time understanding how people can be morally accountable for their actions if their actions are determined by motives and desires that they did not choose. I wrote two series of blogs about this problem. The first is a nine part series called "Argument against morality from determinism" where I argued that compatibilism is compatible with moral responsibility. You can read them here: intro: the power of intuition, part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8, and part 9. The second is a five part series called "God's Sovereignty and Human Responsibility," where I argued, building on the previous series, that God's sovereignty is compatible with human responsibility. You can read them here: intro: My conversion to Calvinism, part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5. The discussion in the comments section of parts 3 and 4 are worth reading, too.

After all this, I tried to come up with thought experiments that would appeal to most people's intuition and that would help them see that people can be morally accountable for their actions even if God made them the way they are. I came up with one regarding Voldemort, which I posted on my blog here. I wanted to find out if this thought experiment would have an intuitive appeal in favour of the Calvinist view or not, so I posted it on Yahoo Answers to see what people would say. This is the question I asked:
As all us Harry Potter fans know, Voldemort is not a real person. As a fictional character, he's evil and blameworthy within the story, but not in real life. But suppose J.K. Rowling had the power to bring Voldemort to real life. And suppose that if she did so, the real Voldemort would be exactly like he is in the books. He'd be just as mean and nasty and evil. Would he be morally blameable for his actions?
I intentionally left out any reference to Calvinism because I wanted to get opinions from people without their bias for or against Calvinism playing a part in their answer. Sometimes people resist the force of an argument if they don't like where it is going. The majority of people who answered thought that Voldemort would be morally responsible for his actions in spite of the fact that he didn't choose to come into existence or to have all those nasty dispositions, which is what I was hoping for.

It wasn't until just the other day that I actually used this thought experiment in a real conversation about Calvinism in order to persuade the other person. The conversation took place on Stand to Reason's facebook discussion forum, and you can read the conversation here. As I suspected, the person I was talking to was not persuaded by the thought experiment.

So I came up with a different thought experiment, and that is the whole reason for this blog post--to share the next thought experiment I came up with and to see what you think about it. Here it is:
Let's suppose there are two people named Voldemort, and that they are exactly alike in every way. They look alike, dress alike, smell alike, talk alike, etc. They have identical DNA, an identical brain structure, identical mental structure (including desires, biases, beliefs, memories, personality, etc.). The only difference between them is that one of them was born and came into the world the usual way. The other was brought into existence by J.K. Rowling just a few days ago. Would you say...

A. They are both morally accountable for their actions;
B. Only the one born the usual way is accountable for his actions;
C. Neither one of them is accountable for his actions?
And since I'm making so many links in this blog entry, I might as well link to another conversation I had on this same topic. The subject came up on STR's blog, and you can read it here. And there's another related conversation here on whether Jesus could sin, and if not, was he really tempted?

There. Now I've got all these handy links in one place so if I ever want to read any of this again, I won't have to look it up. How convenient!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

What is worship?

I just copied this from a comment I made on another blog...

I remember going to church when I was a lot younger and singing a bunch of songs that included things like, “I will worship you,” and things like that. It made me wonder what worship really was. I mean if singing those songs WAS worshipping God, then the lyrics should’ve said, “I am worshipping you.” So I remember in the back of my mind wondering when we were going to worship God, and what that would even mean.

Just the other day, I started thinking about the ways we worship, which usually include singing, praising, and praying. But we do all those things to ordinary people. We write songs about people, we congratulate people, and I communicate with people, sometimes even making requests (which is what “pray” literally means–to ask). So is worship just a more extreme version of all singing, praising, and praying to somebody? I mean obviously praise comes in degrees. We praise our children for getting good grades, or we praise our favourite apologist for giving a good talk. But the praise we offer God is a whole lot more lofty than the praise we give our fellow man. Is that really the difference? Is the distinction between worship and ordinary praise really just a matter of degree?

Some people say that anything we do for the glory of God is worship. Acts of kindness and charity can be considered a form of worship. Studying the Bible, or even studying philosophy can be considered a form of worship. I’m not sure how I feel about that because I can’t think of an Biblical examples of anything like that being referred to as worship.

There are several places in the Bible that say somebody “fell down and worshipped him.” When I was really little, I used to think worship was just bowing low with your hands in front of you, rising up, and bowing down again. But it can’t just be that. That’s just a physical motion. People even do it jokingly to each other (is that wrong?). Falling down can’t be equivalent to worship because (1) it’s possible to fall down and NOT worship, and (2) if they meant the same thing, the Bible would just say, “they fell down,” or “they worshipped.” It would be redundant to say “they fell down and worshipped.” But I suppose it could be that falling down was included in the worship. If so, what else was included? Since falling down, by itself, isn’t worship, but becomes worship when coupled with some other activity, what other activity is involved? Is it just a mental thing? Kind of like when everybody stands up when somebody enters the room? After all, standing up, by itself, is not an act of reverence, respect, or homage, but standing up as an intentional way of recognizing somebody’s authority, or respecting them IS an act of reverence, respect, or homage. It’s the intention that makes it so. Is it the same with “falling down and worshipping”? Is it worshipping just because of the intentional reason for falling down before God?

Thoughts anybody?

Friday, January 07, 2011

Michael Martin and Paul Copan on morality

A long time ago, there was an exchange between Paul Copan and Michael Martin on morality, the moral argument for God, the divine command theory, Euthyphro's dilemma, etc. I remember it being really interesting and educational, so I thought I'd provide links to the article in the order in which they were written, not just for you, but for me, too, so I don't have to use google if I want to find them all again. :-)

"Atheism, Christian Theism, and Rape" by Michael Martin

"Can Micahel Martin Be a Moral Realist?" by Paul Copan

"Copan's Critique of Atheistic Objective Morality" by Michael Martin

"Atheistic Goodness Revisited: A Personal Reply to Michael Martin" by Paul Copan

"The Naturalistic Fallacy and Other Mistaken Arguments of Paul Copan" by Michael Martin

As far as I know, Paul Copan never responded to Michael Martin's last article, but I did find this short interaction with Martin's last article:

Atheist Michael Martin admits to this admixture [that man is both a sinner and a saint]; within the space of two paragraphs that humans both “seem so ungod-like” and are superior to animals in “intelligence, advanced linguistic and artistic capabilities,” possessing “mathematical, scientific, and technological knowledge.”8

Fn 8: Michael Martin, “A Response to Paul Copan’s Critique of Atheistic Objective Morality,” Philosophia Christi, 2 (2000): 75-90. I reply to Martin’s mistake in “Atheistic Goodness Revisited: A Personal Reply to Michael Martin” Philosophia Christi, Series 2, Vol. 2 (2000): 91-104. For some strange reason, in a later on-line essay, Martin persists in accusing me of a “contradiction” he himself espouses (humans as a mixed bag of goodness and evil) and that I had already addressed in my response to him (“The Naturalistic Fallacy and Other Mistaken Arguments of Paul Copan” [2000]: Martin’s obvious error is failing to distinguish between essential and accidental properties. Thomas V. Morris puts it this way: “There are properties which happen to be common to members of a natural kind, and which may even be universal to all members of that kind, without being essential to membership in the kind” (Our Idea of God [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1991], 164). On the differences between essential and accidental, see Alvin Plantinga, The Nature of Necessity (Oxford: Clarendon, 1974).

That's all I could find. Paul Copan has written a few things since then on this same subject, though. There's a list of his articles here, some of which are on the subject of grounding morality.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

God signs

From time to time you see God signs like this quoting God. When people read them, nobody thinks God actually said these things. Even though they are usually written by Christians, nobody accuses the Christians of false prophecy either. The reason is because that would be a confusion of genre. The signs are not meant to be prophecy, so they can't be false prophecy.

On facebook, some people have this app where "God wants you to know..." something. The app posts a blurb written in first person from God's point of view that usually contains some shallow platitude or feel-good advice. But nobody thinks God himself is actually saying these things, and nobody intends for it to be taken as if he did.

I also see mock conversations between God and somebody else that Christians include on T-shirts, cards, books, or whatever that are supposed to illustrate some point. But none of these things are meant to convey what the author thinks God actually said. Nobody takes them that way, and nobody intends for them to be taken that way.

Do you ever wonder if some of the things in the Bible are that way? Maybe it's a genre, and maybe some of the "prophecies" in the Bible fall under that genre and are not meant to be taken as prophecy at all. I'm inclined to think apocalyptic literature (e.g. Daniel and Revelation) are like that. What do you think?