Wednesday, July 19, 2017

To be is to be percieved

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, July 08, 2017

Calvinism and evangelism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, July 05, 2017

By hook or crook

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

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

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

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

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