Saturday, January 19, 2019

Healing In the Atonement, part 1 of 16

About 19 years ago, I wrote an article refuting the doctrine of "healing in the atonement." For a long time I've wanted to re-write it to kind of update it to my thinking and style of arguing now, but I haven't done it. Today (1/18/2019), I ran into somebody on line who was aggressively pushing this doctrine, which made me decide to go ahead and post it. I'm not going to bother to update it, so it may contain a few things here and there that I wouldn't say today, but I still agree with the main thrust of it. This article is kind of long, so I'm posting it in parts. I won't leave you in too much suspense, though. I'll post each part one day apart. Hopefully I won't have anything pressing to say in the middle of it.


I. Introduction

Healing theology can be broken into three major categories: 1. the belief that God no longer heals today, 2. the belief that God can and does heal today, and 3. the belief that healing is guaranteed under the atonement. In this article, I will be arguing for the middle view, that God can and does heal today, but that healing is not guaranteed in the atonement.

First I want to make a clarification about the phrase, "healing in the atonement." Christ's atonement provided us with a means to obtain a resurrection to eternal life with no more sickness, death, or suffering, so in that sense, yes, healing was provided for in the atonement. What I will be discussing is the popular teaching of healing in the atonement which teaches that the realization of all the benefits of the atonement belong to us in the here and now. That means that all Christians ought to be completely free of sickness, disease, and any kind of physical malady. The only thing standing between a Christian and perfect health is sin or a lack of faith, because healing is the privilege of all believers. In this article, I will argue that though Christ's atoning sacrifice provided a way for all of us to be free from sickness, pain, death, and sorrow, the realization of these provisions will not come until the resurrection, which Paul calls, "the redemption of our bodies" (Romans 8:23).

This discussion will touch on several peripheral issues such as the perpetuity of spiritual gifts, the source of sickness, holiness, the word of faith (i.e. "name it and claim it" or "positive confession") teaching, original sin, and the believer's assurance of salvation (i.e. whether or not you can lose your salvation). It's necessary to discuss the peripheral issues, but it would take a book to treat them in any kind of detail, so I'll try to stay focused on the main point and only discuss the peripheral issues to a minimum extent.

There are many different versions of the "healing in the atonement" doctrine, so not everybody who believes in it will believe every aspect of it that I discuss. I want to cover as broad of a range of understandings of it as I can without the article becoming too diluted to be able to follow. I probably won't cover the different versions exhaustively or in much detail. If you happen to believe that physical healing in the here and now is guaranteed in the atonement, please don't be put off by the fact that you don't believe in everything that I attempt to refute in this article. I'm not attempting to erect a straw man in order to tear it down. I'm trying to cover as many versions of the teaching as I can. If one of the points of the teaching I try to refute seems to you to be a misrepresentation of what you believe, it's probably the case that I'm not representing your belief at all, but somebody else's, and the fact that what I am refuting does not apply to you does not mean that physical healing is provided for in the atonement. It merely means that that particular argument does not apply to you. Failure to prove one thing does not prove the opposite thing.

I want to make a clear distinction between healing in the atonement and healing in general. I believe that God can and does heal people today. I believe in the perpetuity of the gift of healing. God may heal people in answer to prayer, and he may empower some with the gift of healing. What I am arguing against is the idea that physical healing is guaranteed. Too many people mistakenly assume that if a person doesn't believe in healing in the atonement that the person doesn't believe in healing at all, and that's just not the case.

to be continued. . .

Friday, January 18, 2019

An argument for epiphenomenalism from materialism

I don't know if this is a sound argument or not. I came up with it just last night. I thought I'd post it here in case anybody wants to comment on it.

First, let me define "epiphenomenalism" and "materialism." Materialism is the view that only material things exist. For the purposes of this post, this means there isn't an immaterial soul spirit that haunts your brain. There's just a brain. Epiphenomenalism is the view that the brain gives rise to mental phenomena (like sensation, thought, desire, emotion, etc.), but the direction causation does not go in the other direction. In other words, the mind that emerges from the brain cannot have any causal influence over the brain. The mind, in that case, is just a passive observer. This would entail that volition is an illusion since you can't cause anything to happen in your body by desiring or willing it to happen.

This guy I was talking to last night is a software developer. He used a computer as an analogy for how he understands the relationship between humans and minds. He said you can talk about a computer with various levels of abstraction. On the bottom level, you've just got electrons and atoms in motion obeying the laws of physics. A layer up, you've got logic gates that either allow or disallow electricity to flow. Close to that level (and maybe on the same level), you've got 1's and 0's. Then you've got machine code, then software code, and up and up the layers go until you have the semantic meaning. In the same way, you can describe the brain at the level of atoms or at the level of mind, but the mind is basically the same thing. It's just abstracted on a higher level.

I questioned him on whether there was causal interaction between these different levels of abstraction. My next question was going to be whether he thought the direction of causation went both ways or only one way. He didn't seem to think there was causation in either direction because these are just different levels of abstraction. They're actually the same thing, so causal interaction doesn't come into play.

So I switched gears, and this is what made me think of the argument. Even if there's no chain of causation the way we usually think about it, there is at least some sort of logical connection. The activity of the individual atoms determines, in some way, the function of the software. Whether it does that by the mechanism of causation doesn't matter for the purpose of my point. What I wanted to know was whether the activity of the individual atoms was determined by the function of the software in the same way that the function of the software determines the position of the atoms. I didn't get a clear answer, but let me explain the argument I came up with.

It seems clear that if a certain arrangement or activity of subatomic particles produces a certain outcome on the macro-level, then whenever you repeat those exact same conditions on the micro-level, you will get the exact same conditions on the macro-level. You can't not get the same results if the underlying physical structure and activity is exactly the same.

But it doesn't work the other way around. Let's say you have two different computer programers write code for a procedure that takes some inputs, performs some function, and gives you an output. The two programmers could write different code to accomplish the same thing. If you were looking at the computer screen, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference. You'd see the same prompt for your input, and you'd get the same output. There'd be no way to tell that the underlying code was different.

What all this means is that in cases of properties that emerge in a macroscopic way from underlying microscopic conditions, the stuff at the bottom level determines the stuff at the top level, but the stuff at the top level does not determine the stuff at the bottom level. So if the mind is an emergent property of the brain, then the brain activity would determine the content of the mind, but nothing about the mind would have any influence on the brain activity. The direction of "causation" only goes in one direction.

One weakness to this argument is that you couldn't have just any code perform the same function. There are limits. So you might say that the top layer of abstractions puts some constrains on the lower levels, in which case it would appear to have some determining influence.

What are your thoughts?

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Do atheists exist?

Some people don't think atheists exists because of what Paul said in Romans 1:18-21.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
I'm not convinced that Paul is saying that everybody knows God exists. Let me walk through this passage and explain why. The first part tells us the people Paul is talking about. It's talking about people who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Concerning these people, Paul is condemning their ungodliness and unrighteousness. So already, Paul isn't necessarily talking about everybody. It could be that some are atheists because they are suppressing the truth in unrighteousness and others are atheists for other reasons. Maybe they've never heard of God. Maybe they are honestly persuaded that God doesn't exist due to arguments from incoherence or the problem of evil. Or maybe they are just suspicious because of all the diversity in religions and the fact that they have yet to be persuaded that there is a God.

You might think, though, that Paul is closing the gap on honest atheists when he says that "that which is known about God is evident within them." It would seem that Paul is referring to general revelation that all people are privy to, in which case he's implying that everybody knows, deep down, that God exists. I'm not so sure, though. Paul may mean that they could know if they'd simply think about it carefully and honestly because the evidence is right there staring them in the face.

Paul goes on to talk about how God's attributes are evident in nature and can be clearly seen, and that leaves people without excuse. I don't think this implies that people aren't really atheists. It just means there's no excuse for being an atheist. It would be like saying there's no excuse for me not knowing to use backing soda in my banana nut bread instead of baking powder since it's written right there in my recipe. Granted, I have no excuse for not knowing, but it wouldn't follow that I do know. I may not know because I may not be looking at the recipe, reading it, or paying attention.

Next, Paul said, "For even though they knew God. . ." This, it seems to me, indicates that the people he's talking about actually do know that God exists. But again, he may not be talking about everybody who denies the existence of God. He may be talking about a subset of those people.

On the other hand, Paul goes on to say that "their foolish heart was darkened." Notice that Paul says they knew God, in the past tense. Then he says they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. So maybe Paul is talking about people who used to believe in God but no longer do because of their foolishness or their suppression of the truth.

You may wonder why I'm resisting the conclusion that everybody knows God exists when that seems at first glance to be what Paul is saying. I have a few reasons for being unsure in spite of what Paul said.

The first reason is because Paul says these people suppress the truth. It seems at least possible to me that a person who was suppressing the truth in unrighteousness might have some success in doing so. People can fool themselves or manipulate themselves into believing things that aren't true and that they ought to know aren't true.

Second, in Psalm 14:1 and Psalm 53:1, says, "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'" Granted, it may be a foolish thing to say, but it seems to me that if you're saying something in your heart, then you probably believe it. Either that, or you're trying to convince yourself, in which case it's possible to succeed.

Third, in 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12, it says that some people do not receive a love of the truth so as to be saved, and because they do not love the truth, God sends them a deluding influence to cause them to believe what is false. So why couldn't it be the case that some people actually believe that God does not exist? This passage seems to allow for it.

Fourth, I just have a hard to believing that all the atheists I've talked to are lying. I've run into a lot of people for whom deconversion was a painful process. They wanted to believe but couldn't bring themselves to do it. Also, a lot of atheists act like you're a moron for being a theist. Maybe they're grandstanding, but it sure seems like they actually believe theism is foolish. Some of them think we are lying. Mark Twain defined faith as "believing what you know ain't so."

Fifth, even among people who remain Christians, they sometimes have serious doubts. I remember reading on a message board that somebody who had read Richard Dawkins book, The God Delusion, was really shaken up by it. This person didn't abandon their faith in the end, but their doubts were probably honest. If a person can honestly have doubts about the existence of God, then I don't see why they couldn't have doubts that were substantial enough to undermine belief in God and cause them to think God doesn't actually exist or that there isn't sufficient reason to think God exists.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe all these atheists who used to be Christians and who struggled with their deconversion are just lying. Even if that's true, it seems like we ought to give them the benefit of the doubt. If they're being honest, then at least we will not have lost our audience by offending them. And if they're lying, what difference does it make to us? That's between them and God. We can still offer arguments. Our arguments may not persuade them if they already secretly believe, but maybe the arguments can make them uncomfortable with their denial until they finally repent of their unrighteous suppression of the truth. So whether they're lying or not, arguing with them can still serve a purpose.

If I were an honest atheist, and if I were convinced that Paul was saying that nobody was an honest atheist, then I'd know Romans was not the word of God. That would tend to disconfirm scripture in my mind which would cast doubt on Christianity as a whole. Imagine if you were thinking of the number three, and a prophet came along and told you that you were thinking of a different number. Well, you'd know with certainty that the prophet was wrong because you have direct and immediate access to the contents of your own thoughts. You know what number you're thinking of with far more certainty than you know that this person is actually a prophet.

Of course there is such a thing as denial. What does that mean, though? Does a person who is in denial actually know something, but refuse to affirm it or be honest with themselves about it? Do they know that they know? I'm not sure, but I suppose if it's possible to be in denial about something, then maybe you don't necessarily know the content of your own beliefs with certainty.

Monday, January 14, 2019

The moral argument for presuppositional onlyism

I think "presuppositional onlyism" is a phrase I invented a while back. I'm not sure if I've ever heard other people use it or not. What I mean by it is the view that the presuppositional method of doing apologetics is the only right way to do apologetics. So if you're an onlyist, then you'll reject evidentialism or classical apologetics (and whatever other methods of doing apologetics there might be). You see, my philosophy has always been that a sound argument is a sound argument, whether it's presuppositional, evidential, or whatever. I'm a "sound argument onlyist," and I don't care what kind of argument it is as long as it's sound. I think we should use all the tools of reason that God gave us to arrive at truths to the best of our ability.

People hold to presuppositional onlyism for different reasons. Some people subscribe to it because evidential arguments only give us probabilities at best whereas presuppositional arguments give us certainty. Other people think evidential arguments are completely worthless and presuppositional arguments are the only sound arguments. But then there's the presuppositional onlyists who object to any other method of doing apologetics on moral grounds. It isn't that evidential arguments are fallacious or unpersuasive, but that it's immoral to use them. Presuppositional arguments are the only arguments that glorify God.

I want to respond to a particular moral argument that James White has often made for presuppositional onlyism. Before I do, let me give a brief explanation of the difference between presuppositionalism and evidentialism.

An evidentialist will start with premises he hopes the other person will accept. He tries to find common ground between the other person so there'll be a starting place for the discussion to go forward. Then he tries to show that God exists either because God's existence can be deduced from those premises or the premises increase the likelihood that God exists. Presuppositionalists, on the other hand, don't argue to the existence of God. Rather, they argue from the existence of God. God is a presupposition. It's a foundational item of knowledge upon which all other knowledge is built. A presuppositionalist will argue that if you don't presuppose God, then nothing else makes sense. No argument against God can be coherent since arguments depend on logic, and logic depends on God, so any argument against God is self-refuting and incoherent. The denial of God undermines the necessary preconditions for rational thought, so God cannot be rationally denied.

James White opposes any method of apologetics that involves arguing to the existence of God on the basis that doing so amounts to "putting God on trial." If you present an argument to an atheist for the existence of God, then you are asking the atheist to judge God. But we creatures are in no position to judge God, and asking a God-denier to judge God is downright blasphemous.

I think this is pure sophistry. White is using loaded language in place of sound argumentation to make his case for presuppositional onlyism. The phrase, "putting God on trial," has a very negative connotation to it. It conjures up an image of God being placed on the witness stand and being accused of immorality while mere sinful creatures debate whether God is worthy to be salvaged or gotten rid of. That does paint a negative picture, but this is all spin and sophistry. If you really look at what's going on, there's nothing immoral about it. All we are doing is using our own powers of intellect to try to figure out whether the proposition, "God exists," is true or not.

Not only is there nothing immoral about that, but it's actually something we all must do. There's no escaping it. Even presuppositionalists have to do it. Belief is something you do with your mind, and you have nothing but your own mind with which to do your believing. So you have no choice but to use your own cognitive faculties to the best of your ability to distinguish between what is true and what is false. Any item of knowledge whatsoever that you could possibly have is an item of knowledge that you must use your own intellectual faculties to either affirm or deny. It cannot possibly be immoral to ponder the question, "Does God exist?" since one cannot affirm or deny the existence of God without pondering that question. To ponder that question and attempt to answer it does not amount to "putting God on trial."

Presuppositionalists do not escape this situation merely by presupposing the existence of God. After all, how do they know they ought to presuppose the existence of God? You see, presuppositional arguments barely differ from evidential arguments if you think about it. Consider the argument above that I gave. The argument goes something like this:

* If there is no God, then there could be no logic, knowledge, or reason.
* There is logic, knowledge, and reason.
* Therefore, there is a God.
When a presuppositionalist tries to show an atheist the incoherence in his worldview and that the atheist must borrow theism from the Christian worldview in order to launch a coherent argument, they are trying to get the atheist to see the necessity of God's existence. In other words, they are giving the atheist a reason to believe in God. They are using the common ground they share with atheists--logic--as a premise in an argument for God. How is that any less "putting God on trial," then using the moral realism as a premise in an argument for God? It is because of presuppositional arguments that presuppositionalists are so confident that God exists. They think these arguments are sound.

James White has no problem arguing about the nature of God with people who do not share his view. He has debated modalists and Arians on the trinitarian nature of God. In those debates, you had sinners on each side offering Biblical evidence in support of what they thought was the correct view of God. Was that putting God on trial? I never heard White argue that unless the Jehovah's Witness presupposes the doctrine of the Trinity, they cannot launch a rational argument. No, he uses the evidence from language, scripture, reason, and logic to deduce that God is a trinity. He began with the common ground he had with the Jehovah's Witness--the inerrancy of Scripture--and he argued to the Trinity. He did not argue from the Trinity.

In Acts 2, Peter stood up before an unbelieving crowd and made an argument for the resurrection of Jesus. He quoted David as saying, "Because You will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor allow Your Holy One to undergo decay." Then he pointed to the occupied tomb of David (in contrast to the empty tomb of Jesus) as evidence that David was not talking about himself but was, instead, looking forward to the resurrection of Christ--a descendent of David who Peter identified as the same Jesus that crowd had crucified by the hands of godless men. Was Peter putting Jesus on trial by presenting this evidence and making this argument to an unbelieving crowd?

I don't see how an argument that has true premises and valid reasoning can be immoral. Are we supposed to not think about the premises and the logical connection between them? Or are we just not supposed to say them out loud? Or are we not supposed to find them persuasive? Consider the argument from the resurrection of Jesus. Is it immoral to say or think, "Jesus would not have risen from the dead if YHWH were not the one true God"? Maybe not. Maybe the sin comes when we follow it immediately with, "Jesus was risen from the dead." But, oh my goodness, far be it from a sinner to ever see the logical connection between these two statements and draw the inference that "YHWH is the one true God." And if they do venture into this dangerous territory, I suppose it would be utter blasphemy to ever share this line of thought with an atheist. Turning my sarcasm off, now, I find it utterly absurd to think that arguing evidentially for the existence of God is immoral.

It does not dishonor God to argue evidentially. God created us to argue this way, and there's no Biblical prohibition that restricts our tools of reason and logic to everything except God. And since we have no choice but to use our ability think in order to distinguish between true and false, we must use our ability to think in order to affirm or deny the existence of God. If that's immoral, and I don't see how it possibly could be, then thank God for his mercy and grace because we're stuck and can do no other.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Formal and informal fallacies

A formal fallacy is a violation of the rules of formal logic. Let me give you an example. This is a syllogism in formal logic called modus tollens.

* If P, then Q.
* Not Q.
* Therefore, not P.
In the first premise, there are two parts. The first part is called the antecedent because it comes before the second part. The second part is called the consequent because it is the consequence of the first part.

The second premise denies the consequent. This is a valid rule of a logic. If your argument follows this pattern, then it's formally valid. But now look at this argument:

* If P, then Q.
* Not P.
* Therefore, not Q.
Notice in this case that instead of denying the consequent, the second premise denies the antecedent. This is a logical fallacy. It makes the syllogism invalid. The conclusion doesn't follow from the premises. The name of this fallacy is the fallacy of denying the antecedent. Another related fallacy is called affirming the consequent. It looks like this:
* If P, then Q.
* Q.
* Therefore, P.
This syllogism is also invalid. There is a valid syllogism that affirms the antecedent, though. It goes like this:
* If P, then Q.
* P.
* Therefore, Q.
That's a valid syllogism called modus ponens.

So basically there are two kinds of valid hypothetical syllogisms. Modus tollens denies the consequent, and modus ponens affirms the antecedent. There are two fallacies to screw these syllogisms up--affirming the consequent and denying the antecedent. You don't have to memorize these because it's plainly evident just by looking at the syllogisms whether they are valid or not. Thankfully, God created us with minds capable of grasping the basic laws of logic merely by introspection. It just requires careful thought and consideration.

These fallacies I just explained are called formal logical fallacies. They differ from informal logical fallacies. The major difference is that there are no exceptions when it comes to formal logical fallacies, but almost all informal logical fallacies have exceptions. There are informal fallacies without exceptions (like the straw man fallacy), but most of them have exceptions. I want to give just two examples.

One informal logical fallacy is called the fallacy of composition. This is a mistake in reasoning where you say something like, "Since all the parts have property X, it follows that the whole thing has that same property." For example, if somebody said that because every part of the car is inexpensive, it follows that the whole car is inexpensive. That's a mistake. However, there is an exception to the fallacy of composition. Here's an example of an argument from composition that is not a fallacy. "Every pixel on the screen is red; therefore, the whole screen is red." That's obviously not a fallacy.

Another informal logical fallacy is called the argument from silence. This is a mistake in reasoning where you say that because such and such isn't evident it follows that such and such isn't the case. For example, suppose I say, "I don't see a spider in this room; therefore, there's no spider in this room." That's a mistake because spiders are very small, and there may be lots of places a spider could be hiding. But suppose I said, "I don't see an elephant in the room; therefore, there's no elephant in the room." Well, that's not a mistake. So what's the difference? The fallacy of argument from silence is only committed when there is no reason to expect that if something were the case, then it would be evident. If there is reason to expect that if something were the case then it would be evident, then one can draw the conclusion that it is not the case based on lack of evidence without committing a fallacy. Since I should expect to see an elephant if it were in the room, but there's no reason to expect that I'd see any spider that was in the room, I can make a valid argument from silence about the absence of an elephant in my room, but if I make the same argument about a lack of spiders, then I've committed an informal fallacy.

The reason I'm making this post is because I see a lot of people learning informal fallacies, then throwing them around willy nilly without recognizing that there are exceptions to them. If something follows the basic pattern, they'll name the fallacy and pretend like they've won the argument. We'd all like to improve our critical thinking skills, and learning about informal fallacies can help. However, if you don't also have an understanding that there are exceptions to informal fallacies, then learning their names without knowing when exception apply will actually make you a more sloppy thinker.

There are some people who intentionally use informal fallacies in their arguments because they're counting on the other person not to understand these subtleties. So understanding the exceptions to informal fallacies can also prevent you from being duped.

Most of the web sites I've found on line about informal fallacies do explain the exceptions, but a lot of them don't. There are two books on informal fallacies that are both good in explaining these fallacies, but one of them talks about the exceptions and the other doesn't. Logically Fallacious by Bo Bennett discusses the exceptions but The Fallacy Detective by Nathaniel and Hans Bluedorn doesn't. The good thing about Bluedorn's book, though, is that it's easier for beginners since it's written for kids. Bennett's book can be pretty dry and tedious. One problem with Bennett's book is that there are so many informal fallacies that nobody could possibly remember them all, and Bennet doesn't divide his book up into "common fallacies" and "obscure fallacies."

If every mistake in reasoning a person could make had a name, I suppose you'd end up with a book like Bennett's. I mean we don't really need to have names for mistakes in reasoning at all. It's just that some mistakes in reasoning are very common. It's useful to have names for the common ones. That's why there is such a thing as an informal fallacy. It's just a way of being able to identify a common pattern of mistaken reasoning so that we can recognize it when it happens, point it out in a succinct way without having to explain it, and so we can avoid making the mistake ourselves. But we don't need to have a name for every single mistake in reasoning that a person can make, and I think that's the problem with Bennett's book.

Of course another problem with the Bluedorn book is that it doesn't use the common names to the fallacies. There's an advantage to using common names to them. It's so we can communicate with each other about them and so if you want to read about the same subject from another source, it's easier to see when two people are talking about the same thing.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Kalam cosmological argument and special pleading

An objection I hear a lot to the KCA is that it commits the fallacy of special pleading because it exempts God from the same causal principle that it applies to the universe. If you say the universe requires a cause but you exempt God from requiring a cause, then you're committing the fallacy of special pleading.

This is not a sound criticism. The KCA reaches the conclusion that the universe has a cause from the premise that the universe began to exist, and there are various arguments meant to demonstrate that the universe began to exist. Unless it can be shown that God began to exist, then one cannot draw the same conclusion about God. The arguments that apply to the universe do not apply equally to God, so God is not being arbitrarily exempted from requiring a cause.

The special pleading fallacy can only be invoked when a person makes an arbitrary exception to a general principle (usually solely to avoid an unwanted conclusion). Suppose the first premise in the KCA was, "Everything requires a cause." Well, then it might be special pleading to exempt God, but that's not what the first premise to the KCA says. Rather, it says, "Everything that begins to exist requires a cause." That's why the second premise attempts to show that the universe began to exist. Unless the argument can show that the universe began to exist, it cannot draw the conclusion that the universe requires a cause. It isn't enough for the universe to exist in order to draw that conclusion; it must exist and have a beginning.

But then somebody will say the first premise itself commits the fallacy of special pleading merely by the use of the qualification, "that begins to exist." But this is not an arbitrarily qualification. There is a justification for it. A thing cannot be brought into existence if it already exists. It can only be brought into existence if it doesn't already exist. So if the universe had a beginning and God did not, then there'd be a reason to think the universe needed a cause but God did not. Since there is a justification for the exception or qualification, it doesn't commit the fallacy of special pleading.

Of course there are cosmological arguments that say even things that always exist may require causes. Some people believe God is continuously causing the universe to exist. These people believe that if God removed his sustaining power of causation, the universe would vanish. The first premise in the KCA doesn't deny this. It just makes a more modest claim. At least those things which come into existence require a cause. The first premise doesn't say anything about those things that do not begin to exist. If a person wanted to accuse a cosmological argument of special pleading, they might ought to attack those other arguments, not the KCA.

But even in the case of those other arguments, the expanded causal principle doesn't arbitrarily exclude God. Instead, they make a distinction between necessary things and contingent things. Contingent things require causes and necessary things don't. And again, this distinction is not arbitrarily. The reason necessary things do not require causes is because it's impossible for them to not exist. That's what it means to be necessary. Whatever reasons there are to think contingent things require causes wouldn't apply to necessary things. One reason, for example, might be that it is possible for contingent things to not exist, and that obviously doesn't apply to necessary things.

I think the primary reason the accusation of special pleading comes up so much is because in an attempt to dismiss all cosmological arguments in one go, people kind of lazily lump them all together in some distorted representation that actually does commit the fallacy of special pleading. They'll say something like, "The basic cosmological argument is this: Everything requires a cause; therefore the universe requires a cause; so God exists; but God doesn't have a cause." I got this same impression in my freshmen philosophy class when I first heard "the uncaused cause" argument that was based on Aristotle. But according to Ed Feser, no prominent philosopher in the history of philosophy has ever made that argument, not even Aristotle ("So you think you understand the cosmological argument?" and "Straw men and terra-cotta armies"). It's a straw man, and I think a lot of people want to shoe horn the KCA in such a way that the special pleading fallacy applies because it's an easy way to dismiss the argument without having to address the premises or the defenses of the premises. But just a little reflection ought to make it obvious that the criticism doesn't apply.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

What makes a belief rational?

Usually when we think of a rational belief, we think of a belief that is held for good reasons. There are two ways a belief might be held for good reason, though. One way is that some evidence or line of sound reasoning resulted in the belief. That's true of a posteriori beliefs. Another way is that a person can, by reflecting on something, grasp the necessity of it. That's true of at least some a priori beliefs.

But what about other beliefs such as the belief in the reliability of our cognitive faculties, our sensory perceptions, and our memories? There's no necessity to these beliefs. Whether there is any line of reasoning that could lead to these beliefs is questionable. If there were a line of reasoning that lead to these beliefs, it's likely that the premises would be less certain than the belief itself, which means the belief is probably not held because of that line of reasoning.

Some beliefs appear to be hard wired. They're just built in. We automatically assume that past experience can tell us something about what to expect in the future. We automatically assume that we remember things because a past really happened. Some people become philosophers and begin to question these things, but even people who question them find it hard to do so. They have to continuously resist the temptation to attribute truth to these seemingly built in notions.

So what justifies them? Since they cannot be justified on the basis of sound reasons, nor on the basis of their necessity, it seems like the only way to justify them is on the basis of their causes. If they are caused by a reliable mechanism, then they can be trusted, but if they are caused by an unreliable mechanism, then they can't be trusted.

Suppose these beliefs are caused merely by the structure and activity of the brain. We would have to trust that the brain is built in such a way as to be reliable. We can trust a calculator to give us the right answers because calculators were designed by people with accuracy in mind. With brains, they had to have come about in one of two ways--either they were engineered or they arose through purely blind and natural processes.

Suppose the brain was engineered. Before we could trust the deliverances of our brains, we'd first have to presuppose the trustworthiness of the engineer. After all, it's possible somebody could stick a probe in your brain and cause you to believe all sorts of things that aren't true. Maybe we don't have the technology yet, but it's conceivable that the technology could exist. So if we held a belief that was caused by an engineer who designed our brains in such a way as to produce that belief or he somehow installed that belief into our brains, would that belief be rational?

I don't know, but I suspect you'd need the presupposition that the engineer was honest/reliable or that the engineer designed the brain in such a way as to produce true a priori beliefs. Otherwise, the belief might not be rational.

But then how would you justify the belief that the engineer was reliable and had truth in mind when designing the brain or installing the beliefs? It seems like the only way to justify that belief is purely on pragmatic grounds. We have no choice but to trust our cognitive faculties. We couldn't rationally doubt them unless we could trust them, so to doubt them is self-refuting. If I say, "My brain is an unreliable truth-generating machine," I would have no rational basis upon which to believe that statement is true since my brain is the only thing could possibly tell me whether or not it's true.

Maybe it's rational to trust our brains merely because it's irrational not to, and it's irrational not to because any claim that our brains are unreliable will necessarily be a self-refuting claim. Of course self-refuting claims aren't necessarily false. It depends. A claim can be self-refuting in one of two ways. It can be self-refuting in such a way that if it is true, then its false, in which case it's necessarily false, or it can be self-refuting in such a way that if it's true, then it can never be justified, in which case it isn't necessarily false. The self-refuting nature of claiming that the brain is an unreliable truth-producing machine is self-refuting in the second sense, but not the first. (Maybe we should call the second sense "self-undermining" instead of "self-refuting.") So while it may be irrational to doubt the reliability of your brain, that doesn't necessarily mean your brain is reliable. It just means it's more rational to affirm the reliability of your brain (since you can do so consistently) than it is to deny the reliability of your brain (since you cannot do so consistently).

If we must trust the reliability of our brains on pain of self-refutation, then it seems like we must also believe that the brain was produced in such a way as to guaranty its reliability. So if you believe the brain was engineered, then you must believe the engineer was honest and had truth in mind when he designed the brain. Otherwise, you're being irrational.

The alternative is to believe the brain evolved naturally in such a way as to be reliable. In this case, nobody meant for the brain to hold true beliefs. It's just that holding true beliefs was conducive to survival and reproduction. I don't want to explore this right now because it would take us into Alvin Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism. I'll just say that if a sound argument can be made for why we should expect the brain to be reliable on the supposition that it evolved naturally, then that would give us a rational ground for our built in beliefs.

So basically, I think our beliefs can be rational on the basis of sound reasoning from true premises, intuitively grasping the necessity of them, or having them be built into our brains under the presupposition that the brain was produced in such a way as to be a reliable belief producing machine, whether that entails presupposing a brain engineer or a truth-favoring evolutionary process (or some combination of the two).

I have a lot more to say about this, but I guess this post is long enough already.