Monday, February 28, 2005

Biblical arguments for the Trinity, part 4

5. The Father is not the Son.
6. The Son is not the Holy Spirit.
7. The Holy Spirit is not the Father.

I'm going to take all three of these at the same time. This step is important, because it prevents us from being modalists.

When I prepared this study, I really wasn't thinking too much about modalism. I was thinking more about Arians. Modalists think the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the same person, but Arians think they are different persons. Since I was thinking mainly about Arians, I didn't spend too much effort showing that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct. Arians already agree. A few scriptures might be mentioned, though.

5. The Father is not the Son.

The Son was sent by the Father (John 16:5).
The Son acts as a mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5).
Jesus prays to the Father, making a distinction between his will and the Father's will (Matthew 26:39).

6. The Son is not the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit doesn't come until Jesus leaves, and when Jesus leaves, he sends the Holy Spirit (John 16:7).

7. The Holy Spirit is not the Father.

The Holy Spirit intercedes between God and man (Romans 8:26-27).
The Father sends the Holy Spirit (John 14:26).

Finally, there's the scene at the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:16-17). Here, you see all three being made distinct. The son is standing in the water, and he sees the Spirit of God descending upon him, and then a voice from heaven says, "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased."

That's about it for the Biblical arguments for the Trinity. Let me summarize a little now. Remember, the Trinity is derived from seven points, which can be summarized in three.

1. There is one and only one God.
2. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.
3. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father.

If (1) there is only one God, and (2) the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each God, it follows that they are the same God. Since they are distinct persons, it follows that the one God is tri-personal.

If these premises are true, then logic forces us to embrace the Trinity. It's the only way to make these premises logically consistent. Since the Trinity follows deductively from these premises, then the Trinity is Biblical.

Next, I'm going to begin to address some of the objections to the Trinity. I don't know how many blogs I'll take to do that.

Against the Trinity, part 1

Friday, February 25, 2005

Biblical arguments for the Trinity, part 3

Yesterday, I gave one argument for the deity of Jesus. Today, I'm going to give some more.

This first argument I got from Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason, and his version is published in an article called Deity of Christ: Case Closed

The argument comes from John 1:3 which says, "All things came into being by him, and apart from him nothing came into being that has come into being."

You can break up all of reality into two categories--things that came into being and things that did not come into being. The only thing that did not come into being is God. God is eternal. He has always existed. Everything else came into being at some point.

The question we need to ask is which category Jesus fits in. If Jesus came into being, then he's not God. If he did not come into being, then he is God.

If we look carefully at John 1:3, we can see that it's impossible for Jesus to have come into being. According to John 1:3, everything that came into being, came into being through Jesus. The only way, then, for Jesus to have come into being is if he came into being through himself. But that would require that Jesus existed before he came into being, which is crazy talk. Only a post-modernist would embrace such a contradiction! Since Jesus did not come into being, he has always existed. He's external, and therefore, he's God.

There are a few more arguments I'm going to give for the deity of Jesus, and these won't require as much explaining as the previous two. These next three arguments show that Jesus is YHWH. The reason it's important to establish that Jesus is YHWH is to prevent anybody from saying Jesus is god with a little "g," which they might do if they only accepted the arguments from Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1.

1. YHWH created the heavens and the earth by himself; he was all alone (Isaiah 44:24).
2. Jesus created the heavens and the earth; he was with God (Colossians 1:15-17, John 1:1-3).
3. Therefore, Jesus is YHWH.

Here's another one:

1. YHWH will not give his glory to another (Isaiah 42:8; 48:11).
2. Jesus shares God's glory (John 17:5, 5:23).
3. Therefore, Jesus is YHWH.

One last argument. Psalm 102:25 is attributed to YHWH in the Old Testament, but when it's quoted in Hebrews 1:10, it's attributed to Jesus.

That's all the arguments I'm going to give for the deity of Jesus.

For the Trinity, part 4

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Biblical arguments for the Trinity, part 2

Continuing from yesterday...

4. The Son is God.

As long as nobody disputes that "the Son" refers to Jesus, we'll be fine. Like I said in the first blog on the Trinity, I'm not writing a book, so I'm just going to give a few arguments for the deity of Jesus.

The first argument is that Jesus is explicitly called God in Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1. Although most modern translations are clear about this, there's a reason for it that has to do with the grammer of the underlying Greek. All you have to know is one very simple rule of Greek grammer having to do with the definite article. You'll have to excuse me for not using a Greek font.

That rule is called the Granville Sharp rule, because it was discovered by Granville Sharp. Here is what the rules says: Whenever the copulative "kai" (and) joins two nouns, and the first noun is preceded by the definite article "ho" (the) but the second noun has no definite article, then both nouns refer to the same person if (1) both nouns are singular, (2) both nouns are personal, and (3) neither noun is a proper name. The basic pattern is article noun kai noun.

Here's a couple of examples:

2 Corinthians 1:3
ho theos kai pater
the god and father

Clearly, "god" and "father" both refer to the same person.

Hebrews 3:1
ton apostolon kai archierea
the apostle and high priest

"Apostle" and "high priest" both refer to the same person, Jesus Christ.

Now let's apply this rule to Titus 2:13.

tou megalou theou kai soteros hemon Iesou Christou
the great god and savior of-us Jesus Christ

The two nouns are "god" and "savior." God has the definite article tou while soteros is without the article, so "god" and "savior" both refer to the same person, Jesus Christ. The context bears this out.

Now let's look at 2 Peter 1:1.

tou theou hemon kai soteros Iesou Christou
the god of-us and savior Jesus Christ

Again, we have two singular personal nouns that are not proper names, god and savior, separated by kai. The first noun has a definite article, and the second doesn't. God and savior both refer to the same person, Jesus Christ.

It is interesting to look at translations such as the New World Translation, because they are inconsistent in their translations in 2 Peter. Notice the following:

2 Peter 1:1 our God and [the] Savior Jesus Christ
2 Peter 1:11 our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

The way they translate 1:1, with "the" makes it look like God and Savior could be referring to different persons. But it's clear in 1:11 that Lord and Savior refer to the same persons. Even though the translations are different, the grammatical construct of these two phrases is identical in the Greek. Only the words "god" and "lord" are different.

2 Peter 1:1 tou theou hemon kai soteros Iesou Christou
2 Peter 1:11 tou kyriou hemon kai soteros Iesou Christou

The King James Version also has these discrepencies, because it was translated long before Granville Sharp did his research on the uses of the definite article. A good example of how the Granville Sharp rule clarified a passage that was ambiguous in the KJV is Revelation 1:6. If you compare the KJV of Revelation 1:6 to more modern translations, like the NIV or NASB, you can see a big difference. The KJV makes it look like God may have a father above him. And in fact, that's exactly how Mormons understand the passage. But Granville Sharp's rule makes it clear that "God" and "Father" both refer to the same person, and that is made clear in the NIV and NASB.

In the interest of keeping these blogs kind of short, I'll continue with the deity of Jesus tomorrow. If you're interested in reading more about Granville Sharp's rule, Daniel Wallace, author of Greek Grammer Beyond the Basics has an article about it here. I could be mistaken, but I think Wallace did his PhD dissertation on Granville Sharp.

For the Trinity, part 3

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Biblical arguments for the Trinity, part 1

Yesterday, I said the Trinity is deduced from three points. If all three points are Biblical, then the Trinity is Biblical, so now I want to show that they are all Biblical. I'm not going to go into any kind of detail. After all, this is a blog, not a book.

First, I want to break the three points down into seven to make this easier:

1. There is one and only one God.
2. The Father is God.
3. The Holy Spirit is God.
4. The Son is God.
5. The Father is not the Son.
6. The Son is not the Holy Spirit.
7. The Holy Spirit is not the Father.

1. There is one and only one God.

That's not a controversial claim, so no need to spend much time on it. Isaiah 44:6 and John 17:3 will suffice.

2. The Father is God.

That's another non-controversial claim, so again, no need to spend much time. 1 Corinthians 1:3 and Revelation 1:6 will do.

3. The Holy Spirit is God.

This one is a little tricky, because there are some people who deny the Holy Spirit is even a person. They say the Holy Spirit is God's active force or something like that. Usually, if you can establish that the Holy Spirit is a person, that's enough to say he's also God. I'll do both.

To show the Holy Spirit is God, there's Acts 5:3-4, which equates lying to the Holy Spirit with lying to God. Also, there are a couple of passages in the Old Testament that are quoted in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, they are attributed to YHWH, but they are attributed to the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. First, there's Isaiah 6:9, which is quoted in Acts 28:25. Second, there's Jeremiah 31:31-34 which is quoted in Hebrews 10:15-17. These are enough to establish that the Holy Spirit is God.

To show the Holy Spirit is a person, you have to show that he has attributes of personhood. The most clear passages show the Holy Spirit has a mind (Romans 8:26-27) and a will (1 Corinthians 12:11). Besides that, he can be lied to (Acts 5:3-4), he can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30), he can be blasphemed (Matthew 12:31-32), and he can speak (Acts 13:2). That seems to be enough to show the Holy Spirit is a person. The usually response to these passages is to say they are personifications, and they don't indicate actual personhood. The problem with that theory is that impersonal forces can't be blasphemed. Only persons can be blasphemed. The personification theory doesn't seem to work for that one.

4. The Son is God.

I'm going to spend a little more time on this one, so I'll save it for another blog.

For the Trinity, part 2

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The logic of the Trinity

I want to do a few blogs on the Trinity. The first one will be about the logic of the Trinity. The second one will be about Biblical arguments for the Trinity. The third one will address common objections to the Trinity. This comes from an outline I did when I taught on the Trinity in Sunday school a few years ago.

First, let me give a definition of the Trinity: There is one being who is God, and that God exists as three distinct persons, namely the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who are coequal and coeternal. The one uncreated God is a tri-personal being.

I'll admit that the Trinity seems odd, but it is not, as some suppose, self-contradictory. On the surface, to say that God is One and Three at the same time seems contradictory, but we must remember what a contradiction is. Two claims can only contradict each other if they are talking about the same thing at the same time and in the same sense. God is not three in the same sense that God is one. If the Trinity required that God was one being who was three beings, that would be a contradiction. Or if the Trinity required that God was one person who was three persons, that would also be a contradiction. But the Trinity requires that God is one being who is three persons. There is no contradiction, because God is one in a different sense than God is three.

This being/person distinction strikes us as odd for the simple reason that in or ordinary experience, all people and animals are uni-personal beings. "Being" and "person" are nevertheless distinct categories. A being is anything that exists. A person is a particular kind of being that posesses personhood. Here's an analogy to explain this categorical difference:

rock: 1 being, 0 persons.
human: 1 being, 1 person.
God: 1 being, 3 persons.

Since not all beings are persons, "being" and "person" are distinct categories. If it's possible for there to be one being who is not a person, and another being who is one person, there's no difficulty in supposing the possibility of there being another being who is three persons.

To further clarify what exactly the Trinity is, I'll contrast it with three other views. These views go by different names, so I'll mention all that I'm aware of.

Trinitarianism = tri-unitarianism
one nature or being (God) who is three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)

Modalism = Sabellianism = Jesus Only = Oneness = Patripassionism
One person (Jesus) who manifests himself in three modes or natures (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)

Arianism = Subordinationism = Unitarianism
One being (God = YHWH) who is one person (the Father). Jesus is a created being.

Tri-theism = polytheism
Three separate and distinct gods.

Arians (especially Jehovah's Witnesses) often confuse Trinitarianism with either tri-theism or modalism. Trinitarians do not believe the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are separate and distinct Gods (tri-theism), but rather they are separate and distinct persons. Neither do Trinitarians believe that the Father and the Son are the same person (modalism), but rather that they are the same being.

The Trinity is arrived at by deductive reasoning. It's based on the logical consistency of various points found in the Bible.

1. There is one and only one God.
2. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.

From these two points, it follows deductively that:

3. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the same God.

But there's another point:

4. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father.

From 3 and 4, it follows deductively that the one God is a tri-personal being.

The question now is whether or not these three points are Biblical. If they are, then the Trinity is Biblical.

For the Trinity, part 1

Monday, February 21, 2005

The east vs. the west

One of the things that has sort of jumped out at me in my comparitive religion class is that one of the big differences between eastern religions (e.g. Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism) and western religions (e.g. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) is that the eastern ones deny the obvious and the western ones affirm the obvious. I'm speaking in generalities here. I realize there are exceptions.

Several eastern religions think our major problem is ignorance. We're all deluded somehow, and we need to reach enlightenment. Englightenment always turns out to be the realization that reality is quite different than it appears. The external world is an illusion, the distinction between self and others is an illusion, time is an illusion, and even logic is an illusion.

The eastern religion mind-set seems self-refuting to me. There are certain things that seem obvious to us. There's a real tangible world out there, we are not all the same person, time is real, and logic is real. If we're all deluded about these things, then our cognative faculties aren't working right. And if our cognative faculties aren't working right, then we're in no position to say whether these things are real or not. If we're in no position to say whether these things are real or not, then we can't say that ordinary experience is delusion and a denial of our ordinary experiences is "englightenment" rather than vice versa.

If we can trust our cognative faculties, then "englightenment" is just another word for "self-delusion." Think about it. Think about the things eastern folks have to go through to help them deny the obvious. Some of them spend all day contemplating the sound of one hand clapping and other such nonsense. Almost all of them meditate in order to escape reality. It's just mental gymnastics. The techniques for meditation often sound a lot like self-hypnosis. The crazy things they do in their strained efforts to escape what seems obvious to all of us is just self-delusion. They're just brainwashing themselves. All they ever succeed in doing is temporarily escaping reality in some altered state of consciousness while meditating. Once they're done, they have to come back and join us all again in the real world.

Friday, February 18, 2005

What if Genesis were all wrong?

A lot of people who try to refute Christianity go about it the wrong way. They attack things that are easy enough to attack, but even if their arguments are sound, it leaves Christianity basically in tact.

For example, people attack the Bible. It contradicts itself, it has scientific and historical errors, etc. At best, all these things prove is that the Bible is not the infallible word of God. But that, by itself, is not enough to refute Christianity. It could be that the Bible contains all kinds of errors and yet there is still a God, there's still a difference between right and wrong, God holds us accountable for doing wrong, Jesus is the Christ, Christ died for sins, and he was raised from the dead. If all of those things are true, then Christianity is true, even if the Bible is not infallible. And arguments can be made to support all of these essentials of Christianity without ever assuming the Bible is the inspired word of God.

Take Genesis for example. Usually what happens is a critic will point out that Genesis is inconsistent with science when read at face value. It makes it look like people have only inhabited the earth for 6000 years. Since Genesis is all wrong, there was no original sin, so there was no fall, so there's no need for redemption, so all that stuff about Jesus dying for sin to redeem us is false.

The usual response is to defend Genesis, usually by some reinterpretation. But that's unnecessary. Let's not even so much as suppose Genesis is an allegory, not meant to be taken literally. Let's just suppose it's all wrong and throw it out. Does that destroy Christianity? No, because what's necessary for Christianty to be true can be arrived at without the use of Genesis.

First, is there a difference between right and wrong? Unless you either have no conscience or you think your conscience is deceiving you, you have reason to believe there is a difference between right and wrong.

Second, are you perfect? Have you ever felt the need to apologize to somebody? If we're honest with ourselves, we must admit that we've all done wrong. No matter how much right you do, it can never atone for the wrong. Can you imagine running a stop sign and telling the cop who is writing you a ticket, "But I've always obeyed the traffic laws except for this one time"? If you disobey the civil law, there's a penalty, and if you disobey the moral law, there's a penalty for that, too.

Third, how can we have moral obligations if there's no one imposing them on us? If there's no one enforcing the rules, then there are no rules. We're not obligated to obey a blind and indifferent universe. We can only be obligated to obey a person. If there are moral obligations we have regardless of what we or our culture thinks, then there is some person who transcends humanity and imposes these moral obligations on us and holds us accountable. Sounds like some kind of God to me.

Fourth, there haven't always been people, but there are people now, and they sin. Between then and now, there must have been a first sin. So regadless of whether the Genesis account is accurate or not, there was an original sin, and it seems like everybody afterwards has continued to sin.

What I've enumerated so far is the set-up for Christianity. It's the background philosophical assumptions. It's the whole reason we put our faith in Jesus. We believe God loves us and that he takes no pleasure in the punishment of those he loves, but his just nature requires it. Because of his love for us, God wants to solve our problem. How is he going to do it? Christians believe he did it by Jesus' death on the cross. He atoned for our sins so we wouldn't have to pay the penalty for them ourselves. That satisfied both God's justice and his mercy at the same time.

But, a critic might argue, there are lots of other ways God might've done things. There are sacrifices, or God could've just pardoned us without Jesus dying. There are a dozen paths one might take. And Christians will usually argue that Jesus' death was necessary, but I'm not even going to bother with that. There's no need. Let's just grant, for the sake of argument, that there are other ways God might've done things, because that point is irrelevent. What's more important than how God could have done things is how God did in fact do things.

Christians claim that Christ died for sins and that he was raised from the dead. That's how God fixed our problem. But what reason is there to think it's true? Well, even without the authority of the Bible, historical arguments can be made. One can argue that Jesus of Nazareth did claim to be the Christ, he did intend his death to atone for sins, and he did rise from the dead. If the historical arguments are not too far fetched, then Christians are perfectly within their epistemic rights in believing that Jesus is the Christ, he did die for sins, and he did rise from the dead.

I don't want anybody reading this to get the wrong idea. The purpose of this blog is not to argue for the truth of Christianity. If that were my purpose, I would readily admit that my arguments are woefully inadequate. My point is to show that Christianity could be true even if the Bible is not the authoritative word of God, and more specifically if Genesis is all wrong. Attacking the authority of the Bible, then, is a wrong-headed approach to refuting Christianity. There are more direct ways of doing it. In an earlier blog, I mentioned these few things that are necessary aspects of Christianity. Attack those. If any one of those are false, then Christianity is false.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

If we don't survive the death of our bodies, then we have no hope in a resurrection.

Some people say that if we have souls that survive the death of the body, then there's no need to have a resurrection, and if we have a resurrection, there's no need to have a soul that survives the death of the body. It seems to me, though, that unless we have some immaterial aspect of our nature that survives the death of the body, there's no hope for a resurrection at all.

Before God can raise a person from the dead who has completely decomposed, God must have perfect knowledge of that person. His knowledge of that person must serve as the blueprint for bringing the person back. But God's knowledge of us is just as perfect before we die as it is after we die. He could, then, in theory, construct a body identical to ours and even implant all of our memories into the brain so that the new person would not realize he just came into existence. If God made a perfect replica of me--mental states and all--then the replica would think he was me. He wouldn't be me, though, because I'm me, and one person can't be in two different places at the same time. No matter how identical God's new creation is to me, we are still two different individuals.

Suppose God created this replica after I was already dead. He raised a new body with all the mental states and memories of me. This raised person would identify himself with me, thinking he is me. But would he be? No. If he's not me before I die, then he's not me after I die either. Me dying has no causal influence on who the replica is. It's still a replica of me, and not me myself. It doesn't matter when the replica is made; it's still a replica.

It would seem that once I'm dead, if I cease to exist, I can never come back into existence. Any supposed coming back into existence would be no different than creating a replica. Though the replica would not know the difference, it would still only be a replica. If I am to have any hope that I myself will be raised from the dead, I must survive the death of my body. There must be something immaterial about me that maintains existence between death and resurrection, and whatever that immaterial thing is, it constitutes my identity. It is me. Sounds to me like a soul or a spirit or something.

But, a person may argue, suppose God raises the exact same body you died with. Would we need a soul in order to maintain identity between death and resurrection if that were the case? I'll save that for another blog.

If you're interested, I had a discussion on a message board a long time ago with some Jehovah's Witnesses on this subject. In their view, we don't survive the death of our bodies, and we're not raised in the same bodies we die in. That creates some identity problems for them. I argued that if their view is true, then none of us have any hope in a resurrection. Here's a link to that discussion.

Another source you might want to check out is Risen Indeed by Stephen T. Davis. It's highly interesting, although he disagrees with me that a spirit/soul is necessary to maintain continuity of identity between death and resurrection.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

How to make hard decisions easy

There are easy choices and there are hard choices. If ever you have to decide between two options, and one option is clearly better than the other, then the choice is easy. You should go with the option that is clearly better.

A hard choice, then, is a choice in which it isn't clear which option is better. The only reason it isn't clear that one option is better than the other is because they both appear to be equally good (or bad). If they are so close to being equal that you can't tell which is better, then for all practical purposes, one option is as good as the other. If one option is as good as the other, then it doesn't matter which one you choose. If it doesn't matter which one you choose, then you might as well flip a coin.

That's it. For easy choices, you should choose the better option. For hard choices, you should flip a coin. Flipping a coin is easy enough, isn't it? This advice should solve all your decision-making problems. :-)

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Does God exist in time?

There are lots of interesting discussions out there on this subject, and I'm not about to plunge into the depths of them. I just want to make one observation. I have a difficulty with the idea that God exists outside of time. In this view, the whole spectrum of time is layed out before God as if it were all the present for him. The problem I have with this view is that it's hard to reconcile it with the notion that God created the universe. If God does not exist in time, and if all the events of time are in the present from God's point of view, then from God's point of view, there was never a time in which the universe did not exist. If there's never been a time from God's point of view in which the universe did not exist, then in what sense did he create it? Doesn't creation imply that there was a time in which the universe did not exist followed by a time in which it did exist?

Sunday, February 13, 2005

A thought experiment to refute psychological egoism

There are two kinds of egoism--psychological egoism, and philosophical egoism. Psychological egoism is a descriptive theory, and philosophical egoism is a prescriptive theory. Psychological egoism describes how people act, and philosophical egoism prescribes how people ought to act. With that explanation out of the way, let's move on.

Psychological egoism is the theory that everything we do, every choice we make, every act of the will that is ours, is motivated primarily out of what we take to be in our self-interest. Altruist acts are impossible. Even acts that appear to be altruistic turn out to be self-interested when examined more closely.

Psychological egoism is hard to refute, because once you start throwing out a few counter-examples and see how the psychological egoist goes about proving it to be a self-interested act, you begin to see the pattern, and you realize it's not going to be easy to come up with a counter-example.

A couple of years ago I read a scenario on the internet that was supposed to serve as a counter-example to psychological egoism, and I'm going to share it to the best of my memory. I'd give credit to the person who came up with it, but I don't remember who it was. This scenario is a thought experiment. It's just a hypothetical scenario that allows us to think carefully about this issue.

In this scenario, a man buys a life insurance policy for his family to take care of them when he dies. The life insurance policy costs him $25 every month. An ordinary person would say that in choosing to get the life insurance policy, this man is not acting in self-interest. He gets nothing out of the insurance policy since it doesn't pay until after he's dead. Moreover, he has to pay $25 a month for something he gets no benefit from.

The psychological egoist, however, will argue that he's acting in self interest. This man loves his family and can't bear the thought of them being high and dry if he were to die all of a sudden. He gets the life insurance policy for his own psychological well-being. It gives him a feeling of comfort, knowing that his family will be taken care of. So getting the life insurance policy is an act of self-interest.

Let's concede the point. The man would get psychological comfort if he gets the life insurance policy. But let's say there's a pill he can take that will give him that exact same psychological feeling of comfort, but without having to pay $25 a month for a life insurance policy. Clearly, it would be in his self interest to take the pill instead of getting the policy. Let's look at the two choices and compare their self-interested pros and cons.

Life insurance policy:
Psychological feeling of comfort.
Have to pay $25 a month.

Psychological feeling of comfort.
Get to save $25 a month.

Since the life insurance policy doesn't benefit the man at all, the only possible benefit he could get is psychological. But if there's a free pill that can give him the exact same feeling of comfort, then it's clearly in his self-interest to take the pill instead of getting the life insurance policy.

The question is, what choice would any ordinary man make? If given the choice, most people would choose the insurance policy. That proves that psychological egoism is false.

The real motivation for getting a life insurance policy is not the psychological benefit a person would get from it. True, they would have some psychological benefit, but that benefit is the result, not the cause, of their choice. That's one of the problems with the way psychological egoists argue. They confuse results for causes. The real motivation for getting a life insurance policy is the well-being of our families after we're dead. We are motivated by their interest, not our own.

Friday, February 11, 2005

More on the "name one" fallacy

Last night after writing about the "name one" fallacy, I got to thinking about it some more. I guess telling somebody to "name one" isn't necessarily a fallacy. It depends on the situation. If you're using "name one" as an argument, then it's a fallacy. But if you're just using "name one" as a request for evidence, then it's not a fallacy.

Suppose I say there are people in Paraguay. If somebody says, "Name one," it could be they're just asking for evidence. If I can name somebody who is in Paraguay, that would prove that there are people in Paraguay. Failure to name one, of course, does not prove that there are no people in Paraguay. As they say, "Absense of evidence is not evidence of absense." That's why "name one" is a fallacy when used as an argument against the other person's view.

But a person might concede that your failure to "name one" doesn't mean your position is false. Instead, they might say your failure to "name one" amounts to a failure to prove that your position is true. If you want to prove your position is true, naming one might be one way to do it, but it's not necessarily the only way to do it.

It's possible to prove there are people in Paraguay without naming anybody. I could just whip out an atlas and show the person some population statistics, and that should be enough to prove there are people in Paraguay unless the person wants to be a snit and demand that I prove the accuracy of the atlas, which they don't really doubt but would rather pretend to doubt rather than admit that I'm right. That was a run-on sentence wasn't it? That's okay, though, because this is a blog, and I can do that if I want to. I love blogging!

But, you see, in the case of the egoist I mentioned in the previous blog, I wasn't out to prove anything. It was he who came to me in order to prove something. So the burden of proof was on him. My failure to "name one" did not prove his case. His was an example of the "name one" fallacy. Whether you demand somebody to "name one" in order to prove your point or disprove their point, it's a fallacy, because it only addresses the other person's state of knowledge, not the issue under consideration.

Now, of course, if the issue under consideration is the other person's state of knowledge, then I guess it's not a fallacy. If I say, "I know the names of five people who think I'm a good singer," and somebody says, "Name one," and I can't do it, then that proves that I don't know the names of those five people.

The "name one" fallacy.

When I was in the navy, this guy walked up to me and said, “I can prove that anything you do is selfish.” My curiosity piqued, I said, “Okay, go ahead.” He said, “Try to think of something that’s not selfish, and I’ll show you that it’s selfish.” I began talking about acts of self-sacrifice and things like that, and with each example I gave him, he was able to construe it in such a way that it appeared to be a selfish act. I told him about this time I let some girl take advantage of me. I’d do anything for her, and she treated me badly. He told me I was a masochist, and I liked being treated badly, so I was really acting selfishly in fulfilling my masochistic desires. I lost the debate, because I couldn’t think of anything that didn’t turn out to be selfish by his construal.

If I could go back in time, I would’ve handled the situation a lot differently. Hopefully, it would’ve gone something like this:

Egoist: I can prove that everything you do is selfish.

Sam: Okay, go ahead.

Egoist: Try to think of something that’s not selfish.

Sam: I can’t think of anything.

Egoist: See? That proves everything you do is selfish.

Sam: No, that just proves that I can’t think of anything. How does it follow that just because I can’t think of an example of an unselfish act that there therefore are no unselfish acts?

It doesn’t follow. The fact that I can’t think of an unselfish act only says something about my state of knowledge. It doesn’t say anything at all about the existence of unselfish acts. At best, all he proved was that I was ignorant.

This is just one example of a particular kind of argument people use. I call it the “Name one” argument. It’s where you claim that a certain kind of thing exists, and the other person says, “Name one.” If you can’t name one, then they think they’ve won the debate.

A few examples off the top of my head include unselfish acts, objective moral values, and a good reason for God to create a world with evil (see earlier blog). That’s not to say that you couldn’t think of examples of each, because I think you can. My point is that even if you couldn’t, it wouldn’t follow that no such things existed.

The “name one” argument is a fallacy, because it doesn’t follow that just because I can’t name one that there therefore isn’t one. This fallacy falls under a broader fallacy known as the red herring fallacy. A red herring fallacy is basically where you change the subject in such a subtle way that it isn’t obvious you changed the subject. It seems to work on a lot of people, because the new subject is harder to deal with than the first, and if the victim of the red herring can’t solve the second subject, it makes it look like he can’t solve the first.

The change in subject with the “name one” fallacy is from “The existence of a particular kind of thing,” to “Your knowledge of examples of a particular kind of thing.” It’s possible to know that there are members of a particular kind of thing without necessarily being able to name of them. For example, I know there are people who live in Paraguay, but I can’t name a single one of them. Just because I can’t name any people in Paraguay doesn’t mean there are no people in Paraguay, or even that I’m not justified in believing there are.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The arrogance fallacy

I'm taking a comparative religion class, and that tempts me to make comments in my blog about things we're covering and discussions that go on in class. Lately, we've been talking about Hinduism. Hinduism is new to most people in the class, so naturally after learning about it, they've all got questions and difficulties with it. I have some difficulties with it, too, but that's not what I'm writing this blog about.

I'm writing this blog because I have a difficulty with one of the student's objections. There was one student in there who claimed that she could never be a Hindu, because there were a couple of things she found in the Hindu worldview to be arrogant. I can't remember what the first one was, but the second one was because of the Hindu view on reincarnation. You see, most people start off as ants or something and advance to higher types of animals automatically. Karma doesn't apply until you reach the human state, and the reason is because only humans have the mental capacity to be morally responsible. The girl in my class thought it was arrogant of us humans to think we're somehow more intelligent than other animals, and she rejected Hinduism for that reason.

This is just one example of why I'm writing this blog. Let me give another example. Last year, I was talking to a guy in my philosophy class about the Jewish worldview, specifically about the idea that YHWH chose them. His objection to the whole view was that it was arrogant.

These sentiments aren't new. I hear them all the time. The objection I have to these kinds of sentiments is that they're irrelevent. The only reason anybody should accept a religious view is because it's true. If it's true, they should accept it, and it's it's false, they should reject it. But whether it's arrogant or not has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not it's true. Why even raise the issue? I could care less if the Jews or the Calvinists are arrogant in thinking God chose them. I'm only interested in whether it's true that God chose them. The same goes with Hinduism. Who cares if humans are arrogant in thinking they are smarter than other animals? I'm only interested to know if it's true.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Why the resurrection is so important

Yesterday, I mentioned that Jesus being the Christ and Jesus rising from the dead are essential aspects of Christianity, without which, you'd just have a different religion or no religion at all. Now I want to say why I think that.

Well, I guess I already said why I think "Christ" is essential. Christ is what Christianity is all about. But I also said it means something specific in a Jewish context. Now don't get me wrong. Jewish views about the Christ were quite diverse in and around the time of Jesus. Not all Jews were especting a Christ, some expected a Christ who would reign once Israel became a sovereign nation, others expected a Christ who would be instrumental in liberating Israel, and others expected two Christs.

Christ comes from the Greek word, christos, which means "anointed" or "annointed one." The Hebrew word with the same meaning is mischiac, or messiah. In Jewish tradition it could refer to a king, a priest, or a prophet. Most often, however, it referred to a king. Anointing was part of the coronation ceremony of the kings of Israel, so all kings of Israel were considered "anointed ones" or "messiahs." But the term wasn't limited to Israelite kings. It was also used of Antiochus IV Epiphanes in the book of Daniel. (Yes, I realize that's a controversial claim.) It's even used of the Persian king, Cyrus, in Isaiah 45:1. Messiah, then, is basically equivalent with "king" in most cases.

The whole idea of a coming messiah in Jewish eschatology comes from a promise God made to Israel--that they would never fail to have a king seated on the throne of David. Shortly after the Babylonian exile began, the last of the Israelite kings was deposed, and God's promise seemed to have been broken. But rather than completely abandon their belief in YHWY or that YHWY had violated his promise or didn't make any promise at all, the belief arose that YHWY would restore the throne to David. And so you have countless prophecies in the Old Testament that refer to David in an eschatological sense. Ezekiel 37 is a good example. That's the vision of the valley of dry bones which, as God explains, is a symbol referring to the reunification of Judah and Israel. In v. 24, God says that David will be their king, and in the next verse it says David will be their prince forever.

That's basically the messianic hope. Although views varied on how it would actually play out in history, the basic plot is that either David himself or some descendent of David would come to rule over a reunited Israel free from foreign rule, and the kingdom would last forever.

With this in mind, it's perfectly understandable why Paul would say "Christ crucified" is a stumbling block to Jews (1 Corinthians 1:23). Jesus died without doing what the messiah was expected to do. He failed. He was just one of about a dozen other pretenders in the first century whose messianic pretentions ended in death. Most Jews even today, if asked why they reject Jesus as the Christ, will say the same thing. He died without fulfilling the messianic role.

The reason the resurrection is so important is because without it, the Jews are entirely right. If Jesus is dead, then he's not the Christ, and if he's not the Christ, then Christianity is not true. But if Jesus was raised from the dead, he may yet be the messiah.

But, a person might object, even if he's still alive, he hasn't fulfilled the messianic role. Quite so. If he hasn't fulfilled the messianic role, then why think he's the Christ at all?

That's a good question, and thankfully for me, I have two responses. First, imagine some descendent of David is born, and suppose his parents begin to imagine, "Do you think he might be the messiah?" Then they get up the next morning, and they notice that the world is as it was before. Would it be reasonable for them to conclude, "Well, he didn't do what the messiah was supposed to do, so I guess he's not the messiah"? Of course not. As long as he's still alive, there are things he has yet to do. Perhaps some day he will fulfill the messianic role. So he can't be excluded from being the messiah merely on the basis that he hasn't fulfilled the role yet. Only when he dies is his chance over. Since Jesus is still alive, he can't be ruled out.

Second, Jesus claimed to be the Christ. Now I know that some people disagree, but that's beyond the scope of this blog. Assume, for the sake of argument, that Jesus did claim to be the Christ. Now that, by itself, is not enough to establish that he is. After all, lots of people in the first century claimed to be the Christ. Josephus tells us that during the war with Rome, there were at least three people all claiming to be the Christ and fighting each other while at the same time fighting the Romans. But it seems to me that it would be an odd coincidence if, of all people to rise from the dead, it's this person named Jesus who claims to be the Christ--to be sent from God. If Jesus really did rise from the dead, I think that is proof to any reasonable person that his claim to be the Christ is true.

So the resurrection is important for two reasons. First, without it, Jesus isn't the Christ. He can't be the Christ if he's dead, but as long as he's alive, it remains to be seen if he fulfills the messianic role. Second, the resurrection serves at verification that Jesus' claim to be the Christ is true. Now we don't have to sit around and wait to see if Jesus fulfills the messianic role. Now we have reason to be confident that he will. Jesus is the Christ; the Christ fulfills the messianic role; therefore, Jesus will fulfill the messianic role. We're just waiting.

Man, I can see that I've opened up a whole can of worms that is going to require a whole bunch more blogs before I get it all out.

Monday, February 07, 2005

What is Christianity?

The precise definition of Christianity has always seemed a bit fluid. Even in the second century, the Gnostics and the orthodox had disagreements on what entailed “true Chrisitianity.” In the last hundred and fifty years or so, these kinds of debates have exploded.

Now a lot of us don’t like the idea that there’s such a thing as “true Chrisitianity,” because once you start being specific, then you start excluding people, and that seems intolerant. But really, there must be a minimal set of necessary conditions for something to qualify as Christian. Otherwise, we might as well call Wiccans Christians, and also call atheists Christians. There has to be something that makes a religion what it is and not something else.

Maybe there’s room for debate on whether some groups can legitimately be called Christians or not, but what I want to give is a bare bones minimum requirement for what counts as Christian. I already know that some of what I’m going to say will be controversial, because there are some people out there calling themselves Christians who don’t fit these criteria. But I am confident in claiming they are not Christian, because I’m quite sure about this minimum requirement I’m about to spell out.

First, and most obviously, there has to be a God. And God isn’t just a projection of the mind—a theological construct one superimposes on the universe. God is a real being who exists independently of human thought.

Second, Jesus is the Christ. I think this is just as obvious. I mean think of the word “Christian.” You can’t have Christianity without Christ. And Christ means something in its historical context. I’ll have to go into that in another blog another time.

Third, the early Jesus people, who were called Christians because they followed a Christ, had a message—a gospel—that they were spreading. This gospel defined what their movement was all about—what the Christian movement was all about. Paul spells out that gospel message in 1 Corinthians 15. He says that he received this gospel and passed it on to the Corinthians at the beginning. He reminds them of its contents in a formulaic way—apparently the way it had been preserved in oral tradition from the time Paul first received it. It goes like this:

that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures
and that he was buried
and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures

Now of course there’s much more to it than that, but this seems to be the bare bones minimum of what Christianity was all about. But a lot is entailed in it.

First, as I’ve said before, there’s “Christ,” which refers specifically to Jesus of Nazareth.

Second, Christ died for sins. A lot is entailed in that statement, too. A sin is basically a violation of God’s law, which is moral in nature. One can sin by failing to do what he ought to do, as James tells us. A person can also sin by doing what they ought not to do, as Paul tells us. But unless there is a moral law, there can be no violation of a moral law, so there can be no sin. If there’s no sin, then Christ didn’t die for sins. So this one statement implies that there’s such a thing as right and wrong, that people violate this law of right and wrong, and that Christ died for the sake of those violations. As this is spelled out in other places, Christ atoned for our sins.

Also, Christ would not have needed to atone for our sins if there were no accountability for them. So this also implies some sort of judgment. God is apparently holding us accountable for our behavior. (How wildly unpopular--a punitive God!)

Third, Christ was raised from the dead. This was not some symbolic way of expressing Christ’s continued presence in the heart of his disciples after his death. They actually believed he was raised from the dead. Paul goes on to quote appearance traditions, and having personally known those to whom he refers (as is evident in Galatians), it is highly doubtful that he had a big misunderstanding. The whole purpose of one of his visits to Jerusalem was to lay before them the gospel that he preaches to the Gentiles, and it is hard to imagine such a visit that didn’t discuss what Paul understood the gospel to be.

So to summarize, here is a basic list of things I take Christianity to entail:

1. There is a God—specifically the Jewish God, YHWH.
2. There is such a thing as right and wrong.
3. People disobey the moral law, and God holds them accountable.
4. Christ died to atone for our sins—our disobedience to the moral law.
5. Christ was raised from the dead.

I know more could be added to this list, but I am confident that if all five of these are true, then Christianity is true. If any one of these five are false, then Christianity is false.

This list excludes some people as being Christians. I’ll go ahead and be crass and tell you who I was thinking of when I wrote this. I was thinking specifically of John Shelby Spong (although there are several others). If you read his writings carefully, you’ll see that Spong doesn’t really even believe there’s any God in the objective sense. God, for him, is just an idea. The impression I get is that he’s creating a new religion altogether that bears so little resemblance to Christianity, that he might as well call it something else. If we go on letting “Christianity” be defined in any way Spong or whoever makes up, then the word will cease to have any meaning at all. A word that signifies everything signifies nothing.

Friday, February 04, 2005

A parody addressing those who deny logic

The reason I have this fixation in a lot of my blogs on logic is because I'm in the unfortunate situation of going to a college with only one philosophy teacher, and he doesn't put a high value on logic. He wastes a lot of our time by having us read a lot of irrational nonsense. In classroom and email discussions, I can never advance an argument without somebody taking issue with my use of logic. Consequently, I spend the majority of my time defending logic. You can't reason with people who don't believe in logic, so you have to settle the logic issue before you can argue about anything else.

One day last year, I was just really frustrated with having to defend logic against arguments such as, "You're just using western logic," and "Your use of western logic is biased and dogmatic," which aren't really arguments at all. In my frustration, I wrote this parody. A few people in the class found it entertaining, so I thought I'd post it on my blog. The reference to "speaking differently" comes from an article our teacher had us read by a couple of kooks who thought logic was a matter of personal preference, and they preferred to "speak differently."

A feller walked into the Wingate Inn, and we had the following conversation:

Feller: Hey, can I use your phone?

Sam: Yeah, just be sure to dial 9 to get an outside line.

The feller starts to dial the number, but then stops.

Feller: Did you say I had to dial a 9 to get an outside line?

Sam: No, you don’t have to dial 9. Just dial the number.

Feller: Okay.

He tries to dial the number, but it doesn’t work.

Feller: The phone doesn’t work.

Sam: Did you dial 9 first?

Feller: No, you said I didn’t have to dial 9.

Sam: That’s right. You have to dial 9 first.

Feller: Then why did you just tell me I don’t have to dial 9 first?

Sam: Because you don’t.

Feller: Then why did you say that I do?

Sam: Because you do.

Feller: You're screwing with me.

Sam: Why do you say that?

Feller: Well, first you said I have to dial 9 to get an outside line, and
then you said I don’t have to dial 9 to get an outside line.

Sam: That’s right.

Feller: Well, you’re contradicting yourself. They can’t both be right.

Sam: Oh, you’re just using Western logic.

Feller: Listen, I either have to dial a 9 or I don’t.

Sam: Now you’re being biased and dogmatic.

Feller: You’re being crazy.

Sam: I’m only speaking differently.

Feller: You can say that again.

Sam: I’m not speaking differently.

In the end, “western logic” helped the feller figured out that he actually did have to dial a 9 to get an outside line, and that I was wrong all those times I told him he didn’t. Maybe the phone was being biased and dogmatic, too.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

I'm right and you're wrong.

"Christians are arrogant, because they think they're right and everybody else is wrong." --the generic non-Christian

Really? It seems to me that Christians aren't being arrogant; they're being logical. Not only that, but they're also being honest. Lemme explain.

You see, everybody has a point of view. That is, they have certain beliefs about the way things are. They hold certain things to be true about the world. To believe something merely means to think that something is true. If I believe that my cat is pregnant, that means I think it's true that my cat is pregnant. I hold that "Sam's cat is pregnant" is a true and accurate description of reality.

By the law of non-contradiction, if one thing is true, then it's opposite is false. If it's true that my cat is pregnant, then it's false to say my cat is not pregnant. Naturally then, if I really believe that my cat is pregnant, and somebody else comes along who thinks my cat is not pregant, I'm going to think they're mistaken. My cat can't be both pregnant and not pregnant at the same time and in the same sense. The law of non-contradiction would have to be violated before that could happen.

Since everybody has certain beliefs about reality, and to believe something is to think it's true, then everybody thinks they are right. Think about. Imagine the idea of having a belief you think is wrong. Well, if you thought it was wrong, it wouldn't really be your belief, would it? It's only your belief if you think it's right. So everybody thinks their beliefs are right.

And if they are logical, they are going to think those who disagree with them are wrong. And they do, too. Even people who object to Christians for thinking they are right and everybody else is wrong are of the opinion that Christians are wrong. That's why they have this disagreement with them. By its very nature, to disagree with somebody is to think they are wrong, and to hold an opinion contrary to their's which they think is right.

At least Christians are honest about this. Christians, if they have not been shamed into silence, will admit that they think they are right, and those who disagree with them are wrong. That's because Christianity is a rational religion. The laws of logic are an essential aspect of the Christian worldview. If Christians are arrogant merely for thinking they are right and thinking others are wrong, then everybody is arrogant who believes in logic.

Now don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying anything about the certainty with which Christians hold their views. As I said in an earlier blog, there are only a handful of things I claim to know with absolute certainty, and the truth of Christianity is not one of them. Most things I believe, I believe them with varying degrees of certainty. That means as strongly as I may believe something, I will acknowledge the possibility that I may be wrong, and that includes my belief in Christianity. Saying, "I'm right and you're wrong," does not negate my lack of absolute certainty; it only expresses my belief. Obviously, if I believe something, then I think it's right, and logic forces me to think dissenters are wrong.

Frankly, I think people who stick their noses up at Christians merely for thinking their religion is true while everybody else's is wrong are just being hypocritical. A hypocrit is somebody who does the very thing they object to everybody else doing. People who object to Christians just because Christians think they're right and everybody else is wrong are doing the very same thing. They think the Christians are wrong and they are right. That's why they take issue with the Christians. They wouldn't be objecting unless they thought the Christians were wrong.

Why can't we all just be honest? We all have a point of view, and often, our viewpoints differ. That means we have disagreements. We think we're right and those who differ with us are wrong. Let's just admit it. Only by facing this fact can we enter into meanful dialogue about our differences. If we keep throwing up the arrogant mantra, all we're going to accomplish is stopping all conversation. If it offends you that other people think you're wrong, you just need to get a grip.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

More on the problem of evil

Yesterday, I posted about Alvin Plantinga's solution to the deductive problem of evil (DPE). The first premise in the DPE states that "If God exists, evil does not exist," which is based on the idea that "God exists," is somehow imcompatible with "Evil exists." There's an implicit contradiction that needs to be made explicit by adding some true premise such that when it is added, and when the set is taken to its logical conclusion, it results in an explicit contradiction.

Plantinga said that so far nobody has come up with the necessary premise to demonstrate that "God exists" is incompatible with "Evil exists." But I thought it just wouldn't be right if I didn't say something about how this conclusion was arrived at.

Remember that God is being understood as a being who is all knowing, all powerful, and all good. The argument is that if he's all knowing, then he knows how to create a world without evil. If he's all powerful, then he is able to create a world without evil. If he's all good, then he has a desire to create a world without evil. With the know-how, the power, and the desire to create a world without evil, God's existence is said to be incompatible with evil. Since evil exists, either God lacks the ability, the know-how, or the desire. In either case, the God described as being all knowing, all powerful, and all good does not exist.

I don't have a problem with the idea that if God is all good then God has a desire to create a world without evil. But the God of the Bible is revealed as having both a sovereign will and a moral will, and they are not always the same. For example, in Ezekiel 33:11, God says, "I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live." God doesn't want the wicked to die, and yet he is the one who judges them for their wickedness. Clearly, then, the Bible reveals a God whose sovereign acts are sometimes contrary to his desires.

But why is that? Well, in the case of not choosing to creating a world free of evil, it's because he either lacks the power or he lacks the know-how, according to the DPE.

While I don't have a problem with the idea that God being all good implies that God has a desire to create a world free of evil, I do have a problem with the second two positions. I don't think God being all powerful implies that God is able to create a world free of evil, nor that God being all knowing implies that God knows how to create a world free of evil. I'll explain why.

First, let's look at the all powerful part. I asked a guy in school one time if he could draw me a four-sided triangle on a sheet of paper. He said he couldn't do it. I said, "Well, do you think you could do it if you worked out, lifted weights, and got a lot stronger?" He said, "No." You see, lack of power has nothing to do with his inability to draw a four-sided triangle. It isn't strength that prevents him from doing it. It's because a four-sided triangle is a contradiction in terms. If a shape is four-sided, then it's not a triangle, and if it's a triangle, then it doesn't have four sides.

In the same way, God can't accomplish meaningless tasks. God can't be completely honest and tell lies at the same time. That's why the Bible says "it is impossible for God to lie" (Hebrews 6:18). Likewise, God can't make square triangles, exist and not exist at the same time, know things he doesn't know, or create rocks too heavy for an all powerful God to lift. All of these describe meaningless tasks, because they entail logical contradictions.

I say all that to say this. It isn't necessarily the case that if God is all powerful that he could therefore create a world without evil. The reason is that doing so may be inconsistent with some other purpose God has which entails evil. Plantinga suggested that perhaps God has a good reason for evil. If there is a good reason for evil, then it would be impossible for God to be all good and all powerful and not create a world with evil in it. To do so would entail a logical contradiction. God would have to be good and not good at the same time.

Now let's look at the all knowing part. Supposedly if God is all knowing, then he knows how to create a world with evil in it. Let's think carefully about this, now. What does it mean to know something? Knowledge has traditionally been defined as "justified true belief." Not that God needs anything proved to him or anything, but at a bare minimum, before you can know something, that thing first has to be true, right? You can't know that the earth is flat, can you? Does God know that the earth is flat? No, because the earth is not flat. Basically what I'm getting at is that God only knows things that are true.

The reason I make such a banal point is so that I can make this point. God can only know how to create a world without evil in it if there is a way to create a world without evil in it that is consistent with his good character. Now if there really is a good reason for evil, and if God is good, then it is inconsistent with God's goodness to create a world without evil in it. In that case, God doesn't know how to create a world without evil in it for the simple reason that there is no way for him to create a world without evil in it. You can't know something if there's nothing to know, but that doesn't mean God isn't all knowing. To be all knowing means to know everything there is to know.

I think that's about all I have to say for now.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Alvin Plantinga's solution to the deductive problem of evil

Back in December I was talking to a friend of mine about Alvin Plantinga's solution to the deductive problem of evil (DPE) in God, Freedom, and Evil. The DPE goes something like this:

1. If God exists, evil does not exist.
2. Evil exists.
3. Therefore, God does not exist.

where "God" is understood as a being who is all knowing, all powerful, and all good.

Plantinga's solution was basically to show that the first premise is not true. The first premise is based on the idea that "God exists" is inconsistent with "Evil exists," so all Plantinga did was undermine that idea by showing that "God exists" is not inconsistent with "Evil exists."

There are two ways they might contradict each other--explicitly or implicitly. An explicit contradiction is a situation where you have A and not-A. For example, "God exists," explicitly contradicts, "God does not exist."

And implicit contradiction is where two claims lead to an explicit contradiction when taken to their logical conclusions. For example, "All men are mortal," implicitly contradicts "Socrates is not mortal." The way to show that the two claims are contradictory is by adding a true premise to the set such that together with one of the other premises entails the negation of the final premise. To the set, "All men are mortal," and "Socrates is not mortal," can be added "Socrates is a man." Then you can draw out the contradiction like this:

1. All men are mortal.
2. Socrates is a man.
3. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

But "Socrates is mortal," explicitly contradicts "Socrates is not mortal," so by adding "Socrates is a man," it can be shown that "All men are mortal" implicitly contradicts "Socrates is not mortal."

To solve the DPE, Plantinga first noted that there is no explicit contradiction between "God exists" and "Evil exists." If they contradict at all, it must be implicitly, which means some true premise must be found that when added to the set, results in an explicit contradiction. Second, Plantinga pointed out that no such premise had yet been found; therefore, nobody had yet demonstrated that there is a contradiction. Third, rather than sit around hoping nobody would ever discover the necessary premise, Plantinga came up with a way to show that no premise would ever be found. He did it by proving that "God exists," does not contradict, "Evil exists."

The way he went about proving that "God exists" is logically consistent with "Evil exists," is by finding a premise that is possibly true, and that together with "God exists," entails that "Evil exists." If "God exists" together with some other premise logically entails that "Evil exists," then "God exists" and "Evil exists" must be logically consistent.

He claimed that the premise need not necessarily be true. It only had to describe a possible state of affairs. When I read that, I wasn't clear on why it needed to only be possible.

That brings me to my own contribution to Plantinga's argument. After thinking about it, I discovered why, and I think I can explain using possible world semantics. You see, if "God exists" really does contradict "Evil exists," then it's not even possible for both of them to be true at the same time and in the same sense. That's the law of non-contradiction. Using possible world semantics, you would say that "God exists" and "Evil exists" are not true in any possible world. So all you have to do is find some possible world--some possible state of affairs--in which "God exists" and "Evil exists" are both true. Here's the argument in syllogisms:

1. If two propositions are contradictory, then they cannot both be true in any possible world. (This is just the law of non-contradiction stated in possible world semantics.)
2. There is a possible world in which "God exists" and "Evil exists" are both true. (This will be demonstrated in the next syllogism.)
3. Therefore, "God exists" and "Evil exists" are not contradictory.

To prove the second premise, you can form another syllogism:

4. God exists.
5. God created a world with evil and has a good reason for doing so.
6. Therefore, evil exists.

The fifth premise is the premise Plantinga added to show that "God exists" and "Evil exists" are logically compatible. The question now is whether or not the fifth premise is actually possible. Remember that it need not be actually true. It only needs to describe a possible state of affairs. In other words, it has to be true in some possible world. If it's true in some possible world, then the second premise in the former syllogism is true.

To show that the fifth premise is possible, all you have to ask, really, is whether or not there can be such a thing as a good reason for an evil. Several scenarios can then be mentioned. For example, dentists cause pain in order to fix teeth. It may be objected that this scenario doesn't apply to God since God could fix teeth without causing pain, but all we're trying to prove is whether or not it's possible for there to be a good reason for evil, and the scenario shows that it is. If it's possible for there to be a good reason for evil, then it's also possible that God has a good reason for evil.

And that's all that's necessary to solve the deductive problem of evil.