Thursday, May 25, 2006

God's sovereignty and man's responsibility, part 2

All of our choices are determined by the reasons we have for making them--our desires, dispositions, inclinations, motives, etc. But what about the desires themselves? Are they under the control of the will? Do we choose them? It seems not, because that would get us into an infinite regress. If all of our choices are determined by desires, and we choose our desires, then our choices for desires are determined by previous desires. But if we choose those desires, then those desires have desires that come before them. Back and back it goes. To make any choice at all, we'd have to make an infinite number of previous choices to lead up to it. But that's not possible. So if we are able to make choices at all, then they must ultimately originate in some desire that we did not choose.

Ultimately, then, the desires that determine our choices are not under the control of the will. That raises another question. If our choices are ultimately determined by things that are not under the control of the will, then how can we be morally responsible?

Last year, a guy I knew made an argument against morality from determinism. He argued that ultimately all of our choices are determined by things not under the control of the will--our genes, our environment, our upbringing, etc. Since our will is not free but determined, he argued, we cannot be morally responsible.

His argument depended on the notion that "ought" implies "can." If I have a moral obligation to do something, then I must be able to do it. If I'm not able to do it, then I cannot have an obligation to do it. Since I'm not able to choose the desires that determine my choices, then I'm not able to choose other than what I choose. I can only choose otherwise if I am enclined to choose otherwise. But it is a contradiction to suppose that I could be enclined to choose what I am not enclined to choose.

This intuition that "ought" implies "can" seems to be universally recognized. I find that curious in light of people who don't believe in morality. Even people who think morality is an illusion, a convention, or non-existent seem to know beyond doubt that inability is a legitimate moral justification for failure to comply. That's one reason I think morality is not only universal, but also universally known. Even the strictest empiricists subscribe to the notion that "ought" implies "can," though they can give no empirical proof for it. Anyway, that's another subject.

In my response, I argued that not only is compatibalism consistent with moral responsibility, but that it is necessary for moral responsibility. Libertarian free will, which he seemed to suppose was necessary for moral responsibility, turns out to be inconsistent with moral responsibility. I gave my arguments in nine posts, so I don't really want to repeat them all hear. You can do one of three things. You can either assume I'm right for the sake of argument, take my word for it, or go read those posts. They are on parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and nine of "An argument against morality from determinism."

Part 3

to be continued...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

God's sovereignty and man's responsibility, part 1

There are people who deny that God is sovereign and there are people who deny that man has any moral responsibility, but let's let those be assumptions for the sake of this discussion. You don't have to believe in either to ponder the question of whether the idea of a sovereign God is consistent with the idea of people having moral responsibility.

Let's start with compatibalism. Compatibalism is the view that we always act according to the strongest motive we have. Let's say you're a diabetic sitting in front of a chocolate cake. In a situation like that, you've got two competing desires. You've got a desire to eat the cake because you know it will taste good. But you've also got a desire to not eat the cake because you know it will make you sick. The thing that determines what your choice will be, whether to eat the cake or not, is which desire is the stongest.

Whenever somebody does something, you can always ask, "Did you mean to do that?" All intentional acts are done for a reason. That's what it means for them to be intentional. If they're not intentional, then they're accidents. You didn't mean to do them.

This is true in even the most seemingly neutral choices. For example, suppose you've got two glasses in front of you, both with the same drink. It may seem that there is nothing which would cause you to prefer one over the other. Yet you will eventually choose one over the other. Does it makes sense to even ask why? Well it's impossible to choose either without some sort of inclination to move. The mind, at some point, must get itself fixed on one or the other and then choose it.

It's impossible to move without being enclined to move. So some kind of inclination, preference, predisposition, motive, desire, or whatever is necessary for any intentional act. Acts that lack any mental predisposition include things like reflexes (e.g. when somebody hits you on the knee) or muscle spasms, shakes, twitches, or any kind of involuntary physical movement. It's involuntary because it's not done out of a mental disposition, and so it's not a choice.

The will is the faculty of choice. Any act of the will is a choice. That's why we say that some actions, like twitching, are not under the control of the will, and are therefore not choices. They are done involuntarily. If choosing is acting on a motive, then any act of the will is determined by the motive it acts on.

That's compatibalism.

Part 2

to be continued...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

My conversion to Calvinism

I'm writing this as a preface to a post I want to make where I'll reconcile God's sovereignty with man's responsibility. This is all just autobiography, and you can skip it if you aren't interested.

I didn't grow up in a church, and I was never really taught theology when I was a kid. I formed a lot of my ideas from reading the Bible by myself and just thinking. But I did hear theological phrases and such from people at school sometimes. One I remember hearing a lot was "God is in control."

When I heard that, an idea formed in my mind that was, as it turns out, not what the other person had in mind when they said it. The other person meant that God actually intervenes in everything that happens. I took it to mean that God could intervene anytime he felt like it. I thought that for the most part, God had a hands-off approach to the world, and he only intervened in the rare case of miracles or such.

I remember using an analogy to explain what I thought was meant by "God is in control." After all, I wasn't about to dispute with my better whether it was true or not. I accepted that it was true, but then explained how it could be true under my understanding. I compared it to a person driving a car. As long as the person has his hands on the steering wheel, he's in control of the direction of the car even if he doesn't happen to be turning the wheel or manipulating it at all. He could manipuate it any time he wants, but he's still in control even if he doesn't happen to be manipulating it at the moment. I figured God had the same kind of control over creation. He could intervene anytime he wanted, but that didn't mean he was intervening on a continual basis.

I don't remember hearing much about God's sovereignty until I was an adult. When I heard that phrase, "God is sovereign," an idea formed in my head that also turned out not to be what people meant. Here, I don't think I can be faulted too much. People still mean different things by saying God is sovereign. I took it to mean God is the highest authority in the universe. There's nobody above him, and he makes the rules that apply to everybody. It had nothing to do with God's intervention in the universe except in regard to judging, rewarding, and punishing.

It turns out that that's not exactly what a lot of people mean by saying God is sovereign. Although what I thought may be included in what they think, it doesn't exhaust what they think. When people say God is sovereign, they often mean the same thing my friend from high school meant when she said that "God is in control." God isn't just sovereign in his authority, but he is sovereign over all events, meaning he is in control of them.

I remember being 23 or 24 the first time I heard that there was a distinction in God's will. A girl I used to know told me that God has an active will and a permissive will. His active will included those things he actually does. His permissive will includes those things he allows to happen. Of course I bought into this distinction right away, because it cohered nicely with what I understood it to mean that "God is in control."

It was around this time, also, that I first heard of this problem of reconciling God's sovereignty with man's responsibility. With the understanding I already had in place, I couldn't figure out why it caused anybody problems at all. I figured God's sovereignty, even over human action, only implied that God could intervene if he wanted to, but human activity normally fell under God's permissive will. People don't act because God somehow causes them to act. Rather, God allows them to act freely. So God is sovereign in the fact that he is in control of people and can stop them or manipulate them any time he wants, but people are still morally responsible because God doesn't ordinarily manipulate people.

I was agnostic for a while in my early 20's, but it's also around that time that I start seriously studying the Bible. It's also about that time that I first discovered the internet. Through the internet, I ran into people of a vast variety of religious beliefs that I probably could never have done otherwise. I had my first exposure to Calvinism at that time.

I didn't fully understand Calvinism that early, but there were a few things people said that I was sympathetic to. Not that I agreed with them, but it was understandable to me how they could come to their conclusions. Through reading the Bible, I found much that seemed to be consistent with Calvinism. I always put it on the back burner, though. I figured these were isolated verses here and there, and the whole of scripture was against how the Calvinists understood them. My exposure to Calvinists was sparse enough for me to pretty much ignore them.

Two things happened, though, that made me decide I needed to educate myself on the whole question of Calvinism. First, I kept running into Calvinists more and more, and I became aware that there was serious debate on the matter going on. Second, I saw a book called The King James Only Controvery at the Christian bookstore by James White. I had run into a guy a few years earlier who thought the King James version was the only valid translation. At the time, I thought he was an anomoly, but when I saw the title of this book, I decided to get it and read it.

Through that book, I became aware of this guy named James White. It turns out that James White is the head of an apologetics ministry called Alpha and Omega, and the web site address was in the back of the book. I did some reading on the internet about White and discovered he was writing a book (or had written a book) called The Potter's Freedom, in which he defended Calvinism against Norman Geisler's book, Chosen But Free.

I went into White's chat room and interacted with the people there, almost all of whom where Calvinists. I didn't debate much with them, though, because I didn't feel myself too educated on the subject. After a lot of time being in there, though, I started wishing I knew more so I could debate with them. Eventually, I decided I could postpone my education no longer. I had to learn about the whole Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate.

I had heard enough about Calvinism and Arminianism to know that I had some disagreements with both. The Calvinists, however, didn't seem to recognize people who didn't fall into one camp or the other. Anybody who didn't fall into one camp or the other was just called "inconsistent." Since I was closer to being an Arminian than a Calvinist, I wondered if I would eventually fall into the Arminian camp once I read up on the arguments.

I decided a good place to start would be to read the books by Geisler and White. To my surprise, Geisler started his book by arguing for the sovereignty of God over all events--even human decisions. Although I had stumbled across plenty of verses that seemed to support this view (e.g. Proverbs 16:9 and 20:24), I had never heard it argued so pursuasively before. It was so pursuasive, in fact, that it caused me to change my mind right away. I wasn't at all impressed with the rest of the book, though. First, he seemed to contradict everything he had written in the first chapter. Second, his arguments just weren't that great.

Since I was so unimpressed with Geisler's book, I didn't really read White's book with anticipation about how he was going to refute Geisler. Instead, I read White's book with anticipation about how I was going to refute White. I thought maybe I'd write a critique of it.

As I read the first few chapters of White's book, I didn't think I'd have much problem critiquing his book. But then I got to chapter seven--"Jesus teaches 'Extreme Calvinism.'" In that chapter, White made what seemed to me to be an airtight case for Calvinism from John 6.

I didn't convert to Calvinism right away, though. First, I wanted to read other interpretations of John 6 and see what kind of responses there were to White's arguments. White had said at various other times that he had never seen a consistent interpretation of John 6 that got around the points he made. I wanted to know if it was true.

After reading around, I found that what White said was true. There have been numerous attempts at refuting White's arguments from John 6, and there have been all kinds of interpretations of it, but none of them come close to upsetting the case White makes for Calvinism. His case still seems to be solid to me.

Still, my conversion to Calvinism did not come easy. As I continued to read and learn about Calvinism, I discovered that it required a Copernican revolution in my worldview and in my understanding of the Bible. There were still places in the Bible that I had always understood in a way contrary to Calvinism, and it took a long time to iron them all out.

At a certain point, though, I came to realize that overall, the Bible supported Calvinism far more strongly than it supported the contrary. I decided I was a Calvinist before I got it all ironed out. In fact, I probably still don't have it completely ironed out.

There was another problem with Calvinism, though. The problem wasn't only Biblical, it was philosophical as well. In fact, the philosophical problem seemed worse than the Biblical problem. I became convinced that the Bible taught Calvinism, but Calvinism seemed to have some serious philosophical problems.

Since I'm sure non-Christians are reading this, I'll tell you that, yes, I did consider the fact that if the Bible definitely teaches Calvinism, and if Calvinism is philosophically bankrupt, it would follow that the Bible can't be the inspired word of God. I also considered that if the Bible supported both Calvinism and non-Calvinism, then the Bible is contradictory and can't be the word of God. But I'm not going to get sidetracked on those lines of thoughts now.

Anyway, the philosophical problems only increased the more I learned about Calvinism. One book in particular caused me a great deal of consternation. John Piper wrote a book called The Justification of God in which he gave a very thorough exegesis of Romans 9. From Romans 9, Piper argued for double predestination. You see some Calvinists are willing to say that God predestined people to eternal glory, but not that he predestined people to eternal damnation. Rather, God simply allows, passively, people to fall into damnation. Piper argued from Romans 9 that God creates some people for the purpose of damning them. I found that (and still find that) incredibly disturbing. Yet his case was pursuasive.

Before going into the philosophical problems with Calvinism (which is the subject of this series), I want to mention one other problem I had with Calvinism. The problem I had with it was my general impression of Calvinists themselves. There was a guy in my Monday night Bible study who was a Calvinist--a pushy one, too. He was always getting me to read his Calvinist books. Two of them that stick out in my mind were by Martin Luther and Arthur Pink. I remember thinking they were both just really nasty. James White seemed pretty rough around the edges, too. My general impression of Calvinists was that they were just some rude and nasty people.

Of course I recognized that it was fallacious to fault Calvinism just because a lot of Calvinists seemed nasty to me. I'm human, though, and I can't help that it caused me to be suspicious of Calvinism.

Anyway, one of the major philosophical problems with Calvinism in my mind was how to reconcile God's sovereignty with human responsibility. The first time I ever heard the problem expressed in light of Calvinism was when I read a book called Decision-Making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen and J. Robin Maxon. It turned out, though, that Calvinists were not the only ones who had a strong view of God's sovereignty (Geisler being one example). Being much influenced by William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, I believed libertarian free will was necessary for moral accountability. Besides, libertarian free will had a strong appeal to common sense for me.

You might wonder how I reconciled that with my Calvinism. Well, I think my view was a lot like the view of Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason. Basically, I did not think we had free will in regards to accepting or rejecting the gospel. The Bible seemed clear on that. But I figured we had free will in every other aspect of life. At the time, that seemed consistent with Calvinism to me.

It wasn't, though, and I think Koukl recognizes this. God's sovereignty must cover all moral choices, not just the choice to accept or reject the gospel. Koukl has often said on his radio show that the hardest theological problem for him is how to reconcile the fact we have moral obligations with the fact that we have an inability to obey. We are dead in sins, unable to please God apart from his intervention, necessarily sinful. You see, we have this strong intuition that "ought" implies "can." That is, we can't have a moral obligation to do something if we are unable to do it. How is it, then, that we DO have a moral obligation if we also have an inability to meet those obligations?

Dennis (the guy in my Bible study), let me borrow The Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards. This book caused another Copernican revolution in my way of thinking. It completely resolved every philosophical problem I had with Calvinism. It raised problems I didn't have before, and solved those, too. Though it didn't cure me of my discomfort with double predestination, it did satisfy me intellectually. Of course I had to read it a couple of times to understand it, and there are some sections I've read several times to understand them.

The major shift in my thinking was from believing in libertarian free will to believing in compatibalism. Also, from thinking libertarian free will was necessary for morality and compatibalism was inconsistent with it to thinking libertarian free will was inconsistent with morality and compatibalism was necessary for it. That was probably the most interesting thing I got out of the book.

Most importantly, Edward's book solved the problem of how to reconcile God's sovereignty with human responsibility. I wish I could convince all my readers to read his book--especially Steve and Dagoods. I wish I could convince Greg Koukl to read it, too. Edwards covers a lot of area that I can't cover without writing a book of my own, and he argues better than I could hope to do it.

to be continued: God's sovereignty and man's responsibility, part 1

Friday, May 05, 2006

How did the disciples die?

Dagoods gives me things to write about. Today, I'm going to address a question he asked me a while back that I never answered. He read my blog on when arguments go awry. I had said something about how skeptics often misunderstand the "die for a lie" argument. Dagoods said at the end of our discussion that he doesn't respond to the "die for a lie" argument. Instead, he just asks the Christian to show how the disciples died. He asked me, "How did the disciples die, when, and was it martyrdom?"

This is a good question. You see, if they died of natural causes, then the "die for a lie" argument is faulty. So to make the "die for a lie" argument work, I've got to show that the disciples actually did die for their beliefs. If they died for their beliefs, that will demonstrate that they actually believed them with conviction.

I wrote about the historical arguments for the martyrdoms of James, Peter, and one other person I can't remember. Now I can't find where I wrote it, so I'm just going to have to go on memory. It's been a long time since I was emersed in all these historical arguments.

I suspect Dagoods would not raise the question if he were not skeptical of the accounts of Eusebius or even of some of the early Church fathers. To avoid all that, I wanted to narrow the topic to James (the brother of Jesus) and Peter. I think there is early and compelling evidence that both of them were martyred.

James was the head of the Jerusalem church, and a well-known public figure. Josephus writes about his martyrdom in the Antiquities XX.9.1:
Convening the judges of the Sanhedrin, he [Ananus, the high priest] brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law, and condemned them to be stoned to death.
Now, of course, if you're really bent on being skeptical, you can find loop holes. Maybe it's Christian interpolation. Maybe James committed some unknown crime having nothing to do with being a Christian. But assuming we can say (as most do) that James really was martyred, I can answer Dagood's question. James died by being stoned in Jerusalem in 62 CE, and it was a martyrdom.

There are three lines of evidence that show that Peter was martyred. First, we have John 21:18-19 where Jesus predicts how Peter will die. Basically, he predicted that Peter would die by crucifixion. It doesn't matter who wrote John's gospel. If we assume it was written by John before Peter died, then that would show Peter died by crucifixion. If he didn't, then John's gospel would prove that Jesus was a false prophet (or that the gospel was bad), and it either would've been edited out, or the gospel wouldn't have carried much authority. But if we assume it was written by John after Peter died, or written by somebody else after Peter died, then the person who wrote it likely knew how Peter died. He put this prediction on Jesus' lips in order to make it look like Jesus made an accurate prophecy, just as Mark and Matthew have Jesus predicting the destruction of Jerusalem, which supposedly dates Mark and Matthew after 70 CE. So either way you look at it, Peter was mostly likely crucified.

The second line of evidence is 2 Peter 1:13-14 where Peter says, "I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me." Again, we can use the same argument. It doesn't matter whether Peter actually wrote it or not. If he did, the letter would have been discredited unless Peter died soon afterwards. If he didn't, then it was likely written because the author already knew how Peter died. In both John and 2 Peter, it says that Jesus predicted his death. Only John says how, though. Nevetheless, if Peter were to die of natural causes, there would've been nothing significant about his dying, and thus no particular reason for Jesus to predict it. Nobody would think it particularly impressive, for example, if I predicted Elizabeth Taylor is going to die soon. She's pretty old. 2 Peter adds plausibility to the prediction of "how" in John. Peter was likely martyred.

Third, we have a letter by Clement of Rome to the Corinthians in 96 CE, and he says, "Peter, through unrighteous envy, endured not one or two, but numerous labors; and when he had at length suffered martyrdom, he departed to the place of glory due to him." Peter was a public figure, and unless he mysteriously disappeared, the manner of his death was most likely public information among the major Christian congregations. So there is no reason to doubt what Clement is saying, especially in light of John and 2 Peter.

I probably can't prove Paul's martyrdom to somebody who is bent on being skeptical about it, but it seems quite obvious that Paul was at least willing to die for his beliefs. In Galatians 1:13-14 and Philippians 3:4-8, Paul writes about how he gave up being a Pharisee advancing in Judaism beyond many of his own age to be a follower of Jesus, and how he suffered the loss of all things happily because of it. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-26 and 6:3-10, he writes about beatings, imprisonment, being flogged, and being exposed to death again and again. He writes about being in danger from rivers, bandits, his own countrymen, Gentiles, and even false brothers. A person bent on skepticism, of course, could always say, "That's just a lie!"

These all seem like good reasons to think James, Peter, and Paul actually believed that Jesus was the Christ. The question, of course, is why did they believe it?