Saturday, December 15, 2007

Does widespread disagreement on morality mean that there are no objective morals or that nobody knows what they are?

In my last post, I quoted what a friend wrote to me recently. I'm about to post the bulk of my response, but lemme quote him again to remind you of what he said:

I think part of my skepticism on objective morality comes from seeing all the different variations and disagreement that people have on what constitutes it, and observing no real methodology for verifying whose claims are right and whose are wrong; it seems all people can do is just insist more strongly that their morality is the correct one.
Now this is what I said:

I can certainly sympathize with nihilists or moral relativists, especially having toyed with the ideas myself when younger. I used to ask myself, "Does anything really matter?" Nothing matters unless there's somebody it matters to. So if nobody existed, then nothing would matter. Does it matter, then, that we exist at all? It seemed to me that life was completely meaningless, which I found to be a liberating idea. I don't think I was a completely full blow nihilist, though, because I didn't really think through all the consequences, especially in regard to morality.

But as I've said before, there are lots of things we assume we know but that can't be proved--memory knowledge, the trustworthiness of our physical senses, causation, you know, all the basic things Hume talked about. But although I can't prove any of these things, when I'm perfectly honest with myself, I don't really doubt these things either. I simply reflect inwardly and find myself believing.

The disagreements people have about morality do cause me to be skeptical that we perceive morality clearly, but they don't cause me to doubt that there is any morality to be perceived. And there are several reasons for that.

First, five people who all participated in the same event may disagree when they try to remember the details of the event later. That doesn't cause them to doubt the event happened. And it doesn't mean they can't get a general idea of what happened that's accurate. The same can be said about sensory perceptions. People are often mistaken about them. They experience hallucinations, mirages, dreams, etc. People often make mistakes in causal inferences. A common fallacy in logic is the fallacy of false cause, where a person sees A and B always happening together and falsly assume one is the cause of the other when, in reality, C is the cause of both. There are all kinds of examples of how our ordinary common sense perception of the world can be mistaken, but they don't cause us to doubt their general reliability.

Second, people have agreed far more than they have disagreed on morality. That's evident in the fact that cultural anthropologists (who usually subscribe to some form of relativism) have an explanation for the wide-spread agreement. They say the reason for the wide-spread agreement is that people have the same basic needs. We're all social animals, and there are certain morals that are more conducive to survival. Natural selection is what causes such wide-spread agreement on morals. Such an explanation wouldn't be necessary if it weren't true that people agreed far more than they disagree on morals.

Third, although people may disagree on the content of morality, everybody everywhere at all times have always demanded from others and expected from themselves to give a moral justification for their actions. It's universal. The idea of "justifying your actions," is what most (maybe all) morality is based on. So the idea of moral justification is natural and universal. It's built into us. It's just the way we are. One particular justification that seems to be universal is the idea that ought implies can. Everybody everywhere agrees that inability to act is a moral justification for not acting. A person can have no moral obligation to walk, for example, if they are physically incapable of walking. Fourth, whenever we run into somebody who doesn't seem to make a distinction between right and wrong--who doesn't grasp the concept of moral justification--who doesn't see a difference between a brutal murder and a fun night of star-gazing--we consider those people to be mentally ill.

Fifth, a lot of what seem to be moral differences aren't really moral differences when you look more closely at them. The next time you run into somebody who seems to have a very different point of view than you do on some issue of morality, just ask them why they hold that position. Usually, for every "moral rule" we have, there's a reason we have it, and the reason is always some broader moral principle. When you ask people why they think certain things are right or wrong, you usually find out that they are working from principles you agree with. The reason they arrive at a different conclusion is either because they are working from different facts or their process of reasoning is different (and possibly flawed).

Sixth, when I look at moral debates, I don't see what you see. You said there's no way to resolve moral conflicts except for one person to express their view more strongly than the other. Instead, I see people reasoning with each other. One will say, "Such and such action violates such and such principle." The other person will say, "No, it doesn't violate that principle." So while they disagree on whether the action is moral or not, they're still working from the same moral principle, and there's room for debate. Abortion is a good example. Both sides agree that it is prima facie wrong to take the life of an innocent human being. They just disagree on whether the unborn are human beings or persons at all. (I'm speaking broadly here; I realize there are more nuanced arguments.) I even remember watching the video of Osama Bin Laden right after 9/11. Most people thought it was wrong because they killed innocent people without justification. But Osama kept saying over and over in that video, "They were not innocent. They were not innocent." Maybe he was wrong to say they were not innocent, but clearly the difference in morality didn't go as deep as one might think.

Part 1: Good moral relativists and bad moral objectivists

Part 2: If theologians disagreement, how can we know our interpretation is right?

Monday, December 10, 2007

If theologians disagree, how can we know our interpretation is right?

I'm going to post some more of the message I sent to my friend. He said:

I think part of my skepticism on objective morality comes from seeing all the different variations and disagreement that people have on what constitutes it, and observing no real methodology for verifying whose claims are right and whose are wrong; it seems all people can do is just insist more strongly that their morality is the correct one.
I'm going to save the bulk of my response for the next blog entry. I separated this out because it's sort of a different subject. It was part of my response, though.

What I wrote here is about how I handled a problem that I've heard a lot of Christians complain about. I thought somebody might find it useful.

I will admit, though, that broad disagreement sometimes does cause me to throw up my hands and say, "Nobody really knows." That's usually my first impression on subjects I haven't studied that much myself. I'm not saying you haven't studied morality that much, because I'm sure you have. I'm just talking about myself.

I remember when I first started getting interested in Christianity and theology. I looked at all the different denominations, and all the different interpretations of the Bible, and I thought it was hopeless for me to read the Bible and arrive at the truth--what it really means. I prayed that God would reveal the truth to me, but I didn't have any faith that God would answer that prayer because I figured most theologians had probably prayed the same thing, and yet they all disagreed with each other. Why should I be any different? The truth is, I experienced quite a bit of anxiety about it.

But the more I studied the Bible, the more I began to develope opinions that I thought were justified. I felt more strongly about some things than about other things, and there are still some things I have no opinion on. Since a lot of my views are based on what seem to me to be sound arguments, and those who disagree with me base their views on what seem to me to be bad arguments, I no longer have anxiety over the mere fact that a lot of people disagree. I readily admit that I could be wrong about some things, and I'm quite certain that I'm wrong on at least a few things, but I don't feel any anxiety about it just because there are what seem to me to be good reasons to think what I do.

I feel the same way about morality. While disagreements do sometimes cause me to be skeptical that anybody can really know the right thing to do in a situation, there are at least a few of what I think are clear case examples of moral wrong or moral right, and the mere fact that some people have disagreed with me doesn't shake my confidence in the least.

Part 1: Good moral relativists and bad moral objectivists

Part 3: Does widespread disagreement on morality mean that there are no objective morals or that nobody knows what they are?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Good moral relativists and bad moral objectivists

A friend of mine who does not believe in objective moral values sent me a message today and said:
Btw... ever notice how the academics and philosophers who tout moral relativism are, for the most part, pretty harmless people? They might assert nihilistic ideas in published scholarship and in discussions, but in their actual behavior, most of them follow the same moral norms as the rest of us (going back to your idea that it's good that nihilists are inconsistent). Meanwhile, members of Muslim terrorist groups murder and torture civilians like it's going out of style, and they're all CERTAIN that an objective morality exists and that they are following the correct one.
He didn't seem to offer this as an argument against moral objectivism. I got the impression that he just found it ironic. But some people have used this observation as an argument against objective morals, so I wanted to post my response to it. This is what I said:
It is ironic that most moral relativists are fairly decent people, and that most terrorists are moral objectivists. But it's only ironic if you assume that moral objectivism is true. The reason is because only under moral objectivism can you say that relativists are "decent" and terrorists are "bad." It's only ironic if the way relativists typically live really is "good," and the way terrorists behave really is "bad." Think about it. Suppose terrorist really think the way they behave is good, and the relativists are evil because they aren't joining in. They might just as well say, "Well this is exactly what we should expect. We moral objectists are good, but moral relativists are clearly shirking their duty, and they're bad." The only reason you and I see any irony is because we think the terrorists' morality is mistaken. But it can only be mistaken if there is a correct morality. And we both think the morality of the terrorists is mistaken, and the morality of most relativists is correct. That's why we both see irony. It's ironic that the relativists would be correct about morals, and the objectivists would be incorrect.
There was more about morality in those messages, so I might post some of that, too, since I haven't been blogging much and need something to keep this blog active.

Part 2: If theologians disagree, how can we know our interpretation is right?

Part 3: Does widespread disagreement on morality meant that there are no objective morals or that nobody knows what they are?

Friday, November 23, 2007

What if Voldemort became real?

As all us Harry Potter fans know, Voldemort is not a real person. As a fictional character, he's evil and blameworthy within the story, but not in real life. But suppose J.K. Rowling had the power to bring Voldemort to real life. And suppose that if she did so, the real Voldemort would be exactly like he is in the books. He'd be just as mean and nasty and evil. Would he be morally blameable for his actions?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Fall festivals

I don't really have an argument to make today. I just want to point something out that I find kind of interesting. As just about everybody out there knows, holidays like Christmas and Easter have pagan roots. That is, there used to be non-Christian holidays on those days that Christians sort of took over. Christians started celebrating something entirely different on those days, although they kept some of the trappings, like Christmas trees, and Easter eggs.

Everybody reacts to these things a little differently.

Some people who are not Christians like to throw this in the face of their Christians friends as if they've discovered something that will be embarrassing to the Christians or as if it somehow amounts to an argument against Christianity.

Some Christians, most notably Jehovah's Witnesses, take the non-Christians seriously and seem to think there's something inappropriate about celebrating Christmas or Easter since they both have pagan origins.

Some Christians see nothing wrong with celebrating the birth of Jesus or the resurrection of Jesus, even if done on the same day as a pagan festival as long as you're celebrating something completely different. They're uncomfortable with some of the trappings, though. Others are even okay with the trappings as long as they have been stripped of their original significance and serve merely as decoration and jolly good fun.

What we have seen in the past is happening in our own day. Some Christians who are especially averse to Halloween are now celebrating what they call "fall festival." And they have kept many of the trappings--children dressing up in costumes and gathering candy in baskets. It is sanitized only by avoiding costumes of anything scary or supernatural, and by gathering the candy at church instead of door to door.

The funny thing about that to me is that this Christianization of a pagan holiday was already done once before to Halloween. All Hallows Eve or All Souls Day was turned into all Saints Day. But that seems to have been completely abandoned. Now we're just having fall festivals.

And it's funny that the Christian alternative to Halloween would be a fall festival since even in some pagan traditions, Halloween was a harvest festival. What do fall festivals or harvest festivals have to do with anything specifically Christian? Every agricultural society has had harvests, and they usually have them in the fall. It is strange to me that this Christianization of an otherwise "bad" holiday isn't really Christian at all. It isn't anti-Christian, of course. It's just not specifically Christian. I mean nothing particularly Christian is being celebrated.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Is Dumbledore gay?

I've been hearing lately that J.K. Rowling has announced that Dumbledore is gay. I haven't tried to verify it or anything because for the purpose of what I want to talk about it, it doesn't matter whether she actually said that or not.

This raises an interesting philosophical question for me about the nature of fiction. Dumbledore doesn't really exist. He's just a fictional character in a story. So Dumbledore can't really be gay in real life. If he's gay at all, he can only be gay as part of the story.

But the problem is that the story itself doesn't stipulate that Dumbledore is gay. In the story of Harry Potter, there is complete silence on Dumbledore's sexuality.

One might argue that the story gets its meaning, not merely from the words, but from the intention of the author. In that case, you might say he's gay just because J.K. Rowling had decided all along that he was gay, even though she didn't say so in the story.

But does the intention of the author matter if she doesn't include information in the story? If so, then Rowling could start making all kind of crazy announcements about the characters in Harry Potter that are not included in the story, and we'd all be obliged to take her word for it. She could just up and decide that Filch killed his own mother and that nobody ever found out about it. She could decide that Hagrid joined a monastary for a while after being kicked out of Hogwarts.

Let's suppose for a moment that Rowling's intentions matter even if she doesn't write her intentions into the story. Does it matter when her intentions came about? Does it matter whether she intended all along for Dumbledore to be gay, whether she decided he was gay half way through writing the books, or if she decided he was gay after writing the books? What if she changed her mind tomorrow? Would Dumbledore then be straight just because she said so? Could she change her mind a dozen times between now and when she dies, and would the story change as a result?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Square circles

My daughter, Grace, is 8 years old. I've been trying to teach her logic and careful thinking since she was born. One issue in particular that I've taught her about is the law of non-contradiction, and to illustrate it, I often ask her if she can draw a square circle. I told her the reason it's impossible is because it entails a contradictions, and real contradictions can't exist in reality.

Well this weekend, she wanted to prove to me that there could be such a thing as a square circle. She painted this picture to prove it.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Does it dishonor God not to presuppose inerrancy?

I was just listening to the latest episode of Stand to Reason, and it got me to thinking about something. There's a big feud in the world of Christian apologetics between evidentialism and presuppositionalism. The objection most presuppositionalists bring against evidentialism is that it somehow dishonor's God. One example is when evidentialists make historical arguments for the resurrection of Jesus without assuming the Bible is the inerrant word of God.

Tactically speaking, though, I think evidentialists are right to do this. It's not easy to build an argument for scriptural inerrancy. But it turns out that it's not necessary to assume scriptural inerrancy to demonstrate the resurrection of Jesus. A person who argues for scriptural inerrancy in order to demonstrate the resurrection is going to have a much more difficult time than a person who argues for the resurrection on historical grounds.

If you're arguing for the resurrection on historical grounds, and somebody starts bringing up contradictions in the Bible, you can dismiss many of them as irrelevent to your case. You don't have to get bogged down in each issue the other person brings up.

It seems to me that the object of apologetics ought to be to give a defense for the hope that we have. That's what it means to give an apologetic. A sound argument is a sound argument. If arguing for the resurrection on historical grounds without the necessity of proving inerrancy first is easier, then why not? It's not as if you have to argue from inerrancy to make the argument. You just have to say that the historical case is sound even if the Bible is errant. I don't see how that dishonor's God.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

My cats and other minds

I want to tell you what happened, but first I want to tell you about several views on animals I've heard in the past, especially in how they are distinguished from humans. (I realize humans are animals, too, but for the sake of discussion, let's just say "animals" are non-human critters.)

Some people say that animals don't have souls, but people do. (For my Jehovah's Witness friends, yes I realize "soul" is synonymous with "person" in many places in the Bible, but I'm using "soul" in the classical sense that you find in substance dualism where people are said to have both a material and a non-material nature.) I've never heard any rational for this. It seems to me that anything that has a mind has a soul, as I've argued elsewhere.

But then there are some people who say animals don't even have minds. They have no first-person subjectivity, no consciousness, no awareness, no kind of experience, etc. They're like robots. They're just machines blindingly reacting to stimuli. I don't remember who it was, but they justified the most cruel kind of experimentation on animals imaginable under this idea, and they brushed off the squeals and shrieks of the poor beasts as comparable to the noise a car might make if there was something wrong with it. That is, it was just a reaction, but there was no real suffering behind it. Animals were incapable of real suffering. That view struck me as extremely odd.

Some people say the difference between humans and animals is that humans have free will and animals don't. Animals are slaves to their instincts, but humans have the capacity to act contrary to their instincts. While I might have once agreed that animals are more driven by their instincts than humans, the difference was only a matter of degree, and animals even differed amongst themselves in degree. But I always thought and still think that there must be some strange idea of what "choosing" is if a person thinks that any act arising from an instict is not a "choice." Having since then become a compatibalist, I now think all of our choices--whether prompted by instinct, pursuasion, desire, or learned behavior--are determined by the reasons we have for making those choices. In this regard, there's no difference between animals and humans.

The most common difference I've heard is that people have the capacity for reason and animals don't. This views goes back as far as Plato. I've also been skeptical of this view since I can remember.

A view I recently read about is that humans are capable of self-awareness and animals aren't. Self-awareness is not the same thing as consciousness, although some people use the terms interchangeably. Self-awareness, in the context of the book I'm reading, refers the process of thinking about our own thoughts. According to the author, both humans and animals are able to think, but only humans are able to reflect inwardly about their thoughts.

What all of these views have in common in my opinion is that they're just guesses. I don't see how it's possible for anybody to know these things or even to consider them educated guesses. They're just mere speculation.

I want to talk about one in particular, though. It's the one that says humans have minds and animals don't.

The most interesting thing about a mind, in my opinion, is that a mind is capable of first person subjectivity. There is a me, a self, an *I* capable of thought, feeling, sensation, perception, emotion, intention, etc. The thing about first person subjectivity, is that each person is the only person who can experience it. Each of us has private access to our own mental states. A brain surgeon may know more about your brain than you do, but you know more about the content of your thoughts than he does. While an observer may draw conclusions about your emotions based on your body language, only you can actual feel or experience your emotions. Unless each of us had a mind of our own, there would be no reason (nevermind ability) to think minds had anything to do with brains. A strange alien life-form that has a completely different kind of organ associated with their minds might come to earth and examine brains ad infinitum and never find a thought, feeling, or intention, or even have any reason to think such were properties of the brain.

Each of us knows that we have a mind. I know I'm thinking merely because I'm thinking. I know it with absolute certainty, and the knowledge isn't derived from anything prior. I don't reason my way into thinking I have a mind. It's a prori knowledge. It's immediate, and it's incorrigible.

But how do we know that anybody else has a mind? We can't observe their thoughts or feelings. We can't examine their brains and find anything like them. The only way we have to know is to use analogy. My words and actions reflect the thought behind them. So when I see words in actions from creatures that appear to be very much like me, I assume there's a mind behind their words and actions, too. But for all we know, those words and actions could be the result of highly sophisticated artificial intelligence. Biological machines are often far superior to man-made machines, so why should it surprise us?

In philosophy, the issue I'm raising is called "the problem of other minds." The problem is that there's no way, even in principle, to prove that there's any mind other than your own. A solipsist is somebody who thinks they are the only person who exists. Everybody else is either an illusion or a robot.

Although analogy seems to be the only kind of verification possible that there are other minds, I actually don't think that's how we become aware of other minds. I'll say more about that in a minute, but let's assume for the sake of arguments that analogy is how we know about other minds. It seems to me that one need only spend a little bit of time with a cat or a dog to see enough analogy between themselves and the animal to see that the animal has a mind just like they do. If analogy is the only way we can know about other minds, and anlogies tell us that other humans have minds, then analogy should tell us the same thing about animals. They also communicate, express what appears to be emotion, act on what appears to be thought, etc.

Don't you find it interesting that animals instinctively know to look you in the eye when interacting? Babies do it, too. Do you ever wonder why that is? Do animals know you can see them with your eyes? Do they know it's the eyes that are looking back at them? How do they know that?

I don't think animals or babies consciously make analogies like I'm describing. Many animals may go their whole lives having never looked in a mirror to see what thoughts correspond to what facial expressions. But they still seem to distinguish emotions when they see it in other animals, and they still treat other animals as if they had minds. They still look other animals in the eye. They still try to communicate with other animals. They still try to elicit responses from other animals, which shows that they think the other animal has a mind.

This leads me to think our knowledge of other minds is innate. It's just like our knowledge of the external world, causation, the past, the uniformity of nature, morality, and various other things. If I were a Kantian, I might say these are all examples of synthetic a-priori knowledge.

Of course it's possible for our natural inclination to believe these things to go wrong. While our memories can tell us there is a past, and can even tells particular things about the past, our memories are nevertheless sometimes wrong. But that doesn't cause us to think are memories are completely wrong that there even is a past. Likewise, our knowledge of the uniformity of nature sometimes causes us to make hasty generalizations, and to even be mistaken when not so hasty. But that doesn't leave us to dismiss the principle altogether. We make mistakes in causal inferences, but we don't doubt that there are causes. We experience mirages, dreams, and hallucinations, but we don't completely doubt the reliability of our senses because of it, so we don't completely abandon our belief in the external world. A lot of people out there will point out how we differ amongst ourselves in our sense of morality and conclude that there must not be any morality in any objective sense. It's all just in the mind. I don't know why people make this logical leap regarding morality when they never make the same leap with any of these other things. All that follows from the fact that two people differ in morality is that somebody has make a mistake in their moral reasoning. It no more undermines the existence of morality (or even the reliability of our moral perceptions) than differences in memories undermines the existence of the past (or even the reliability of our memories).

I've gotten a little off track, but there is a point. Some theists say that our knowledge of God comes from our knowledge of other minds. God is simply a greater mind that we're instinctively aware of the same way we're aware of other minds in the physical plane. That makes belief in God rational even for people who don't engage in philosophical arguments.

Atheists often counter that although we do have a natural inclination to project "minds" onto other beings, we often over-personify by attributing minds to things that don't actually have minds. We name dolls and cars and use personal pronouns to refer to them. God, while perhaps being a natural belief, is nevertheless no different than a natural belief in the personhood of your teddy bear or your imaginary friend, and no more rational.

An atheist doesn't have to deny the reliability of our knowledge of other minds to make this argument. He just has to say that like all of our other items of synthetic a priori knowledge I mentioned above, we may also be mistaken in what we attribute minds to. I don't want to go too far down this rabbit hole, though, because I keep getting farther away from the whole point of this blog.

At the beginning of this post, I said I was going to tell you what happened, but first I was going to preface it. I didn't intend for my preface to be so long. I just wanted to tell you what happened because I think it's really interesting. The preface was basically background information about my own thinking so you would understand why I found this to be so interesting.

Grace, my daughter, came over a few weeks ago with an Amazing Amanda doll. You've all seen those dolls where you pull a string or push a button and the doll talks. Well, the amazing thing about Amanda is that she's animated. When she talks, her face moves along with it. When Grace came over with that doll, my cats completely freaked out. They growled and hissed. It was obvious they were scared to death of it, but their curiosity was such that instead of running away, they followed Grace around. It looked like they might even want to attack it, which scared Grace a little, and she turned it off.

Now lemme tell you why I found that facinating. My cats have seen people talk, and it doesn't wig them out. They've heard human voices coming out of the speakers on my computer and my sterio, and that doesn't wig them out either. They've even witnessed human voices coming out of other dolls, and it didn't bother them. But Amazing Amanda freaked them out. Why?

This may be speculation, but I think the cats must be able to distinguish between living and non-living things. What freaked them out about Amazing Amanda was that she blurred that distinction. She messed with their categories. The cats freaked out for the same reason any of us would freak out if one of our toys came to life. Remember Chucky? Talking Tina? The only way my cats could've been freaked out by Amazing Amanda is if they are both capable of abstract thought. They both possess the instictive knowledge of other minds that we all possess. With Amazing Amanda, it looked as if something inanimate was animate. In other words, the doll was possessed. Why else would it have freaked them out so much given that none of the other examples of voices coming out of things ever freaked them out?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

A question about beliefs, volition, and rationality

Several years ago, I read J.P. Moreland's book, Scaling the Secular City, where he made an argument for substance dualism from the self-refuting nature of physicalism. Physicalism, in this context, is the view that all we are is the sum of our physical parts. We have no immaterial soul or spirit or anything like that. He argued that physicalism is self-refuting because it entails determinism, and determinism removes the necessary preconditions for rational thought. So it could never be rational to be a physicalist.

I don't want to get into that argument. I just wanted to explain the context of what I do want to get into. Moreland claimed that "If one is to be rational, one must be free to choose his beliefs based on reasons" (SSC, p. 95).

Some time after that, I listened to a lecture by Moreland that I think was called "Love Your God With All Your Mind." It was posted on line here but is no longer there. During his talk, he stated emphatically that our beliefs are not under the control of the will. To prove his point, he had the audience imagine that he would offer them a million dollars if they could choose right then and there to believe that there was a pink elephant flying around over their heads, and to actually think it was true. He said that even with a million dollar motivation, you couldn't choose to believe it. The reason is that our beliefs are not under the control of the will.

He went on to say that we can change our beliefs by choosing to read things and to expose ourselves to ideas, and that our beliefs will change as a result. But our beliefs are not under the direct control of the will such that we could simply choose to believe something.

To me that seemed inconsistent. I sent J.P. Moreland a letter at an address I found on the website to Talbot, but I never heard back from him. I've asked about this issue on a few message boards, and I even asked a question about it on Yahoo answers recently. But I've never gotten a satisfying answer. Most people I ask don't even seem to understand the question.

Recently, I got two J.P. Moreland tapes from Stand to Reason. One is called "The Invisible Man: A defense for the existence of the soul," and the other is called "Is non-sensory knowledge possible?" I don't remember which one it was, but in one of them Moreland repeated his whole thing about how our beliefs are not under the control of the will.

I had entertained the idea that maybe since Scaling the Secular City was written in the 80's that maybe Moreland has just changed his mind over the years. But then just a few minutes ago, I found where Moreland has posted a blog called "Atheism and the Empty Glass" where he said that "those who take the time to tell you that free will isn’t real are assuming that you have the free choice to listen to them and change your views accordingly!" Apparently, he hasn't changed his mind.

Since just about all the people who post on my blog seem to be pretty bright, I thought I'd get your thoughts on the subject. This is my question: Are our beliefs under the control of the will? If not, can we still be rational? And please don't just give yes or no answers. Give me your reasoning. Thanks.


Thursday, May 31, 2007

A movie about Revelation

I've always thought it would be neat to make a movie about Revelation. Now there are already movies about Revelation, but they're all based on interpretations of Revelation. I'd like there to be a movie just about the whole vision that John saw. It would start off with John on the Island of Patmos, and the whole thing is the vision he sees. I think special effects have gotten good enough to where a movie like that could be spectacular. Of course Basil Poledouris would have to write the soundtrack for it. Sometimes I wish I was a movie producer. I've come up with a few movies I'd like to see made and a few idea for how I'd like them to be. But I really have no clue how to make a movie. That's not to mention my lack of funds. A movie like I'm thinking would cost oodles and doodles of moolah. Anyway, Peter Jackson, if you're reading this, do give it some thought, will ya?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The problem with empiricism

Recently on Yahoo Answers, somebody posted a question asking Christians to say what they think the best argument against the existence of God is. Most of them said something like lack of empirical evidence.

Empiricism is the idea that all of our knowledge comes through sensory experience. Empirical evidence is evidence that can be apprehended through the five senses. If you're an empiricist, then you would demand empirical evidence for anything before you would consider it an item of knowledge.

David Hume tried to take empiricism to its logical conclusion in his book, An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding. (I highly recommend that book to everybody, by the way.) What he arrived at was radical skepticism. The reason is that before your senses can tell you anything, you must first know a few things your senses cannot tell you.

You must know that your sensory experience corresponds to a real external world and is not just an illusion in your mind before your senses can tell you anything about the external world. You must know that your memory corresponds to real past experience if your knowledge is to cover anything beyond what you are experiencing at the moment. You must know the uniformity of nature if you are going to make any generalizations based on your sensory experience or arrive at any probabilities. None of these things can be known through your senses. If we don't know these non-empirical things, then we don't have any empirical knowledge either.

There are actually a whole lot of things we know that our senses can't tell us. We know the content of our thoughts, how we're feeling, the basic concepts of math and geometry, the laws of logic, that "ought" implies "can," and that the simplest explanation is the best (i.e. Okham's razor/the law of parsimony). In fact, we know many of these things with more certainty than we know things that our senses tell us. It's possible that we could be mistaken about what we're percieving (it could be an illusion), but it's not possible that we could be mistaken about the content of our thoughts. We know what we're thinking merely because we're thinking it.

But I think it's a little hasty to say there is no empirical evidence for God. The cosmological argument and the teleological argument both rely on empirical evidence.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Why is it that some believe and some don't? Part 2

Turning to the parable of the good shepherd in John 10, there are basically two kinds of people--those who are Jesus' sheep, and those who are not his sheep. Of his sheep, he says they follow him because they know his voice (v.4), and they will not follow a stranger because they do not know his voice (v.5). If a person belongs to Jesus, then they will follow him. Belonging to Jesus, then, is logically prior to following him. It is because we belong to Jesus that we follow him.

That is even more clear when Jesus said:

I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they shall hear my voice; and they shall become one flock with one shepherd (John 10:16).
When Jesus said, "I have sheep," it is in the present tense. Yet when he says, "they shall hear my voice" it is in the future tense. That means believing in Jesus isn't what causes us to be his sheep. Rather, being his sheep is what causes us to believe in him. Moreover, if a person is one of Jesus' sheep, then it's a certainty that they will believe in him. They will recognize his voice when he calls them.

I was discussing this passage with a friend of mine a few years ago, and he pointed out to me that since God exists outside of time, then it's irrelevent that from our point of view belief comes after ownership. From God's point of view, there's no difference.

I'm a little skeptical that God exists outside of time, as I explained here, but let's assume for the sake of argument that he does. For the sake of this discussion, it doesn't matter because belonging to Jesus is not just temporally prior to belief. It's logically prior. What I mean is that belonging to Jesus doesn't just come before belief in time; rather, belonging to Jesus is the reason we come to believe in him. Jesus is explicit about that in vs. 26-27:

But you do not believe, because you are not of my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
Just as we saw in John 6 in my previous post, we see also hear that the reason some believe and others don't is because some belong to Jesus and the others don't. If you belong to Jesus, then you will believe in him. If you do not belong to Jesus, then you will not believe in him. So it isn't the believing that causes you to belong; rather, it's the belonging that causes you to believe.

But what determines whether we belong to Jesus if not our choice to believe in him? Well, just as we saw in John 6:37 about how "all that the Father gives me shall come to me," so also we see in John 10:29 that a person becomes one of Jesus' sheep by the Father giving them to Jesus. He said:

My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.
So again we see that it's all up to the Father. The Father gives people to Jesus. Since those people now belong to Jesus, they will hear his voice, believe in him, and follow him. If somebody does not belong to Jesus then he was not given to Jesus by the Father. Consequently, he will not believe in Jesus. As we saw in the last post, nobody can believe in Jesus unless the Father enables him.

Again, I realize much more can be said. I only meant to show in these last two chapters how Jesus answers the question of why some believe and some don't. These two chapters actually support all five points of Calvinism, but I chose not to go into detail about that for the sake of simplicity.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Why is it that some believe and some don't? Part 1

If any of you read my post explaining my conversion to Calvinism, you may recall that James White had a lot to do with it. The turning point for me was chapter 7 (Jesus Teaches "Extreme Calvinism") of his book, The Potter's Freedom. In that chapters, White argued from John 6 that whether we come to Jesus for salvation or not is entirely up to God. In other words, God is absolutely sovereign in our salvation.

I want to explain, now, why I think the case for Calvinism from John 6 and John 10 is solid.

Since I said in my previous post that I'm a one-point Calvinist, I want you to have a look at these chapters in John with one question in mind: Why is it that some people believe in Jesus and others don't?. I think Jesus answers that question with clarity. The reason some believe and some don't is because some were given to Jesus by the Father and others weren't. That means our salvation is entirely up to God. He is absolutely sovereign in our salvation. I'm convinced that if you read these chapters in John carefully with that question in mind, you'll see what I mean.

But I'm going to go through them and point things out anyway.

In John 6, Jesus feeds the 5000 and then goes across the Sea of Galilee. The next day, the crowd follows him over there wanting some more food (v.26). That's when Jesus launches into the "bread of life" discourse. The "bread of life" turns out to be Jesus himself (v.35). Eating the bread of life in order to live forever becomes a metaphore for for believing in Jesus for salvation.

(For my Catholic friends out there, I realize you disagree with how I understand eating the bread of life, but that's another subject I don't want to go into right now. Our disagreement on that issue shouldn't distract from the rest of what I'm going to say.)

Starting in verse 35, Jesus says:

I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.
Coming to Jesus and believing in Jesus both mean the same thing as you can tell by reading the whole section and noticing how they are used interchangeably.

In the next verse, Jesus says:

But I said to you, that you have seen me, and yet do not believe.
Now he's about to explain why they don't believe. He says:

All that the Father gives me shall come to me, and the one who comes to me I will certainly not cast out.
Jesus is making an argument here, which you can show with a syllogism. It goes like this:

1. If the Father gives you to me, then you will come to me (i.e. believe in me; v. 37).
2. You do not believe in me (v. 36).
3. Therefore, the Father did not give you to me.

The conclusion follows by logical necessity from Jesus' exact words. It's very clear from this much alone. Jesus is explaining why some people believe and some don't. It's because some are given to him by the Father and some aren't. Those who are given to him come to him. Those who are not given to him do not come to him. It's all up to the Father.

Starting in verse 41, the Jews begin grumbling about Jesus' claim to come from heaven even though they actually know his parents. They were having trouble believing he could come from heaven when they knew exactly where he came from--Mary and Joseph. Jesus reacted by saying:

Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day (vs. 43-44).
This statement follows from what Jesus said before. According to vs. 36-37, whether somebody believes in Jesus or not depends on what the Father does. Since it's entirely up to the Father there was no point in them grumbling. They would be unable to come to Jesus unless the Father drew them.

Jesus went on about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. The Jews were perplexed by that, but instead of explaining it to them in a way that might make it more palatable to them, Jesus reiterated it even more forcefully than before. In the end, he said:

The words I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.
And then he explicitly said why they don't believe. He said:

For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to me, unless it has been granted him from the Father (v. 65).
So the whole reason Jesus told them that nobody could come to him unless it had been granted to him by the Father is because some of his listeners didn't believe. He was explaining their unbelief. They didn't believe because it had not been granted to them to believe by the Father.

For my Calvinist friends out there, I realize several more points could be made from this passage in John 6. I decided, though, to keep the topic focused on the one question of why some believe and some don't.

Next, I'm going to talk about John 10.
Why is it that some believe and some don't?, part 2

Friday, May 25, 2007

One point Calvinism

As most of you know, I'm a Calvinist. Traditionally, there have been five points that define what Calvinism is--total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistable grace, and preserverance of the saints. Some people call themselves four-point Calvinists because they reject limited atonement. The five-pointers call those people "inconsistent Arminians."

Although I believe in all five points of Calivinism, I prefer to call myself a one-point Calvinist. The reason is because basically Calvinism all boils down to one point--the sovereignty of God in salvation. In other words, whether a person is saved or not is entirely up to God. Now granted, we have to embrace the gospel to be saved; however, the reason anybody ever embraces the gospel to begin with is because God chose them. So regardless of what decision we make regarding Jesus, that decision is ultimately determined by God.

All five points follow from this one point. If God decides who will come to faith in Christ and be saved, then nobody can come to Christ unless God enables him to. We are in such a state of rebellion against God that we are unable to come to Christ apart from God's enablement. That's total depravity.

If salvation is totally up to God, then it must be unconditional. If it were conditioned on our own choices or something about us that God had no control over, then it wouldn't be totally up to God. So God's election must be unconditional.

If God intended to save a specific people and not others, and if he sent Jesus to die to save those people, then he must've only intended Jesus' atonement to be for those he had chosen. That's limited (or particular) atonement. The atonement is limited to a particular group of people--those God intended to save.

If salvation is ultimately up to God, then the decision is entirely his. If the decision is entirely his, then those he decides will come to Jesus will come to Jesus. It's a necessity. Salvation is by the grace of God. In other words, we don't earn it. God gives it freely. That means the grace is irresistable to those God has chosen. If God chooses to bestow his grace on somebody by saving them, then that person will be saved. They can't resist it.

If our salvation is completely determined by God, then those God has chosen to be saved cannot lose their salvation. That's because God can't fail to save anybody he intends to save. That's preserverance of the saints.

So basically what it all boils down to is that God is completely sovereign in our salvation. It's all up to him. That's why I prefer to think of myself as a one-point Calvinist. It simplifies things.

Stay tuned. I have more to say on this subject...
Why is it that some believe and some don't, part 1

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Why I am not a Unitarian Universalist

I haven't posted anything in a while, so I thought I'd go to google and search for ephphatha sam and see if I could find some old message board discussions that would give me something to write about. I read a whole bunch of them. I think I was smarter back then than I am now. What on earth has gone wrong? I feel like Charlie toward the end of Flowers for Algernon. Anyway, I found this post from March of 2003 where somebody asked, "Why aren't more people UU's?" I gave my own reasons for not being a UU. Here's what I said, and here's a link to the discussion:

I guess in the spirit of FaeryDragon I'll give some of my reasons for not being a UU.

I guess the biggest reason is that as a Christian, I consider myself a member of a family along with other Christians. As such I think it's important to have the unity we have in worship. I don't think it's possible to have that unity in UUism since most aren't Christians. The UU church is not about Jesus Christ and our citizenship in his kingdom. These are important and intimate things to me, and I guess the whole family thing is what makes it important to me to worship and study with other Christians. If UUism weren't a church that met for religious services, and if it were on another day besides Sunday (I guess Sunday afternoon would be okay), I suppose I would think it was a pretty neat idea. I mean if it was just a meeting place for interfaith dialogue, I'd be all for that. It would be great to have a place where people of different faiths could share, discuss, and debate their differences with tolerance and civility. I just wouldn't want something like that to take the place of my membership in the church of Jesus Christ. If you'll read 1 Corinthians 12 about the analogy of the body and it's many parts, you'll see why I have this view.

Another reason I'm not a UU is because some of my beliefs would not be welcome in a UU church. I would not have the same freedom of expression in a UU church as I would have in a Christian church. For example, I believe that God has given us a moral law, that we all break that moral law, that Jesus is the Christ (in the historic Jewish meaning of the word), that he died to atone for our breaking of the moral law, and that salvation from judgement can only come by faith in Christ's atonement. I believe Jesus was raised from the dead, and that there will be a final resurrection of the dead in which some will face judgment, and others will enter eternal life. I believe the Bible is the word of God. I don't believe that all religions are equally valid, nor that picking a religion should be like choosing ice cream flavours, and that whatever works for you is okay with God. I do not believe God is indifferent to our relationship to him. I believe that Christianity is true in its essential claims, and that other religions are wrong when they contradict those claims. I think my views would likely be met with much hostility in a UU church, and I could never be comfortable in one because of it.

One more reason I'm not a UU is because I think that UUism leads to irrationalism and shallowness. In general, there are three kinds of UU's. There are those who have all the politically correct views, and they are free to express their views and recieve pats on the back. Then there are those whose views are politically incorrect, and they have to choose between keeping their views to themselves in order to avoid offending anybody, or expressing them and facing hostility. Some just resort to abiguity to get their views off their chest without causing a stir. The third group are those so heavily bent on tolerance and pluralism, that they adopt the view that religious truth is relative. I've got my beliefs, and you've got yours, and even though they contradict, neither of us is wrong. These people think it's intolerant to think another person's views are wrong, so they pretend like they think everybody's views are true for them EXCEPT for those who don't share their view that all religious truth is relative, and that some religious views are wrong (which I find hypocritical). I think UUism actually encourages this kind of thinking. It's okay in UUism to believe whatever you want as long as you don't actually think it's true, because once you claim that you have some truth about religion, well then you're intolerant because you're implying that other people are wrong about their religion. I am generalizing here, but I'm sure a lot of you will agree with me.


Friday, March 30, 2007

Messiah--a good thing or a bad thing?

The whole idea of a messiah--a king--as something to hope for is interesting in light of 1 Samuel 8. Up until this time, Israel had been ruled by judges. But now the people demanded to have a king because they didn't trust the upcoming judges, and they wanted to be like the other nations who had kings. Both Samuel and God were displeased. God gave them all kinds of warnings about what having a king would mean, and he made it out to be a bad thing.

The most interesting thing God said to Samuel was this: "Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them." I'll explain why I find that interesting in a minute.

Later, having a king was seen as such a good thing that God promised David that his "kingdom shall endure before me forever; your throne shall be established forever" (2 Samuel 7:16). Sometime after that, Israel was split in two--the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. The northern kingdom was dispersed by the Assyrians in 722 BCE and never really "returned from exile." The Samaritans during Jesus' time were composed of some of their descendents, I think. Later, the kingdom of Judah was captured by the Babylonians. The last king was taken captive and eventually died with no successor.

It looked like God's promise to David had failed. But that's not how the authors of the Bible interpreted it. Instead, they kept their hope that God would keep his promise by restoring the kingdom of David. In the last days, there would be a descendent of David who would be king. The promise actually became even more grandiose than was originally stated. The new king would completely restore Israel, reunite Judah and Israel, defeat all of Israel's enemies, and esablish the throne of David forever (see for example Ezekiel 37:15-28).

Christians see Jesus of Nazareth as the fulfillment of these promises. He is the eschatological messiah. (I actually have been planning for a couple of years to go into more detail about this, but laziness has kept me from it.) Now here is what I find most interesting in light of what I quoted above. Jesus said that "he who rejects me rejects the one who sent me" (Luke 10:16).

Isn't that an interesting twist? Originally, God said that by asking for a king, the people of Israel were rejecting God as their king. Yet now Jesus is saying that if you reject him as king, you are rejecting God as king.

I think that the doctrine of the incarnation as well as the Trinity both solve this problem. As a man, Jesus was a descendent of David, and therefore eligible to become king. But by also being God, God gets to be king. Accepting Jesus as king, then, does not entail rejecting God as king. Rather, it entails accepting God as king.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Arguing against apologetics

I was brushing my teeth this morning, and I got to thinking about people who are against apologetics--especially other Christians. Apologetics is nothing more than defending a point of view. You defend a point of view by making arguments or by answering arguments.

It seems to me that a person who is against apologetics is kind of like a solipsist. If a solipsist were totally consistent, they wouldn't bother to try to convince anybody else of solipsism. What would be the point of convincing somebody else of solipsism if there is nobody else to convince?

In the same way, a person who is against apologetics can't very well defend their point of view consistently. They'd have to give an apologetic for their point of view. They'd have to engage in the very thing they object to.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Theistic evolution

Some people believe in what they call "theistic evolution." I used to be such a person. Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason gave what I thought was a pretty good refutation of theistic evolution. He argued that it's self-contradictory. There is a big difference bewteen natural selection and intentional selection. If something is selected intentionally, then it was not selected naturally. "Theistic" implies intentional selection, and "evolution" implies natural selection. Since they are mutually exclusive, "theistic evolution" is a contradiction in terms.

I got to thinking, though, that a theistic evolutionist can go ahead and accept natural selection. Remember that evolution consists of two parts--mutation and natural selection. Couldn't it be that God causes some mutations he knows will be advantageous, and therefore naturally selected? Koukl argues that "natural selection" is part of the meaning of "evolution." But what about "mutation"? Does the mutation have to be random, or determined by natural law, or something along those lines before it counts as "evolution"? That, I don't know. If God caused some of the mutations that were then naturally selected, would that still be "evolution"? If so, then maybe "theistic evolution" is not a contradiction in terms after all.

Maybe I'll call Greg Koukl on Sunday and ask him what he thinks. In the meantime, what do y'all think?

Even if sound, Koukl hasn't really given us an argument against what theistic evolutionists mean by "theistic evolution." They just mean changes in species happen over time and generations because God causes the changes. All Koukl's argument accomplishes, if it is sound, is showing that theistic evolutionists should just call it something different besides "evolution." Koukl has really only refuted a term; not a concept.

Now of course I realize there are other problems with theistic evolution, or any kind of evolution, but those are beyond the scope of this post. Before any of you get all bent out of shape, I'm not taking sides on the evolution debate at this point. I'm still suspending judgment because I just don't know enough. If you want to get bent out of shape about my suspension of judgment, I can live with that.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The evolution of intelligence

I never write about evolution or debate about it because I don't know enough about it. I don't know enough to defend evolution or refute it. Scott Pruett, who does the Pensees blog, recently wrote one on Eugenics that got me to thinking about something, though. This isn't a polished thought I had, but since I did say in the beginning that "the things I write down are not meant to be things I've completely thought through and refined," but that they "are my initial ideas about things--things that just pop into my head--that may some day be developed further and refined or abandoned," I decided to go ahead and share my thoughts with you.

There's no doubt that our scientific and mathematical knowledge has greatly increased over the last few thousand years. It's incredible what we've accomplished--calculus, nuclear physics, molecular biology, space travel, etc. It would be impossible to go through all the amazing stuff we've been able to do. I think there's also no doubt that doing these things requires quite a bit of intelligence.

Now here's the interesting thing for me. It doesn't seem like our intelligence has increased at all over the last few thousand years. In fact, I'm quite certain it hasn't increased at all in the last 10,000 years, at least. There are a couple of reasons why I say that.

First, because North and South America were pretty much isolated from the rest of the world about 10,000 or 12,000 years ago. When Europeans arrived about 500 years ago, they found the natives basically living in the stone ages (maybe with the exception of the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incans). Yet it turns out there is no difference in intelligence between native Americans and Europeans or Asians. Or at least if there is a difference, it's not significant enough to tell. That means that in spite of living in the stone ages, these people were just as intelligent as the people who developed radio, space travel, and nuclear bombs.

It would seem to me to be an incredible coincidence if two people who lived in isolation from each other for 10,000 years or more, under very different conditions, nevertheless evolved exactly the same. There's really no difference between Asians, Europeans, and native Americans. That leads me to believe Asians and Europeans were just as intelligent back when they were living in the stone ages, too. In fact, all mankind must've been just as intelligent when living in the stone ages as they are today.

Second, ancient civilizations like China that go back 10,000 years or so have left records that seem to indicate an intelligence no different than our own. All we have done since then is build on previous knowledge. That's the only reason we are advanced now. It isn't because we're smarter. It's because we have a long history of built-up knowledge behind us.

These two observations make me pretty certain that humans across the globe have not evolved intellectually in the last 10,000 years. 10,000 years ago, all of us, with the exception of the Chinese, were living pretty primitively. Up until then, we likely always had. I doubt we'd find more advanced civilizations by moving back farther in time from then. That means humans were far more intelligent than necessary back then.

As I said above, I don't know that much about evolution. But from what I understand, there are basically two mechanisms that cause things to evolve--mutation and natural selection. Mutations occur during reproduction. The offspring gains something in its DNA that wasn't there in its parents' DNA. There are three kinds of mutations--those that result in a disadvantage, those that result in an advantage, and those that make no difference. Rarely do you ever hear of a creature being born with a deformity that it advantageous to its survival, but you always hear about deformity resulting in a disadvantage. Who knows how many mutations make no difference at all! Nature tends to weed out disadvantages, and it selects advantages because advantages make it easier to survive and reproduce whereas disadvantages make it more difficult.

You would think, then, that a mutation wouldn't propogate unless it gave the species an advantage. Since mutation is necessary before natural selection can operate to cause a species to evolve, several generations of mutation and natural selection have to occur before a species as a whole can change significantly. Each generation would have to mutate in a beneficial way that built on the previous beneficial mutation.

In this case, I've been talking about intelligence. I can see how evolution could produce intelligent creatures, but that intelligence would have to be suited to the world those creatures lived in. Unless some added intelligence gave a creature an advantage, it would be a superfulous mutation. But humans were far more intelligent than necessary 10,000 years ago. That means that for several generations, superfulous mutations kept adding to each other. We kept getting smarter even though natural selection wasn't causing it.

I find it incredible that there is such a diversity of races in the world, yet no noticeable different in intelligence between them. There are different races, I presume, because they all evolved in such a way that they would be adapted to their divers environments. That means that to an extent, they have been evolving independently from each other for a long time. Yet intellectually they're all the same. If they evolved pretty much independently, yet they have all reached the same degree of intelligence, then I would find it hard to believe their intelligence evolved independently.

This last observation leads me to believe our intelligence hasn't changed at all since migrating people first began to develope noticeable differences in their races. Surely that goes back much farther than 10,000 years ago. Imagine how primitive our ancestors must've been then, yet just as intelligent as we are today.

There really are a lot of things that evolution doesn't explain to me. I say "to me" because I'm sure somewhere somebody has managed to account for these things under evolutionary theory. This intelligence thing is just one example. Another example I've found striking for longer than intelligence is our appreciation of art, music, natural beauty, humour, and things like that. What advantages do these things have? And why is it that they are universal? Why do so many people find sunsets to be "beautiful," and why do so many people have a sense of humour? Why does anybody have a sense of humour?

I know that my reasoning above could be all faulty. I know my knowledge of the subject is primitive. But these things don't cause me to want to reject evolution altogether. They do make me highly suspicious, though, that there aren't exceptions to evolution. Even if I grant that species have changed significantly over time, I doubt that mutation and natural selection are the only means by which they have changed. I'll say something more about that in the next blog.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Prophetic accuracy

There are a lot of Christians out there who say that 100% acccuracy isn't necessary for a true prophet. They'll say that even a true prophet will sometimes get things wrong. They'll be mistaken at least part of the time. Giving false prophecies does not, necessarily, make somebody a false prophet. I want to mention a few reasons for why I have a hard time accepting that.

First, what is a false prophet if not somebody who gives false prophecies? I wonder if there's a scale or something. Maybe if you get 50% or more right, and the rest wrong, you're a true prophet, and if you get 50% or more wrong, and the rest right, then you're a false prophet. Or maybe you have to be 100% wrong all the time in order to be a false prophet. Or maybe you have to be wrong more than 70% of the time to be a false prophet. I would like to ask some of these people how much you can get wrong and still not be a false prophet. I suppose they could argue that you could get 99% wrong, and as long as you still got one genuine prophecy from God, you are a true prophet. They might respond to the above question by saying, "What is a true prophet if not somebody who gives true prophecies?"

Second, it's hard enough discovering that somebody is a true prophet and really hears from God. In all my life, I've never met such a person. But imagine if, on top of that difficulty, is the added difficulty of discovering whether any particular prophecy uttered by a true prophet is really from God! No matter how many times a prophet proved himself, you could never confidently listen to them.

Third, if a true prophet is sometimes mistaken, then they obviously can't distinguish between the voice of God and their own imagination. Why should they even trust their own prophecies if they know they can't make this distinction? If they are in no position to tell, think how much less the rest of us are in a position to tell!

Fourth, and finally, I've just never seen any Biblical justification for this position, while I have seen plenty of Biblical justification for calling somebody a "false prophet" who speaks presumptuously in the name of God.