Friday, December 23, 2011

Mormonism: What would Pascal say?

This is not an argument against Mormonism. It's just an observation I thought was interesting.

Pascal argued that in a situation where a person was 50/50 on whether God exists or not, that the safer bet would be to believe God exists since you have much to gain and nothing to lose by believing in God, and you have much to lose and nothing to gain if you don't believe in God.

According to LDS theology, there are three levels of glory--the Celestial Kingdom, the Terrestrial Kingdom, and the Telestial Kingdom. The Celestial Kingdom is the highest kingdom, and that's the one Mormons shoot for. It allows them to progress and become more like the Father. But to get to the Celestial Kingdom, you have to "live the fullness of the gospel," which entails partaking of all the ordinances of the LDS Church.

The Terrestrial Kingdom and the Telestial Kingdom are for most everybody else. Hardly anybody goes to hell, or what Mormons call "perdition." The only way you can go to perdition according to LDS theology is if you absolutely know that Mormonism is true and you reject it anyway. So you've got to basically be visited by Jesus or an angel, or have some kind of experience like that that tells you beyond all doubt that it's true. But since most of us never get that kind of confirmation, we're in no danger of perdition. We're going to go either to the Terrestrial Kingdom or the Telestial Kingdom.

The Terrestrial and Telestial kingdoms are unimaginably better than this world. Those of us who are basically decent people, whether we are Christians, atheists, or whatever, will go to the Terrestrial Kingdom, which is a groovy place. All the rotten people (Hitler, etc.) go to the Telestial kingdom, and even they are going to experience a wonderful eternity there. It turns out that even some Mormons will go to the Terrestrial kingdom because you have to be married and have your marriage sealed for eternity before you can go to the Celestial kingdom. So Mormons who are in good standing and who live faithfully according to their religion will go to the Terrestrial kingdom as long as they remain single.

So let's suppose you're an ordinary protestant Christian trying to decide whether to convert to Mormonism or not. And let's suppose you're sitting on the fence. What would Pascal say?

Well, if conventional Christianity is true, and you believe in it, then you'll be saved. But if you convert to Mormonism, you'll suffer the wrath of God for your sins because the Mormon gospel is a false gospel that can't save. So if conventional Christianity is true, and you convert to Mormonism, you have a lot to lose.

But if Mormonism is true, and you don't convert to Mormonism, you're still going to spend an eternity in heavenly bliss. You're not in any danger of suffering the wrath of God. The only thing you lose out on is becoming a god and populating other worlds. If Mormonism is true, and you believe in it, you STILL may not ever become a god and populate other worlds. First, you have to tie the knot for eternity before you can go to the Celestial kingdom and progress to godhood. That seems like a high price to pay. But even if you get married for eternity and enter the Celestial Kingdom, it's not an easy road to godhood. Going to the Celestial Kingdom only gives you the opportunity to continue on the road of progression. It still takes a lot of effort once you get there.

So if you're happy with what conventional Christianity has to offer--an eternity of bliss free from sickness, suffering, and sorrow--then you might as well stick with that because if Mormonism happens to be true, that's what you're going to get in the Terrestrial kingdom anyway. There's little advantage to converting to Mormonism--especially if the idea of eternal marriage does not appeal to you, or if the idea of being responsible for a whole universe and billions of people does not appeal to you, or if you just happen to like coffee and Dr. Pepper.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Conversation With a Mormon Missionary

I just went to mormon.org where you can chat live with a Mormon missionary, and I had the most interesting conversation with a nice girl named Melody. I thought you might be interested in listening in...

Agent [Melody] is ready to assist you.

Melody: Hi, I'm Melody
Melody: How are you today?

Me: Hi Melody.
Me: Sorry, I was looking at a different web page.

Melody: no worries. :)
Melody: how can I help?

Me: Okay, I got a visit from a couple of missionaries a couple of days ago...
Me: And I've been thinking about some of the things we talked about.
Me: And it has raised a question for me.

Melody: great! I'd love to help. :)

Me: When we were talking, I was asking them what distinguished them from other people who consider themselves Christians but who are not Mormons.
Me: I was wanting to know what advantage there was to becoming a Mormon instead of just remaining a Christian, assuming that Mormonism is true.

Melody: ok

Me: One of them started talking about different levels of glory.
Me: He showed me a book with an illustration of the Celstial Kingdom, the Terrestrial kingdom, and the Telestial kingdom.
Me: So my question is about the Celestial kingdom.
Me: Although I don't remember what all was said, I remember getting the impression that becoming a Mormon would be the first step toward eternal progression--becoming more like the Father.
Me: So my first question is this: Do you have to become a Mormon before you can enter the Celestial Kingdom?

Melody: that's a good question. A person has to believe in and live (the best they can) the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is taught in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints (mormon) and which church has been given authority from God to perform ordinances such as baptism.
Melody: Many people who are members of the church, but who aren't fully committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ won't enter the celestial kingdom,

Me: So, becoming a Mormon is part of living the fullness of the gospel?
Me: So it's possible to be a Mormon, but NOT enter the Celestial kingdom. Is that right?

Melody: "Mormon" is a nickname for members of the Church of Jesus christ of Latter-day saints.

Me: Yes, I understand that. That's how I'm using the word.

Melody: right, but that term would not have applied to the first Christians during Jesus's time, or the faithful members of God's church in Old testament times. That's why I feel like stressing that it is the part about obeying the fulness of the gospel, rather than being a "mormon".

Me: I like your name, by the way. I used to know a girl named Harmony. Wouldn't it be funny to have twin girls and name them Melody and Harmony?

Melody: :) good times.

Me: Oh, I see your point.

Melody: we believe that it's the same church, though

Me: Okay, wel for the sake of discussions, let's just assume that when we use the word "Mormon," we're referring to people who faithfully live out the gospel.
Me: That'll just make the dissuasion more simple, I think.

Melody: and we also believe that God will give all of His children the opportunity to learn the gospel, the fulness of the gospel and have the chance to accept or reject it before they are judged. So there are many people who will enter the celestial kingdom who didn't have the opportunity to join the church during their lifetimes.
Melody: sounds good. :)

Me: Yeah, we talked about that. They read me a passage in the Book of MOrmon that basically said if you hear the gospel int his life, you won't get a second chance in the after life. But if you never hear in this life, you'll get a chance in the after life. So everybody gets a chance, but they don't get two chances.

Melody: God will be fair. and He will judge our desires and our actions. :)

Me: But anyway, we're straying a little bit from where I wanted to go. Lemme ask you another question.

Melody: alright

Me: So, a person must live consistently with the fullness of the gospel to get to the Celestial kingdom...And only Mormons (though not all Mormons) live consistently with the fullness of the gospel (since only the LDS Church has the priesthood authority, etc.)...So, it seems to follow that you must convert to Mormonism (either in this life or the next) before you can go to the Celestial kingdom.
Me: Is that right so far?

Melody: I'd say that sounds pretty accurate. :)

Me: Hold on, I have to get my train of thought back. LOL I'm a little skater-brained.

Melody: no worries. take your time. :)

Me: Oh yeah. So, is going to the Celestial kingdom necessary for eternal progression? I other words, it is possible to go to one of the lesser kingdoms and still continue to progress in the afterlife?
Me: Scatter-brained, I meant.
Me: Or however you spell "Scatter"

Melody: hmm...that's a good question. I imagine that people in the lesser kingdoms will still be able to learn and grow in some ways, but they will be limited. They will not inherit a fulness of God's glory, so they won't be able to eternally progress.
Melody: no worries.

Me: I wish I knew a little more about what it means to eternally progress, but that would get us into a long discussion, probably. The way the missionaries put it, progression is all about becoming more and more like the Father.

Melody: exactly. let me see if I can find a verse that may help.

Me: Okay, so let's say that people in any kingdom can progress, but you have to go to the Celestial kingdom before you can progress all the way and become JUST LIKE the Father. Is that right?

Melody:  55 They are they into whose hands the Father has given aall things—

Me: What is this a verse from?

Melody: 
58 Wherefore, as it is written, they are agods, even the bsons of cGod—
59 Wherefore, aall things are theirs, whether life or death, or things present, or things to come, all are theirs and they are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
60 And they shall aovercome all things.
61 Wherefore, let no man aglory in man, but rather let him bglory in God, who shall csubdue all enemies under his feet.
62 These shall adwell in the bpresence of God and his Christ forever and ever.
Melody: 69 These are they who are ajust men made bperfect through Jesus the mediator of the new ccovenant, who wrought out this perfect datonement through the shedding of his own eblood.
70 These are they whose bodies are acelestial, whose bglory is that of the csun, even the glory of God, the dhighest of all, whose glory the sun of the firmament is written of as being typical.
Melody: It's from Doctrine and Covenants section76
Melody: it's part of a revelation received by the prophet Joseph Smith

Me: Okay. I'll have a look at that later. I sometimes have to read things more than once before they sink in. But I have a copy of the D&C, so I can look at it.

Melody: I like analogies a lot, they help me to understand the concepts better. The kingdoms of Glory are compared to the Sun, the moon and the stars

Me: So, what other requirements are necessary to enter the Celestial Kingdom? Is it just living the full gospel? Or is there more?

Melody: and in 1 corinthians 15 we learn that we will be resurrected to different kinds of glory
Melody: I use this analogy to help correlate the two
Melody: when we are living the fulness of the gospel, our souls become full of light
Melody: but when we sin, or reject our faith, our souls can't hold as much light

Me: Yeah, I've heard the 1 corinthians 15 connection, but that isn't where this doctrine comes from, is it? I mean Paul talks there about celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies, but there's no mention of telestial bodies. So the Telestial kingdom must come from some other source.

Melody: not exactly. I don't know why Paul doesn't mention it. It is possible that consequent transcribers made a mistake and left it out, or that Paul had other reasons
Melody: but he does mention sun, moon and stars, as an analogy for the "brightness" of different kingdoms

Me: But is there another source in LDS scriptures that talks about this? I'm assuming there's a D&C somewhere that talks about these three separate kingdoms. I mean Paul doesn't even mention kingdoms. It sounds like he's just making an analogy between different heavenly bodies and the resurrection bodies.

Melody: right, because there is a correlation between the two. The judgment is not arbitrary. our actions have a direct consequence on the state of our souls, which consequences will be made obvious in our resurrected bodies
Melody: we are the greatest record of our lives
Melody: you know how sometimes you meet a person
Melody: and they are so good, you can just tell by looking at them?

Me: You mentioned earlier that baptism was part of living the fullness of the gospel and that there are other ordinances. Can you mention what other ordinances there are? You don't have to mention all of them if there are a lot. I'm just curious what a few others might be.

Melody: they shine a little

Me: I don't know if I can tell by LOOKING at somebody who good they are. I mean people thought Ted Bundy was a pretty swell chap. But you can tell by observing the way they behave. Is that what you mean?

Melody: I don't necessarily mean literally, and of course, people aren't perfect
Melody: I mean that some people seem to glow a little. They know who they are. they are confident, and happy. They have joy in their lives, even when things are hard.

Me: Yes, I've met people like that.

Melody: its kindof like that.

Me: Hmm.

Melody: and people who have had rough lives, who have committed all kinds of sin, they can seem like they are clouded by darkness
Melody: or a hardness

Me: Yeah, I see what you mean.
Me: It's like some people have an aura about them that you can sense when you're around them.

Melody: exactly. We will be the same person after we die--and I think that we'll still carry that "aura" with us.
Melody: does that make sense in terms of the resurrection and judgement?

Me: A little. It does raise a question, though. Are you saying the different kingdoms aren't actually different places or domains, but that they just represent different groupings of people--people who have different kinds of "aura's"?
Me: That's something else I've wondered about. Do people in different kingdoms mingle with each other? Do they all get to experience the presence of Christ? Or are they isolated from each other?

Melody: I think it's both. No unclean thing can dwell with God, so there will be a physical separation between God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, and those who have rejected them. (That is why Christ can visit the terrestrial kingdom and the Holy Ghost can visit the telestial kingdom).

Me: When you say they can visit the kingdoms, it makes it sound like the kingdoms actually ARE different places, and not just a way of talking about different states of being.

Melody: that's why I said it was both. :)

Me: Okay. Did you see the question I asked about ordinances?
Me: If you didn't see it, I can ask again.

Melody: yes. Baptism is the first ordinance, along with receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. Men are ordained to the priesthood. Temple ordinances follow in time, ceremonies called the initiatory, and the endowment. the sealing ordinance is the final ordinance, which seals a couple together for eternity, and their children to them so they can be a family unit in the eternities
Melody: (Also in the temple)

Me: Are these ordinances part of what it means to "live the fullness of the gospel"?

Melody: yes.

Me: So eternal marriage is part of living the fullness of the gospel?

Melody: right. However, God also understands the circumstances that we are in. Marriage is not always an opportunity for some people. Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, all things that are unfair about our mortal lives may be made right. God will not deny eternal opportunities for those who sincerely follow Him.
Melody: basically, that means that if we dont' have the opportunity to get married in this life, God will give us the opportunity
Melody: to be sealed

Me: I'm not sure I'm following you. Are you saying that if a person lacks an opportunity to fulfill one of the ordinances of the gospel, that they can enter the Celestial kingdom even without living the fullness of the gospel?
Me: Oh, so you're saying that after death, we still have an opportunity to get married?

Melody: the ordinances of the gospel are step by step, line upon line. A person must be baptized to get the priesthood, and must have those before going to the temple.
Melody: God will make all things that are unfair about life fair in the eternities

Me: Does a person have to go through ALL of the ordinances before you can say they lived "the fullness of the gospel"? Or only some of the ordinances required?

Melody: that's a good question. It goes back to the fairness of God. He will judge us according to our faithfulness and the opportunities we were given. For example, suppose a young woman dies when she is 17. She has been baptized, and has been as faithful as she can be. She loves the Lord and desires to follow Him.
Melody: but she hasn't been through the temple because she's too young
Melody: God will make it fair for her
Melody: I don't know all of what that means,
Melody: but I do know that god will deny none of His children who love Him and want to be faithful
Melody: and he will provide a way

Me: When you say God will make it fair for her, does that mean God will treat her as if she had gone through all the ordinances, or does that mean God will give her the chances to perform the ordinances in the afterlife?
Me: Okay, I'm with you.

Melody: or provide a way for those who are on earth to do the work vicariously for her
Melody: that is why we do work for the dead

Me: Well, let me ask you another hypothetical question, and if you need to speculate, that's okay. Or if you just want to say, "I don't know," that's okay, too.

Melody: ok

Me: Let's say you're a Mormon, and you go to a church where there aren't a lot of other singles...
Me: But there's one single girl who really digs you, but you don't dig her that much.
Me: And let's say that this girl would marry you if she had the chance. That means YOU have the opportunity to get married. But you choose not to.
Me: Would that satisfy God's fairness? If you don't marry this girl, and if she was your only chance, does that mean you won't enter the celestial kingdom? After all, at that point, God could say, "I gave you the chance to get married, and you chose not to."

Melody: that's a good question. It all goes back to the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We are to do our best, and He will make the "rest" possible. As for this hypothetical young man and woman, it depends. Did he try? Did he seek the Lord's counsel through prayer and scripture study on the subject? Did he choose to not pursue a relationship with this woman because he honestly felt that he couldn't honestly have a relationship with her? or did he not because he just didn't really feel like it? There is a bit of a difference between someone who never finds the right person, and those who let opportunities pass by.
Melody: God teaches us to be honest in our dealings with our fellow men. I think it would have been much worse if the young man had married her dishonestly, saying that he loved and was committed to her when his heart wasn't in it

Me: In this scenario, let's say there's nothing really wrong with the girl. She's a descent person, a faithful Mormon, etc. The guy just isn't the least bit interested in her. Either he's not attracted to her, or he's gay, or he prefers being single, or whatever.

Melody: And again, God understands our hearts and our limitations.

Me: Does that mean God will treat the person as if he had gotten married and let him go to the Celestial kingdom?

Melody: Not exactly, because God is not a hypocrite. He teaches honesty because He is perfectly honest. But through the atonement of Jesus Christ, He can provide opportunities to His children to reconcile themselves

Me: Or does it mean that some way or some how, God will see to it that you will meet somebody you WOULD want to marry and who WOULD want to marry you, either this life or the next?

Melody: I'm not really sure how it works, but I imagine that it would be something akin to the latter.

Me: So, if a person decided to join the Mormon church, was beginning to get old, and was beginning to despair that he'd never find somebody suitable to marry, he shouldn't suffer any anxiety about not making it to the Celestial kingdom since God will give that person more opportunity in the afterlife?

Melody: exactly. let me quote one of our current apostles on the subject:
Melody: But what of the many mature members of the Church who are not married? Through no failing of their own, they deal with the trials of life alone. Be we all reminded that, in the Lord’s own way and time, no blessings will be withheld from His faithful Saints.32 The Lord will judge and reward each individual according to heartfelt desire as well as deed
Melody: from:
Melody: http://lds.org/general-conference/2008/10/celestial-marriage?lang=eng&query=celestial+marriage

Me: That makes it sound like marriage isn't even necessary to go to the Celestial kingdom, unless I'm misunderstanding him.

Melody: I think you're misunderstanding him. :)
Melody: it's because they are not married "through no failing of their own"

Me: Melody, let's say a faithful Mormon dies single, and he has to find somebody in the afterlife to marry if he wants to eternally progress...
Me: Between the time he dies and the time he marries, will he be able to hang out in the Celestial kingdom, or must he stay in one of the other kingdoms until he finds said wife and gets married?

Melody: neither. When we die, our spirits go to a place called "the spirit world." it is like a waiting room for the resurrection. All such things will be resolved before the resurrection. Again, I don't know how it works, because God hasn't revealed all things to us, but we do believe that sometime in the future, when we need to know, He will teach us.

Me: So all the ordinances have to take place while in the spirit world before the resurrection?

Melody: right. the final judgment is final
Melody: and that happens after we are resurrected

Me: That's why you have proxy baptisms?

Melody: exactly!

Me: Is there such a thing as a proxy marriage?

Melody: yes. we do perform proxy sealings

Me: INtersing.

Melody: :)

Me: Does a couple have to be married here on earth before they can have a proxy sealing?
Me: Like say two people get engaged, and one of them goes off to war and dies in battle. Can they be sealed?

Melody: that is typically how it works--we seal deceased married couples. If there are exceptions, they have to be approved by church leaders.

Me: Or what if only one of them has died?

Melody: I'm not sure
Melody: I think it would still require special permission

Me: That's an interesting question because what if there's a Mormon couple, and one of them wants to be sealed for eternity, and the other doesn't. The one who doesn't, dies. Then, the one who does has a proxy sealing. So the one who doesn't, doesn't have a choice. LOL
Me: It's like an eternal shotgun wedding.

Melody: oh, there's always a choice. work that is done for the dead can be accepted or rejected by the individuals that it is done for. :)

Me: Oh, I see. I'm sure that's a relief for some people.

Melody: I'm sure it is! haha...

Me: Give me a second to think. I think you've answered all my questions, but give me a second.

Melody: no worries. I'm in no rush.

Me: Okay, so let's say Jesus is going to return tomorrow, and I still haven't found somebody to marry. And I get in a car accident and die today. That leaves me one night in the afterlife to find somebody to marry for eternity, because once Jesus returns and the resurrection happens, my chance is over. Does mean if I don't married within that short amount of time, I have no chance of ever going to the Celestial Kingdom and becoming just like the Father?

Melody: not exactly. You are right that there will be many who are resurrected when christ comes again, however, not all people are resurrected at the same time. If God is merciful and just, He will give His children what they need.

Me: Oh, I see! That is very interesting.
Me: So, God could leave us in the spirit world indefinitely to give us time to perform the ordinances, right?
Me: Which means there is no one judgment day. There's different judgement days for different people depending on when they are resurrected.

Melody: not indefinitely, since ordinances (and proxy ones) require living people who have bodies
Melody: God will give you what you need

Me: Body those who are resurrected are living people with bodies, right?
Me: Body = but

Melody: :)
Melody: yes, however, while God is fair, there aren't loopholes

Me: I'm curious if people who have been resurrected and who live in the Celestial kingdom are able to perform proxy ordinances on those who are still in the spirit world and haven't been resurrected yet.

Melody: I don't think so

Me: OKay, well this has been really interesting, Melody, and I appreciate your time.

Melody: I'm glad we were able to chat today! you had some tough questions!

Me: In case you're interested, the reason I'm asking these questions is because I'm wondering if it's worth it to even look into Mormonism.

Melody: what do you mean?

Me: Okay, lemme explain.
Me: Let's say that Mormonism is true in everything it asserts.
Me: And let's say that I never get married.
Me: That would mean that if I convert to Mormonism, I'm really no better off than if I don't convert to Mormonism. Because from what I understand, as long as somebody is a fairly decent person (especially if they're a Christian attempting to follow Christ), then they will probably go to the Terrestrial Kingdom. But that's exactly where I'd go if I became a faithful Mormon and never got married. So if I'm never going to get married,it doesn't really matter for all practical purposes whether I ever convert to Mormonism or not. And if it doesn't matter, there's no point in expending a lot of effort in trying to find out if Mormonism is true.

Melody: ok. let me explain something to you really quick. because it doesn't seem like you've been understanding
Melody: 23 For we labor diligently to write, to apersuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by bgrace that we are saved, after all we can cdo.
Melody: if you accept the fulness of the gospel, and live it to the best of your ability, you will enter the celestial kingdom. period.
Melody: marriage in this life or not
Melody: the point is that you have to do the best you can

Me: Melody, i question whether anybody, Mormon or not, ever lives the fullness of the gospel to the best of their ability. We're all lazy from time to time. We all slack off.

Melody: yes, and then we can repent of our sins and be forgiven
Melody: that is why we need Jesus christ
Melody: Don't make the mistake that so many christians and mormons make in underestimating or undervaluing the saving power of JEsus Christ

Me: But if you must live to the best of your ability, then a person who slacks off can't go to the celestial kingdom simply because they haven't met the requirement. They actually have NOT lived to the best of their ability.

Melody: no. the best of your ability means that you do the best you can, and when you mess up, you do your best to repent and move forward
Melody: we aren't going to be perfect

Me: So you don't think anybody has the ability to be perfect?

Melody: Jesus christ was the only person to live a sinless life

Me: Let me back up. You said earlier: "if you accept the fullness of the gospel, and live it to the best of your ability, you will enter the celestial kingdom. period. marriage in this life or not. the point is that you have to do the best you can."

Melody: yes

Me: But you're not saying here that a person who tries but fails to get married will still be able to enter the celestial kingdom, are you?

Melody: I'm not sure I understand the question

Me: AFter all, I'm sure I could be trying a lot harder. I could be proposing to every woman I met. I could be breaking out the charm. So I'm not giving my best effort. I'm not doing all I can do.

Melody: haha. I don't think that's what it means. :)

Me: Well, you said as long as we do our best, we'll make it to the celestial kingdom. My question is: What if I do my best to get married, but fail. Will i make it to the celestial kingdom anyway?

Melody: ok. let me simplify everything that I've already said.
Melody: we are on this earth to do our best
Melody: we have to have faith in God and in Jesus Christ
Melody: we must desire to follow them above all else
Melody: "We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel." Articles of Faith

Me: Melody, can you hang on? I've got to use the bathroom. I'll be right back.

Melody: "We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost." Articles of Faith
Melody: ok. sounds good.
Melody: just read what I'm writing in the meantime

Me: Okay, I'm back.
Me: Thanks for waiting.

Melody: basically, that means that living the gospel means that we have Faith in Jesus Christ and His atonement, we continually repent of our sins, receive the ordinances of baptism, and the gift of the holy ghost. this is what it takes to enter the celestial kingdom. We can do that much. If we create excuses for ourselves, then we are lying to ourselves.
Melody: Now, there is something else that you should know. There are levels, or degrees of the celestial kingdom. Those individuals who are faithful, but reject the opportunity to become married, (in the spirit world or whatever) will enter into the celestial kingdom, but will not progress eternally with their spouse.
Melody: 
1 In the acelestial glory there are three bheavens or degrees;
2 And in order to obtain the ahighest, a man must enter into this border of the cpriesthood [meaning the new and deverlasting covenant of emarriage];
3 And if he does not, he cannot obtain it.
4 He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an aincrease. (doctrine and covenants 131)

Me: Intersting. I hadn't heard that before.

Melody: that's because we're getting into deeper doctrine, that we don't typically go into on mormon.org
Melody: we like to keep things simple

Me: Is it possible to be married in the Celestial kingdom and for one person to progress but not the other?

Melody: no. after the resurrection, everything is final. all such issues will be resolved before

Me: Progression isn't automatic, though, is it? I mean isn't there more a person has to do while in the Celstial kingdom to progress?

Melody: I would encourage you to start at the basics, and work up, this is really deep, and too much speculation on deep topics without an understanding of the basics is dangerous because it leads people to "look beyond the mark"
Melody: right

Me: Okay. Well thanks, Melody. Is there anything else you want to talk about before we go?

Melody: if you are interested in learning more about eternal marriage, I would encourage you to check out the link I gave earlier, for the quote by Elder Nelson
Melody: or visit lds.org
Melody: I hope that helps!

Me: Okay. Well, hopefully the missionaries will come back. I gave them my number.
Me: You've been very helpful. Thank you very much.

Melody: that's great! I hope they come by soon!
Melody: sure thing! I've really enjoyed chatting with you!

Me: Have a nice day, and Merry Christmas!

Melody: Merry Christmas to you too!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Westminister Confession and double predestination

I am sometimes surprised by how many Calvinists will affirm the Westminister Confession while denying double predestination. Double predestination seems to follow inescapably from the Westminister's Confession that "God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass."

1. God ordains whatever comes to pass.
2. The damnation of some people comes to pass.
3. Therefore, God ordains the damnation of some people.

How can you escape that? The only thing I can think of is for a Calvinist to argue that there's a difference between God ordaining things to come to pass and God predestining things to come to pass. I get the impression that there's no difference, but maybe I'm wrong.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Is God really all that?

I still check out Yahoo Answers sometimes. There's a lot of villagers on Yahoo Answers, but since most people fall under that category or come up with the same kinds of objections to Christianity, we can't just ignore them. We can't just focus our attention on intellectual people or scholars.

I want to say something about a pattern I've noticed. A lot of questions on Yahoo Answers are something to the effect of "If God is all-something, then why this or that?" These questions are posed as challenges to Christians. When the Christians answer, they never seem to take issue with God being all-something. They granted it, then try to reconcile it with "this or that."

But I find myself questioning that God really is all-anything. One question that came up today started off, "If God is all-forgiving..." It sounds pious to say that God is all-forgiving, but I don't think it's accurate. Matthew 12:31 says that God will never forgive blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. So he's not all-forgiving in the sense that he will forgive all sin. He's also not forgiving in the sense that he will forgive all people (unless you're a universalist). He's going to send some people to hell as punishment for their sins.

So I don't think we can just arbitrarily stick an "all" in front of any of God's attributes and expect to arrive at sound theology. I think it's accurate to say that God is all powerful, all knowing, and all good, but I don't think it's accurate to say that God is all forgiving or even all loving.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Review: Redeeming Halloween by Kim Wier and Pam McCune

A few years ago, a friend of mine wanted me to read Redeeming Halloween: Celebrating Without Selling Out by Kim Wier and Pam McCune, then to tell her what I thought of it. I figured since it's close to Halloween, and I need some fodder to blog on, I'd post the email I sent my friend. Here ye go...

I just finished reading "Redeeming Halloween," and thought I'd share my thoughts with you while they're fresh on my mind. I'm not going to go into much detail, because to be honest with you, I'm not all that interested in this subject. Of course I love Halloween. I mean I'm not all that interested in the subject of Halloween as a controversy among evangelicals.

I think the authors hit the nail on the head in the beginning where they talked about how Christians either feel guilty about celebrating Halloween, or they dread the reaction of their Christian friends, or they just don't celebrate it. As for me, I've never felt any guilt about Halloween, but I have sometimes dreaded the reaction of other Christians. I remember Amy (my ex-girlfriend) and I went to a Baptist church one Halloween and were treated kind of rudely because of how we were dressed. I was dressed as the grim reaper, and at Sylvania Baptist Church, "We don't glorify the devil." That's one of the things I don't like about Baptists--they major in the minors. I mean they make a big deal about what seem to me to be trivial issues.

I thought the authors had a lot of really creative and neat ideas for activities on Halloween. As the book progressed, though, the ideas seemed to have less and less to do with anything particularly Halloweenish. You know what I mean? I mean they were the sort of activities people might do in a child's Sunday school class any time during the year.

In the beginning of the book, the authors talked about the origins of Halloween, and how it was originally a Christian celebration of the martyrs. I wondered if the rest of the book would be an attempt to restore that original celebration, but it wasn't. The authors didn't say anything at all about how Halloween was originally celebrated. Then, they took activities, such as dressing up, going trick or treating, and carving pumpkins, which had nothing to do with the original Halloween, and showed how we could sanitize them by pouring Christian significance into them, i.e. dressing up as people groups who needed salvation. It made me wonder what the point was in going through the history of Halloween. The rest of the book seem to make the origins of Halloween irrelevant.

This is the way I look at it. If the activities themselves can be sanitized by pouring Christian meanings into them, then there's nothing inherently wrong with the activities. I mean you can't sanitize something that is truly wrong. For example, you can't make adultery right just by pouring some Christian significance into it. So if it's possible to sanitize an activity, then there's nothing inherently wrong with the activity. And if there's nothing inherently wrong with the activity, then it doesn't need to be sanitized. Maybe at some point in the past people did pour sinister meanings into activities, such as trick or treating. But these days in our culture, Halloween is a meaningless holiday, and trick-or-treating and dressing up is done for pure fun with no meaning--good or sinister--behind it. So while I see nothing wrong with a person wanting to pour Christian significance into Halloween activities, I see no need for it either.

As for me, I'm not really big on celebrations at all. I'm not a big fan of birthday parties or Christmas celebrations. I mean I like Christmas. I like Christmas trees and getting together with family to eat and socialize, but I'm not really big on gift exchanging, birthday cakes, and things like that. I think gift-exchanging causes people more stress than it's worth. The pay off just isn't worth it. But I like Halloween because it's the one time in the year where it's socially eacceptable (except among some evangelicals) to pretend to be something you're not. It's just good meaningless fun, and that's all I want it to be. I'm afraid if I felt the need to engage in so much meaningful activity on Halloween as they suggest in this book, it would suck the fun right out of Halloween for me. But that's just me. I see this sort of thing as a matter of personal preference. It's a Romans 14 situation.

Here's a couple of other things to look at:

Fall Festivals by Sam I Am

Thank God for Halloween by John Mark Reynolds

Friday, September 23, 2011

Faster than the speed of light

By now, you've heard about the physicists in Europe who measured the speed of some neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light. There are lots of articles I could've linked to, but this one mentions time travel, and I want to talk about that.

Somebody on facebook asked if it had any implications for arguments for the existence of God. I'm not qualified to answer that question, so I'm going to answer it. That's just the way I roll. I'm a blogger.

Up until now, the word on the streets has been that it's impossible for anything to move faster than the speed of light. There are good reasons for this, which I have read in physics books and which I can't explain from memory. I've glossed over some non-academic and unreliable sources on the internet that say that if it's possible for something to move faster than the speed of light, then time travel is possible. That's what the article seems to be saying that I linked to above. If that's so, then it could spell disaster for the kalam cosmological argument. Lemme explain.

The kalam cosmological argument depends on the A theory of time (i.e. the tensed theory, the dynamic theory, etc.). Backward time travel is not possible on the A theory of time because there's no past to travel back to. Backward time travel is only possible on the B theory of time (i.e. the tenseless theory, the static theory, etc.). So if backward time travel is possible, then the B theory must be true. And if the B theory is true, then the kalam cosmological argument is not sound.

But one could argue backwards. If backward time travel were possible, then it would result in all kinds of paradoxes. But paradoxes like those that would result from backward time travel are not really possible, which means that backward time travel is not possible. But backward time travel WOULD be possible if the B theory of time were correct. Since backward time travel is not possible, the B theory of time cannot be correct. So the kalam cosmological argument could still be sound. One could go on to argue that if neutrinos could move faster than the speed of light, then time travel would be possible, but since time travel is not possible, neutrinos cannot move faster than the speed of light.

Physics. It messes with your head. It'll be interesting to see what happens, 'cause you know this experiment is going to have to be repeated.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Craig, Dawkins, Loftus, and sometimes White

John Loftus wants to debate William Lane Craig, but Craig won't debate Loftus for what seem to Loftus to be lame reasons. William Lane Craig wants to debate Richard Dawkins, but Dawkins won't debate Craig for what probably seem to Craig to be lame reasons. So here's my solution. I think Loftus should approach Dawkins and say, "Hey, I want to debate Craig, but he won't debate me, and Craig wants to debate you, but you won't debate him. So let's go talk to Craig and say, 'Bill, we have a proposal for you. Dawkins will agree to debate you if you will agree to debate Loftus. That's fair, isn't it?'"

Maybe we can find some way to work James White into it as well, because White would like to debate Craig on Molinism. Craig doesn't debate his fellow Christians, though. He debated Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan who both consider themselves to be Christians, but I guess Craig doesn't consider them to be real Christians. I wonder if Craig would ever debate a Mormon. Considering the fact that he contributed a chapter to The New Mormon Challenge, which was subsequently responded to by Blake Ostler, he ought to be willing to debate a Mormon. And considering how many times Craig has attacked Calvinism, it seems like he ought to be willing to debate the issue.

White would also like to debate Norman Geisler. Why aren't deals being made? Surely we just need to find the right incentive to make these debates happen. I don't think Geisler will debate anybody, though. I saw his debate with Ferrell Till a long time ago, and it did not go well for Geisler. I don't think Geisler is cut out for debating.

Personally, I would love to debate Bill Craig. Even though I'd probably get stomped, Craig is a nice fellow, and it would probably be really interesting and fun. Plus, Craig is always crystal clear, which I think would make him an ideal debating partner. I hate having to struggle to understand what somebody is saying. I'd hate to debate James White, though. James White would probably just want to make me look stupid. And since he has such an unpleasant and abrasive personality, I don't think I'd enjoy debating him even if I was the winner. I'm not sure I'd want to debate Dawkins for the same reason. Dawkins is rude and condescending, and I can't stand people like that. Just reading his anti-Christian diatribes is like fingernails down a chalkboard to me. It seems like if he really wants to rescue Christians from their ignorance, he wouldn't write that way. It makes people lose interest in his arguments and not even want to read them.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

RE: God is Impossible: A Final Proof



I saw this video on youtube recently. This is Kathleen King presenting an argument she got from Lynne Atwater, who she says is a clinical psychologist. It's an attempt to demonstrate that God doesn't exist by pointing out a contradiction in the notion of God. Although Kathleen claims that the argument uses "simple deductive logic," she doesn't actually present her arguments in tidy syllogisms so that we can see the deduction clearly. I'm going to attempt to put her arguments into syllogisms. I realize I risk being accused of misrepresenting her argument by doing this, but I'm going to do the best I can. This is essentially what the argument is:

1. If creation is impossible, God's existence is impossible.
2. Creation is impossible.
3. Therefore, God's existence is impossible.

Of course this is a logically valid syllogism, so the only question is whether these premises are true. So let's look at how she defends them.

1. If creation is impossible, God's existence is impossible.

She bases this premise on her definition of God, which she gets from Webster's dictionary, and which says that God is "the creator and ruler of the universe." So this is her argument:

1.1 If creation is impossible, then it's impossible for the universe to be created.
1.2 If it's impossible for the universe to be created, then it's impossible for the creator of the universe to exist.
1.3 If it's impossible for the creator of the universe to exist, then God's existence is impossible.
1.4 Therefore, if creation is impossible, then God's existence is impossible.

That's about as tidy as I can make her argument, and hopefully she won't object to this characterization. Now let's discuss these premises.

1.1 If creation is impossible, then it's impossible for the universe to be created.

This is obviously true, and I hope nobody reading this needs me to explain why.

1.2 If it's impossible for the universe to be created, then it's impossible for the creator of the universe to exist.

There is an imprecision in this premise that I'm going to let slide because the imprecision will come up again when I talk about the next premise. For now, let's assume for the sake of argument that this premise is true.

1.3 If it's impossible for the creator of the universe to exist, then God's existence is impossible.

This premise is based on her definition of God as "the creator and ruler of the universe." The truth of this premise depends on the definition being an identity statement. If "God" and "the creator of the universe" are identical, then if one doesn't exist, the other doesn't exist. When we say that "God is the creator of the universe," we must be using the is of identity for her premise to be true.

But this dictionary definition is not using the is of identity. Rather, it's using the is of predication. That God created the universe is not an essential attribute of God. After all, in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic theism, God did not need the universe to exist. He could have refrained from creating the universe. In some characterizations, God actually existed before the universe existed. If God existed before the universe existed, then he obviously couldn't have been defined as "the creator of the universe." He became the creator of the universe subsequent to creation. The fact that God created the universe is just something that happens to be true of God. So, when Kathleen says, "Without creation, God can't exist," she's obviously not talking about the Jewish, Christian, or Muslim God.

I know a lot of people will disagree with what I'm saying here. Some of my fellow Christian apologists (like Greg Koukl and Brett Kunkle of STR) argue that Yahweh and Allah cannot be the same God since different properties are attributed to each of them. Using the indiscernibility of identicals, they argue that since there are things that are true of Allah that are not true of Yahweh, and vice versa, that Allah and Yahweh cannot be the same God.

But I have maintained that there is a flaw in such reasoning. After all, Calvinists and Arminians believe different things about God, but that doesn't mean the God of the Calvinists and the God of the Arminians are different Gods altogether. All it means is that one or both of them are wrong about what they believe about God. In the same way, it seems at least possible that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, but just believe different things about him. I called Greg's radio show one time and pressed him on this point (October 24, 2010). After giving me his argument from the indiscernibility of identicals, I asked him if he would apply the same principle to the Jews. After all, the Jews believe in a unitarian God, whereas we believe in a trinitarian God. Does that mean Jews and Christians worship different Gods? Greg made an exception in their case and said we worship the same God, but that Jews are just mistaken to say that God is only one person. But couldn't we just say that the Muslims are mistaken in what they attribute to God? Greg and I did not resolve our differences (and as an aside, I'm agnostic on the question of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God).

In the same way, it's possible that God exists, but that we are mistaken to attribute creation to him. So premise 1.3 cannot be accepted without some qualification. For those who think it is appropriate to apply the indiscernibility of identicals to distinguish between different gods of different belief systems, you may find premise 1.3 to be true without qualification. But if you do, please be aware of the difficulties that is going to cause you.

Since there is room for debate here, I'm just going to say that premise 1 may or may not be true. My primary problem with this argument is premise 2, which I will discuss presently.

2. Creation is impossible.

This is the crux of Kathleen's argument, and it's also the weakest link in the argument. The reason Kathleen thinks creation is impossible is because it entails a logical contradiction. Actually, she infers two contradictions from the notion of creation.

The first contradiction comes from the fact that creation entails something coming from nothing. The second contradiction comes from the fact that if the universe came into existence out of nothing, then not even God existed before creation. Let's take them one at a time.

The first contradiction

Creation entails something coming into existence out of nothing, which Kathleen thinks entails a contradiction.

Let me make a digression here and explain what a contradiction is. A contradiction is when one claim is the negation of another claim. The claim that "My cat is pregnant" contradicts the claim that "My cat is not pregnant." But there's more. Before these two claims can really be contradictory, they must be talking about the same cat at the same time and in the same sense. After all, I've got two cats. If "My cat" in the first sentence referred to Psyche, and "My cat" in the second sentence referred to Aristotle, then the statements would not really be contradicting each other. Or, if I uttered one statement while Psyche was pregnant, and I uttered the other statement right after she gave birth to all her kittens, the statements would not contradict each other. Or, if I meant "pregnant" in a literal sense in the first statement but a metaphorical sense in the second statement, then the statements do not contradict each other. To have a genuine contradiction, you have to be talking about the same thing at the same time and in the same sense. This is important because it has a bearing on the soundness of Kathleen's argument.

With that in mind, how is it that the notion of something coming out of nothing entails a contradiction? Kathleen doesn't tell us explicitly what the two propositions are that supposedly contradict each other, but you can kind of guess from the illustration she uses. In the illustration, she says that she has a house that is completely empty. Then she says,"If you really need something, I could go inside my house and get it for you." She thinks that would be contradictory because "the definition of my house would be both true and false at the same time." There's a caption on the video that says, "nothing =/= something."

Apparently, these are the two statements she thinks are contradictory:

2.1 There is nothing in my house.
2.2 There is something in my house.

Now, remember the explanation above of what a contradiction is. Before these two claims can contradict each other, they must be talking about the same thing at the same time and in the same sense. If I went into the empty house, created something out of nothing, then came out of the house with the thing I just created, then it will have been true that "There is nothing in my house" and that "There is something in my house," but both statements would not have been true at the same time. So there would be no contradiction.

Kathleen claims that the creation of the universe from nothing would be just like saying you could get something out of her empty house. If there's nothing in the house to get, then you can't get something out of the house. In the same way, the universe can't come into existence out of nothing.

The problem with Kathleen's argument should be immediately obvious, even to her. She says in her video that "Creation can't be two opposite things at the same time" [the emphasis is my own]. She's absolutely right. By the law of non-contradiction, the universe can't both exist and not exist at the same time. But, of course, nobody who claims that the universe was created is under the impression that the universe existed and didn't exist at the same time. The Christian doctrine of creation ex nihilo does not entail any contradiction because it doesn't claim that "Nothing exists" and that "Something exists," at the same time as Kathleen's video portrays it. There is no contradiction. Creation ex nihilo is simply the idea that God brought the universe into existence without the use of pre-existing material. I'll say more about that next.

The second contradiction

The second contradiction comes from the fact that creation out of nothing entails that not even God existed before creation. But God would have to exist if he is to create anything. So here is the contradiction (as far as I can see):

2.3 God existed before creation.
2.4 God did not exist before creation.

The problem with Kathleen's argument is simply that she is confused about what creation out of nothing means. It doesn't mean that nothing at all existed before creation. All it means is that what came into existence did not come into existence out of pre-existing material. If God were to create a red rubber ball right now without using any material that is already in existence, that would be an example of creation ex nihilo even though the whole universe already exists. It would differ from what Kathleen refers to as "transformation." When Christians say that God created the universe out of nothing, they do not mean that the universe came into existence without a cause.

It may help Kathleen to understand the distinction between a material cause and an efficient cause. A material cause is the material out of which an object is made. An efficient cause is the thing that brings about change or motion. If somebody made a longbow out of a tree, the tree would be the material cause of the bow, and the person would be the efficient cause of the bow. The doctrine of creation ex nihilo is that the universe has an efficient cause, but it does not have a material cause. So creation out of nothing does not entail that God wasn't around to create the universe.

The crux of Kathleen's argument is that creation is impossible since it violates the law of non-contradiction. But Kathleen's argument fails because she has not demonstrated any contradiction. Without that crucial premise, Kathleen's argument against the existence of God fails.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Whatever begins to exist has a cause to its existence

The Kalam Cosmological Argument begins like this:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause to its existence.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause to its existence.

Today, I want to respond to two objections I hear frequently to the first premise.

Objection #1: The first premise equivocates on the phrase "begins to exist." In all of our experience, we only witness things coming into existence in the sense that matter or energy is restructured in some way. My car is made up of pre-existing material. The material that I am made of came out of star dust billions of years ago. When something comes into existence in this sense, our uniform experience tells us that there is always a cause. But when the Kalam argument uses the phrase "begins to exist" it isn't talking about the universe being made out of pre-existing material. It's talking about all the material of the universe coming into existence from nothing. Since we have no experience of anything coming into existence from nothing, we are not in a position to say whether it would require a cause or not.

Answer #1: My biggest problem with this objection is that it assumes our knowledge of causation is based on experience. I think that is a mistake. As David Hume pointed out, all we ever witness is contiguity in space and time. We don't actually witness causation. We assume causation when we witness contiguity in space and time. I think our knowledge of causation is a rational intuition. I know for a certainty that something cannot come into existence out of nothing without a cause, but my knowledge isn't based on anything I've experienced.

Objection #2: Some things do come into existence uncaused out of nothing. Pair production is an example. Electrons and positrons spontaneously pop in and out of existence. The universe could have, too.

Answer #2: When electron/positron pairs pop in and out of existence, they don't do so from and to absolute nothingness. Electron/positron pairs are produced from pre-existing material, namely gammas. And when they annihilate each other, they are converted back into gammas. So pair production and annihilation does not provide a counter-example to the principle that something cannot come into existence uncaused out of nothing.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Are you here to convert me?

I have a suggestion. If somebody accuses you of trying to win converts or asks you if you are trying to convert them, don't say anything like, "I'm not trying to convert you. I can't convert anybody. Only the Holy Spirit can convert you (or only you can choose to convert)." I've talked to a lot of Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons, and every time I ask them what their intentions are, why they come to my house, and what they're trying to accomplish, and whether they are trying to convert me, they all give me a variation of that response. The reason I suggest not giving that response is because it comes across as disingenuous. I always strive to be straight forward and honest with people, and I expect the same from them. Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses are not going door to door for nothing. Their hope--their goal--is that you convert. And they think them being there to talk to you will have something to do with your conversion. Otherwise, there'd be no reason for them to witness to you. And when you witness to others or use apologetics, the purpose is to cause them to change their minds and convert. Just be honest about it. It doesn't mean you have to change your theology. Of course the Holy Spirit has to change a person's heart, but if we ambassadors were irrelevant to the process, Jesus never would've sent us out. It is not impious to say that the reason you are sharing your faith with somebody or offering arguments for your faith is in the hope that they will convert. And if that is your hope, then you are trying to convert them. Just be honest about it. I would have a lot more respect for Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses if they were just honest with me about their intentions.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

The persuasive power of arguments in a presuppositional apologetic

Calvinists, and especially presuppositionalists, often make what seems to me to be inconsistent statements. They say that arguments do not persuade, and the job of an apologist is not to persuade since only the Holy Spirit changing a person's heart can cause that person to be converted. The motive for using apologetics is simply obedience to the great commission and 1 Peter 3:15.

But then, on the other hand, they say in God's sovereignty, he uses means to accomplish his ends. In some cases, his end is to save somebody.

With that being the case, why couldn't arguments be among the means that God uses to convert people? If so, then arguments do persuade. If arguments can have no persuasive power, then they cannot be among the means God uses to convert people. If presuppositional Calvinists really believe God uses means to bring people to salvation, why do they exclude arguments from among those means? If he uses arguments as his means, then arguments persuade.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Hallucination Hypothesis

For several years now, I've been wanting to write a series of blogs where the first half of the series argued that Jesus considered himself to be the Jewish messiah and the second half of the series argued that Jesus was raised from the dead. I read so much on the subject and had so many thoughts on it that my stack of notes became formidable, which made it difficult for me to muster the enthusiasm to finally write it all down. So I've been putting off blogging about little pieces of the puzzle individually because I thought I'd eventually write this whole series. Well, since it's been so many years and I have nothing to show for it, I thought I'd go ahead and start blogging on some of the pieces. For all I know, I may never write the whole series, and I hate for that bee in my bonnet to keep buzzing around.

I'm pretty convinced that the apostles saw what they took to be a living breathing Jesus some time after he had died. I think that is a really good explanation for why they continued to believe that Jesus was the promised messiah even after he had been killed by the Romans. But the question is this: What did they actually see? The other question is this: Why did seeing it cause them to believe Jesus had risen from the dead?

One of the common responses apologists give to the hallucination hypothesis is that hallucinations are, by their nature, subjective experiences. You can no more see somebody else's hallucination than you can see somebody else's dream, and the reason is because hallucinations and dreams only happen in the mind. There's no objective reality outside the mind that more than one person could see. And since the appearances of Jesus happened in groups, it could not have been a hallucination.

There are two responses to that argument I have heard. I came up with one of them myself a few years ago. In my theory, Peter was actually the only one who saw Jesus. The others believed his story and soon began to claim that they had seen Jesus as well even though they didn't. But they each believed each other's testimony, and that strengthened the faith of each of them that Jesus really had risen from the dead.

This theory is basically a denial that the appearances happened in groups. Since there's no group appearances, the hallucination hypothesis remains viable. However; it appears from the gospels and 1 Corinthians that the appearances happened in groups. How do we account for that? Well, it isn't hard to imagine how that might've happened given my theory. Suppose one of the apostles is preaching the gospel in a new town, and he tells them that Jesus was raised from the dead. Somebody says, "Did you see him yourself?" The apostle replies, "Oh yeah. We ALL saw him." That would be consistent with my theory because, in fact, all of them claimed to see Jesus. But the listeners mistakenly infer that the apostles saw him at the same time. So when some of the listeners begin to tell others about the gospel, they portray the appearances as if they were group appearances. It's an easy mistake, and it could've happened early on. You might think that if this misunderstanding was widespread during the lifetime of the apostles they would've corrected it, but I don't know if it would've been worth correcting from their point of view. From their point of view, would it really matter whether they all saw Jesus individually or at the same time? I can't think of a motive for the apostles to go to the trouble of straightening out this detail.

I think the appearances probably did happen in groups, though, for a couple of reasons. In Paul's appearance traditions he quotes in 1 Corinthians 15, he says that Jesus appeared to Peter, then to the twelve. He also says Jesus appeared to James, then to all the apostles. These two traditions seem to be reports of the same appearances but from different sources. And I've read this in some of the scholarly literature. They think the first tradition came from Peter or some of his followers, and the other one came from James or some of his followers. That's why you have Peter at the head of one tradition and James at the head of the other even though "the apostles" and "the twelve" refer to the same group of people. So these appearance traditions come right from the source. They aren't the end product of a long telephone game. Pinchas Lapide went so far as to say that they can be taken as eye-witness testimony from the apostles themselves. These two appearance traditions don't necessarily entail group appearances, but they do strongly imply it. That's one reason I think the appearances happened in groups.

The other reason is because Paul mentions these 500 witnesses. I don't think Paul is quoting an oral tradition at this point because he makes a parenthetical comment about them, that most of them were still living, though some had fallen asleep. That couldn't have been an oral tradition because if it was, it would have to be continually updated as more and more of them died. Apologists often take this as Paul challenging the Corinthians to check out the claim. They could ask these witnesses themselves. The weakness, of course, is that Paul doesn't identify any of these witnesses. Still, the parenthetical comment makes me think that a large number of people must've claimed to have seen Jesus. Paul would have to have been intentionally making things up to claim that some of them had died. It's possible Paul may have been exaggerating the number or just guestimating, but his parenthetical comment makes me believe they really existed. I don't think it's likely that such a large number of people would claim they saw Jesus individually. Given such a large number of people, I think it's likely that at least some of them claimed to see Jesus in groups. After all, how could Paul even come up with an estimate if there were just random individuals here and there claiming to have seen Jesus? I think it's far less likely that a group of people would lie about an appearance than that an individual would lie about an appearance.

N.T. Wright makes another good point. If people were individually claiming to see the risen Jesus, it's inexplicable that these appearances seem to have suddenly stopped. From all our sources, it appears that Paul's appearance is odd in the fact that it happened much later than everybody else's, and nobody after Paul ever claimed to have seen the risen Jesus. If people were going about claiming to have seen Jesus just to be cool, we shouldn't expect those claims to all of a sudden stop.

So I think there probably were group appearances. But I don't think that necessarily undermines the hallucination hypothesis, which brings me to my second response to the claim that hallucinations don't happen in groups. The most common counter-example is Marian apparitions, which involve groups of people claiming to see Mary. Now let's face it. People often do claim to see things in groups even though there's nothing really there to see. You see this kind of stuff all the time. If I saw a face in a cloud that nobody else saw, but then I pointed it out to other people, pretty soon, they'd see the face, too. They'd see it because they were looking for it. They expected to see it. That's the only reason anybody ever saw Mother Theresa in a cinnamon roll. Maybe the apostles saw something or somebody who resembled Jesus, and they believed it was him.

One problem with this line of reasoning is that the apostles likely were not expecting to see Jesus. One reason, as Bill Craig often points out, is that Jews who believed in resurrection all seemed to think of resurrection as an eschatological event. It was something that happened on the last day, not in the middle of history. And the resurrection was supposed to be general, not individual. I went into detail about this point in November and December 2005 in my series on the resurrection in parts 1-5, so I won't repeat the arguments here. The other reason the apostles probably weren't expecting the resurrection is because resurrection wasn't an obvious part of what the messiah was supposed to do. The messiah was supposed to sit on the throne of David, reestablish national sovereignty, and usher in an era of peace and prosperity. Instead of running the Romans out, Jesus was crucified by them and subjected to publish humiliation. To any Jew, that would've signified that he was a failure. And, in fact, no messianic movement other than Jesus' survived the death of its leader, and there were quite a few of them in the first and second centuries. Given common Jewish expectations about the messiah, we should expect the apostles to have given up hope after Jesus was arrested and crucified. And, as it turns out, that's exactly what the gospels report.

On the other hand, the gospels also report that Jesus predicted his resurrection. It says the apostles couldn't really wrap their heads around what he was saying, but if Jesus really did predict his resurrection, then maybe they were holding out some remote hope that he might rise from the dead. If so, then maybe they were looking for him. If so, then maybe they saw him just like people see faces in clouds or Mother Theresa in a cinnamon roll.

C.S. Lewis pointed something out in his book on Miracles that seems to count against the idea that the apostles were expecting to see Jesus. He pointed out that on a few occasions where Jesus appeared to the apostles, they did not immediate recognize him. Assuming that really did happen, I agree with him that it counts against the notion that the apostles saw Jesus because they were expecting to see him or because they were looking for him. It would seem odd not to recognize the object of your own mental projection. The only difficulty is trying to establish that particular detail of the narrative. It's one thing to say Jesus appeared to the apostles; it's another thing to say he appeared in a particular way at a particular place and had a particular conversation, etc. I haven't thought about it that much, but it seems to me you'd have to come up with some possible motives for why the authors would include that detail if it didn't happen. Does it serve some apologetic or rhetorical purpose?

The major problem I have with the hallucination hypothesis is that it doesn't really explain why the apostles came to believe Jesus had risen from the dead. Think about this for a minute. Think of somebody you know to have died, like a relative or something. Maybe your parents. What would you honestly think if you saw that person standing right in front of you right now? It seems like you'd have a few options:

1. You're dreaming.
2. You're hallucinating.
3. You're seeing a ghost.
4. The person never died to begin with.
5. The person has risen from the dead.

I put this question to my daughter a while back when I first thought of it. She has a cousin who died three years ago, so I asked Grace what she would think if she saw Madeline standing right in front of her, and I gave her some of these options. I left out the dreaming one because I didn't think of it at the time, but Grace said she'd think she was dreaming. That wasn't what I expected her to say. I expected her to say it was a ghost because that's probably what I would think. Plus, Grace's mother used to be a ghost hunter, and Grace was kind of interested in the subject. I don't think I'd assume I was dreaming. I might entertain the thought at first, but it wouldn't take much to convince me that I was awake. I'd probably rub my eyes a lot and look really carefully. My mind would be reeling, trying to make sense out of it. I've seen weird stuff before, so I know this is probably how I'd react. The very last thing I would think was that she had risen from the dead. The second to last thing I'd think was that she had never died. The first thing I'd probably think once I came to my senses was that I was hallucinating. But after rubbing my eyes for a while, walking around and looking at different angles, and maybe even talking to her, I'd probably come to the conclusion that I was seeing a ghost. I suspect that's what most people would think in a similar situation.

And, it turns out that's exactly what the gospels report that the apostles thought (Luke 24:37). They thought they were seeing a spirit. Luke goes on to say that Jesus corrected their misunderstanding by pointing to the scars on his hands and feet and then eating in front of them. John's gospels reports that Thomas wanted to actually touch Jesus before he'd believe. 1 John begins with "what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands..." Why all this emphasis on the physicality of Jesus? Why the emphasis on touching and eating to prove that Jesus really had risen from the dead? Well, I think it's only natural because nobody would conclude that a dead person was physically alive, walking and talking, just because they saw a vision or hallucination. It would take a lot more than that. Seeing Elvis made people think he never died, not that he had risen from the dead. Seeing Mary was only consistent with what Catholics already believed--that Mary never died, not that she had risen from the dead. If I saw my niece alive who I know to be dead, it would take a lot to convince me she was really alive. I'd have to touch her with my own hands and see that she was tangible, and it would help to see her eat something. And that's probably what I'd say to people if I were telling them about it. I'd say, "Holy cow, I didn't believe it myself until I actually touched her. I mean I felt her with my own hands, and she was as tangible as anything! She sat right here and ate a veggie burger." Madeline was a vegetarian, by the way.

I want to point out a weakness in relying on the appearance traditions that Paul quoted in 1 Corinthians 15. I wanted to stick this somewhere in the body of my blog here, but I couldn't find a place for it that didn't destroy the flow. So I'm just sticking it right here at the end. The Mormons have, at the beginning of The Book of Mormon, a testimony signed by several people saying that they saw the golden plates from which Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon. Mormons believe these testimonies provide evidence that the golden plates really existed even though we no longer have them because the angel, Moroni, took them away once Joseph Smith finished the translation. If all we had was this written testimony, it might seem persuasive. After all, these people signed it. They endorsed it. But that isn't all the information we have. It turns out that a few of them wrote about their experiences later on. When you read their individual accounts, it becomes ambiguous whether anybody actually saw the plates at all. The three witnesses didn't see the plates. They went out in the woods and prayed to be able to see them and ended up only seeing a vision of the plates, not the plates themselves. A few of the other witnesses said they only got to feel the plates which were hidden under some cloth or something. They didn't actually see them. If all we had was the appearance traditions quoted by Paul, then even if these appearances came from Peter and James themselves, we'd be justified in questioning what it is they actually saw. Maybe they DID just see a hallucination or something like Mother Theresa in a cinnamon roll. Of course I already explained why I don't buy that.

I haven't said anything about the appearance to Paul. I'm really hungry, though, so I'm not going to talk about the appearance to Paul. I don't have much to say about it anyway. There is the argument that since the appearance to Paul was visionary, and since Paul thinks his appearance was just like the appearance to the other apostles, that Paul must've understood their appearances to be visionary as well. That's an argument worth responding to. Maybe I'll do that some other time.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Why theology matters

Yesterday, I was visited by a couple of Mormon missionaries. Each of them had only been doing missionary work for four months, and they openly admitted that they didn't know much. I asked them a lot of questions about the nature of God and whether various things I had heard about Mormons were official teachings of the LDS Church or whether they were merely the opinion of various people within the church. At one point, one of them said something to the effect that theology (the study of God) is not important. What's important is just the gospel. It's not important whether God is capable of evil, whether God had a father before him, whether God is the only god, whether God changes/progresses, etc. I explained to them why I think theology DOES matter, and I thought it would make a good blog post.

First, it's because if we are to truly worship God, we must know something about him. Worship includes praise, and praise is an appreciation of somebody's character, attributes, and accomplishments. But if you didn't know anything about somebody, what would you praise them for? Imagine if I told you that you needed to worship Brian. Your first question would be, "Who is Brian?" The only way I can answer that question is to tell you something about Brian. In the same way, if Christians are going to tell people they need to worship Yahweh, then we need to give some content to that word. Without knowing something about God, "Yahweh" is just a word.

Second, it's because having accurate information about God (i.e. correct theology) helps us to distinguish the true god from false gods. If we knew nothing about Yahweh, and somebody who worshipped a different god, like Baal or Osiris, started calling his god "Yahweh," we couldn't know the difference unless we knew something about the real Yahweh. If we didn't know anything about any God, we couldn't know whether Yahweh, Baal, and Osiris were actually the same god or whether they were different gods. The first commandment is that we worship Yahweh and Yahweh alone. We are not to worship any other god. The only way we can keep that commandment is if we have our theology right.

Actually, I didn't give them that second reason. I thought of that later. I just gave them the first reason.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Who's afraid of the big bad critic?

A couple of months ago, somebody wrote me who was just starting out in philosophy and apologetics. He confessed that he feared challenge and critique, not just because he'd lose face over it, but because he would fail the church because of it. I offered him my advice in reply and was just thinking it might be helpful to others, so I'm going to make a blog post out of it. Here ye go:


I think everybody, whether Christian or not, has experienced a little anxiety in a debate or when reading an opposing book or article. I think the primary reason we have this anxiety is because our ego is at stake. That's especially the case when you're in a face to face encounter. All of us, at one time or another, have discovered that we were wrong about something, and changed our minds as a result. But nobody wants to be proved wrong in the heat of battle because it stings our ego.

And people are sometimes very emotionally attached to their point of view, and it's painful to have to give it up. That's especially the case for Christians, I think, because of the emphasis we put on having a personal relationship with our lord and savior. Finding out he's not really our lord and savior is kind of like losing your best friend. If you had your whole purpose for living wrapped up in it, it's very scary to give it up.

There are a few things that have helped me with my anxiety when facing opposition:

1. Place a high value on truth. Maybe you ARE wrong about some things. We shouldn't fear finding out that we're wrong. We should welcome it. If we place a high value on truth, then we'll be thankful for whoever sets us straight. We should make a conscious decision to pursue truth regardless of whether we like it or not. As long as our goal is to discover the truth about things, we should never feel any anxiety about finding out we've been wrong.

2. Swallow your pride. You've heard the saying, "Pride goes before the fall." It's true. If you can't be humble, you can't learn. And if you can't learn, you're doomed to wallow in ignorance. Life will kick your butt if you're too prideful to be corrected or advised by other people. Solomon said, "Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; Reprove a wise man, and he will love you" (Proverbs 9:8). Be the wise man. Instead of digging in your heals when faced with a tough challenge, acknowledge the merits of the challenge. Admit you don't know something when you don't know it. Don't just make stuff up in an effort to save face.

3. Educate yourself. The more you know, the less anxiety you'll have about being wrong. Do the hard work of studying and refining your apologetic.

4. Read your opposition carefully. There's a tendency to gloss over what our opposition says because we're afraid. This is why there's so much misunderstanding between people with differing points of view. I have found that if I try hard to really understand what my opposition is saying, and to master it to the point that I could defend their position myself, the flaws in their arguments will become much more apparent than if I had just glossed over them. Sometimes an argument can seem persuasive at first glance, but when you dig a little deeper you find the flaws. Actually studying the deep atheist thinkers has increased my faith. It's like a kid who is afraid of the monster under his bed. Once he actually looks under his bed to discover there's no monster, his fear goes away.

5. Keep in mind the core essentials of Christianity. At a bare minimum, if God exists, if he imposes moral obligations on us, if we disobey them, and if he judges us, and if Jesus is the Christ, and if he died for sins, and if he was raised from the dead, then Christianity is true. Keep that in mind because the majority of our critics will attack things that have no bearing on the truth of any of these essentials. For example, you'll hear a lot about Bible contradictions, and you can get bogged down in endless discussions of contradictions and reconciliations, but none of that tells you anything about whether those core elements of Christianity are true. So when you're faced with a challenge you can't answer, just ask yourself, "If the other person is right, what bearing does that have on these core tenants of Christianity? Could Christianity be true if my opponent's arguments are sound?" I have found this to be very useful in my debates. I avoid rabbit trails or insignificant arguments. I don't even debate inerrancy with non-believers. Stay focused when you're debating on line, and keep in mind the importance of the topic you're debating and it's bearing on whether or not Christianity is true.

I hope this helps. I also recommend reading "The Ambassador's Creed."

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Open Theism

Open Theism is a subject I haven't thought much about. One of my facebook friends asked for suggestions to blog about. I threw out a suggestion that he didn't want to write about because he hadn't thought much about it. For me, though, blogs are sometimes an opportunity to think out loud, so I decided to blog about something I hadn't thought much about just to show that it can be done. I'm thinking about open theism right now, and I'm going to share my thoughts with you.

First, lemme tell you what I take open theism to be, and mind ye this is just hearsay. Open theism is the view that God does not know everything that is going to happen in the future. More specifically, he doesn't know what free creatures are going to decide in every case.

The first criticism that ordinary theists (closed theists?) might make is that God is all-knowing. That's standard Christian doctrine. And an ordinary theist might accuse an open theism of denying God's omniscience.

The response of an open theist, from what I understand, is that God is all-knowing. To be all-knowing means to know all true propositions. But God can't be faulted for not knowing something when there's nothing to know. God doesn't know what colour my girlfriend's hair is for the simple reason that I don't have a girlfriend. But that doesn't mean he isn't all knowing. There's no answer to the question, "What colour is my girlfriend's hair"? There's no true proposition for God to know. In the same way, say the open theists, there's no true answer to the question, "What is Bob gonna do with that apple?" if Bob has free will and is just as likely to eat it as he is to throw it away.

It's an interesting thing to think about. Open theism depends on the notion of libertarian free will. In compatibilist free will, our choices are determined by our natures, including our desires, biases, motives, beliefs, etc. But in libertarian free will, our choices are not determined by any antecedent causes or conditions, including our mental predispositions. Since nothing determines what a person will do under libertarianism, anything is possible (within physical limits, of course). Somehow, Open theists seem to think this removes all truth value from future tensed propositions when it comes to describing the future actions of free creatures.

One way they might get there is to say that if there is some definite truth about what you are going to choose in the future, then you can't choose otherwise since, if you did, then the original "truth" would not have really been true after all. So if there is some definite truth about your future choices, then you cannot have libertarian free will. But since you do have libertarian free will, then there's no definite truth about what you're going to choose in the future. That's a logically valid argument, but I dispute both premises. I don't believe we have libertarian free will. I'm a compatibilist. But I don't think there being definite truths about our future choices amounts to our choices being determined, so I don't think future tensed truths are inconsistent with us having libertarian free will. I won't go into that because I wrote about it here.

Also, I gave some philosophical arguments for compatibilism in various other blogs, which I linked to here. I argued in there that compatibilism makes better sense out of morality than libertarianism does. So if we have moral obligations, then compatibilism is more likely to be true than libertarianism.

But lots of Biblical arguments have been made for compatibilism, too. One of the best I've read was Martin Luther's book on The Bondage of the Will.

But even without appealing to compatibilism over and against libertarianism, a person could argue against open theism by pointing to the many prophecies in the Bible that seem to depend on human decision for their fulfillment. Clearly, God knew what people were going to do. Otherwise, he would not have been able to make those certain predictions. The Bible clearly portrays God as knowing the future actions of his creatures.

I suppose an open theist could respond by saying that since God doesn't exhaustively predict all future acts of all his creatures, these Biblical prophecies do not negate open theism. They could argue that in the case of prophecy, God overrides libertarian free will, but he only does so in isolated circumstances in order to bring his prophecies to fulfillment. It isn't his usual course of action. I don't really have an answer for that. I'd have to look up passages to see exactly what it says about God's future knowledge.

Open Theism also seems to depend on a dynamic theory of time. If time is static, and God exists outside of time and is able to observe the entire spectrum of time as if it were all "now" from his point of view, then it seems obvious that he would know everything that every free creature would ever choose. Only if God is in time, like the rest of us, would any problem arise, it seems to me, because then God would either have to predict the future or wait to see what happens. So if it turns out that the static view of time is correct, that would probably be a good argument against open theism. I happen to subscribe to the dynamic theory of time, though, so I wouldn't go that route.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Messages from God on Facebook: Hearing the voice of God

Remember when I mentioned that facebook has this "message from God" app that will post a message as if it were God speaking to you? Well, today, one of my friends got a "message from God" that went like this:
On this day, God wants you to know that silence is golden. When we are quiet, we can hear God's messages to us. Sometimes these messages may be in the form of subtle intuition. Sometimes it may feel like an inner knowing. Sometimes we may hear a 'still, small voice.' If it feels right in your heart, trust that it is God speaking to you.
This is a good example of why I don't like these. This is just silly, but unfortunately, a big chunk of the Christian population out there thinks this way. Very few actually try to live their lives this way. The few I've met have not had much success with it.

For the antidote, see Decision Making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen or Decision Making and the Will of God by Gregory Koukl.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Calvinism thought experiment

Since becoming a Calvinist, I've given a lot of thought to the issue of how people can be morally accountable for their actions if God decrees everything that comes to pass, including human decisions. Calvinists usually subscribe to compatibilist free will to reconcile the situation, but people have a difficult time understanding how people can be morally accountable for their actions if their actions are determined by motives and desires that they did not choose. I wrote two series of blogs about this problem. The first is a nine part series called "Argument against morality from determinism" where I argued that compatibilism is compatible with moral responsibility. You can read them here: intro: the power of intuition, part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8, and part 9. The second is a five part series called "God's Sovereignty and Human Responsibility," where I argued, building on the previous series, that God's sovereignty is compatible with human responsibility. You can read them here: intro: My conversion to Calvinism, part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5. The discussion in the comments section of parts 3 and 4 are worth reading, too.

After all this, I tried to come up with thought experiments that would appeal to most people's intuition and that would help them see that people can be morally accountable for their actions even if God made them the way they are. I came up with one regarding Voldemort, which I posted on my blog here. I wanted to find out if this thought experiment would have an intuitive appeal in favour of the Calvinist view or not, so I posted it on Yahoo Answers to see what people would say. This is the question I asked:
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?
I intentionally left out any reference to Calvinism because I wanted to get opinions from people without their bias for or against Calvinism playing a part in their answer. Sometimes people resist the force of an argument if they don't like where it is going. The majority of people who answered thought that Voldemort would be morally responsible for his actions in spite of the fact that he didn't choose to come into existence or to have all those nasty dispositions, which is what I was hoping for.

It wasn't until just the other day that I actually used this thought experiment in a real conversation about Calvinism in order to persuade the other person. The conversation took place on Stand to Reason's facebook discussion forum, and you can read the conversation here. As I suspected, the person I was talking to was not persuaded by the thought experiment.

So I came up with a different thought experiment, and that is the whole reason for this blog post--to share the next thought experiment I came up with and to see what you think about it. Here it is:
Let's suppose there are two people named Voldemort, and that they are exactly alike in every way. They look alike, dress alike, smell alike, talk alike, etc. They have identical DNA, an identical brain structure, identical mental structure (including desires, biases, beliefs, memories, personality, etc.). The only difference between them is that one of them was born and came into the world the usual way. The other was brought into existence by J.K. Rowling just a few days ago. Would you say...

A. They are both morally accountable for their actions;
B. Only the one born the usual way is accountable for his actions;
or
C. Neither one of them is accountable for his actions?
And since I'm making so many links in this blog entry, I might as well link to another conversation I had on this same topic. The subject came up on STR's blog, and you can read it here. And there's another related conversation here on whether Jesus could sin, and if not, was he really tempted?

There. Now I've got all these handy links in one place so if I ever want to read any of this again, I won't have to look it up. How convenient!