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.