Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Debate: Mormonism is not a Christian religion

Here's a debate I had where my opponent defended the resolution: Mormonism is not a Christian religion.  Since Mormonism has something to do with Jesus, you might think Mormonism ought to fall under the Christian umbrella.  But a lot of people think the whole worldview of Morminism is so radically different than traditional Christianity, that it's not even the same religion.  It only appears to be so because the vocabulary is the same.  Although the words are the same, the meaning is quite different.

Although I'm skeptical myself that Mormonism falls under the Christian umbrella, I thought I'd play devil's advocate in this debate and argue that Mormonism is Christian.  I figured it might be a learning experience for me.  Here is my opening:

I question whether Mormonism falls under the Christian umbrella, too, but I'm going to play devil's advocate in this debate because I don't think most of Pro's arguments are all that strong. Maybe in the process of the debate, he can strengthen them or come up with better ones. Or maybe he'll convince me that they're stronger than I thought they were.

Before we can say that some entity (x) is a member of some category (y), we first have to define y. Pro didn't give us a definition of Christianity, although we might be able to infer his meaning from his arguments.

First, let's look at where this word came from. According to Acts 11:26, Jesus' followers were first called "Christians" in Antioch, presumably by outsiders. The word, "Christian," comes from the word, "christ," meaning "anointed one." It's the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word, "moshiach," or "messiah." So they likely called Jesus' followers Christians because they were following a messiah, namely Jesus. So a "Christian" is somebody who hails Jesus as the Christ.

With that minimal definition in mind, Mormons are obviously Christians. They hail Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah.

Perhaps we could be even more specific about the meaning of Christianity. The apostles, after all, had a message about Jesus they were spreading around that included some very basic information they called "the gospel." It was preserved in an oral tradition that Paul tells us about in 1 Corinthians 15:3ff. It includes these facts:

1. Christ died for sins.
2. He was buried.
3. He rose from the dead
4. He appeared to Cephas.
5. He appeared to the 12.

It's a matter of controversy whether the rest of the appearances were part of the original oral tradition Paul conveyed, but those five things, at a minimum, defined what the Christian message was. Mormons believe all five of those things, so they are Christians.

Now, perhaps Pro is defining "Christian" differently than I am. Perhaps he means to equate a Christian with a saved person. But as far as I know, the early Church never defined "Christian" that way. In fact, it is evident in a number of books in the New Testament that there are some people within the Christian church who will not be saved (cf. Matthew 7:21-23, 2 Corinthians 11:13, Galatians 2:4, 2 Peter 2:1, etc.). Although these people are condemned as being false brothers or false apostles, and although the implication seems to be that they are not really part of God's elect, they are nevertheless part of the Christian community, and the New Testament never denies that they are actually Christians.

Any reasonable person should admit that it's possible for two people to disagree on at least some points of doctrine even if both of them are Christians. In fact, it's possible for two people to be saved even if they have doctrinal differences. People differ on whether spiritual gifts are active today, whether the return of Christ will happen before or after the tribulation, whether God predestines a particular group of people to eternal life, etc. So the mere fact that Mormons may be wrong on some doctrine is not enough to say that they are not Christians.

Now let's look at Pro's reasons for thinking Mormons are not Christians.

Mormon scriptures are not the word of God

Granted. However, there have been debates within Christianity on what writings are the word of God.[1] Catholics and protestants disagree on whether the Apocrypha is the word of God. In the first few centuries of the church, there were disagreements over whether the book of Revelation was the word of God.[2] Nobody ever said somebody wasn't a Christian just because they had disagreements over the canon. If believing in the wrong books means that you're not a Christian, then either Catholics or protestants are not Christian.

Mormons believe in false gods

Mormons believe the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each God just as Trinitarians do. They just differ on the question of whether they are the same God. Whereas Trinitarians believe they are the same God (though distinct persons), Mormons believe they are distinct beings, which logically entails that they are distinct gods. Now, some Mormons will claim that they are monotheists on the basis of the intimate unity between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit [3], but I think that is just a semantical game and shouldn't be taken seriously. Mormons are, without a doubt, polytheists.

But I question whether somebody can be excluded from being Christian on the basis of the extra erroneous beliefs they have. Suppose, for example, that I believe all of the essentials of the gospel, but in addition to that, i also believe in unicorns. Since my belief in unicorns is not a denial of any of the essentials of the gospel, I'd still be a Christian. So, if a Mormon happens to believe in some other god that doesn't actually exist, but they nevertheless believe all the essentials of the gospel, then they're still Christians.

Let's look at 1 Corinthians 8, which Pro brought up. If you read the whole chapter, Paul is saying it's okay to eat food sacrificed to idols because we know there is only one God. But, he says, "Not all men have this knowledge" (v.7), and we should "take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak" (v.9). In other words, it's a sin to violate your own conscience (as Paul argued in Romans 14), so we shouldn't eat meat sacrificed to idols if it will lead another person to think it's okay, even though they think idols represent real gods. Paul's advice only makes sense if these others, with weak consciences, are fellow Christians, because why else would they even be concerned about eating meat sacrificed to idols? So Paul is acknowledging the existence of Christians who think there are other gods.

Mormons deny their depravity

Christians differ on the extent of their depravity. You have Calvinists on one extreme who think we are so depraved that we are completely unable to come to Christ unless the Father draws us, and you have Pelagians on the opposite extreme who believe just as the Mormons do, that we are in a state of equilibrium. Between these two extremes, there is every shade of belief. These are doctrinal differences that are, at best, secondary to the core of Christianity which I explained above.

Mormons hold to a false gospel

Mormons pour different meanings into their words than other Christians, and this leads to confusion. Mormons talk about salvation in two different senses--general and individual. By "general salvation," they mean salvation from sin and death by the atonement of Christ. To be saved is to be raised to eternal life, and they believe almost all people are saved in this sense by grace alone. If they're guilty of any heresy, it's in believing too many people will be saved. They are nearly universalists.

By "individual salvation," they mean "exaltation." Exaltation is something that happens to some of those who are saved in the general sense. It is similar to what mainstream Christians think of as "rewards," which even good Calvinists will admit are earned by good works (1 Corinthians 3:14).

Mormons, perhaps, use the word "salvation" incorrectly, but they nevertheless believe in salvation, by the usual meaning of the word, is by grace. The confusion comes in the fact that Mormons usually use the word "salvation" to refer to exaltation rather than in the general sense. But if you just look at the substance of what they believe rather than the words they use to describe it, their belief in general resurrection is equivalent to the reformed belief in salvation by grace alone.

As far as the gospel is concerned, Paul defined the gospel in 1 Corinthiains 15:3ff, and Mormons fully subscribe to what Paul said there.
[1] The Canon of the New Testament, by Bruce Metzger
[2] Ibid. p. 104
[3] http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/

Monday, December 02, 2013

Is Star Trek Technology Achievable?

This is one of my favourite debates I've had on debate.org, although the voters decided that I lost the debate.  It's not exactly religious, but I do think there are metaphysical implications that are relevant to Christianity.  I'm just posting this one for fun.  We argued specifically about transporter technology.  Here is my opening statement:


Thank you for coming to tonight's debate. A couple of people have already expressed interest in the debate, which I hope means we'll get a good voter turn out. I will try to do my part to keep it interesting.

Before we talk about whether Star trek transporter technology is achievable, we first need to talk about what they do.

1. They are able to send groups of people at the same time to remote locations and back.

2. They work by recording all the information about the person, disintegrating them, sending their parts along with the recorded information to a remote location, and reassembling them from the information and the original parts.

3. They are able to send people through solid walls.

Star Trek transporters unachievable for at least three reasons:

I. Disintegration and assembly problem

Transporters already exist. Cars, transport whole humans, in groups, to remote locations and back without disentigrating them. But in Star Trek, people must be sent through barriers at very high speeds. A whole human cannot pass through walls or survive traveling through space without a breathing apparatus, so they must be disassembled.

But how much? It won't do to cut their arms and legs off and ship them to Dr. Frankenstein who puts them back together. Nor will it do to break them down at the molecular level since cells cannot pass through walls. Breaking them down to the molecular level won't do because molecules cannot travel through barriers like we see on Star Trek. Breaking the molecules down to atoms won't work either because atoms cannot pass through walls unless they are porous enough, and space ship walls need to be air tight. Subatomic particles also have trouble penetrating barriers. Protons and electrons can just barely penetrate skin. Neutrons have great penetration power, but not enough. Three feet of water, by itself, is enough to attenuate most neutrons. But for our transporter to work, we need all of the neutrons in our body to pass through all the barriers. We can't have even a fraction of them attenuated if we want to reassemble the whole person.

We're going to have to break the subatomic particles into something more basic. We're going to have to convert the mass into energy, preferably in the form of electromagnetic radiation.

But that creates an insurmountable problem. The amount of energy contained in the mass of one human is enormous. A person weighing 160 lbs on earth has a mass of about 72 kg, which is equivalent to 1.5 x 10^3 megatons of TNT.[1] The most powerful nuclear bomb ever detonated only released 100 megatons of TNT.[2]

Things are further complicated when we have to reassemble the parts because we have to convert electromagnetic radiation into subatomic particles, such as protons, then fuse those protons into nuclei. It would require an insurmountable amount of energy to perform anything like that.

II. The recording problem

The information required to record everything about a person is prohibitive. There are about 60 to 90 trillion cells in the human body.[3] Each cell is extremely complex, containing thousands of proteins in different arrangements.[4] Each protein is made of long chains of amino acids. The shortest known protein is 20 amino acids long.[5] DNA is made of roughly 3 billion base pairs[6] ordered in a unique sequence in each person.

The brain presents a problem all its own. The brain has about 200 billion cells and about 125 trillion synapses, which is more than all the switches in all the computers on earth combined.[7] To preserve the person, all of the information in the brain must be accurately recorded and transmitted. If anything is missing, it could affect a person's cognitive functions, including their memories, personality, and bodily functions.

All of this information would have to be recorded by some type of computer with more switches than there are atoms in the human body because it's not enough to record each atom. The exact location of each atom must also be recorded relative to every other atom as well as all the chemical bonds between atoms. And there are about 7 x 10^27 atoms in a 70 kg body.[8]

We don't have the technology to build a computer that could process that much information. There is a limit to how powerful computers can be and how small recording devices can be. The smallest possible computer is a quantum computer that can store qubits of information on single atoms. Nothing smaller than that will work because of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. Quantum computers suffer from stability problems, though, and it's questionable whether they can ever be made to be reliable.

Another problem is how to collect and process the information from the body and transmit it to the computer's storage device, which I'll go into more detail about later if I can.

The two factors I have mentioned so far make Star Trek transportation unachievable by mortals, but the next factor makes Star Trek transportation unachievable even by immortals.

III. The problem of identity

Before our Star Trek transporter works as it ought, we must be able to transport the person himself and not just create a replica. The problem with Star Trek type transporters as that they kill a person by disassembling them and use their old parts to create a new person who happens to be just like the one who died.

Let me use a thought experiment to illustrate.[9] Let's say you build a card house, and you accidentally and knock it over. But you had hoped to show it off, so you decided to rebuild it. And such is your memory, that you are able to rebuild it exactly like it was before with each card in its original position. If so, then this second card house would not be the original. You've just used the same cards to build another card house just like the one before.

If you're unconvinced, suppose that instead of you, somebody else knocks it over while you're not around. Then they use those same cards to build a card house exactly like the one you built. Surely the one they built isn't the same one you built even though they're made of the same cards and even though it looks the same. It doesn't matter who does the building. If the new card house is not the original card house when somebody else builds it, then it's not the original when you build it either.

In the same way, if a transporter disintegrates you, then your parts are used along with your recorded information to build a new person with those same parts, then it is not the original person. It's a duplicate.


My opponent explained some of the research in tele transportation, but none of them overcomes the problems I've raised. The article inThe Independent explains how information was transported using quantum entanglement. No substance was transmitted. The Chinese were only able to create a replication, not a transportation. The only article my opponent cited that might give us hope is the last one where solid matter was transported. But if you read the article, the 100 atoms were not actually transported. Rather, there were two collections of atoms 0.5 meters apart, and the "excitation, or spin wave state" of one collection was transmitted to the other collection by means of photons. None of these experiments are relevant to Star Trek transporters.

[1] http://www.1728.org/einstein.htm

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsar_Bomba

[3] http://askabiologist.asu.edu/explore/building-blocks-life

[4] http://www.hfsp.org/frontier-science/hfsp-success-stories/how-many-protein-molecules-do-we-have-our-cells

[5] http://www.science20.com/princerain/blog/smallest_protein

[6] http://web.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/redirect.shtml

[7] http://news.cnet.com/8301-27083_3-20023112-247.html

[8] http://education.jlab.org/qa/mathatom_04.html

[9] Lest somebody accuse me of plagiarism, I am copying this from a discussion I had on a message board, but this is my original work.  http://community.beliefnet.com/go/thread/view/43851/26687825/Jehovahs_Witnesses_And_Immortality_Of_The_Soul?pg=4

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Mormons, resurrections, and pets

I could be wrong, but I don't think Mormons believe we'll have our pets in the after life.  They don't get raised from the dead.

But if the whole thing about exaltation and eternal progression are true, then there are at least some people who will become exactly like Heavenly Father, meaning they will have all of his powers and abilities.

I don't know about Mormons, but in ordinary Christian theology, God is all powerful.  He can bring anything that's dead back to life.  So it seems like if Mormonism is true, then some people can get their pets back.  Eventually.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Judaism vs. Christianity

Here is a debate I did with the resolution, "Judaism is more logical than Christianity."  Usually, when people say "logical," I take that to mean "conforming to logic," but people often just mean "reasonable" or something like that.  I interpreted my opponent, who initiated this debate, to mean that Judaism was more reasonable to believe than Christianity or that it made more sense, or that it conformed better with reason and evidence, or something along those lines.

Here was my opening statement:

This sounds like a challenging debate.

I do not dispute that Judaism was logical in the past. I dispute that modern Judaism is more logical than Christianity. What I am going to argue is that in the present, Christianity is more logical than Judaism.

The problems with modern Judaism
Promises to Abraham

God promised Abraham that he would give the land of Palestine to his descendants forever.[1] Although he warned that he would exile them for their sins, he promised to always bring them back in fulfillment of his promises.[2] However, they have spent more time in exile than they have in their homeland, and to this day, they have not all been brought back. In fact, most Jews today have no desire to go back. The Judaism of today seems to have forgotten its past. Nobody even knows what became of the ten tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel after they were destroyed and scattered by the Assyrians in 722 BCE.

Law of Moses

Judaism, as a religion, was founded when God gave the law to Moses. That Law is what defined Judaism. But the Law of Moses is largely inoperative today due to the fact that there is no Temple. Besides that, many of the laws are outdated and impractical. There are few Jews living today, if any, who would advocate re-establishing the whole Law in practice. In fact, it seems impossible that it ever could be re-established because the Law stipulated that only the sons of Aaron and the Levites could serve as priests, but nobody today knows who is elegible. The original intention of the Law was for it to be kept forever.[3] But that has now become impossible.

The Temple

Before the first Temple was built, the ark of the covenant was housed in a tent where all the priestly functions were done. The Temple was meant to be a more permanent building. After it was destroyed in 587 BCE, there was a lot of anxiety about rebuilding it. Reconstruction on the second Temple began 50 or 70 years later. That Temple lasted until 70 CE when it was destroyed by the Romans. After 2000 years, it still hasn't been rebuilt, and the majority of Jews are not anxious about rebuilding it. The Temple represented the presence of God. The smoke represented his glory, and it filled the Holy of Holies. The Jews have gone longer without the Temple than they ever had it, and the ark of the covenant is lost.

The throne of David
God promised to always have a man on the throne of David.[4] David's dynasty came to an end during the Babylonian captivity, but the prophets said God would fulfill his promise by raising up a descendant of David to re-establish that kingdom.[5] However, it's been 2500 years or so, and still no fulfillment (unless you count Jesus, but Jews don't). Moreover, nobody living today can trace their geneology back to David, so it doesn't even look like it's possible for that promise to be fulfilled. If somebody claimed to be the fulfillment, and they became king in Israel, he wouldn't be able to prove his legitimacy. Besides, hardly any Jews living today even want a king in Israel. They're happy with their present form of government.

Sin and exile

Almost all of the promises God gave to Israel were conditional on their obedience to the law. What history proved was that Israel was incapable of keeping the law. That was the explanation of all the prophets for why they lost their land, their Temple, their king, and their prosperity. If, by some miracle, all the Jews were restored to their land, their temple was rebuilt, their messiah took the throne of David, and everything was hunky dory, what would there be to stop them from breaking the law again and repeating history? Judaism has no permanent answer for sin. When they had a Temple, they had a temporary solution for sin that did not succeed in preventing them from going into exile, etc. As you'll see in a minute, Christianity does have an answer for sin.


The Judaism of today has largely abandoned what it was originally all about, and it appears that God hasn't dealt with the Jews in thousands of years. There have been no new prophets, no new revelations, no new scriptures, no fulfillment of promises, the law is not fully kept, etc. Now let's compare that to Christianity.

The truth of Christianity

Jesus the risen messiah

My opponent makes a very good point. Although the primary expectation of the messiah was that he would sit on the throne of David, re-establish national sovereignty, reunite Judah and Israel, and usher in an era of peace and prosperity, Jesus did none of that. Instead, he died in apparent failure in a humiliating way by Israel's occupiers. It is perfectly understandable that Jews today would reject him as the messiah.

However, that raises a very interesting question. Why did Jesus' movement survive his death? All of his followers were Jews! His death should've proved to them that Jesus was not the messiah. At first, it did![8] There were dozens of people in the first and second century who claimed to be the messiah. Each one of them was killed, and none of their movements survived their deaths because a dead messiah is a contradiction in terms in Judaism.

There's only one thing that could've kept Jesus' movement alive, and that's if his followers had very good reason to think he was still alive. As long as he's still alive, he may yet fulfill all the prophecies. Moreover, if he claimed to be the messiah sent from God, then was raised from the dead, that would seem to prove that his claim is true. God vindicated him by raising him from the dead. Since that is the best explanation for why his movement survived despite his humiliating death, it's probably true. So Christianity is very logical.

The second coming

My opponent rightly points out that there's no explicit second coming mentioned in the Old Testament. But the Old Tesatment doesn't rule one out either, so this is a fallacious argument from silence. Moreover, if Jesus proved he was the messiah by rising from the dead, then we have good reason to think he will come again just as he said he would.

The solution to sin

Earlier, I mentioned that Judaism had no permanent answer for sin. If sin is not permanantly dealt with, there is no way for God's promises to be permantly fulfilled. If they are fulfilled at all, history shows that it will be short lived. Sin will reek the same havok as it did before.

But Christianity has a permanent solution for sin. Jesus died for sins once and for all.[6] The sacrifices do not need to be repeated. Moreover, each Christian is the Temple of God, and his Spirit dwells in each of them.[7]

The laws of Moses

My opponent faults Christians for breaking the law of Moses, but the Law of Moses was never intended to apply to anybody but Jews living in Israel. It was their constitution. God never faulted other nations for breaking Sabbaths, for eating pork, or for wearing clothes with mixed fibers. Those were laws that only applied to Jews. Almost all Christians are gentiles. Although all people everywhere are obligated to keep the moral law, which some of the laws of Moses represent, they are not obligated to keep the whole Mosaic law. They never were.


As we can see, Christianity is far more logical than Judaism. It solves problems that Judaism doesn't. Also, Christianity has better evidence in his favor. Jews have no evidence that God intervened in their history, but Christians have the evidence of the resurrection, which I made an argument for. If Jesus is the messiah, then that proves that God acted in Israel's history. So the truth of Christianity proves the truth of ancient Judaism. But modern Judaism can offer no evidence for its truth.

[1] Genesis 12:7
Genesis 13:14-15
Genesis 15:18
Genesis 17:8

[2] Deuteronomy 30:1-5
Ezekiel 20:42
Ezekiel 34:13
Ezekiel 36:24
Ezekiel 37:21-22
Jeremiah 16:15
Jeremiah 23:7-8
Jeremiah 29:14
Jeremiah 30:3

[3] 2 Kings 17:37

[4] 2 Samuel 7:16
1 Kings 2:4,
1 Kings 2:45
1 Kings 8:25

[5] Isaiah 9:7
Ezekiel 37:25
Jeremiah 33:14-22

[6] Hebrews 7:27

[7] 1 Corinthians 3:16

[8] Luke 24:21
John 20:25

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Debate on the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Here's my opening statement in a debate I was in on debate.org.  The resolution was The Kalam Cosmological Argument is unsound.  I was Con.  This turned out to be an interesting debate because instead of attacking the argument the usual ways, my opponent attacked the whole notions of a priori knowledge and inductive reasoning.  So the debate turned out to be mostly over epistemology.


Another KCA debate. Yay!


Pro defined God as "the personal originator of all that exists." Since God could not have created himself, I want to tweak this definition to say, "the personal originator of the universe."

1. Everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence.
The meaning of the first premise
Most things that begin to exist do so ex materia, but the KCA is more interested in beginning ex-nihilo. Although this first premise refers to both, I think we should focus on beginning ex-nihilo, though I'll briefly defend the more general principle.

There are two types of causes. A material cause is the material out of which an object is made, and an efficient cause is whatever brings about the change. For example, if I carve a bowl out of a piece of wood, the wood is the material cause, and I am the efficient cause.

I take the first premise to mean that whatever begins to exist has a cause, either of one kind or another. It doesn't specify which kind of cause each thing must have. This is relevant because the typical counter-examples that are raised against the first premise include pair production and radio active decay. According to some interpretations of quantum physics, these events entail the beginning of certain particles without efficient causes. However, these events do havematerial causes, so they are not counter-examples of the general principle.

If the first premise were tweaked to refer only to things which begin to exist apart from material causes, then the cause would have to be efficient. In that case, even if virtual particles begin to exist without efficient causes, they would still not serve as counter-examples since the tweaked first premise excludes them from its field of reference.

a priori defense
There are things we grasp by a rational intuition. For example, if two straight lines intersect, the opposite angles will be equal. We don't have to experiment to discover this to be universally true. We only need to grasp it. But not all things that can be known by rational intuition are known by all people. For example, some people rationally grasp why the Pathagorean theorem is necessarily true, but other people just memorize it and trust their math teacher.

The notion that it's impossible for something to spontaneously come into existence uncaused out of nothing is part of our rational intuition. One need only explore the idea in their minds to grasp that this is a necessary truth. It could be that the reason some people don't accept this premise is because, just like the case of the Pathagorean theorem, they can't "see" it. But that is no reason for those of us who do grasp it to have any doubts. This is something we can know with certainty.

If it were possible for something to spontaneously come into existence uncaused out of nothing, then there would have to be a potential or a probability that something could come out of nothing. Probabilities depend on initial conditions, so that would mean 'nothing' had properties. To have properties is to exist, so it would mean 'nothing' is actually 'something,' which is a contradiction.

a posteriori defense
Science is driven by a desire to know why things happen the way they do. When we observe something in the world, we want to know what caused it. With time and effort, we often are able to discover the cause. So we can inductively infer that there are causes to all events--even the ones whose causes we have yet to discover.

Most physicists subscribe to indeterministic interpretations of quantum physics, which entail undetermined events, such as radio active decay and pair production/annihilation. But it is a mistake to infer that because an event is indeterminate that it is therefore uncaused because indeterminate events have probabilities. The probabilities are determined by initial conditions, so those initial conditions serve as causes, albeit insufficient causes. Sufficient causes entail 100% probability in their effects, but insufficient causes entail less than 100% probability of their effects. The fact that particular isotopes have fixed half lives shows that radioactive decay is not completely a-causal.

2. The universe has a beginning of its existence. 

The meaning of the second premise
For this debate, I'll define the universe as the sum total of all space, time, and energy. If there is a multi-verse, then it is included in "universe."

Usually, when something begins, it is preceded by a time in which it didn't exist. However, the universe could not have been preceded by such a time since time itself had a beginning. There could not have been a time before time in which time didn't exist because that's a contradiction. We must mean something different when we say the universe began to exist than when we say most other things began to exist.

What we mean, essentially, is that the universe has a finite past, and there is no state of affairs in which the universe exists timelessly.

The impossibility of forming an infinite set by successive addition
1. If the past had no beginning, it would be composed of an actually infinite collection of equal intervals of time.
2. An actually infinite collection of equal intervals of time cannot be formed by successive addition.
3. The past was formed by successive addition.
4. Therefore, the past cannot be an actually infinite collection of equal intervals of time. (from 2 and 3)
5. Therefore, the past had a beginning. (from 1 and 4)

I think the only controversial premise is 2. The reason the second premise is true is because there are no two finite numbers that you could add and reach infinity. The sum of any two finite numbers is always another finite number.

The grim reaper paradox
Suppose that time had no beginning and that during each hour in the past, a grim reaper (GR) was created and set to kill you at 12pm + 1/n minutes, where 'n' is the number of the reaper.. If you are alive when a GR goes off, it will kill you instantly, but if you are already dead, it will do nothing. With this set up, there is no first GR because each GR has a GR before it. It follows that no GR can kill you, yet you can't survive a moment past noon. Therein lies the paradox. If the past is beginningless, then the GR scenario would be possible, but since it's not possible, the past must have a beginning.

3. The universe has a cause of its existence.

This follows from 1 and 2.

4. If the universe has a cause of its existence then that cause is God.

Since we are defining God as "the personal originator of the universe," and since we have already argued that the universe had an originator, all that remains is to show that the originator is a person. For the purpose of this debate, I'll define a person roughly as a mind.

Nothing can create itself, so the cause of the universe must be other than the universe. Since the universe is the sum total of space, time, and energy, the cause of the universe must be spaceless, timeless, and immaterial.

Disjunctive argument from minds and abstract objects
The only things that could have such properties are abstract entities (e.g. numbers, propositions, etc.) and minds. Since abstract entities do not stand in causal relations, the cause of the universe must be a mind, which means it's a person.

Only minds can create ex nihilo
When we act on purpose, a mental event causes the action. My intention to type is the reason my fingers move. Only substances have causal powers, and my mind has causal influence over my brain, so my mind is a distinct substance from my brain. It is an immaterial substance.

When a particle at rest begins to move, it has kinetic energy that it did not have before. That energy has to come from somewhere. Since minds are not composed of energy, the only way they can have causal influence in the world is by creating energy ex nihilo.

Since minds are the only entities known to have this ability, the best explanation for the beginning of the universe is a very powerful mind.

Therefore, God exists
This follows from 3 and 4.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

An abortion debate

I joined this web page called debate.org where you can have formal debates with people, have people vote on your debates, and vote on other people's debates.  It's mostly young people (teens and 20's), but a lot of them have formal training in debating, so there's some good debates there sometimes.  I've been kind of impressed with the level some of the teenagers on that page debate at.  Of course, like any web page, it also has its trolls and idiots.  Still, I'm having fun with it.

I've completed 39 debates so far, and I thought I'd post the opening statements to a few of those debates here on my blog just so I'll have something to post here.  Some of my debates are silly, and in some of them I play devil's advocate.  I'm not going to post those.

This first one is an uneventful debate on the subject of Abortion.  My opponent wanted to argue that it was sick and unfair to forbid a woman to have an abortion.  After stating his position, he forfeited every round, which is why it was uneventful, but I tried to keep the debate alive.  Here was my opening:

Thank you for coming to tonight's debate. Pro hasn't given me much to work with, but I'll see what I can do.

Pro thinks it's wrong to forbid a woman to have an abortion, and he gives two reasons: (1) because it's sick and unfair, and (2) because women should be able to have control over their own bodies. Let's take these one at a time:

Pro's case

1. It's sick and unfair to forbid a woman to have an abortion.

It seems to me that whether it's sick or unfair depends on what exactly an abortion does. After all, you could replace the above sentence with a variety of other activities and discover that some of them are sick and unfair while others are not. If I replaced "have an abortion" with "drown her children in the bathtub," you'd all recognize right away that it wasn't sick and unfair to forbi that. But if I replaced "have an abortion" with "use the bathroom," you'd recognize that itwas sick and unfair to forbid that. But suppose I replaced "have an abortion" with something you had never heard of before. Suppose I replaced "have an abortion" with "bep a buon." Well, then you'd wonder what the heck I meant by "bep a buon." You couldn't say whether it was sick and unfair to forbid a woman to do such a thing unless you know what it was I was talking about.

Likewise, with abortion, whether it's sick and unfair depends on what it does. If, for example, if abortion entailed removing a tumor, then it would be sick and unfair to forbid that. But if abortion takes the life of an innocent human being just because the mother doesn't want to be burdened with it, well then it's hard to see why it would be sick and unfair to forbid a woman to do that.

Now, keep in mind that pro has the buden of proof in this debate. That means he's got to defend that claim. He's got to tell us what abortion does before we can accept his first argument. In a little bit, I'm going to argue that abortion takes the life of an innocent human being, so he's going to have to answer that argument, too.

2. Women should be able to have control over their own bodies
In general, i agree with this, but I do not think it is without exception, and the exception I make is very relevant to this topic.

Let's say that some woman had a baby, and the only way to feed that baby is to breast feed it. There's no formula available, and nobody else is willing to relieve the woman of the burden. Would she be morally justified in letting her baby starve on the basis that she has control over her own boob and has the right to say who can and can't use it? Well, surely we'd recognize that if a woman did such a thing she'd be a monster. We might in some extreme cases say that a violinist who was attached to her, using her organs to stay alive, had no right to stay attached, but mothers have obligations to their own young that they don't have to adult violinists. A mother who starved her own child and attempted to justify it on the basis that she ought to have control over her own body would clearly be in the wrong. And so it is not wrong to punish her for neglect and child abuse. And the right to punish her depends on the right to forbid her to do such a thing.

Again, it all depends on what abortion does and to what. If there is a living human being inside the woman, then abortion isn't just something she does to her own body. Rather, it's something she does to somebody else's body. What if the fetus inside of her was a girl! Abortion would violate her bodily rights!

My case

In tonight's debate, I'm going to defend two basic contentions: (1) that the unborn, at least through most stages of development, is a living human being, and (2) that it is not sick and unfair to forbid a woman to have an abortion.

1. The unborn, at least through most stages of development, is a living human being.
The fact that the unborn is a living something is beyond dispute. Biological life is typically defined by certain characteristics, such as growth, reproduction, metabolism, and reaction to stimuli.[1] The unborn has all of these, so it is definitely alive.

But so are plants, lizards, and possums. What distinguishes species is whether they can interbreed. Now, of course, there's more to it than that. After all, nobody thinks that a human toddler can procreate, but it is still a member of the human species. What distinguishes species, more specifically, is their DNA. In fact, their DNA is what determines whether they can interbreed when they become adults.[2] Well, there's no doubt that the unborn have human DNA. We know this because the DNA you have now is the exact same DNA you had when you were a zygote. If your DNA is human now, then it was human then. It follows that the unborn are living and human. (Surely no one thinks there's a possum in there that later turns into a human!)

But not everything that is human is an individual human being. After all, your hair, liver, toes, and shin bones are all living and human. Well, okay, your hair is not living, but the rest of it is. However, your liver, toes, and shin bone are not individual human beings. They're just human parts and organs that belong to individual human beings. I'm going to give a few reasons to think that the unborn that is both living and human is also an individual human being.

1.1. It has a unique DNA distinct from its parents, and it does not share that DNA with anything else. It follows that it isn't just a part of another human being since there's no other human being that it could be a part of.

1.2. It is self-integrating. That is, if allowed to, it will go through every stage of human development--zygote, embryo, fetus, infant, toddler, child, adolecsent, adult. As Frank Beckwith once said, "You didn't come from a zygote; you once were a zygote."[3]

1.3. If the unborn were part of its mother rather than being a distinct human being, then after only a few weeks, you'd have a woman with two heads, four legs, four arms, and in the case of a male fetus, you'd have a woman with a penis.[4] But individuals do not have two heads, etc. Even simese twins are two distinct individuals.

It follows from what I have argued that the unborn, through most stages of development (and probably from conception) is an individual living human being.

2. It is not sick and unfair to forbid a woman to have an abortion.
It should be evident by now that it is not sick and unfair to forbid a woman to have an abortion. Abortion takes the life of an innocent individual living human being. Mothers have an obligation to care for their young, so it is plainly immoral to have them killed. It is not sick or unfair to forbid a mother to abuse her own young to the point of death. Nor is it sick and unfair to require a mother to care for her young when she is unable to put it up for adoption yet.

Rather, it is sick and unfair for a mother to have an abortion, knowing what it does--takes the life of her own offspring. I don't want to gross anybody out, so I'm not going to post any pictures here, but if you can stomach it, this link shows images of aborted fetuses from the first trimester.[5] These pictures show exactly what abortion does. You can distinctly see the severed arms and legs of the fetus, complete with fingers and toes. This is a real human being. I submit to you that it is sick and unfair to the unborn for a mother to have them killed for any other reason than to save her own life. I doubt you would be nearly as turned off by pictures of removed tumers or appendixes because you know that's not the same thing.

That's pretty much all I have to say. I look forward to Pro's closing statement and hope he'll have some good arguments for me.

[1] http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Biological+life

[2]  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17652131

[3]  http://www.ccel.us/Beckwith.3.html

[4]  I got this point from Scott Klusendorf.  http://prolifephilosophy.blogspot.com/2012/07/what-is-unborn.html

[5]  http://www.priestsforlife.org/resources/photosbyage/index.htm