Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Gender and sex

This weekend, a person I know who will remain anonymous told me that there is a difference between gender and sex. Sex has to do with your physicality, specifically your reproductive organs and chromosomes. Gender has to do with your self identification. So, for example, if you have a Y chromosome and a penis, but you think of yourself as a woman, then your gender is female and your sex is male.

Now, I generally don't like to have arguments over the meaning of words. I'm totally utilitarian when it comes to words. I think their sole purpose is to facilitate communication. What matters is the substance behind your words, i.e. what you actually mean by them. As long as you are clear about what you mean, then you can communicate effectively, even if the other person doesn't prefer to use those same words the way you're using them.

Words would be meaningless sounds or scribblings if we did not invest them with meaning. What gives them their meaning is how we use them and what we mean by them. What makes them capable of facilitating communication is that we have a general consensus on how they are used. Communication would be very difficult if everybody poured a different meaning into their words.

I'm 40 years old, and for as long as I can remember, 'gender' and 'sex' have been used interchangeably. They refer to whether something is male or female, and whether something is male or female depends on its chromosomes and reproductive organs. Now, I understand that over time words can take on new meanings as they are used in new ways. That's why it's hard sometimes to read literature that's over a hundred years old. Some of the words don't mean the same thing then as they do today because people use those words differently today than the did back then. But I wasn't sure if said anonymous person's definition of 'gender' was what was meant by the word all along or if this was something entirely new. So I've been looking at dictionaries on the internet.

Now, I realize a dictionary doesn't determine what a word means. As I said already, words get their meaning from common use. But a good dictionary will try to capture the various ways that words are used. That's why there's usually more than one definition. Words have what's called a "semantic domain," i.e. a range of possible uses. A good dictionary will also order the various uses according to how common they are with the most common use being first and the least common use being last.

After looking at a lot of dictionaries on the internet, it seems like the word "gender" is commonly used in two different contexts--grammar and sex. In grammar, a gender refers to whether a noun, pronoun, or whatever is masculine, feminine, or neuter. For example, "she" is feminine, "he" is masculine, and "it" is neuter. But when gender refers to people, it's synonymous with sex. It just refers to whether a person is male or female. That's it.

So I suspect this idea of making a distinction between 'gender' and 'sex' is meant to accommodate transgendered people--people who identify themselves as being members of one sex but who physically are members of the opposite sex. That way if a man thinks of himself as a woman, he can honestly say his gender is female. Now think how many times you've filled out an application, and it asked you for your "gender." Do you see how this could be useful? I can't prove it, but I'm willing to bet that people who promote making a distinction between "gender" and "sex" do so because they think if we can get everybody to say that a man's gender is female, pretty soon we'll start treating him as if his sex were female as well. That way, he can use the girl's bathroom in public.

I just looked up "transgendered" on wikipedia while writing this, and according to that article, the first time somebody suggested that gender had to do with how one identifies themselves was in 1979. That's farther back than I expected. But I wonder if this new use of the term has really caught on. Considering the fact that I haven't heard it up until now, it can't be that common. And it certainly can't be the meaning of the word.

On the one hand, I can see how it might be useful to adopt this new meaning, though. It's certainly useful to transgendered people. Of course I think if we do adopt it, then we ought to stop using "gender" on applications and switch to "sex" instead just to avoid ambiguity. Most of those applications don't care what's going on in people's heads. They just want to know if the person is actually male or female.

I wonder, though, if more is going on than simply changing the meaning of a word. If transgendered people actually think of themselves as being the opposite sex of what they actually are, then surely there's something ontological at stake. In that case, we might be doing them a disservice to go along with their redefinition.

I have to confess here that I don't understand transgenderism very well. It's not something I've thought much about or read anything about. But it strikes me as incredibly odd because from what I understand, these people aren't so delusional that they actually think they are the opposite sex than what they are. A man with a penis knows he has a male body, so he's got to know he's male. It's not as if when he's taking a shower he looks down there and sees a vagina, and it's not as if he's ignorant about how reproduction works and what the difference is between males and females. But by their own description, they self-identify as the opposite sex. What on earth does that mean? I confess I don't have a clue. If you know you're male, then what does it mean to say you identify yourself or think of yourself as a female? I'm sure it's not as absurd as it sounds to me because these people aren't stupid, but just on the surface, it sounds like they're saying, "I know I'm a man, but I believe I'm a woman." It just sounds like a blatant contradiction to me. So I don't know what men mean when they say they identify as a woman or think of themselves as women.

Now if it really is as absurd in reality as it strikes me at first glance, then I don't think we should go along with this new meaning of 'gender.' If there are men who really think they are women, and vice versa, then these people are deluded, and by going along with their peculiar terminology will just enable them to continue living in their delusion. It would be like somebody who identifies himself as a duck, and we all went along with it and agreed to refer to him as a duck and to swim around in the pond pretending to be a duck. If there really were people who thought they were ducks, wouldn't we just think they were mentally ill? Why is transgenderism any different?

So my only reservation about going along with this new meaning of 'gender' is that I'm not entirely sure we're simply being asked to invest a word with a different definition. I think we're being asked for more than that. We're being asked to really think of these people as male or female wholly apart from their physicality, just as they identify themselves as male or female apart from their physicality. And I can't do that in all honesty. I would just be playing make believe. I'd feel just as silly as if I went along with a person who thought he was a duck. And I don't think we're doing anybody any favors by going along with their delusion. I don't even expect my atheist friends who think I'm delusional for believing in God to go on pretending as if they think God exists.

But I admit my objection may just have to do with the fact that I don't understand what transgenderism is or what's really going on in their heads. I don't understand what it means for a person who considers themselves male when they know good and well that they are female or vice versa. I do know, though, that something is awry when that happens. Whatever is going on, surely we can all agree that there is a mismatch between their mind and their body one way or another.

After googling around a little more just now, I've discovered that some transgendered people seek to have sex changes, and others don't want to have sex changes. I find that very interesting. Apparently, some people who think of themselves as women are perfectly okay with being physical men. I don't get that. I mean I would get it if they just don't want to have surgery because it's expensive and scary, but if you really think of yourself as being female, why would you not want to be, you know, female?

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Chiggers and fingernail polish

I took my nephew, Jake, to his first 3D archery shoot this past Sunday. Although he was fine, I got eaten alive by chiggers. By Monday, I was seriously hating life. I went to CVS and got some Cortizone, but it didn't do anything, and I had a miserable time trying to sleep that night. I got up early on Tuesday morning, went to Walgreens, and got some "bite & Sting Relief Spray" with 5% Benzocaine in it, but that didn't help either. So last night I went to Target to get some Benadryl in hopes of at least being able to get some sleep, and the check out lady told me to use fingernail polish. I was skeptical but desperate, so I bought some.

And it worked!!! It wasn't an instant heal or anything, but the itching subsided substantially within minutes. That, combined with the Benadryl, gave me a beautiful night's sleep, and when I got up in the morning, I was at peace with the world.

I got on the internet to read about it, and all the medical professionals poohed poohed it. I think what they had a problem with was the popular theory about it. You see, a lot of people think the fingernail polish suffocates the chiggers, killing them, but that's a myth because chiggers don't stay on you. It's just the proteins in their spit your body has an allergic reaction to, and that's what causes you to itch. However, regardless of HOW the fingernail polish works, it does, in fact, work. It does a great job of relieving the itching. I don't know why.

So I wanted to share this find with any of you out there who are attached by chiggers. IT is Wednesday now, and although the redness and swelling hasn't gone away, the itching is very minimal, and from what I've read on the internet, I should expect the redness to go away within the next few days.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

God's right to take life

A long time ago, I read this article by Greg Koukl called "Does God Have to Obey the Ten Commandments?" where he argued that God has the right to take life on the basis that he created life and he can do what he wants with what is his. At the time, that made a lot of sense to me.

But then somebody raised the question of whether God would be morally justified in raping somebody on the basis that he can do whatever he wants with what is his. That seems to rub my moral intuitions in the wrong way more so than God killing the innocent. I wonder how Greg Koukl would respond to that.

I was just thinking about another justification God might have for taking life that is also based on the fact that God gives life. This is an argument from analogy. I just thought of it, so don't be all nasty and condescending if you disagree with it. I haven't given it that much thought. I just want to see what you think.

Let's suppose that the only way a doctor could do surgery on the brain, heart, lungs, or whatever, is to temporarily cause you to be clinically dead. But once the operation was over, he could revive you without causing you to have any brain damage. If that were the case, I doubt many of us would object to the doctor taking our lives. If the doctor had the ability and intention to bring us back, then none of us would object to him taking our lives. But if the doctor had no such ability, we would call it murder, and we'd all object to it.

Well, God is the only one who has the ability to raise the dead to life. In fact, according to Christian theology, everybody is raised from the dead, whether they are Christians or not. So the argument is that since God is the one who gives life, and since he is the only one who can give life back to those from whom he takes it, God is justified in taking life. He has the right.

I guess I should clarify. I didn't just now come up with the idea that God is justified in taking life on the basis that he can raise a person from the dead. What I just now came up with was the doctor analogy.

Of course you might object that when a doctor takes life, he does so to help the person have better health, whereas when God takes life, it doesn't necessarily serve that purpose. He doesn't take life for the purpose of fixing what's broken in the person. He could do that without taking life.

But suppose there was a medical procedure that made it very easy to temporarily cause a person to be clinically dead, then to bring them back. Did you ever see that movie, Flatliners, with Kevin Bacon? That's the sort of thing I'm talking about. They wanted to see what it was like on the other side, so they would put each other to sleep, so to speak, then wake each other up, so to speak. Suppose this procedure was so simple that anybody could do it in their own home without any difficulty. And suppose that it was such a common practice that there were shops around the world where you could go take one of these "death trips" just as easily as you could go see a 3D movie. Would that be immoral? After all, the purpose for doing it isn't to fix your organs. It's just entertainment.

It seems to me that if it's moral for entertainment purposes, then it's moral for no good reason at all. And if it's moral for no good reason at all, then God doesn't need any further justification other than the fact that he can and will bring the person back to life.

I suppose one final objection a person might have is that we wouldn't consider it moral to flatline a person without their consent. But even so, it's doubtful that we'd convict a person of murder if they flatlined somebody without their consent. It would at least be a lesser crime than straight up killing. Also, it doesn't seem like God would need our permission the same way somebody else might need our permission. After all, he's our heavenly father. When we were kids, our own parents had rights over us that adults don't have over each other. If God is the uber Parent, then perhaps he's justified in flatlining us without our consent.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Speech Jammer

I remember when I was going to UT Austin back in the 90's, I was walking to school from my apartment one morning thinking about how whenever I walk, I monologue or have conversations in my head, and the sentences flow freely, and my train of thought is unbreakable. But when I try to talk out loud to people, my words are jumbled, I'm inarticulate, and I frequently lose my train of thought. On this particular morning, I came up with a theory for why that was happening.

You see, whenever you say something, it begins as an idea in your head. Then you have to convert that idea into words. Then you have to say the words. Having said the words, the sound reaches your ear, a signal is sent to your brain, and your brain converts the signal into a meaning. Between the time you first begin to speak and when the words get back to your brain, there's a slight delay, so while you're mind has moved ahead, you're kind of hearing an echo.

So basically, I figured what was happening was that I was literally being distracted by the sound of my own voice. I thought that was a funny explanation, and I used to tell people that just to be funny, but I didn't actually believe it.

But then recently, I started seeing videos on youtube where people are using a "speech jammer." The speech jammer is an iphone app. You put on ear phones, and when you talk, the speech jammer creates a slightly delayed echo. You can adjust how much delay there is, but even with a very slight delay, it makes it really difficult to talk clearly. So the videos are kind of funny because people are struggling to speak clearly while using the speech jammer.

This struck me as interesting because the difficulty people were having in talking is the same sort of difficulty I have when talking out loud. It's not as bad with me, probably because I've been dealing with this for a long time. But since it's the same sort of thing, I wondered if maybe that explanation I came up with a long time ago was actually true. Maybe I really am distracted by the sound of my own voice.

People who know me may not think I'm inarticulate or that I stumble on my words a lot and lose my train of thought, but that's only because they have no way to compare my speech with what's going through my head. They only hear the speech. But talking is a struggle for me, and that includes just having normal conversations with people.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Life changing books

A friend asked me in an email conversation yesterday to list some books I've read that had a life-changing affect on me. I thought my response might make a good blog post.

The Case for Christ was a turning point for me because it was my first introduction to the subject of the historical Jesus, and it lead to me reading a lot more academic books on the subject and getting really interested in it as well as the history of Judaism from the exile to the bar Kochba rebellion. Also, it was the first time I had heard an historical argument for the resurrection of Jesus, and I remember putting the book down and thinking, "Holy cow! It actually happened!" I mean, I believed it before that, but believing it for a good reason was something completely different. It's like the difference between being told something is true by somebody you trust and seeing it for yourself. It became very real to me, so it had a big impact on my whole Christian life--how I lived, how I prayed, how I thought, etc. It also introduced me to a lot of good Christian thinkers like J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig. I read a lot of their stuff, and it opened my mind. The Case for Christ was the book that introduced me to the whole field of apologetics. I bought several copies of it to give away because at the time, I thought it was the best book I had ever read.

Another book that had a big impact on me was Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-air by Greg Koukl and Frank Beckwith. It was a critique of moral relativism and a defense of moral objectivism. I found the subject to be especially useful because it's directly related to the gospel. There can't be an atonement if there is no sin, and there can't be sin if there is no right or wrong in any objective sense. One of the chapters in there was on tactics in communicating with people, and that had a big impact on how I interact with non-believers and people in general who disagree with me. It introduced me to the whole concept of "self-refutation," and how a lot of the typical slogans people use to disparage Christianity are self-refuting and incoherent. This book got me interested in logic and critical thinking, which I went on to study from other sources. It also introduced me to Stand to Reason, and I read nearly every article on their web page and started listening to the radio show. I learned a ton from Greg Koukl. He was unique among apologists for a few reasons. First, because he didn't just focus on conveying information. He focused on the practical aspects of apologetics and evangelism, i.e. how to have productive conversations with people. Second, because he is extremely articulate and is able to convey very complicated ideas in a way that is easy for the average person to understand. I found his ability to do that very helpful because it does no good to have highly sophisticated arguments if nobody can understand them. Third, because his ministry focuses on all aspects of being a Christian ambassador--knowledge, wisdom, and character. I found this refreshing. A lot of my thinking was influenced by Greg Koukl.

Another book was The Potter's Freedom, by James White. This is the book that was most instrumental in my conversion to Calvinism. He gave an argument in there from John 6 that I found to be just about as air tight as it's possible for a theological argument to be. I didn't convert right away because I wanted to read around to see how non-Calvinists got around the arguments he made, and I soon came to realize there was no way to get around them. I was kind of forced to convert, even though I was very uncomfortable with it.

Another book was The Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards. This book has become one of my favorite of all time. It completely changed my view about the nature of the will, and it solved every philosophical problem I had with Calvinism since converting. It allowed me to be an intellectually and emotionally satisfied Calvinist.

So those are the books that have had the biggest influence on me. Here are a couple of honorable mentions:

The Forgotten Trinity by James White (the same guy who wrote The Potter's Freedom. There was a time when I denied the Trinity. Before reading The Forgotten Trinity, I read a book responding to Jehovah's Witnesses and was taken aback by some of the arguments for the deity of Christ. But reading The Forgotten Trinity sealed the deal for me, and it has also influenced the way I defend the Trinity when talking with Jehovah's Witnesses or other people who reject the Trinity. I even taught a three or four week Sunday school class on the Trinity, using the information in this book for the most part.

Scaling the Secular City by J.P. Moreland. The chapter that influenced me the most was chapter 3--"The Argument from Mind." I used to be a materialist. That is, I believed that we were purely physical beings, and that when we died, we stayed dead until the resurrection. There was no immaterial aspect to us that survived and went to be with God to await the resurrection. Moreland's chapter changed my mind and made me a substance dualist. It also had a big impact on my thinking in a way that's hard to explain. I guess it felt like the cobwebs in my head suddenly got swept away, and I could see clearly. That's the best way I know how to explain it. There are a couple of things Moreland has said in his talks and writings that struck me as being contradictory, and I had the chance in 2008 to finally ask him about them. He was a great guy to talk to. He has also had a big influence on my epistemology, which affects pretty much every other area of thinking. Scaling the Secular City is still the book I recommend to people who want a one-book comprehensive defense of Christianity.

I could probably talk all day about good books I've read and how they influenced me, but those are the biggies. And it's not necessarily because these books were the best of their kind. It has more to do with the fact that they each introduced me to something new and changed the direction of my life in some way.

Monday, March 03, 2014

What have I been up to?

A long time ago, I used to occasionally post stuff about my hobbies and interests outside of theology, philosophy, and apologetics. Then I got on facebook and stopped doing that. I deactivated my facebook account in November, so I thought I'd show the other sides of me here.

Back in 2011, I started doing triathlons, and I was loving life. I enjoyed it so much that when I wasn't racing, I was volunteering. Biking was my favourite part of it, followed by running. I never got very good at swimming, and that limited me on what I could do.

While training for a half marathon, my knees started giving me problems. I wasn't able to do the half marathon, and I ended up selling my bib and volunteering at a water station instead to cheer on my name's sake. The guy I sold it do averaged something like 9 minutes per mile for the whole run!

I did a little physical therapy for my knees and tried various things, and signed up to do another half marathon the following year (January 2013). Again, the knees said 'no.' Discouraged, I quit running, started drinking Dr. Pepper, and got fat. I may try again this year. The problem is that I work out of town a lot now. I have to stay in hotels most of the week, which makes it really hard to eat right.

A long time ago, I told you about how I make longbows, then about how I took up making arrows as well. I've picked up a few more hobbies since then, all of which entail making things. I guess I just like to make things.

I took up knitting in October of 2011. It wasn't until about a year later that I admitted it on facebook. I don't have a whole lot of knitting pictures on my photobucket account, so I can't show you much, but here's a sweater I knit for my cat, Aristotle, for Halloween. I patterned it after Freddy Kruger. I figured since he already has the claws, he could be Freddy Kruger for Halloween.

That white ring is a stitch marker I accidentally knit into the sweater. I decided to leave it there so I can use it to attach a tag if I want.

Here's a bow sock I knit to match a bow I made. I named the bow "Gryffindor," because of the colours, and I patterned the bow sock after the Harry Potter scarves in the movies.

I have taken up making knives. I tried blacksmithing because I wanted to make bodkin points for my medieval arrows, but blacksmithing turned out to be harder than I thought it would be. I still use my forge to heat treat my knives, though. Here's the first knife I made:

Notice that the handle matches the bow above. That's because it's cut from the same wood. That's Osage and padauk. The heat treating on my first couple of knives didn't go very well. I'm getting the hang of it, though. The most recently knife I made turned out really well. I'm giving this one to my brother. This is my fourth knife.

Before I make my knives, I make a prototype out of a piece of wood so I can see if I like the shape and everything. Maybe some day I'll make a sword. Here's a sword I made out of some scrap pieces of wood.

The blade is made out of maple and walnut. The bolster (or guard) is made out of Osage. The handle is made out of white oak. The pommel is made out of purple heart. It actually does a good job of balancing the sword. I wish I had a use for this thing.

I've been experimenting on dying the back of my bamboo backed bows. Most of my experiments have been failures, but here's a few I liked:

Speaking of bamboo, I've also taken up making arrows out of bamboo. Here's my first set of bamboo arrows:

I've started processing my own turkey feathers, too, which were donated to me by my brother (the same one who is getting the knife). Here's my second set of bamboo arrows with the turkey feathers:

Here's a crossbow I made for my brother-in-law:

Here's some cordage I made out of the leaves of a yucca plant.

Here's a replica of the One Ring I made out of Osage.

That was originally part of a wooden tankard I was making for a friend. That's another things I've taken up--making wooden drinking vessels. Here's some of my first ones:

Here's a turkey call I made out of some scrap pieces of cedar.

I've also taken up making nets, but I don't have any pictures of that.

And I've taken up paracording. Here's some dove loops I made out of paracord:

That's all I can think of right now. As you can tell, I'm still single.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

William Lane Craig against Calvinism, a response, Part 5 of 5

Part 4

5. Universal, divine determinism makes reality into a farce. On the deterministic view, the whole world becomes a vain and empty spectacle. There are no free agents in rebellion against God, whom God seeks to win through His love, and no one who freely responds to that love and freely gives his love and praise to God in return. The whole spectacle is a charade whose only real actor is God Himself. Far from glorifying God, the deterministic view, I’m convinced, denigrates God for engaging in a such a farcical charade. It is deeply insulting to God to think that He would create beings which are in every respect causally determined by Him and then treat them as though they were free agents, punishing them for the wrong actions He made them do or loving them as though they were freely responding agents. God would be like a child who sets up his toy soldiers and moves them about his play world, pretending that they are real persons whose every motion is not in fact of his own doing and pretending that they merit praise or blame. I’m certain that Reformed determinists, in contrast to classical Reformed divines, will bristle at such a comparison. But why it’s inapt for the doctrine of universal, divine, causal determinism is a mystery to me.

The reasons Craig gives for why divine determinism makes reality into a farce are points he raised earlier in this series that I’ve already responded to. I’ve already shown that divine determinism is consistent with us being moral agents responsible for our actions, so that doesn’t count as a reason for why reality is a farce. And God is not the only real actor, as I showed in the last post.

Craig’s reason for thinking divine determinism denigrates God and is insulting to him has also already been dealt with earlier in this series. Craig thinks it’s insulting to suggest that God would determine somebody’s action, then punish them for their action. But that is exactly what God did to Pharaoh, so Craig’s view is at odds with Scripture.

Craig’s analogy between humans whose actions are determined by God and toy soldiers that God plays with has also been dealt with except that in the previous post, Craig used the analogy of a stick moving a stone instead. In both cases, the analogy broke down because sticks and toy soldiers do not have minds. They do not act out of any motives, desires, inclinations, goals, habits, or anything. Their “actions” are not choices. Ours are.

I’m not totally sure what Craig means by saying reality is a farce under divine determinism. It is not true that under the reformed view that “the whole world becomes a vain and empty spectacle.” To be vain and empty is to serve no purpose. But, as Jonathan Edwards argued in The End For Which God Created the World, the ultimate purpose in creation and everything God ordains is for the praise of his glory, and God is glorified in the demonstration of all of his attributes. So God has a purpose in some people rebelling against him—to demonstrate his wrath (Proverbs 16:4, Romans 9:22), and he has a purpose in rescuing some people from his wrath—to demonstrate his mercy (Romans 9:23). I highly recommend reading Edward’s book on this subject. It shows demonstrably that God’s absolute sovereignty does not render reality a farce. Quite the opposite!

After all, it is under Craig’s view that so many events in reality serve no divine purpose and are only inconveniences that God must work around or live with. If reality can only have meaning if there are events in reality for which God has no purpose, then that seems to suggest that it's not really all about God. It's about us.

However, the scriptures reveal that God has a purpose in everything (Proverbs 16:4). All things exist for him and for his glory (Isaiah 43:6-7, Romans 11:36, 1 Corinthians 8:6, Colossians 1:16). Even the reason God saves people is for his name's sake (Psalm 106:8, Isaiah 43:25, Ezekiel 36:22). Since it's all about God, not us, everything has meaning even if we don't have libertarian freedom.

And that's about all I have to say about that.

The end.

Monday, February 24, 2014

William Lane Craig against Calvinism: a response, Part 4 of 5

Part 3B

4. Universal, divine, determinism nullifies human agency. Since our choices are not up to us but are caused by God, human beings cannot be said to be real agents. They are mere instruments by means of which God acts to produce some effect, much like a man using a stick to move a stone. Of course, secondary causes retain all their properties and powers as intermediate causes, as the Reformed divines remind us, just as a stick retains its properties and powers which make it suitable for the purposes of the one who uses it. Reformed thinkers need not be occasionalists like Nicholas Malebranche, who held that God is the only cause there is. But these intermediate causes are not agents themselves but mere instrumental causes, for they have no power to initiate action. Hence, it’s dubious that on divine determinism there really is more than one agent in the world, namely, God. This conclusion not only flies in the face of our knowledge of ourselves as agents but makes it inexplicable why God then treats us as agents, holding us responsible for what He caused us and used us to do.

Craig already raised this issue in part #3. He claimed there that if God determines our actions, then we are not responsible for them.

Craig apparently thinks you can be an agent, or you can be an instrument, but you cannot be both. The prophets disagree.

In Isaiah 10, it says that Assyria is the rod of God’s anger (v. 5) and that he sends it against a godless nation to capture booty, seize plunder, and trample them down (v. 6). So Assyria was God’s instrument, but does that mean Assyria was not an agent? No, because Isaiah goes on to say that although God sent Assyria to punish a godless nation, that was not Assyria’s intention. Rather, Assyria’s intention was to destroy and cut off many nations (v. 7). In spite of the fact that God sent Assyria to trample and plunder, he nevertheless treats them like moral agents. He goes on to say in verse 12 than when he is finished with all he sent Assyria to do, he is going to punish them.

We see the same thing in Jeremiah about Babylon. God calls Nebuchadnezzar “my servant,” and says he will bring him against Jerusalem and the surrounding nations and destroy them (Jeremiah 25:9). Then he says he will punish them (v.12). God sent the Babylonians to punish the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to destroy the Temple, but then he says he is going to arouse the spirit of the kings of the Medes to destroy Babylon for the sake of vengeance for the Temple (Jeremiah 51:7) and vengeance for the people of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 51:35-36).

So both Assyria and Babylon are used as instruments of God to punish Israel and other nations, and God still treats them as agents by punishing them for what they did. So Craig has made a false dichotomy between being an instrument in the hands of God and being an agent, responsible for their actions.

The difference between a stick used in the hand of an agent to move a stone and a human used in the hand of God to punish another nation is that the stick does not act out of any motive, intention, or desire. It is passive in the whole affair. Humans, however, are active, even when being used by God. We act out of desires and inclinations. We do things on purpose. God was able to use Nebuchadnezzar to do his will because “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he wishes” (Proverbs 21:1). When Babylon and Assyria acted, they acted out of their own motives. While God had his intentions for arousing Assyria against Israel, Assyria acted out of its own intentions (Isaiah 10:7), which is what makes Assyria an agent and distinguishes Assyria from a stick.

Craig is quite right in saying we know we are agents. When we act, we do so on purpose. When we do something on purpose, we know that we are doing it because we want to. We are acting out of our own inclinations. That is quite different than having a muscle spasm or an involuntary reflex. Acting out of our own inclinations is perfectly consistent with God determining our actions since God has influence over the heart.

God also has influence over all the numerous factors that go into us having the desires and inclinations that we have. To some degree, we even have some power over each other. I can cause somebody to choose to look at me just by saying, “Look at me.” That creates a motive in them to act, and they act on that motive.

Craig says, “But these intermediate causes are not agents themselves but mere instrumental causes, for they have no power to initiate action.” By the “power to initiate action,” Craig is referring to a libertarian free will act, which is an act that arises spontaneously without any cause, reason, or condition whatsoever being sufficient to determine that act. “Agents,” in Craig’s view are capable of being first causes, i.e. of initiating causal chains without themselves being caused to do so.

But it seems to me that it is on Craig’s view that people are not agents. To be an agent, one must be in control of one’s own actions and do them on purpose. But we have no more control over a spontaneous event than we do over an event that is causally determined by blind mechanistic causes. That is the problem with libertarian freedom. It is hard to distinguish a libertarian act from a random blip or an accident.

Suppose, for example, that your every desire is to turn to the right, and you have no desire whatsoever to turn to the left. But you turn to the left anyway because on libertarianism, no desire is sufficient to determine what you do, and in spite of your desires, you can still do otherwise. Would it make sense to ask why you turned to the left on libertarianism if you had no desire or reason to? No. The answer would be that there is no reason you turned to the left.

In fact, on libertarianism, even if you are influenced by some desire to act, the desire is never a sufficient reason for why you acted as you did. If somebody asks you why you did what you did, the correct answer isn’t, “Because I wanted to,” or “Because I was motivated by a sense of duty,” or anything like that. Rather, the correct answer would be, “Partly because I wanted to, and partly for no reason at all.”

Some libertarians have tried to get past the random blip problem with libertarianism by saying, “the agent is the cause of the free action.” This is what they call “agent causation.” But this just creates more problems.

Since it's the action that we say is free, that must be where the will is located since that is the volition. But the whole notion of free will (at least as Craig defines it) is that the will is not caused. If an action is caused, then it’s not free.

The strange thing about saying "the agent is the cause of the free action," is that it seems to imply that there is a distinction between the agent and the action such that one causes the other.

If the volition or act of will is the same thing as the free action, then what does it mean to say that the agent causes it? Is the agent causation itself an act of the will, or is it a "random blip"?

If it's an act of the will, then to say "the agent causes the free action" seems equivalent to saying, "The choice causes the choice," which doesn't solve any problems with random blips vs. control.

But if it's a random blip, then we're saying, "A random blip causes the choice," which doesn't solve any problems about control either.

It seems like, to be consistent, "free" should modify "the agent causing" instead of "action.” In that case, "The agent freely causes the action." That would be more consistent with libertarian freedom because that way you don't have anything that's free being causally determined.

But then you're still stuck with the random blip problem since there is no reason for why the agent freely causes the action.

I really think compatibilism is the only coherent way out of this quagmire. An action is ones own to the degree that a person's own desires and motives play a hand in bringing about that action. The less hand one's own desires and motives have in bringing about the action, the less those actions are one's own. The more hand our desires and motives have in bringing about our actions, the more those actions are our own. It follows that our actions are completely our own when our desires and motives have everything to do with our actions, i.e. when they determine our actions. That is possible under divine determinism, so divine determinism does not nullify human agency.

Part 5

Sunday, February 23, 2014

William Lane Craig against Calvinism: a response, Part 3B of 5

Part 3A

I'm continuing to response to Craig's third reason for thinking reformed theology is problematic. I'll post it again to remind you of what he said.

3. Universal, divine, determinism makes God the author of sin and precludes human responsibility. In contrast to the Molinist view, on the deterministic view even the movement of the human will is caused by God. God moves people to choose evil, and they cannot do otherwise. God determines their choices and makes them do wrong. If it is evil to make another person do wrong, then on this view God is not only the cause of sin and evil, but becomes evil Himself, which is absurd. By the same token, all human responsibility for sin has been removed. For our choices are not really up to us: God causes us to make them. We cannot be responsible for our actions, for nothing we think or do is up to us.

Whether divine determinism removes human responsibility

It is understandable that we would think God determining our actions would remove our responsibility for them. We have a strong intuition that ought implies can, and that if we are unable to do something, then we cannot be blamed for our failure to do it.

But I think that if we are unable to do the right thing, it matters what the reason is for our inability. If I would like to do my duty, but I can’t because I’m duct taped to a tree, then I can’t be blamed for failure to do my duty. But if I’m unencumbered by physical restraints, and the only thing keeping me from doing my duty is the fact that I just really don’t want to, then I can be blamed. We don’t let people off the hook just because they’re doing what they want. Quite the opposite.

Under libertarianism, which Craig subscribes to, our desires do not determine our actions. In fact, no antecedent conditions at all, neither inside of us nor outside of us, are sufficient to bring about our actions if our actions are free. However, Craig would readily admit that antecedent conditions can have some influence over our actions. Otherwise, commands would be superfluous. Why command us to do anything if we would behave exactly the same whether we received the command or not? Commands only serve a purpose if they have some influence over our behavior.

Influence comes in degrees. Some influences have more power over us than others. The stronger our desires are, the more likely we are to give in to them. If our desires are so strong that we can’t help but give in to them, then our desires determine our actions.

If Craig is right in thinking that divine determinism removes our responsibility and that libertarian freedom is necessary for moral responsibility, then it would follow that the stronger our desire to do good, the less praiseworthy we are for doing it, and the stronger our desire to do evil, the less blameworthy we are for doing it. The reason is because the stronger our desire to do good or evil, the closer those desires are to determining our actions, and Craig thinks we cannot be responsible for our actions if they are determined by any antecedent conditions, including our own desires and motives.

If a desire removes all moral responsibility in case it is so strong that we cannot help but give in to it, then it would follow that the less influence desire has over our actions, the more responsible we are for them because the less influence our desires have over our actions, the more free we are in the libertarian sense. It would follow that we are most free (and therefore most responsible) when our desires have no influence over our actions at all.

But think about how counter-intuitive that is. It would follow that you are most responsible for your actions when you didn’t mean to do them. You had no plan to do them, no desire to do them, no motive, etc. You are most responsible for your actions when they are accidents that happen for no reason at all.

Moreover, the deeper your desire to do evil, the less blameworthy you are for doing evil, and the deeper your desire to do good, the less praiseworthy you are for doing good. The more hand your own intentions, desires, motives, inclinations, etc. have in bringing about your actions, the less responsible you are for your actions. And the less hand your own intentions, desires, motives, inclinations, etc. have in bringing about your actions, the more responsible you are for your actions.

That is the absurd consequence of Craig’s point of view. That is the absurd consequence in believing that ought implies can, not only in the physical sense (i.e. the physical or natural ability to act), but also in the psychological sense (i.e. the psychological ability to act, willingness to act, etc.).

But reason dictates that the two senses of having an inability to do otherwise are exactly opposite. The more physically difficult it is for you to do your duty, the less you can be blamed for your failure to do it. But the more psychologically difficult it is for you to do your duty, then the more you can be blamed for your failure to do it.

After all, our psychological motives for acting are the basis upon which we are praised or blamed. If I shove an old lady because I hate old ladies, then I can be blamed, but if I shove an old lady to save her from being hit by a bus, then I can be praised. The more my actions are influenced by love, the more praiseworthy they are, and they more my actions are influenced by hate, the more blameworthy they are.

We cannot be praised and blamed for actions that we did not intend or plan. We can always excuse ourselves on the basis that it was an accident. To do something on purpose is to do it out of a prior disposition. The actions we take on purpose are actions we do for reasons and motives. The more hand our own desires and motives have in bringing about our actions, the more those actions are under our control. It follows that our actions are completely under our control when they are completely determined by our own desires, motives, inclinations, etc. And we can only be responsible for actions that we perform on purpose.

Not only is libertarian freedom unnecessary for moral responsibility, but it’s actually inconsistent with it. A person is only free, in the libertaraian sense, to the degree that antecedent conditions (including a person’s own psychology) do not determine their actions. Consider the following diagram.

Libertarian freedom is indirectly proportional to the strength of our desires as well as every other psychological influence. If our desires are strong enough to determine our actions, then we have no libertarian freedom. We have the most libertarian freedom when our actions are not so much as influenced by our desires.

As I said before, commands (e.g. moral imperatives) are superfluous unless they have some power to influence our actions. But that means commands carry with them the very thing that removes libertarian freedom (and moral responsibility if you follow Craig). The more influence from commands, the less freedom in the will. Libertarianism, on the other hand, carries with it the very thing that makes commands superfluous. The more freedom of the will, the less influence from command. If you follow Craig, indifference is the only way you can be completely responsible for your actions since that’s the only state under which nothing but your own libertarian choice has any influence over your actions.

So far, I have argued that we can be responsible for our actions if they are determined by our own antecedent psychological states, especially our own desires, motives, and inclinations. But what of the cause of those prior psychological states? Some people claim that we must choose them before we can be morally responsible. If they arise from some outside cause, then we cannot be responsible for acting on them.

But that leads to an infinite regress. If you must choose your desires before you can be responsible for acting on them, then the choice of your desires must be determined by an even earlier desire. And that desire must be preceded by an earlier choice which also must be preceded by an earlier desire, etc.

There’s only one of two ways to halt this infinite regress. You can either halt it by beginning with a desire you did not choose (the compatibilist position) or by beginning with a choice that arose spontaneously without any determining desire at all (the libertarian position). Since we can only be morally responsible for actions we did on purpose, and our actions are only on purpose to the degree that they are determined by our own desires and motives, it follows that we cannot take the libertarian position. Ultimately, all of our actions must originate from desires that we did not choose. Otherwise, morality would be impossible altogether.

If it turns out that we can be morally responsible for our actions even when they are based on desire that we did not choose, then it doesn’t matter what causes our desires—whether somebody outside of us using persuasion, whether we are born with a sinful inclination, or whether God directly influenced our hearts. Since all of these causes for our desires lie outside of the will, they cannot be the basis upon which we are excused or held responsible. So if God hardens your heart resulting in you having a desire to disobey him, and you act on that desire, then you are still morally responsible.

Consider the Voldemort thought experiment. Voldemort is an evil character in Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling made him up. He’s only evil in the book, though, because that’s how Rowling wrote him. He’s not evil in reality because he doesn’t exist in reality. But suppose Rowling was able to pull him out of the book and into reality, and suppose that if she did so, he would be just the same in reality as he is in the book. Would he not act the same as in the books? And if he did, would he not be responsible for his actions?

You might say no since Rowling determined that he would be the way he is. But let’s suppose there are two people named Voldemort who are alike in every way, including all of their beliefs, desires, memories, habits, inclinations, biases, abilities, etc. The only difference between them is that one was born into the world the usual way and for whatever reason became like he is today. The other was created ex nihilo by J.K. Rowling just yesterday, and she planted all those memories, beliefs, desires, etc. in him. Considering the fact that at this moment, they are exactly alike in every way, doesn’t it follow that if one is responsible for his actions, the other is as well? And doesn’t it follow that it doesn’t matter how they got to be that way? We would all agree that the Voldemort who came into the world the usual way is responsible for his actions, so it follows that the Voldemort created by J.K. Rowling is also responsible for his.

And it follows that if God brought us into existence and caused us to have sinful desires, that we are just as responsible for our actions as we would be if he had not caused us to have sinful desires.

That is not only agreeable to the philosophical arguments I just made, but it’s also consistent with the scriptures. In Romans 9:18, Paul says that God “has mercy on whom he desires, and he hardens whom he desires.” Then he says, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who resists his will?’”

Now, why would Paul raise this question? The thought behind the hypothetical question is that if it is God’s will that our hearts are hardened, then he shouldn’t find fault in us. If God is the one who hardens our hearts, and if God’s will cannot be resisted, then we can’t help but sin. That raises the question of why God would hold us accountable for our sins. So Paul’s hypothetical question makes no sense at all unless Paul really means to be saying that God hardens people’s hearts, resulting in sin.

Notice that the hypothetical objection Paul raises to what he just taught is exactly the same objection Craig raises against reformed theology. Craig thinks that if divine determinism is true that it removes personal responsibility for our actions just as Paul’s hypothetical objector thinks. And just as the hypothetical objector is taking issue with what Paul just taught about the sovereignty of God, so also is Craig taking issue with what Paul just taught about the sovereignty of God. So Craig is on the wrong side of this issue Biblically.

Part 4

Saturday, February 22, 2014

William Lane Craig against Calvinism: a response, Part 3A of 5

Part 2

3. Universal, divine, determinism makes God the author of sin and precludes human responsibility. In contrast to the Molinist view, on the deterministic view even the movement of the human will is caused by God. God moves people to choose evil, and they cannot do otherwise. God determines their choices and makes them do wrong. If it is evil to make another person do wrong, then on this view God is not only the cause of sin and evil, but becomes evil Himself, which is absurd. By the same token, all human responsibility for sin has been removed. For our choices are not really up to us: God causes us to make them. We cannot be responsible for our actions, for nothing we think or do is up to us.

Craig raises two points here. He says that divine determinism makes God the author of sin. He also says that divine determinism precludes human responsibility. I’ll treat these one at a time. Since I had so much to say, I separated part 3 into Part 3A and Part 3B.

Whether divine determinism makes God the author of sin

First, let’s talk about whether divine determinism makes God the author of sin. People frequently use the phrase “author of sin” without being clear about what they mean. There are at least two possible things that it could mean.

It could mean that God authored sin in the same sense that J.K. Rowling authored Voldemort’s evil except that sinners are real and Voldemort is not. In this view, God intended sin to happen, and he disposed the world in such a way to ensure that it would. Sin was part of God’s plan.

I readily admit that God is the author of sin in this sense. I don’t see how any Calvinist who subscribes to the Westminster Confession could deny it. The Westminster Confession says 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.” If sin comes to pass, then God must’ve ordained it.

Even Craig must admit that God is the author of sin in some sense. According to Molinism, God knew all the counterfactuals of human freedom, and he knew all possible states of affairs, so he knew exactly what would happen depending on which world he chose to actualize. God chose to actualize this world knowing ahead of time that the inevitable outcome would be specific sins that he knew about. If he had refrained from creating this world, those sins would not have happened. So God is the author of those sins in some sense. He created the conditions under which those sins were inevitable.

I’m guessing Craig would say the difference is that when God disposes the world in such a way that he knows sin is inevitable, he doesn’t actually cause it to happen. Rather, he passively allows it to happen.

I don't think it makes much difference in whether God causes or allows evil. In either case, God intends the evil to come about because he has some good purpose in it. If God didn't have a good purpose in allowing the evil, he could've easily prevented it. He chose to allow the evil because he intended the evil to happen. That seems to me to be consistent with the view that "God decrees all things that come to pass." However you look at it, whether by allowing or causing, God disposes the world in such a way that evil is inevitable because evil is part of his plan.

Craig may object that sin isn’t something God intends to happen as a means to a greater good, but that sin is an inconvenience that God must work around to obtain his ultimate good. In that case, God doesn’t actually plan or intend sin to happen; rather, he just puts up with it because his hands are tied by the counterfactuals of human freedom.

However, the Bible is clear that God intends sin to happen because he has a purpose in it. It isn’t just an inconvenience that he’s forced to work around. Here are a couple of examples.

God meant for Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery, and even though his brothers meant it for evil, God meant it for good (Genesis 50:20).

When Pilate, Herod, the gentiles, and the people of Israel gathered together against Jesus in Jerusalem, they were doing what God predestined to occur (Acts 4:27-28). But the crucifixion was the means by which God saves people from his wrath against sin. God meant for Jesus to be crucified, which entails that he meant for somebody to crucify him.

I would go even further to show that in some cases, God directly causes people to sin. I may have lost some of my Calvinist friends at this point, but see what you make of my case.

We all know about God hardening Pharoah’s heart which resulted in Pharaoh not letting the Hebrews go. And we know that God punished Pharaoh for his refusal to let the Hebrews go even though that was God’s plan all along.

The common response is that Pharaoh hardened his own heart first. But as long as God played any role at all in Pharaoh’s heart being hardened, this common response does nothing to diminish the point. Whether God assisted Pharaoh in hardening his own heart or whether God did all the hardening himself, we're still faced with the same situation--God played a role in Pharaoh's heart getting hardened, and the result was sin. In fact, that's why God hardened his heart. He did it so he could display his power in Pharaoh (Romans 9:17). God meant for Pharaoh to refuse to let Israel go, and he played an active role in assuring that Pharaoh would choose just as he did. Whether you say God did that all on his own, or he just assisted Pharaoh, doesn't seem to make much difference because God was active (not merely passive) in either case.

There are other Biblical examples of God causing people to sin, which I’ll list here.

God causes people to be false prophets (1 Kings 22:23).

Isaiah 63:17 says, "Why, O LORD, dost thou cause us to stray from your ways, and harden our hearts from fearing you?"

He turned the heart of the Egyptians to hate the Hebrews and deal craftily with them (Psalm 105:23-25).

He caused the Egyptians to turn against each other and to resort to idolatry and necromancy (Isaiah 19:2-3).

He sent the Assyrians to plunder and trample Israel (Isaiah 10), then punished them for taking the credit for it.

He sent the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem and the surrounding nations, then punished them for it (Jeremiah 25).

He causes people to forget the Sabbath and feasts (Lamentations 2:6).

John 12:39-40 “For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, ‘He has blinded their eyes and he hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them.’”

1 Peter 2:8 “For they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this they were also appointed.”

Revelation 17:7 “ For God has put it in their hearts to execute his purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled.”

These passages make God out to be the author of sin in the sense that God intends and brings it about that people commit sin.

But there is another possible meaning to the phrase, “author of sin,” which is that God himself commits sin. Craig says, “If it is evil to make another person do wrong, then on this view God is not only the cause of sin and evil, but becomes evil Himself, which is absurd.” Whether God is evil himself hinges on the premise that it is evil to make another person do wrong.

In general, I think it is wrong to cause another to sin. The Bible gives several warnings against being a stumbling block to other people and causing them to sin.

Matthew 18:6-7 “If any of you puts a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one through whom the stumbling block comes!”

1 Corinthians 8:9-12 “But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.”

Although it’s clearly a sin to cause somebody else to sin, I think this is only a prima facie moral imperative that is not without exception. Just as lying is wrong in most cases, one can imagine scenarios in which lying would be the right thing to do, such as protecting Jews from Nazis during the holocaust. In the same way, there are scenarios in which it is not wrong to cause another to sin.

Consider this scenario. You are a quadriplegic confined to a wheel chair, and you know two things: 1) That there is a black man hiding in the woodshed near you with a detonator prepared to blow up a school filled with black children and teachers; and 2) There is murdering racist about to walk by who would like nothing better than for as many black people to die as possible, and he would gladly kill any black person he sees.

If you are a moral person, you would like to be able to stop the man in the woodshed from blowing up the school, but you’re a helpless quadriplegic. The only person around who can help is the murdering racist about to walk by. How are you going to get him to stop the man in the woodshed?

Well, you can’t just tell him he’d be saving hundreds of kids if he stops the man in the woodshed because if he finds out the kids are black, he may let the man hit the detonator or hit it himself. There are no altruistic motives you can appeal to to get the racist to stop the man in the woodshed.

Pretty much the only thing you can do is appeal to the racists’ murdering intentions. If you do nothing, he’ll just walk on by, so the best thing for you to do is tell him there’s a black man in the woodshed, and he better kill him quick, not to save innocent lives, but just because he’s black. That’s the only way to save all those kids, and it seems to me that’s the moral thing to do.

I made up that scenario. Maybe I could’ve come up with something more simple if I were more creative. But the point is to illustrate that it is possible for there to be a morally justifiable reason for causing another person to sin. If it is possible for us to be morally justified in causing people to sin, at least in some cases, then it is possible that God has a morally justifiable reason for causing people to sin in all cases in which they sin. Before Craig could argue that God causing people to sin makes God evil, Craig would first need to rule out that possibility.

However, the Bible is not silent on the issue. It specifically tells us in some cases why God causes people to sin. In the case of Joseph’s brother selling him into slavery, the purpose was to save people from starvation. In the case of hardening Pharaoh’s heart, we are told that God did it to demonstrate his power (Romans 9:17). Jonathan Edwards argued in The End For Which God Created the World that God’s ultimate end in everything is his own glory, and God’s glory is made manifest in the demonstration of his attributes. God’s glory is the greatest good, and with God being perfectly good, it stands to reason that he would have a passion for his own glory. I don’t want to go into detail about that because it would make this blog post a lot longer, so have a look-see at Edward’s book.

God is justified for causing people to sin because he does so for good and praiseworthy ends which outweigh the immediate consequences of sin. But that is not the only reason God is justified in causing people to sin. He is also justified for a reason that does not apply to mere mortals. He is justified because he is God—the creator. He is justified because of his divine prerogatives and absolute autonomy and freedom to do as he wishes with his creation.

In Romans 9:18, Paul says that God “has mercy on whom he desires, and he hardens whom he desires.” Then he says, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who resists his will?’” Paul responds to this hypothetical challenge in a number of ways, but the first thing he points out is God’s freedom and autonomy to do as he wishes with his creatures. He says, “On the contrary, who are you, o man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?” So, according to Paul, God has the moral right to harden whom he desires. He therefore is not evil for causing people to sin.

Part 3B

Friday, February 21, 2014

William Lane Craig against Calvinism: a response, part 2 of 5

Part 1

2. Universal causal determinism cannot be rationally affirmed. There is a sort of dizzying, self-defeating character to determinism. For if one comes to believe that determinism is true, one has to believe that the reason he has come to believe it is simply that he was determined to do so. One has not in fact been able to weigh the arguments pro and con and freely make up one’s mind on that basis. The difference between the person who weighs the arguments for determinism and rejects them and the person who weighs them and accepts them is wholly that one was determined by causal factors outside himself to believe and the other not to believe. When you come to realize that your decision to believe in determinism was itself determined and that even your present realization of that fact right now is likewise determined, a sort of vertigo sets in, for everything that you think, even this very thought itself, is outside your control. Determinism could be true; but it is very hard to see how it could ever be rationally affirmed, since its affirmation undermines the rationality of its affirmation.

I have seen a lot of people lazily misrepresent C.S. Lewis’ argument from reason (chapter 2 or 3 in Miracles), and I think that is what Craig is doing here. What C.S. Lewis argued was that materialism cannot be rationally affirmed because if materialism is true, then all of our beliefs are causally determined by blind mechanistic causes which would result in our beliefs whether there were good grounds for them or not. Reasons and evidence play no roll in forming our beliefs since our beliefs are the direct result of chemical reactions.

This argument has been reduced to the argument that determinism cannot be rationally affirmed. However, it matters what is doing the determining. Lewis is right that if the direct cause of our beliefs is merely how our brains happen to be fizzing at the time, then that undermines our rationality. But if our beliefs are determined by reasons and evidence, then that establishes their rationality. It doesn’t undermine their rationality.

Craig’s argument assumes that for beliefs to be rational, they must be the result of free choice, i.e. choice that is not determined by any antecedent conditions. He uses the phrases, “freely make up one’s mind” and “decision to believe” as if the ability to choose our beliefs freely is necessary for those beliefs to be rational.

But, as J.P. Moreland has often argued, our beliefs are not under the direct control of the will at all. We cannot simply, by a pure act of volition, choose to believe one thing rather than another. When we are confronted with things in reality, we are caused to believe those things. When I see my cat lying on the couch, I’m caused to believe my cat is lying on the couch by my sensory perception. I don’t choose to believe it.

However, we can choose to put ourselves in circumstances that will cause our beliefs to change. I can choose to open my eyes and look at my cat. I can choose to read an article, and to think about what it’s saying. In the process, my beliefs could change. So we do have indirect control over our beliefs.

But I don’t think libertarian freedom is necessary for rationality in this case. If my choice to read an article and think carefully about what it says is determined by my desire to arrive at the truth, then it seems to me that I’m being rational. So we can form a deterministic causal chain that results in a rational conclusion under compatibilism:

Desire to arrive at truth-->reading an article and thinking about what it says-->”seeing” the logical connection between the various statements-->belief that the conclusion is true.

This causal chain may be perfectly deterministic, but that does not diminish my rationality.

Imagine, though, that our beliefs really were a matter of free choice. It seems to me that that would undermine their rationality. Think about that for a second. If our beliefs are really just the result of choice, then the only reason we believe what we do rather than the opposite is because we chose to. We could believe the exact opposite by exerting our wills and choosing to believe the opposite. Imagine, if you are a theist, choosing right now to believe there is no god of any sort. If you could do that, then you would honestly believe there is no god, and you would likely be relieved because you would think you were mistaken before. The only reason you believe in God now is because you made the opposite choice.

If we suppose, as Craig does, that rationality is diminished by determinism, it leads to absurd results. Follow my reasoning carefully. The stronger evidence is, the more difficult it is to deny the conclusion, right? And the more difficult it is to deny a conclusion, the closer evidence is to determining your belief. If the evidence were ever so strong that you could not deny the conclusion, then your belief would be determined. And according to Craig’s thinking, that would mean your belief is not rational.

But that means the stronger the evidence is, the less rational you are in affirming the conclusion, which is counter-intuitive. If our rationality is indirectly proportional to the determination of our beliefs, then the less hand evidence plays in bringing about our beliefs, the more rational we are. It follows that we are most rational when evidence has no hand whatsoever in bringing about our beliefs. We are most rational when our beliefs are arbitrary. That’s what follows from Craig’s view since he thinks our beliefs must be freely chosen in the libertarian sense before they can be rational.

But clearly that is nonsense. Craig has it exactly backward. The stronger the evidence is, the more we ought to believe the conclusion, and the more irrational we would be for denying the conclusion. The more hand evidence plays in forming our beliefs, the more rational our beliefs are. It follows that we are most rational when the evidence has everything to do with our beliefs, and that happens when evidence determines our beliefs.

So determinism is not inconsistent with rationality, as long as we aren’t talking about hard determinism, which does away with the role of the mind and rationality in forming beliefs. The difference between hard determinism and compatibilism is that hard determinism involves blind mechanistic causes, and compatibilism includes mental, intentional, and rational causes. Libertarianism does away with both. So rationality is no more possible under libertarian freedom than it is under hard determinism. But if you go with compatibilism, you can keep both rationality and determinism as long as you stipulate that there are rational causes to beliefs, and I think it is a mistake to characterize them as “choices.”

Part 3

Thursday, February 20, 2014

William Lane Craig against Calvinism: a response, part 1 of 5

A while back, William Lane Craig at Reasonable Faith got a question about Calvinism vs. Molinism. In his response, he listed “Five difficulties with the reformed view.” I’ve been wanting to respond to them for a long time but just haven’t gotten around to it until now.

With the exception of #2, Jonathan Edwards dealt with all of these issues 260 years ago in his book, An Inquiry into the Modern Prevailing Notions of That Freedom of the Will Which Is Supposed to Be Essential to Moral Agency, Virtue and Vice, Reward and Punishment, Praise and Blame. Or, more commonly, The Freedom of the Will. So I highly recommend this book for anybody who wonders how Edwards might’ve responded to Craig.

I’m going to respond to each of these in a separate blog post. Here’s the first difficulty Craig raises.

1. Universal, divine, causal determinism cannot offer a coherent interpretation of Scripture. The classical Reformed divines recognized this. They acknowledge that the reconciliation of Scriptural texts affirming human freedom and contingency with Scriptural texts affirming divine sovereignty is inscrutable. D. A. Carson identifies nine streams of texts affirming human freedom: (1) People face a multitude of divine exhortations and commands, (2) people are said to obey, believe, and choose God, (3) people sin and rebel against God, (4) people’s sins are judged by God, (5) people are tested by God, (6) people receive divine rewards, (7) the elect are responsible to respond to God’s initiative, (8) prayers are not mere showpieces scripted by God, and (9) God literally pleads with sinners to repent and be saved (Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspectives in Tension, pp. 18-22). These passages rule out a deterministic understanding of divine providence, which would preclude human freedom. Determinists reconcile universal, divine, causal determinism with human freedom by re-interpreting freedom in compatibilist terms. Compatibilism entails determinism, so there’s no mystery here. The problem is that adopting compatibilism achieves reconciliation only at the expense of denying what various Scriptural texts seem clearly to affirm: genuine indeterminacy and contingency.

While it is true that some reformed people have said the reconciliation of God’s divine sovereignty and human responsibility is inscrutable, there are some who have given philosophically sophisticated reconciliations without resorting to Molinism. Jonathan Edwards dealt with this issue in some detail in his book on The Freedom of the Will. A lot of my responses will be inspired by Edwards but may not be exactly what Edwards said.

Craig is right that some reformed people have reconciled God’s sovereignty with human freedom by defining freedom in compatibilist terms. That is how Edwards reconciled them. That’s the option I take as well.

Where Craig goes wrong is in saying that “compatibilism achieves reconciliation only at the expense of denying what various Scriptural texts seem clearly to affirm: genuine indeterminacy and contingency.” Craig is wrong for a couple of reasons.

First, because the scriptures do not affirm libertarian freedom (which is what Craig means by “genuine indeterminancy and contingency”). Rather, Craig infers, through philosophical reasoning, that the Bible must presuppose libertarianism since it affirms the nine points that Craig spells out above. Craig thinks those nine point only make sense if we have libertarian freedom. But that is a philosophical presupposition of Craig’s, not anything the Bible actually says.

Second, if you look at what the Bible actually does say about the nature of the will, it supports compatibilism, not libertarianism. According to compatibilism, all of our choices are determined by our strongest desires and motivations. According to the Bible, our actions are determined by the condition of our hearts.

Matthew 7:16-18 “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.

Matthew 12:33-35 “Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil.”

Luke 6:43 “For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit; nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.”

From Jesus’ statements in Matthew and Luke, it’s evident that all of our actions, whether good or bad, are determined by the condition of our hearts. Jesus could hardly have endorsed compatibilism more clearly without actually using the word “compatibilism.”

Ezekiel 36:26-27 “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”

This directly addresses Craig’s second point above which he thinks implies human freedom. It says, “people are said to obey, believe, and choose God.” Craig thinks that obeying is inconsistent with determinism and implies libertarianism, but according to Ezekiel 36:26-27, obedience is caused.

Jeremiah 13:23 “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then you also can do good who are accustomed to doing evil.”

A person who is accustomed to doing evil cannot do good because they can only act consistently with the condition of their hearts.

Proverbs 21:1 “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” (Cf. Ezra 6:22)

God’s sovereignty over the hearts of people is why he can be sovereign over all of our actions. That entails that our actions are determined by the condition of our hearts. This view of sovereignty is quite different than the Molinist view. Under Molinism, God doesn’t exercise sovereignty over human decision by influencing the human heart, but by actualizing possible states of affairs in which he knows ahead of time what people will freely choose.

Many more examples could be cited. Check out Martin Luther’s Bondage of the Will. The scriptures clearly affirm compatibilism, not libertarianism. Craig does not get libertarianism from the Bible. Rather, he gets it from his philosophical presupposition that libertarianism is necessary for moral accountability combined with the Bible’s affirmation that we are morally accountable.

I’ll address the subject of whether libertarianism is necessary for moral accountability in part 3 of this series.

Part 2

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Government interest in marriage, particularly same sex marriage

A thought just occurred to me.

My daughter has become a same sex marriage advocate.  A couple of weeks ago, we were in the car, and I wanted to find out how much she had thought about it.  So I asked her what arguments she knew for same sex marriage and what arguments she knew against it.  Naturally, she had more to say in favour of it than against it, so I raised some issues against it to see how she would respond.

First, I asked her why she thought the government was interested in marriage at all.  After all, there are different kinds of relationships--the relationship between a man and a woman, the relationship between siblings, the relationship between business partners, and the relationship between friends.  So I asked her why the government would issue a license for a marriage, but not for BFF's (best friends forever).

She wasn't sure, so I pointed out the fact that the government is interested in the good of society.  Society is made up of people.  And where do people come from?  A man and a woman.  And that's the only place people come from.  Same sex couples are incapable of producing people, so the government has no interest in licensing that kind of relationship.  The government does have an interest in protecting, encouraging, and incentivizing the relationship between a man and a woman, but they have no such interest in the relationship between same sex couples.

Grace had a quick reply to that.  She pointed out that a lot of opposite sex couples are incapable of having children.  She was using a reductio ad absurdum.  My argument had been based on the premise that the government should only issue a license to couples capable of producing children.  She pointed out that some opposite sex couples are incapable of producing children.  If we consider it absurd to deny two 50 year old people the right to marry simply because they can't have children, then we'd have to reject my premise.

We talked about that for a while.  I'll spare you the details.

The thought that just occurred to me was that Grace had attempted to refute a general principle by the use of an exception.  The general principle is that the government should issue a marriage license only to couples who are capable of producing children.  The exception that almost all of us would accept would be opposite sex couples who, for whatever reason, are incapable of having children.  We certainly wouldn't deny a 26 year old woman to get married just because she had had a hysterectomy.

But I was just thinking about how opponents to same sex marriage sometimes respond to pro same sex marriage arguments.  One argument goes like this:

1.  If two people love each other, they should be allowed to marry.
2.  Portia and Ellen love each other.
3.  Therefore, Portia and Ellen should be allowed to marry.

Opponents to same sex marriage will make an ad absurdum argument by the use of an exception to the first premise.

1'.  If two people love each other, they should be allowed to marry.
2'.  A brother and sister love each other.
3'.  Therefore, a brother and sister should be allowed to marry.

Once the dust settles because of the emotional frenzy that results from audaciously comparing homosexuality to incest, the advocate of same sex marriage will say that there is a legitimate reason for excepting siblings from the general principle.  It's because the children of incest often have birth defects, and the government shouldn't allow the kind of coupling that is detrimental to children.

But what if one of the siblings is infertile?  In that case, they are incapable of producing children, whether healthy or  not.  Should they then be allowed to marry?  What objection could a same sex advocate raise?

I suppose many will just bite the bullet and say we should allow those people to get married.  Why not?

But suppose some are still against it. How could they oppose it and remain consistent with their premise that if two people love each other, they should be allowed to marry?  They've got to come up with a justifiable reason to make an exception for infertile siblings while still allowing same sex couples to marry.

The one basis for exception they'll never use is that incest is morally wrong because once you bring morality into it, then that opens up a Pandora's box for the morality of homosexuality that everybody wants to avoid in this whole debate but that is probably at the heart of it for most of those who oppose it.

Another option for same sex marriage advocates is to say that rather than excepting individual couples from being allowed to marry, there should be an exception for certain kinds of couples.  In the case of incest, it's the kind of coupling that is detrimental to children.   So if there happen to be members of that kind (e.g. infertile siblings) that happen not to be detrimental to children, they can still be disallowed because they are still members of the same kind.

After all, it would be impractical and intrusive for the government to start prying into the biology and health of individuals who want to marry, which they would have to do if they are going to weed out the fertile couples from the infertile couples.

But that brings us back to the point Grace made earlier about how some opposite sex couples are infertile.  She was attempting to show that if we should only allow marriages for couples capable of producing children, then we should disallow marriage to infertile opposite sex couples.  But if we are going to make marriage legal or illegal based on the kinds of marriages they are rather than the individual circumstances of couples, then we should allow infertile opposite sex couples to marry because they are at least members of the only kind of relationship capable of producing children.

So an opponent to same sex marriage could still argue that since opposite sex couples form the only kind of relationship capable of producing children, then it's the only kind of relationship that the government ought to license.  And it doesn't matter that there happen to be some opposite sex couples who are incapable of having children since they are still members of the only kind of relationship that is capable of producing children.

After all, a big part of this debate has to do with the benefits associating with a marriage license.  One of those benefits is tax breaks.  Even though in a household with two members who are both capable of working and therefore splitting their expenses, they still get tax breaks that single people who have to bear all the household expenses themselves don't get.  If a couple gets married and therefore pays less taxes, single people have to pick up the slack.

We all pay taxes that go toward things that may not benefit us personally, but that benefit society as a whole.  Since we're members of the same society, we typically think it's worth it to pay taxes to benefit society as a whole.  So as single people, we might be perfectly okay with paying extra taxes that relieve a burden on married couples since we think marriage is good for society and ought to be incentivized.

But why would any of us want to pay extra taxes to privilege a kind of relationship that doesn't benefit society since it's incapable of producing children?

It seems that same sex marriage advocates would need to come up with some reason for why the government would have an interest in licensing their relationship.  Why incentives that kind of relationship as opposed to, say, BFF's?

I've heard various suggestions for how same sex marriage benefits society, so it has been done.  One that I think is a pretty good reason is so same sex couples can adopt.  And I don't mean being able to adopt new borns since there's no shortage of opposite sex couples wanting to adopt new borns.  I'm talking about older orphans.  I think it's better for those orphans to be adopted by same sex couples than to live in foster homes or orphanages.

Another benefit is to curb the spread of disease.  Let's face it. The homosexual community is more promiscuous than the rest of us.  I've had gay people tell me this themselves.  If same sex marriage were incentivized, we should expect that to lessen promiscuity and correspondingly the spread of disease.  That would be good for society.

It is easy to make arguments in isolation, but when you try to iron out all the kinks in your noetic structure and make everything consistent, it takes a bit of work.  I encourage my daughter to think things through, and she is a bright girl.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Was Jesus an historical figure?

Here's another debate I had on debate.org. The resolution for the debate was, "This house believes that Jesus Christ was a historical figure." This was one of my favourite debates on debate.org. Unfortunately, my opponent forfeited the last round. I'm pretty sure I would've won anyway, but I'd rather have won on the merits than because he forfeited.

You can read the whole debate at the link, but here is my opening:

Thanks to Steven_Hawking for accepting my challenge even though I didn't meet the criteria in your debate proposal.


No argument can get off the ground without mutually agreed upon premises, so I'm going to begin with some relatively uncontroversial assumptions in hopes that Con will not dispute them. We have limited space.

You might think the Bible is one source because it's usually bound under one cover, but it's actually a collection of writings from various authors, places, and times.

The earliest writings are from Paul, and there are seven authentic letters that date from c. 50 CE to 59 CE: Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, & Philemon.[1] Mark was written c. 70 CE, Matthew and Luke in the 80's, and John in the 90's.[2]

Within these writings are earlier sources. Matthew and Luke both used Mark as a source, but they share material not found in Mark, which scholars designate "Q." There is also material unique to Matthew and Luke designated 'M' and 'L' respectively.[3] Luke claims that by the time of his composition, many had already written an account of Jesus (Luke 1:1-2), so he apparently had several sources. There is also an Aramaic substratum in both Paul and the gospels, which is evidence of earlier sources of information.[4] In addition, there is evidence of oral traditions and early hymns about Jesus in Paul's letters, the gospels, and in Acts.[5]

I. The presumption of historicity

Apart from any good reason to think Jesus did not exist, we ought to presume he did. All of our earliest sources talk about Jesus as if he were a real person living in the recent past. There is nothing extraordinary about the existence of Jesus. He was one among many Jews in the first century who made lofty claims about himself, made people believe he could do miracles, gathered followers, and got himself killed. Josephus mentions several revolutionary type figures (some messiahs) who are only mentioned once, and scholars don't doubt their existence because there's no reason to.

II. Authority

Of the thousands of New Testament historians around the world, there is only one who doubts the existence of Jesus--Robert Price. There is also one ancient historian (Richard Carrier) who doubts the existence of Jesus. As far as I know, though, neither Carrier nor Price have published in academic journals on the non-existence of Jesus. They only raise their objections to the historical Jesus in popular literature that does not require peer review.

The consensus on the existence of Jesus is much stronger among NT historians than the consensus on evolution by random mutation and natural selection among biologists. There are many scientists in the field of biology who doubt evolution by random mutation and natural selection.[6]

Arguments from authority are not fallacious as long as the authority you cite is actually an expert on the subject, and as long there's a strong consensus among the experts on the point. In this case, what I mean by "expert" is a person who holds a PhD. in the field, is published in peer reviewed academic journals, and teaches (or has taught) in their field at the university or seminary level. I grant that it's possible for the experts to all be wrong, but if you're going to take a stand against the consensus of experts, you ought to have really good reasons.

III. Explanatory power

The existence of Jesus is the best explanation of the origin of Christianity. One would be hard pressed to find a more obvious, natural, simple, parsimonious explanation than the one that jumps out at us. It explains, in a straight forward way, why all of our sources point to Jesus as the originator of the movement, why there were people claiming to be his apostles, and why the movement was successful even though it originated in the city where it was claimed that he made a public scene and was publicly crucified.

IV. Crucifixion

Messianic hope resulted from the belief that God had promised that David's dynasty would last forever (2 Samuel 7:16) and the fact that David's dynasty ended during the Babylonian crisis in the 6th century BCE. The messianic king was supposed to be a fulfillment of that promise (Jeremiah 33:14-22). He would be a descendant of David, and his coming would be accompanied by a full return from exile that included the reunion of Judah and Israel (Ezekiel 37:21-23), national sovereignty, and an era of peace and prosperity free from the shackles of oppressors (Ezekiel 37:24-28).

Messianic expectation was especially intense from 6 CE to 70 CE because after the failure of Archeleus (son of king Herod) to govern Judea, Roman prefects were sent to govern.[7] While Herod had negotiated with Rome for religious liberties on behalf of the Jews, the Roman prefects continuously threatened those liberties.[8] The Jewish people yearned for a deliverer who would free them from Roman oppression and usher in all the promises God had made to Israel.[9] Their hopes were met with many failed messianic movements.[10]

If a group of people wanted to make up a story about a messiah, and get people to believe it, the last thing they would include in the story is that the messiah--the one to kick out the Romans and sit triumphantly on the throne of David--was defeated by the Romans. They didn't even claim Jesus was killed heroically in battle. Instead, he was killed in the most humiliating way a criminal can be killed--by public crucifixion.

The early Christians were well aware of how counter-intuitive a "crucified messiah" was. Paul said it was a "stumbling block" to Jews and "foolishness" to gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:23). Luke reports that the disciples were originally disillusioned (Luke 24:21). Besides that, no messianic movement in the first or second century survived the death of its leader.[11] The bar Kochba rebellion was fought over the belief that Simon bar Kosiba was the messiah, but nobody continued to believe in him after he died in failure. The number one reason Jews today reject Jesus as messiah is because he died without fulfilling all the promises.[12] The earliest Christians admitted that Jesus was crucified, but tried to redeem it by claiming it was for sins. Such a damage control operation would not have been necessary if Jesus had not be crucified.

The crucifixion of Jesus is a lucidly clear historical fact.[13] That entails that Jesus existed.

V. Personal acquaintance

Paul was personally acquainted with Jesus' brother, James (Galatians 1:18-19), so we have a first hand account of somebody who knew Jesus' brother. That entails that Jesus existed. Matthew and Mark also mention that Jesus had a brother named James (Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3).

VI. Nazareth

The messiah was supposed to be from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). However, all four gospels--M (Matthew 2:23), L (Luke 2:39-40), Mark (Mark 1:9, 24), and John (John 1:45-46)--report that Jesus was from Nazareth. We know they were aware of the problem because Matthew and Luke both go to the trouble of explaining how Jesus was born in Bethlehem inspite of being Jesus of Nazareth, and John reports the opposition raised against Jesus on the basis that he was from Nazareth in Galile rather than from Bethlehem (John 1:46; 7:41-42, 52). If Jesus was made up, then the gospel writers were knowingly creating problems for themselves they could've easily avoided.


[1] L. Michael White, From Jesus to Christianity, 146

[2] John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, 42-43

[3] Ibid., 44

[4] White, p. 122ff

[5] Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus, p. 143ff

[6] http://www.discovery.org…

[7] Werner Foerster, trans. Gordon E. Harris, From the Exile to Christ, 92

[8] Ibid. 84

[9] David Goldberg & John Rayner, The Jewish People, 75

[10] Foerster, 107-108

[11] N.T. Wrght, Jesus and the Victory of God, 110

[12] http://jew-with-a-view.blogspot.com…

[13] Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John (XIII-XXI), 792