Thursday, February 28, 2019

Thinking about starting a podcast

I've been thinking lately about starting a podcast. I was inspired by Kyle Hendricks who has the AK47 podcast with his buddy, Aaron. But more than that, I've been thinking that doing a podcast could help me improve my ability to speak. Speaking has always been a bit of a struggle, but it seems to be getting worse with age. I've developed George Bush Syndrome where I can barely get through a sentence without stumbling over my words, or saying the wrong thing, or not being able to think of a word. Listening to my interview with Kyle was really cringeworthy because of the awful speech patterns I noticed. For example, I kept saying. . .

* anything like that
* and stuff (like that)
* you know
* or something like that
* Kind of
* Kind of a
* Kind of like

At one point, I was talking about how in face to face conversations, people aren't going to sit through a 30 minute explanation of an argument without continuously interrupting you. You have to go back and forth and weave your argument into the conversation. I wanted to say that people are unwilling to listen to you monologue, but I couldn't think of the word, "monologue," so I said, "pontificate." That happens to me all the time where I can't think of a word, so I'll find a substitute. I'm kind of like Porky Pig (even stuttering sometimes) except that many times the substitute word is just wrong and doesn't express what I meant to say.

Also, I sounded like I had a sock in my mouth or sand in my throat. I listened to the other interviews Kyle did, and everybody else seemed to speak clearly and smoothly, and they had pleasant voices. I hate my voice!

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I'd sometimes make a cassette recording of me talking, and send that to people in lieu of a letter. For the most part, those went pretty well, I think, and I enjoyed doing them. Every now and then, there'd be an awkward pause where I'd have to gather my thoughts, and I'd use those pauses to play a song on the guitar. There's no way I could do that now. I just can't speak smoothly enough.

My inability to speak has even made ordinary conversation difficult. I struggle so much trying to find words and trying to get through a sentence smoothly that it's very hard to keep my train of thought. Shooting the breeze with people shouldn't be so hard! I suspect a lot of my struggle isn't even noticeable to other people. For example, when I can't find a word I want to use, I may pause briefly, but I'll quickly plug in a substitute if it doesn't come to me right away. The substitute may not capture what I was trying to say as well, but the other person can't know that because they can't read my mind.

I fully expect my podcast to be horrible in the beginning, but I'm hoping that with practice it will become easier, and this will bleed over into my personal life.

The question now is what my podcast should be about. Ideally, it would be an interview type podcast. I did some YouTube interviews with the fine folks over at one time, and those went really well. The only problem is that I doubt I'd be able to get a steady stream of people to interview. Plus, it's hard to schedule interviews with people. That's why I stopped doing it at As some of you might remember, I also tried vlogging a long time ago, but I quit because I didn't think it went well.

I have two other ideas. They're not terribly original. One of them is to do a course on apologetics. My audience would be other Christians. That could probably last a while.

Another idea is to have a broader audience, and give an over all defense of Christianity. This would be aimed both at Christians and at non-Christians. It would be sort of like a book one might write in defense of Christianity except it would be oral. I've been working on a book for a while, but it's hard to motivate myself to write in it. This could help. The only draw back is that I wouldn't be able to have footnotes. I'd have outlines to go by, and probably some notes, but I'd mostly be talking off the top of my head. This podcast probably wouldn't last as long as the one on apologetics since it would be more focused.

Neither of these podcasts would be perpetual. Eventually, I'd get through all the information I had, and I'd be done. That's the way I would want it to be. But who knows? If I actually got good at it, I might enjoy it, in which case I may either start a different podcast or find an excuse for the present one to continue.

It's unlikely that I'll announce new episodes here, though. I'd be too self-conscious about it. I'll probably just post them on Anchor (and wherever else Anchor posts them), and let random strangers listen to it who can't leave comments and make me too self-conscious.

If this doesn't work, I suppose I could always get a speech therapist.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Marriage proposals are stupid

I decided just this morning that marriage proposals are stupid. Think about it. The decision to get married is the biggest decision one could make apart from the decision to follow Christ. With that being the case, marriage is something a couple ought to talk about quite a lot before they decide to go through with it. If two people talk about whether or not to get married, and they eventually agree that they should get married, there's no reason for there to be a proposal. A proposal at that point is redundant. You'd just going through the motions.

Marriage proposals are especially stupid in cases where one of them is surprised. Whenever I see a video on YouTube where some guy proposed to a girl, and she said no, it makes me think there was something wrong with that relationship. How could he have not known what she was going to say? Did they just never talk about marriage up to that point?

Marriage proposals are sometimes surprises, though, and I think that's just as stupid. Even if a girl is surprised and over joyed when she gets a proposal, it seems to me that something has gone wrong. If they talked about marriage enough before then, she shouldn't have been surprised. They should've come to an agreement by talking it over, and once having come to an agreement, the proposal is just a formality.

I usually bring up marriage pretty early on in a relationship. I don't do it because I'm in a rush to get married, though. I do it because marriage is the inevitable outcome of a relationship that goes well. Unless you're one of those people who just don't have any interest in marriage, whenever you date somebody, one of two things are going to happen. Eventually, it's going to end, or you're going to end up married. So I think these things through. I take things to their logical conclusion. And why shouldn't I talk about it and speculate about it? How can you not think about things like that, especially if you hope to get married some day? I don't think people should be the least bit freaked out by talking about marriage early on in a relationship. You should get freaked out if the other person has already decided they want to marry you or they seem to be in too much of a rush, but if you're not talking about marriage, something is wrong. Either you're not thinking about it, which strikes me as being odd, or you're thinking about it plenty, but you're keeping your thoughts to yourself, which is also odd.

I think couples should talk openly about marriage, even early on. At the very least, you'd want to know whether the other person was open to marriage in the future, what their intentions are in dating you in the first place, and things like that. You don't want to invest a lot of time and emotion into somebody only to find out they're not the marrying sort or they don't even see you as having potential.

The older I get it seems like the more traditional things like marriage proposals seem absurd to me. Gift exchanging on holidays and birthdays also seem absurd to me, but I'm going to avoid going into a rant about that.

Sure, not having a proposal may seem anti-climactic, but so what? We'd never miss it if we never did it in the first place. Won't they be anti-climactic anyway if the couple has already discussed it and agreed that they ought to get married? The only surprise after that point is the exact timing of the proposal. I don't see how the proposal can be a special occasion, though, if they both saw it coming.

Don't a lot of couples go out and pick out an engagement ring together? If they're doing that, then surely they've already agreed to get married, in which case, an additional marriage proposal on top of the agreement to get married and the purchase of the engagement ring seems completely stupid and superfluous.

It seems to me there'd be plenty of joy in a situation where two people are so close as to be best friends, and so in synch with each other that they agreed through talking about it that they each wanted to be with the other for the rest of their lives. That would be far more meaningful to me than a situation where I buy a ring in secret and propose to her out of the blue, even if she was surprised and joyfully said, "Yes." A mutually agreed upon and well thought out agreement between two people strikes me as containing far more warmth, love, affection, and respect than a surprise proposal in which one of them has to decide on the spot whether to say "yes" or not.

A proposal kind of inherently makes it a one-sided thing. One person wants something and hopes the other person will oblige. That creates what George Costanza called "hand" in a relationship. The person being proposed to has the upper-hand. They know the poor guy wants to get married so bad he spent thousands of dollars on a ring and risked humiliation to ask her. She only has to decide if he's worthy or not. She doesn't risk as much. If she says yes, not only does she get the same thing he gets--marriage--but she gets a nice shiny ring, too, and the comfort of knowing he really wants to be with her and isn't simply caving to pressure. If she says no, she only has to feel bad for hurting the guy, but he's out a few thousand dollars, he's humiliated, and he's heart broken. I wonder how many relationships actually survive the rejection of a marriage proposal.

Engagement rings are stupid, too. I already thought they were kind of silly, but then Adam ruined everything else about them. Engagement rings now are just status symbols for women. For men, they're kind of like having your brand on somebody. But it's a status symbol for a guy, too, to get his girl a nice ring. I suppose it's a tradition that's not going away, though.

I don't think weddings are stupid. If weddings are stupid, then so is any party. I think extravagant weddings are stupid, even if you're wealthy. But having a big get together in which you pledge your loyalty and love before God and and your family and friends, followed by a party with food and drinks, is actually a good idea.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Things I used to believe and how I changed my mind

Here's some things I used to believe along with what made me change my mind. These are in rough chronological order.

God, Heaven, and Adam

God, Heaven, and Adam were all the same person. This is the earliest belief I remember having about anything. I remember being really confused by it all, and it became clear gradually over time. I can't put my finger on one particular thing that cleared it all up for me.

The shape of the earth

The earth was flat. I remember my brother coming home from kindergarten one day and telling me the earth was round, like the moon. I didn't believe him at first, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made to me. At some point, I started believing the moon was the mirror image of the earth and that if I look at it and squinted my eyes enough, I'd be able to see myself and my brother. We used to threaten to push each other off the face of the earth back then, but when we came to grips with the earth being round, we realized it wasn't an option. I think what sealed the deal for me about the earth being round was a TV show where the host had a globe and was talking about the earth.

Night, day, stars, and lightening

I used to believe the earth was surrounded by light, but there was a canopy that covered half the earth, and it rotated around the earth. I came to this belief because of seeing somebody with one of those earth/moon model thingies on TV that had something like a cup over half of the earth. Anyway, I believed this canopy explained night and day. The canopy shielded half the earth, and that's why there was night on half the earth. Since the earth was very old, the canopy had holes in it that let the light through, and that was stars. Sometimes, during storms, the canopy would shake and form cracks. The cracks let light through, explain lightening, and it made a loud sound, explaining thunder. I don't remember what exactly changed my mind about this.


Hell is a real physical place beneath the earth where people are burned alive for eternity. The first thing I gave up was the belief that hell was a place that existed in the earth somewhere. I still thought hell was a real place of fiery torment, though. I think I gave up the idea that hell involved literally burning in fire forever after reading the New Testament, but I can't say for sure what exactly caused the change. Around the age of 20, I began to read Jehovah's Witness literature as a result of a friend converting, and I remember the passage in Revelation about hades being thrown into the lake of fire made me realize that the traditional view of hell was not right. Since then, I've come to believe that Hades, Gehenna, and all the imagery surrounding them, such as fire, outer darkness, etc., are just ways of talking about the suffering that will result from the wrath of God against sin at the judgment. I have no idea what the punishment will literally entail, only that it will be unpleasant.


Nobody knows anything. The reason I thought nobody knew anything was because certainty was impossible. For anything you believe, there's always a degree of doubt that cannot be overcome. Two things changed my mind. The first was reading Descartes' Meditations On First Philosophy and realizing there are at least some things I could be certain about, like the fact that I'm thinking and the fact that I exist. The other thing was coming to understand knowledge, not as certain belief, but as justified true belief. Certainty isn't required for knowledge the way we ordinarily use the word in our day to day lives.


I used to be a hard determinist. I held this view because of high school physics, learning about Newtonian mechanics, doing free body diagrams, etc. I began to see that everything operated according to laws, and you could actually calculate the position and motion of everything in the universe if you only knew the initial conditions. So everything was determined, including us. I can't say that I ever held this view consistently, though. I still believed in morality. I might have believed in free will, too. It's hard for me to make sense now of what was going on in my head at the time, but I suspect it was something like this: For all practical purpose, we at least appeared to have the illusion of choice, so we might as well have free will, but in reality, if you look at things very closely, everything is determined. I abandoned this view as a result of reading William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland. I became a libertarian partly because I was persuaded that it was intuitively obvious, but also because it was necessary for morality, and it was necessary for reason.

The Trinity

God is not a Trinity. When I was a kid, I never thought that much about the Trinity. I had a very vague idea that Jesus was God, but he wasn't the same person as the Father, but I didn't really think it through or worry about it. When I started reading Jehovah's Witness literature, I started to think about it, and I became persuaded that God was not a Trinity. I still didn't completely agree with how the Jehovah's Witnesses thought of things. For example, I didn't think Jesus was created. I thought of Jesus kind of like I thought of Joseph when Pharaoh put him in charge of Egypt. It says that to the people, Joseph was Pharaoh, and I figured Jesus was God in a similar sense. The start of my change was reading Reasoning From the Scriptures With Jehovah's Witnesses by Ron Rhodes. Rhodes made a case for the deity of Jesus I thought was surprisingly strong. I still wasn't a Trinitarian, though, and I wasn't totally convinced. Then I read The Forgotten Trinity by James White, and I was a full blown trinitarian by the end of it. (Here's a series of blog posts I did on the Trinity.)

Physicalism vs. substance dualism

I used to believe we were purely physical beings without an immaterial soul capable of disembodied existence. I thought we ceased to exist between death and resurrection. This was, again, due to reading Jehovah's Witness literature. What changed my mind was reading Scaling the Secular City by J.P. Moreland. I was initially persuaded by the philosophical arguments for substance dualism but later began to see that it could be defended Biblically as well.

The Sabbath

I used to not have a clear view on the Sabbath, but it was probably something like the Sabbath being an obligation to rest one day a week. I ran into a Seventh Day Adventist Chaplain when I was in the navy who persuaded me that the Sabbath was on Saturday, and that Christians are obligated to keep it. I change my view in my late 20's or early 30's as a result of studying certain passages in the New Testament. The view I have now is that the Sabbath is on Saturday, but Christians are not obligated to observed it the way its observance is prescribed in the Mosaic law. I see it a matter of personal conscience now.

Pre-marital sex

I used to believe there was no such thing as pre-marital sex because sex is what made you married in God's eyes. I came to this belief as a result of reading the Bible and thinking about various passages (I wrote this article explaining my view some time in the late 90's). I changed my mind as a result of reading J. Budziszewski's article, "The Revenge of Conscience." He persuaded me to give more weight to my moral intuitions, and since the idea of pre-marital sex did not sit well with my moral intuitions, I decided my view must be wrong.

Once saved, always saved

I used to believe you could lose your salvation. I came to this belief purely by reading the Bible. There were multiple places that made it look like you could lose your salvation. I changed my mind after becoming a Calvinist, but this was the hardest part of the change for me. After converting, it took a while for me to iron out all the Biblical kinks. After I became persuaded that Calvinism permeated the Bible, I stopped worrying about ironing out all the kinks. I figured even if there were verses whose meaning didn't fit neatly into Calvinism, I'd have more problems if I weren't a Calvinist than if I were.


I once rejected Calvinism. The beginning of my change was reading The Potter's Freedom by James White, particular the chapter on John 6. That argument was my primary reason for becoming a Calvinist, but I didn't become one right way. It was only after more reading and looking into things that I came around. It still happened in a relatively short amount of time, though. (Here's a more detailed account of my conversion to Calvinism.)

Free will

I used to believe in libertarian free will. It was mainly because of William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland that I held this view. Before that, I had a vague and poorly defined concept of free will. I changed my mind as a result of reading The Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards. I was already a Calvinist at this point, so I remained a libertarian for a while after becoming a Calvinist. Edwards' book turned me into a compatibilist.

A vs. B theory of time

I used to be inconsistent in my theory of time. On the one hand, I used to say to people that the present is all that exists. The past is gone, and the present hasn't arrived. We live in an instantaneous moment that is continuously changing. That's the A theory of time. But then I'd also say that God exists outside of time and the whole spectrum of time is laid out before him as if it were all "now" from his point of view. That would indicate a B theory of time. I never saw the contradiction. Reading William Lane Craig solidified my belief in the A theory of time. Just in the last three years or so, I've started to cozy up to B theory. A big part of it has to do with special relativity and how it entails that there's no absolute simultaneity. Brian Greene's bread slice illustration had a lot to do with me warming up to the B theory. I'm not totally persuaded, though, because there are some physicists who don't think special relativity entails the B theory of time, and also because I think the philosophical case for the A theory is stronger. So I'm on the fence about it.

There's probably other stuff I'm not remembering right now, but there you go.

Friday, February 22, 2019

I don't know what to call this post

Here are three things I was thinking about this morning.

* You can't prove a negative.
* Whatever can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.
* There's no evidence for X.

You could use these to form a deductive argument.

1. There is no evidence for X.
2. (1) is a negative.
3. You can't prove a negative.
4. Therefore, you can't prove (1).
5. If (1) can't be proved, then it is an assertion without evidence.
6. Therefore, (1) is an assertion without evidence.
7. Whatever can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.
8. Therefore, (1) can be dismissed without evidence.

That seems to shift the burden of proof, doesn't it? You'd think that if somebody were asserting X, then it would be up to that person to offer evidence for X. On the other hand, maybe it's irresponsible to say that there's no evidence for X. Maybe you should say, "I have no evidence for X," or "I'm unaware of any evidence for X," or "None of the evidence that's been presented to me so far for X has been adequate." On the face of it, (1) appears to be a claim, and if we stick by the maxim that he who makes a claim bares the burden of proof, then anybody who asserts (1) should have to offer some reason, argument, and/or evidence for it, which seems like a silly expectation. Of course I have heard people tweak the "burden of proof" principle to say, "He who makes a positive claim bares the burden of proof." If that were so, then one wouldn't need to prove (1) because it's not a positive claim. But I'm not so sure about that tweak. Negative claims are assertions, and they are often unjustified and seem to require demonstration. Suppose I said, "There are no extra terrestrial civilizations." Am I free from having to shoulder the burden of proof just because it's a negative claim and not a positive claim? It doesn't seem so.

Of course I fully expect most of my readers to reject (3), and I do, too. It might be better to say, "It's hard to prove a negative," or "Some negatives can't be proved." But negatives can be proved. I can prove that there are no flat Euclidean triangles whose interior angles add up to exactly 200 degrees. I can also prove that there's no fully grown elephant in my room. But I can't prove that there are no extra terrestrial civilizations.

I happen to also disagree with (7). I would say that in most cases, if something is asserted without evidence, you can dismiss it without evidence. It's just that there are too many counter-examples to make it a viable principle that can be asserted without qualification. Any assertion of a necessary truth is an assertion that cannot be dismissed on the basis of lack of evidence. Not only can necessary truths not be proved, but at the same time it's irrational to deny them. I can't prove the law of non-contradiction, but that doesn't mean it can just be dismissed. There are mundane claims, too, that can't simply be dismissed. Suppose your wife calls you and tells you that her car broke down, and she's stuck at Target and needs you to come pick her up, but she doesn't offer you any proof of her circumstances. Can you just dismiss her? I'm not asking whether you can dismiss her without negative consequences. I'm asking if you can rationally dismiss her. Would you be epistemologically justified in dismissing her claim merely on the basis that she didn't offer you evidence for it? I would say no. Your wife's word alone gives you sufficient justification for believing her and going out to help her. I suppose you could say the fact that she's honest and has given you her word is, itself, evidence for her claim. What, then, are we to make of the phrase, "asserted without evidence," if the assertion itself is evidence? Consider a situation where an expert is giving you facts related to their field (a history professor telling you about a battle, or a physics professor telling you about general relativity). It would seem silly to sit there, arms folded, mumbling, "Nuh uh!" the whole time. The fact that the person is an expert ought to be enough to take their word for what they're saying unless you know better for some other reason.

Isn't (7) self-refuting anyway? It is, after all, an assertion, and it's hard to think of what evidence one might provide for it. Does that mean we can just dismiss it? It seems to me that to avoid the self-refuting nature of that statement, one would have to qualify it in some way.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Unintended benefits of apologetics

I was thinking this morning about how some things that are common knowledge to a lot of people today were new to me at one point. One example is when I learned what a straw man was. Almost everybody these days knows what you mean when you accuse them of the straw man fallacy, but I was in my late 20's before I ever knew. I first heard about it when reading something about apologetics. As I was thinking about this, I began to reflect on how I had changed for the better in many ways because of my interest in Christian Apologetics.

One thing that changed is that I became a better thinker. I was first introduced to the notion of self-refutation when I read Relativism by Greg Koukl and Francis Beckwith way back in the late 90's (I think). After that, I became a fan of Stand to Reason and began to read Greg's commentaries and listen to his talks. One of those talks was called "Clear Thinking Christianity." This talk made me realize that it wasn't enough for me just to read arguments and assess their validity. I needed to be intentional about learning logic and critical thinking, so I subjected myself to the painful task of reading books and articles on those topics.

As I developed my critical thinking skills, I began to see how silly some of my beliefs were that had nothing to do with Christianity. And I began to notice my own biases and sloppy ways of thinking. I'm really embarrassed about what I'm about to tell you, but it's the clearest example of how apologetics helped me. In 1996, I moved to Austin Texas and started watching Austin Cable Access. That's when I first heard of Alex Jones who had a TV show on Austin Cable Access. He was only a local thing back then, and hardly anybody had ever heard of him. But I totally got sucked into the whole conspiracy theory genre. Those were exciting times for me. I was so into it that I'd try to win other people over. My new found critical thinking skills exposed the whole genre of conspiracy theory for the fraud it was. I recognized how vacuous the method of argumentation was. It is because of Christian Apologetics that I was rescued from the likes of Alex Jones.

Studying apologetics has made me a more skeptical person in general. I think I have a better grasp on how fallible we all are and how bias affects our ability to reach accurate conclusions. This has made me more cautious about coming to my own conclusions, but it's also made me more sympathetic toward people who disagree with me. I'm not as likely to call somebody an idiot or think they are unreasonable just because they don't see things my way. I recognize now how a person's background beliefs can influence how they approach new information, and it makes it easier for me to see things from other people's point of view.

When I was in elementary school or middle school (don't remember which), I took a standardized test, and it said I had poor reading comprehension. That used to really bother me. I always did a lot better in math and science than I did in history and English. On my SAT, I did a lot better on the math part than I did on the verbal part. So I guess I've always struggled with reading comprehension. Apologetics turned that around for me. Watching how people dissect arguments, put them in syllogisms, and analyze them taught me how to read a paragraph or argumentative essay and get to the bottom of what people were saying and what their arguments were. If you read posts of mine like "God Is Impossible," you can see how I've implemented these skills. Being able to get to the bottom of what somebody is saying, and figuring out from what they said what their argument actually is has made me a much better reader. This has improved my ability to learn things from books on any subject.

I've also become a better writer and communicator. I'm afraid my writing and communication skills have waned in the last few years due to lack of practice or just brain atrophy from getting older, but I did make some pretty big improvements a long time ago. Some people are better communicators than others, and I've tried to imitate people who I think communicate very well, like C.S. Lewis, Greg Koukl, and William Lane Craig. It has also helped to use trial and error to communicate clearly. I use my apologetic knowledge in on line discussions and debates, and sometimes I get misunderstood which forces me to come up with better ways of communicating. Through practice, I've made improvements.

Skills in apologetics have helped me noticed bias in the media and sloppiness in political discourse. It's actually been really discouraging because there's very little careful thinking that goes on in political discourse. There's a lot of guilt-by-association, poisoning the well, loaded language, insinuation, begging the question, and every manner of fallacy that goes on in the news and in political discourse. It can be exhausting to try to apply critical thinking to it because you get bogged down pretty quickly. The lack of fairness and charity that goes on is just cray cray.

There's one more thing I wanted to say in light of having brought up the straw man fallacy and also in light of getting to the bottom of what people say vs. misunderstanding them. I don't think we should accuse people of the straw man fallacy lightly. I think the automatic accusation of straw man whenever somebody misrepresents you is uncharitable and unnecessarily antagonistic. When you accuse somebody of straw manning you, you're essentially accusing them of dishonesty. When people misconstrue your view, it's not necessarily because they're being dishonest. I doubt it's even dishonest most of the time. It could be that they genuinely have a misunderstanding. The charitable thing to do is give them the benefit of the doubt, assume it's an honest mistake, and gently try to clarify your point of view for them.

It's rare that people accuse me of misrepresenting them because I try very hard not to. It has happened, though. When it does, I apologize and try to get clarification from them on their view.

There have been times when I've attempted to clarify myself to people, and they'll turn around and accuse me of dishonesty as if my "clarification" were really a change of position. If after clarifying myself a person still insists on the misrepresentation of my view (as if they knew what my view is better than I do), then I'm happy to accuse them of the straw-man fallacy because in that case, they are intentionally misrepresenting me. If they won't accept correction, then they're just being stubborn and unreasonable. But short of that, I prefer to give them the benefit of the doubt. Charity does a better job of making a conversation productive than antagonism does.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Exit strategy: ending a conversation

There are a lot of ways I've changed over the years in how I interact with people and how I do apologetics. Not all of these changes were necessarily for the better. Sometimes they were out of preference or convenience. I was going to write a post listing all the various ways that I've changed, but it's inevitable I'd leave something out and feel the need to go back and edit the post multiple times to add stuff. I decided instead to just focus on one thing--my exit strategy.

My exit strategy used to be to leave it to the other person to end the conversation. As long as they were willing to talk to me, I'd talk to them. If I was arguing with them, I'd keep arguing until either they gave up and dropped out or they conceded my point. One reason I did this is because I just couldn't find a good stopping place. I didn't know how to end a conversation. Another reason was because I always had another thing to say, and it killed me to read what somebody said, have something to say in response, and not say it. Another reason is because I was afraid if I didn't respond it would give the other person or the people watching the impression that I didn't have anything to say, that I had lost the debate, or something like that.

But I found some of these conversations exhausting, and they'd burn up a lot of time. I'd spend hours sometimes writing responses to people on message boards. I enjoyed debating for the most part back then, so it wasn't too big a deal, but if they never seemed to have an end, it would get old. So I had to come up with an exit strategy.

Sometimes, I couldn't find a good stopping place, so I'd pick one arbitrarily. I'd tell the other person something like, "This has been interesting, but all conversations must end, so I'm going to make this my last response. I'll still read what you have to say, though." That was about the most polite thing I could come up with.

Sometimes I give myself a stopping place ahead of time. I'll decide that I'll keep responding today, but once today is over, I'm done. I'm not going to pick it back up tomorrow. Or I'll decide to limit myself to one or two replies, and drop it after that. Way back when, that would've made me very uneasy, but I've gotten more comfortable with walking away from an argument. I'm talking about on line arguments here. I can't see myself just turning around and walking away from somebody who was talking to me in person.

I have developed some criteria for when I think it's a good idea to drop out of a conversation, though. One of them is if the conversation becomes repetitive. If we're just repeating the same points and not getting anywhere with each other, I'll drop out. Most of the time I'll announce the fact that I'm dropping out by saying, "Well, I'd just be repeating myself at this point, so I'm dropping out. Thanks for the discussion." Back in the day, I'd keep pounding the same points hoping that if I worded it a little differently or explained it differently that I could get through to the other person. But now I just get to a point that I think I've explained it adequately enough that the person could get it, and if they don't, then I've done my part, and I leave. I don't know if this is necessarily the best thing for me to do. One of the advantages of explaining things over and over in different ways was that it trained me to become a better communicator. When I discovered that one way of explaining things was unclear or unpersuasive, I'd try something else until I found something that worked better. I made a lot of improvements this way. I don't think I'm as good of a communicator today as I was maybe fifteen years ago, and it may be because I'm out of practice in how I used to do things.

Another criteria I sometimes use is my own judgment about whether the other person gets my point. If the other person resorts to what appears to me to be desperation, then I'll assume I got my point across, and there's no need to rub their noses in it. I don't expect people to say, "By golly you're right," but if they resort to absurdity to avoid the force of my argument, I'll figure they know I'm right without having to say it. People will embrace absurdities to avoid conceding a point. I mentioned this once before about how somebody was willing to entertain solipsism rather than concede my point that he could know his wife had a mind without being able to observe it directly. When you press a materialist or a moral non-realist on the logical consequences of their view, and they can't figure out how to refute your argument, they'll just embrace the absurdity to save face. I've decided its best in these circumstances to let people save face. The reason is because if you press people in these situations, they'll just dig in their heals and eventually convince themselves. Trying to force them to admit that you are right can accomplish the opposite of what you're trying to accomplish. It's better for people to be able to mull things over when you're not around, to dig around to see what other people have to say, etc. I mean put yourself in their shoes. I've been stumped in arguments before. It's embarrassing because it makes you feel stupid. But it's intellectually irresponsible to change your mind on the spot just because you can't come up with a response right away. The responsible thing to do is to take some time to mull it over, study it out, ask around, think it through, etc. Maybe you'll end up changing your mind in the process or maybe you'll discover what was wrong with their argument. I figure by allowing people to save face, I've made it easier for them to think objectively about the issue. If I keep pushing, they'll just push back harder, and they'll go away, not with a desire to think it through objectively, but with a desire to figure out how to refute me. This is all based on my fallible judgment, though. Some people do believe absurd things, and they aren't pretending. But if I suspect they are pretending or blowing smoke, I'll back down because I figure if they're resorting to absurdity, they probably already see the force behind my argument. They just need to spend some time in reflection about it when the pressure is off.

Another criteria I use is putting a limit on the degree of snarkiness or nastiness that I'm willing to put up with. This is not necessarily the best thing for me to do. Even snarky people need Jesus. But I figure any time I spend not talking to a condescending blowhard is time I could spend talking to somebody who's willing to be reasonable and have a civil conversation. I apply this criteria only partly because of the wisdom behind it, but mostly it's mere personal preference. I just don't enjoy talking to abrasive people, and I'm not as patient with them as I used to be. I love the philosophy of religion, and I love exchanging ideas with people who disagree with me, but if somebody is being harsh and unpleasant, it sucks the joy right out of it. As unspiritual as it may seem, I just don't like talking to some people, so I don't. There was this one guy on who would initiate these threads on the philosophy discussion forum that I always thought were fascinating. He was probably one of the most brilliant and creative people on that site. But every time I tried to engage him in discussion and debate, he'd insult me. I got tired of it and decided to stop interacting with him. I told him why, too. I found that to be a travesty, and I'd still read his posts.

Besides not enjoying having to deal with other people's unpleasantness, there are good spiritual reasons to bow out of conversations with them. People like that are usually not as receptive to different ideas as other people, and you can't have productive conversations with them anyway. Your time could better be spent talking to people with whom you can have a productive conversation. The more time you spend with unpleasant people, the less time you're going to be able to spend with pleasant people. And if your goal is to make the Christian worldview known and accepted, then your time is better spent talking to people who are more open to what you have to say.

And let's not forget that Jesus said not to throw your pearls before swine lest they turn and tear you to pieces. So you ought to put limits on your interactions with rude and nasty people.

One of the major advantages of having an exit strategy other than just preserving your sanity is that it allows you to do other things. Suppose there are multiple conversations going on in the forum you're participating in. If you get bogged down endlessly conversing with one person on one topic, you won't have time to participate in the other discussions. By having an exit strategy, you can move on with your life and do other things. You can get off the internet and go make a knife or shoot bows. So it's a good idea to have an exit strategy. If you have one or more, leave me a comment.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

What limits are there on bodily autonomy?

Somebody posted a "change my view" thing this morning on abortion. This person thought abortion ought to be illegal. The people who responded used bodily autonomy arguments as the primary justification for keeping abortion legal.

That got me to thinking about whether there are any limits on bodily autonomy either legally or morally. It does seem that there are instances when a person's bodily autonomy has to be limited for the sake of some greater good, like public health. For example, your bodily autonomy is limited because you can't sell your kidneys on the black market, you can't take illegal drugs, and you can't be a prostitute. These are all limitations on bodily autonomy.

But they don't violate bodily autonomy in the same way. In the case of selling your kidneys, it isn't so much a limitation on your right to remove something from your body as it is a limitation on your right to sell it. In the case of the prohibition against drugs, you're being denied the right to put something in your body, but in the case of abortion, you're being forced to keep something inside of your body. They both involve your body, but in different ways.

That made me wonder how people would feel about a law mandating vaccines. Considering how strongly people oppose anti-vaxxers (some going so far as to say they should have their children taken away from them), you'd think there's probably a lot of people out there who would be okay with making a law like that. That's kind of analogous to abortion because in both cases, we're talking about your right to refuse something being inside your body.

I found this article on "Bodily Autonomy" this morning that talked about several situations where the right to bodily autonomy came into play. One of those rights was the right to refuse medical treatment. One can refuse medical treatment even if it's necessary to save your life, and you can't be forced to take part in a medical study. With that being the case, it would seem that in the case of abortion, if the unborn is a human being, then abortion is a violation of their bodily autonomy. It's a medical procedure that is done to them that turns out to end their life. So if they are living human beings, then the question of abortion pits one person's bodily autonomy against another's. If you believe in absolute bodily autonomy, how would you adjudicate between them? You'd have a real moral dilemma. But the article also includes the qualification that to have a right of refusal, one must be a competent adult. So I guess that would mean a parent has the right to allow medical procedures for their children even if their children object or are unable to give consent, in which case this rule wouldn't protect the unborn.

On the other hand, consider the case of Jehovah's Witnesses who refuse blood transfusions. Of course religious liberty is the primary reason for granting them the right of refusal, but one could just as well use bodily sovereignty arguments. It is a medical procedure, after all. Do parents have the right to refuse a blood transfusion on behalf of their children? I'm not sure what the laws says about that, but I know there are a lot of people who don't think parents should have the right to refuse blood transfusions on behalf of their children. If neither the parents nor the children in these cases have the right to object to a medical procedure like blood transfusion on the basis of bodily autonomy, then that would be a situation where bodily autonomy could be violated. There are too many disanalogies to make that an argument against abortion, though.

Maybe the unborn could be protected on the basis of public safety. If we are willing to restrict bodily autonomy for the sake of public safety, and if abortion is a matter of public safety (assuming the unborn are members of the human race), then couldn't a mother's bodily autonomy be restricted for the sake of the safety of the unborn? That is the basic pro-life argument. It's just characterized a little differently.

If bodily autonomy were absolute, even if only in the case of abortion, then it would follow that abortion would have to be legal through all nine months of pregnancy, but not even the Supreme Court went that far. In Roe vs. Wade, pregnancy was broken up into three trimesters, and states were allowed to restrict abortion to some degree depending on the level of development in the interest of potential human life or gradually emerging human life. And abortion is restricted to some degree in a lot of states. And a lot of pro-choice people I've talked to are okay with restricting abortion in the later stages of pregnancy. So bodily autonomy isn't absolute even in the case of abortion.

Before I go, here's another article I found this morning where somebody gave several examples of situations where people do not have absolute bodily autonomy: "Why I Do Not Believe In 'Absolute Bodily Autonomy'" by Roger Olson. One of the issues he brought up with the right to bodily harm. The example he used was a situation where you want to cut yourself or starve yourself to death. Does your right to bodily harm mean it should be legal for you to hire somebody to help you cut yourself or starve yourself?

Well, a lot of people approve of doctor assisted suicide and cosmetic surgery, so that may not have been the best example for him to use. But suppose it was. If the unborn is not an individual but is rather a part of the mother (as some pro-choicers think), then to have an abortion is to harm one's own body. It would seem, then, that abortion could be restricted on that basis even though doing so violates the person's bodily autonomy. I doubt anybody would find that argument persuasive since most people think it's okay to remove wisdom teeth and tonsils even when they aren't an immediate threat. Pregnancy, though natural, does carry some health risks with it, so if the unborn are part of the woman in the same way that tonsils or wisdom teeth are, I doubt anybody would have a problem with abortion.

Well, I take that back. There are some people, including the Supreme Court in Roe vs. Wade, who think potential human life is sufficient to restrict abortion.

And those are my thoughts for this morning.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Soft Libertarian Free Will

Blogspot seems to have made some changes that has made it impossible to post comments. My comment section works, probably because I'm still using an old theme, but I've been on two other blogspot blogs lately, and neither one will let me post comments. One of them is Evan Minton's blog. He recently posted an explanation of soft libertarian free will. Soft libertarianism differs from ordinarily (hard?) libertarianism in that your choices are limited to being within your nature (i.e. moral character). You're still free to choose between various options that are within your nature to choose, but you can't choose things that are against your nature.

This is the comment I tried to leave on Evan's blog post (edited a little since my last attempt).

How does moral accountability work with soft libertarianism? Some people say that you can't be blamed for doing wrong if you are unable to do good, and you can't be praised for doing good if you are unable to do bad. But if your nature restricts the scope of your options to good or to bad, then how can you be morally accountable for your actions?

Let's suppose you're in a situation where you can either choose to do X or choose to not do X. Doing X is morally obligatory, which entails that not doing X is wrong. If a person's nature constrains them in such a way that they can only do the right thing, then wouldn't that determine their choice in this case?

The reason I ask is because you defined soft libertarianism as being constrained to your nature, but free within your nature. But when it comes to individual choices, it's not a matter of doing X or doing Y; rather, it's a matter of doing X or not doing X. I can see how if your nature is good, and X and Y are good, then you could choose between X and Y, but if X is good, and not-X is bad, and you had to choose between X and not-X, you'd be determined to choose X, in which case soft libertarianism seems to reduce to determinism.

I suppose you could say there are some goods that are not obligatory. Or some actions are morally neutral. In your example, there's nothing wrong with playing a video game or writing a blog post, but there's also no obligation to do either. They're morally neutral. So you're free to do either. But in cases where some action is either forbidden or required, that wouldn't be the case. If it's forbidden, and your nature is to always do the right thing, then you'd be determined to choose not to do it. If it's required, and your nature is to always do the right thing, then you'd be determined to choose to do it.

So I'm not sure soft libertarianism accounts for a lot of the moral choices we have to make. If you are required to do X, and your nature is to do either right or wrong, then whether you choose X or not, you could not have done otherwise. Can a person be morally responsible for failure to do their duty if it was not within their nature to do their duty? Or can they be worthy of praise for doing their duty if it was not in their nature to refuse?

One of the objections compatibilists like myself have to the notion that Jesus or God had libertarian freedom is that it entails the ability to do evil (see "Does God have free will?"), which they are unable to do because of their perfectly moral character. The fact that Jesus and God are worthy of praise even though they are unable to do evil shows that libertarian freedom isn't necessary for moral responsibility. Soft libertarianism appears to be designed to avoid these criticisms. But I don't think it works. If we're going to say that some kind of libertarian freedom is necessary to be morally responsible, then there are a lot of things Jesus can't be praised for. The demands of the Mosaic law, combined with Jesus' perfect moral character, would've determined his choices in a lot of cases. Also, it seems to me that under the supposition that libertarianism is necessary for moral praise and blame, an act can only be good if one could've done otherwise, and the otherwise must be not good. How could one be worth of praise for choosing one good thing instead of another equally good thing? It seems like the instead of would have to be a bad thing or at least a less good thing. Can you imagine saying, "Oh, you are such a wonderful person because you chose to do that good thing when you could've just as easily chosen to do a different good thing"? That doesn't make sense. I would like to know from anybody who subscribes to soft libertarianism and thinks some kind of libertarianism is necessary for moral praise and blame, why does my ability to choose an equally good option instead of the one I chose make me worthy of praise? How does this improve upon a situation in which I'm determined by my moral character to choose a specific good action, and I couldn't have chosen a different action that was equally good? It seems to me, given the usual way that libertarians think of moral responsibility, I can't be praised for doing good unless I could've chosen evil, and I can't be blamed for choosing evil unless I could've chosen good. So soft libertarianism doesn't seem to solve the problems raised by compabilitists against libertarianism concerning Jesus and God's moral abilities and inabilities and their worthiness of praise.

See also "Does libertarian freedom entail the ability to do good or evil?"

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The building is burning. Do you save the baby or the embryos?

Today, somebody brought up the dilemma about whether you'd save five embryos or a toddler in case a building was burning and you had to choose. The dilemma is meant to show an inconsistency on the part of pro-lifers. If the pro-lifer chooses the toddler, which he almost certainly will, this is supposed to show that the pro-lifer doesn't really think the embryos are valuable human beings.

I wrote up a response, but before I could post it, the person had deleted their comment. Thankfully, I used the "copy" function before hitting the post button in case something went wrong. But now I've got this thing saved on my clip board and nowhere to put it, so I'm going to put it here. This was my response.

How does that show that pro-lifers are wrong? At worst it would only show that pro-lifers are inconsistent. They could be right in thinking the unborn are human beings and wrong in how they respond to moral dilemmas.

But I'm not sure it even shows that they are inconsistent. Consider a parallel scenario in which a hospital is burning down, and you could either save one 16 year old girl who was about to be released from the hospital later that day anyway, or five people who are in a coma and may or may not ever come out of them. Keep in mind the poor girl is screaming for help, while the coma patients are completely unconscious. I suspect you'd save the 16 year old girl, but it wouldn't follow that you thought the lives of the people in the coma were any less valuable. It's just that the 16 year old has a greater capacity for suffering, you have more of an emotional attachment to the 16 year old because of her youth and her being awake and able to suffer, and because she has a better chance of living a full life than the people in the coma. All of those same factors would come into play when choosing the infant over the embryos.

Or consider a scenario in which you can save a 20 year old or a 90 year old. You'd likely choose the 20 year old, not because 20 year olds are more valuable than 90 year olds but because the 90 year old is likely going to die soon anyway. In the same way, a toddler already has a greater chance of living a full life than an embryo since the embryos' only chance of living a full life is if they are successfully implanted, and IVF's are not always successful. There's trial and error involved.

Or consider a scenario in which a total stranger in another room who was mean to your mother earlier that day is in danger, but so is your mother. You can only save one of them. Surely you'd save your mother, not because you don't think the other person's life isn't valuable, but simply because of your emotional attachment to your mother. Well, people are naturally more sympathetic to crying helpless babies than they are to embryos in Petri dishes, but this has nothing to do with whether embryos in Petri dishes are valuable human beings.

There are lots of trolly type dilemmas in which you have to choose between saving various people, but none of these scenarios imply that it's okay to kill certain human beings when such dilemmas are not involved. So your question is just a set up for a fallacious line of reasoning.

There are two kinds of value that a person can have--intrinsic and instrumental. Intrinsic value is the value a person has merely because they're a human being. A homeless person with no friends or family has just as much intrinsic value as anybody else, and that's precisely why it's just as wrong to kill the homeless person as it is to kill anybody else. Instrumental value is the value something has because of its social connections or its contribution to society. Embryos could have equal intrinsic worth with toddlers, but they would not have the same instrumental worth. So while it may be just as wrong to kill an embryo as it is to kill a toddler, when it comes to choosing between embryos and toddlers, instrumental worth comes into play. That would be another reason to choose the toddler over the embryos that is not inconsistent with the pro-life position.

To show that pro-lifers are wrong, you've got to do better than than try to show that they behave inconsistently. You've got to either point out a flaw in their arguments for the humanity of the unborn, or else you've got to offer up an argument of your own showing that the unborn are not living human beings.

After writing that, I went over to the Secular Pro Life blog I have linked over there to the right to see what they had to say about this dilemma, and I found a post by Clinton Wilcox on the subject. His arguments are even better than mine, so have a look at what he said: Pro-Choice Thought Experiment: The Burning IVF Lab.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

You are probably not living in a simulation

Nick Bostrom wrote this article called "Are You Living In a Computer Simulation?" for the Philosophical Quarterly, and it has gone viral. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "That's old news, Sam." Yeah, but I'm just getting around to writing about it. The reason I decided to write about it now is because I keep running into people on the internet who say they think we're living in a computer simulation. I doubt many people really believe that. I suspect it's just a fad to say that they do. Maybe some people do, though. I don't know. It still seems worth responding to, though, because I find it to be a big distraction when trying to have an otherwise serious conversation with people.

I don't think we are living in a computer simulation. I think we're real three dimensional people living in a real tangible world. I have several reasons for thinking this, but first let me say something about Bostrom's article.

The first thing to note is that Bostrom didn't actually argue that we are in a computer simulation. What he argued, rather, was that one of the following things are true:

(1) The fraction of human-level civilizations that reach a posthuman stage is very close to zero;
(2) The fraction of posthuman civilizations that are interested in running ancestor-simulations is very close to zero;
(3) The fraction of all people with our kind of experiences that are living in a simulation is very close to one.
By "posthuman civilization," he's talking about civilizations that have reached a stage of technological development in which they're capable of running ancestor simulations. The third possibility is the only one that entails that we are likely in a computer simulation, but he concludes that "In the dark forest of our current ignorance, it seems sensible to apportion one’s credence roughly evenly between (1), (2), and (3)." That means we can't know whether we're in a simulation or not. Given three equally viable possibilities, it would seem at best that there's a one in three chance that we're in a computer simulation.

But that isn't as interesting as it would've been if he had argued that we are almost certainly in a simulation, which is the conclusion a lot of people want to run with.

Now, let me give a few reasons for why I don't think we're in a computer simulation. First of all, it's because I give a lot of credence to intuitive obviousness. It's a fundamental part of my epistemology to assume that things are just as they appear to be unless we have good reason to think otherwise (See "It's always more reasonable to affirm the obvious than to deny the obvious"). So the default position any of us ought to take is that we perceive a physical world because there is a physical world. This seems to be the most natural and parsimonious assumption we could have. I suspect this is the primary reason most reasonable people will look at the simulation argument as a mere curiosity--a fun thought experiment--but won't take it seriously. And it's the reason I think a lot of people who claim to believe we are in a simulation are either not being honest with themselves or are not being honest with the rest of us. They're just playing games.

Second, I doubt we're in a simulation for some of the reasons Bostrom mentioned in his article. He talked about the enormous amount of computing power that would be necessary to run a simulation resembling our world. Think of the trillions of stars, galaxies, cells in all the living organisms, sand on the beach, grass in the plains, leaves on all the trees, the complete minds of billions of people and animals, and all the information stored on all the computers and libraries in the world. Bostrom recognized all that, but he was far more optimistic than I am. He imagined computers the size of planets and the discovery of new laws of physics that would make the seemingly impossible possible. These are mere possibilities and not sufficient grounds for any kind of optimism. He argued as if there are no limits to computational progress, but surely there are limits to what physical things can do. However much our technology improves, physical things still have to obey the laws of nature. Bostrom gets around some of these obstacles by suggesting that a simulation need not represent everything we think is in our world, but only what is currently being observed. Or, it may not need to simulate the billions of minds that seems to exist. It could just be you, and everybody else is a philosophical zombie. Of course that raises the problem of solipsism, which is another reason to be doubtful.

Then there are the further obstacles of whether we'll survive to reach the level of technology necessary to run ancestor simulations before something terrible happens to either wipe us out or set us back. And there's the further obstacle that even if we could build computers powerful enough to run ancestor simulations, why would we considering how expensive it could be in terms of resources. And what would be the pay off? There are ethical considerations, too, if we suppose these simulations will contain real conscious beings who will suffer. So there are all kinds of obstacles that, to me, make it unlikely that we'll ever run such elaborate simulations. To make it likely that we're in a simulation, it isn't enough to say that one simulation will some day be run. We have to suppose that multiple simulations will be run. You need there to be more people in simulations than outside of simulations in order to make it more likely that you are one of the people inside of a simulation.

A third thing to consider is whether a simulation of a human being would actually be conscious. This is not the question of whether computers can be conscious, which I'll address in a minute. This has more to do with what a simulation is. A simulation is a representation of something. It doesn't actually have the properties of that thing. It only has information. Any output you get from a simulation is still a simulation and does not actually have the properties of the thing it represents. If you could simulate a brain in such a way that it outputs things like thoughts, sensations, etc., there wouldn't actually be anything that was thinking and perceiving. You'd just get images or data that maybe you could read off a screen. Just as a simulation of a wet sponge wouldn't actually create anything wet in your computer, so also, a simulation of a brain wouldn't actually create anything conscious in your computer. You could simulate water molecules and multiply them in your simulation, and watch on your screen how they behave, but you'd never get anything wet in your computer as a result. The simulation would remain a simulation and wouldn't take on the actual physical properties of the three dimensional object it was representing. A brain is made of three-dimensional cells and atoms, and supposedly consciousness arises because of their physical structure and activity. But if you simulated these cells in a computer, the information in the computer would not actually take on the physical properties of the cells. The information would just be 1's and 0's. Since that information wouldn't actually take on the physical structure of brains cells, there's no reason to expect the simulation to be conscious.

Fourth, I don't think physical things can be conscious. I don't think conscious states arise purely out of physical processes. This reason has a lot to do with why I'm a substance dualist, but since that's a topic all its own, I'll leave it as an assertion here and not argue for it. In Bostrom's article, he begins with the assumption that not only are physical things capable of producing consciousness, but that the underlying physical substrate doesn't matter. If brains can produce consciousness, then so can computers.

And that brings me to my fifth reason. Even if we grant that consciousness arises purely from physical processes in the brain, nobody has a clue how that happens. Consciousness is completely mysterious. We can observe correlations between physical brain activity and mental states, but what we can't do is explain how we get from those physical states to the mental states. We have no idea what the mechanism is. Consciousness is especially mysterious because of its subjective nature. While physical processes are open to third person observation, conscious states are only open to first person observation. That means that if consciousness is a property of physical states, then physical states have invisible properties that can never be observed in a third person way. All the attempts I've seen at explaining this amount to a lot of handwaving. I'm convinced that nobody has a clue. With that being the case, we have no reason to think that a computer made of gold, silicon, and various other materials that work on logic gates, etc. would produce the same effect that a biological object like the brain would. There could be something about brains that is not true about computers that explains why brains are conscious and computers are not. People just assume it has something to do with the level of complexity, but nobody knows that. If computers are not conscious now, there's no reason to suspect that more of the same would make any difference.

The only way it's likely that we are in a computer simulation is if we have good reason to expect that some day in the future, we will be willing and able to create multiple computer simulations of entire worlds resembling our own, populated by real conscious individuals. But since we have no warrant for thinking such a scenario is likely, and plenty of warrant for being doubtful about it, it follows that we're probably not living in a simulation.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Pro life strategy

Here's something I've been thinking about for a while. There are two questions when it comes to the subject of abortion. There's the moral question of whether or not it's okay to have an abortion. Then there's the legal question of whether or not we should make it illegal. I've met some people who are pro-life when it comes to the moral question but pro-choice when it comes to the legal question. Never mind whether that's a consistent position or not. I want to go in a different direction.

The goal, it seems to me, if you're pro-life, is to reduce the number of people killed in abortions, whether it's the mothers or their unborn. With that being the goal, it seems to me that our primary focus ought to be on the moral question rather than the legal question. I don't mean to say the legal question isn't important, but I think our focus ought to primarily be on the moral question. Here are a few reasons.

First, if you convince somebody that it's wrong to have an abortion, you can prevent them from having an abortion without having to make it illegal. While there are people who think abortion is wrong but ought to be legal, I don't think I've ever heard of anybody who thought there was nothing wrong with abortion but that it ought to be prohibited by law anyway. It's probably harder to convince people to make abortion illegal than it is to convince them that it's wrong, and convincing them that it's wrong is usually enough to discourage them from having an abortion.

Second, if you could convince enough people that abortion is wrong, the legal question would probably take care of itself. People who think abortion is wrong are more likely to vote for pro-life political candidates.

Third, if you were to make abortion illegal without having persuaded a significant number of people of the immorality of abortion, then you're going to create the hoary back ally abortion scenarios we hear about all the time. If people are motivated more by morality than by legality to avoid abortions, that won't happen nearly as much.

Fourth, the moral argument against abortion is pretty solid, and one can't really make a legal case against abortion without the moral case. So logically, the moral case comes first anyway.

Fifth, If we tone down the rhetoric about making abortion illegal, people are more likely to listen to us. A big reason for why we get so much push back from the pro-choice crowd is because they're afraid we're trying to "control women's bodies," or deny them their rights or force them into unsafe back ally abortions. Pro-choice people fear pro-lifers for these reasons, so they're not very interested in what we have to say. I think that if we gave them less reasons to fear us, they'd be more likely to listen to our moral case because in that case, we're not using coercion; we're using persuasion. Instead of threatening to force them to carry their unborn to term and give birth, we're pleading with them to choose life.

Sixth, to make abortion illegal, you have to convince a significant number of people. Convincing a handful of people won't make any difference to the legality of abortion. However, with each individual you persuade of the immorality of abortion, you will have made the world a slightly safer place for the unborn. It may never be possible to make abortion illegal in this country, but it is possible to persuade people not to do it for moral reasons. And every time you convince somebody of the moral question, that's one more pro-lifer who can then go on to persuade others. And that's how the moral movement can get underway.

One argument I've heard (I think from Frank Beckwith) for focusing on the legal question is that the law has an effect on the morals that people hold. If you make something legal, people start thinking it's morally okay. If you make it illegal, people start thinking it's not morally okay. I grant that's true. My response is that I agree the legal question is important. We should want to make abortion illegal. What I am saying, rather, is that making it illegal shouldn't be our primary focus. I think our primary focus in abortion persuasion is the moral question. I think the pro-life movement, as a whole, would have more success in saving more lives if that were the primary focus.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Plantinga's ontological argument for the rationality of theism

I think Alvin Plantinga's ontological argument is often misunderstood both by atheists and by Christian apologists. Alvin Plantinga was not trying to argue that God exists. Rather, he was trying to argue that belief in God is not irrational or unreasonable. He said in his book, God, Freedom, and Evil, "What I claim for this argument, therefore, is that it establishes, not the truth of theism, but its rational acceptability" (page 112).

Lemme explain how I think his argument does that. This is his argument (put in my own words, not his).

1. There is a possible world in which maximal greatness is instantiated.
2. Maximal greatness consists in having omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection in all possible worlds.
3. Therefore, a being with omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection exists in all possible worlds.
4. If something exists in all possible worlds, then it also exists in the actual world.
5. A being with omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection exists in all possible worlds. (from 3)
6. Therefore, a being with omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection exists in the actual world.
The whole argument hinges on that first premise. None of the other premises are controversial. So what reason is there to think the first premise is true? One reason (the reason almost always cited) is because there is no obvious contradiction in the notion of maximal greatness. If it isn't logically contradictory, then it's logically possible, so there is a logically possible world in which maximal greatness is instantiated.

But what if we begin with a different premise: There is a possible world in which maximal greatness is *not* instantiated. This premise doesn't seem anymore contradictory than the other premise. Yet it leads to the opposite conclusion. I'm going to shorten the argument a little to get rid of some extra verbiage so should be obvious enough to go without saying.

7. There is a possible world in which maximal greatness is not instantiated.
8. Maximal greatness consists in having omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection in all possible worlds
9. Therefore, there isn't a being with maximal greatness in any possible world.
10. Therefore, there isn't a being with maximal greatness in the actual world.
That isn't to say there isn't a being with omnipotence, omniscience, and moral perfection in the actual world, just that if such a being existed, it wouldn't be a necessary being.

So either a maximally great being necessarily exists, or it is impossible. There's no middle ground. And either there is a possible world in which maximal greatness is instantiated or else there is a possible world in which maximal greatness is not instantiated. It's logically impossible for both premises to be true since they each lead necessarily to conclusions that contradict each other.

You can't rule out one of these premises in order to affirm the other because that's circular reasoning. I've talked to both atheists and theists who have tried to do that, and I couldn't get them to see that their reasoning was circular. If there is no non-question-begging way to adjudicate between these two premises, then as far as we know, one is just as likely to be true as the other. With that being the case, then one is not being irrational to affirm either premise. And since the conclusions follow necessarily from the premises, it follows that one is not being irrational in affirming or denying the existence of a maximally great being.

And that means theism is not irrational. It's a modest claim, for sure, but since there are people who think theism is irrational, it's a claim that's worth making.

I wrote more about Plantinga's argument elsewhere. I went into more detail about possible world semantics, so if you had a hard time following the argument in this post, read this one.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Healing In the Atonement, part 16 of 16

These are the various ways "astheneia" is used in the New Testament.

"In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness [astheneian]. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express." (Romans 8:26)

The context suggests that it means general impotence, inadequacy, etc.

"When evening came, many who were demon posessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 'He took up our infirmities [astheneias] and c/arried our diseases.'" (Matthew 8:16-17)

In this context, the word strictly refers to illnesses. Matthew quoted from the Septuigint which is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. The word for diseases here is "nosous." The physical weaknesses result from the diseases. That's why "astheneia" almost always means physical illness. To be physically weak is an illness, or a symptom of an illness.

"When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sicknesses [astheneia], and laying his hands on each one, he healed them." (Luke 4:40)

"If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple [asthenes] and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed." (Acts 4:9)

Here, "asthenes" is translated as "cripple" because the context proves that this is what was wrong with the guy. (See Acts 3:1-10)

"Is any one of you sick [astheneo]? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord." (James 5:14)

It's clear from the context that James is talking about physical sickness.

"Who is weak [asthenei] and I do not feel weak [astheno]? Who is lead into sin and I do not inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast in the things that show my weakness [astheneias]....I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about in my weaknesses [astheneiais]." (2 Corinthians 11:29-30, 12:5)

In this context, Paul seems to be using astheneia in different ways. He seems to be encompassing physical, emotional, and spiritual weakness.

"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness [astheneia].' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses [astheneiais], so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses [astheneiais], in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak [astheno], then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

The thorn in Paul's flesh, which is the context of this passage, is somewhat controversial as to its nature, so I won't make a case over whether it was physical or not, but I believe that by weakness in this passage, Paul is referring to any kind of weakness, be it physical or otherwise.

"As you know, it was because of an illness [astheneia] that I first preached the gospel to you." (Galatians 4:13)

The context indicates that Paul was referring to an illness because in the next verse, he says that his "astheneia" was a burden to them. He probably had to be taken care of because he was sick. That's why hundreds of Greek scholars all agree that this word should be translated "illness" in this context. Furthermore, the literal translation is, "weakness of the flesh," so it was a weakness in his body which is why the NAS translates it, "bodily illness." I'll say more about this later.

"One who was there had been an invalid [been in his astheneia] for 38 years." (John 5:5)

From the context, it's clear he was crippled or too sick to walk. Here, his "astheneia" is a result of his "nosema," meaning his sickness.

"When he heard this, Jesus said, 'This sickness [astheneia] will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it." (John 11:4)

From the context, it's clear that "astheneia" is the sickness that threatened Lazarus' life, so it was a physical illness. Furthermore, it was given to Lazarus to bring glory to God just like when Jesus healed the man born blind. He wasn't blind because he sinned or his parents sinned, but so that the glory of God would be displayed in his life by his healing.

"About that time, she became sick [asthenesasn] and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room." (Acts 9:37)

It's clear that her "asthenesasn" was a physical illness because it lead to her death.

"For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill [esthenesen (a form of the word "astheneia")]. Indeed he was ill [esthenesen] and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow." (Philippians 2:26-27)

Because he almost died from it, it must have been a physical illness.

"Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick [asthenounta] in Miletus." (2 Timothy 4:20)

It's clear Trophimus was sick because his sickness was why he was left behind in Miletus. He didn't have the strength to travel.

"When this had happened, the rest of the sick [astheneias] on the island came and were cured." (Acts 28:9)

It's clear in the context that "astheneias" referred to those who were physically ill because this happened as a result of Paul curing a specific disease called dysentery, which we know is a physical illness.

"That is why many of you are weak [astheneis] and sick [arrostoi], and a number of you have fallen asleep." (1 Corinthians 11:30)

In this context, astheneis is a result of arrostoi. Weakness is a symptom of sickness. In this case, it clearly means physical weakness, and incidentally, these people were apparently sick as a result of God's punishment for taking communion unworthily, so God does use sickness as punishment for sin, which is evident in a number of other scriptures, which I'll say more about later.

"Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses [astheneias]." (1 Timothy 5:23)

It's clear from this scripture that Timothy was suffering from physical stomach problems making him weak.

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses [astheneiais], but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin." (Hebrews 4:15)

In this case, weaknesses just means inadequacy, and probably not physical illness. The same is true of Hebrews 5:2 and 7:28. In Hebrews 11:34, the weakness of Samson refers to his relative weakness compared to the unusual physical strength he had when his hair was still long. Then his weakness was turned into strength just before he died. (See Judges 16:23-30)

"I put this in human terms because you are weak [astheneia] in your natural selves..." (Romans 6:19)

In this context, atheneia refers to the Romans' inability to understand spiritual things. (1 Corinthians 2:14) It has nothing to do with physical illness.

"I came to you in weakness [astheneia] and fear, and with much trembling." (1 Corinthians 2:3)

In this context, Paul does not appear to be talking about physical illness.

"It [the body] is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness [astheneia], it is raised in power." (1 Corinthians 15:43)

In this context, astheneia means our physical bodies have limitation and are subject to decay, old age, sickness, and death.


Saturday, February 02, 2019

Healing In the Atonement, part 15 of 16

VII. Why I wrote this article.

The teaching of healing in the atonement does real damage to real people.

A. Judgemetalism

If healing is guaranteed in the atonement, then the only reason for any Christian to be sick is because he is either a miserable sinner or because he hasn't got enough faith. This causes people to associate the healthy with the spiritual, and the sick with the depraved. Naturally, some become arrogant and judgemental, while others become subject to reproach. Such judgementalism hurts both the person being judgemental (since any sin is harmful to us), and the victim of the judgement (since suffering from sickness is bad enough without also having to suffer the reproach of one's fellow brothers and sisters in Christ). If proponents of healing in the atonement are to be consistent when a loved one dies of a serious illness, they should condemn them as miserable sinners unwilling to repent, and possibly even unsaved since if they didn't have enough faith in the atonement to be healed, then they possibly didn't have enough faith in the atonement to be saved either. Judgmentalism is an inevitable by-product of healing in the atonement.

B. Grief

As I mentioned above in the part about the emotional argument that refuting healing in the atonement destroys people's faith, quite the opposite is true in many cases. Now most of us are relatively healthy, so we don't see the immediate dangers of this teaching in our own experience. But for those who suffer from serious diseases, this doctrine can be deadly. Some die because they had enough faith to give up medicine. Others undergo radical disconfirmation. It throws people into dispair because of not being able to identify and repent of some secret sin. They think as long as they are sick that God must be forever displeased with them. It is my prayer that Christians will learn to be content in every situation. The spiritual fruit of joy is not conditional upon our situations.

C. Faith

Healing in the atonement destroys people's faith as I also mentioned above in the same section under emotional arguments. When the belief in healing in the atonement is radically disconfirmed, people are forced to reject either the teaching or God. If they have been thoroughly convinced that the Bible does teach healing in the atonement, then they are forced to believe the Bible is untrue, and that God must not exist. Some people never come to faith at all because they believe that if Christianity were true, and healing in the atonement is what Christianity teaches, then Christians in general ought to be more healthy than the rest of the public. Since they aren't, then either healing is not in the atonement, or Christianity is not true. If all these people have been exposed to are people who believe in healing in the atonement, then these people will reject Christianity as untrue.

VIII. Conclusions

In conclusion, I just want to reiterate a few points I made in this article. God does heal people (James 5:14-16), but healing is not guaranteed (Romans 8:23). Sickness is often the result of sin (John 5:14), but it is not always the result of sin (John 9:3). Satan is often the author of sickness (Job 2:7), but he is not the only author of sickness (Acts 13:11).

There's one more entry to this series, so. . .

Continue to Part 16.

Friday, February 01, 2019

Healing In the Atonement, part 14 of 16

B. A loving father would want his children to be well.

This is about the most fallacious argument there is. The idea is that since God is a loving father, then he would do everything any loving father would do, and he would not do what any loving father would not do. God is just like us. He thinks like us, reasons like us, and shares our worldly point of view. To show the fallacy of this reasoning, I will show how it is used in other contexts.

1. Prosperity teachers use this argument to say that Christians ought to be rich and healthy and prosperous in every way. Since we would want the best in every situation for our children, God would also want the best for us, his children, in every situation. The problem is that what we think is best for us is not necessarily what God thinks is best for us. The Bible clearly shows that "money is the root of all kinds of evil" (1 Timothy 6:10), so although God does bless some people with material wealth (e.g. Job 42:10), it is not in everybody's best interest to have material wealth. Jesus said, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Luke 18:24-25)

For some people, wealth could be more of a curse than a blessing. Surely God wouldn't put a stumbling block in anyone's path.

"When tempted, nobody should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone." (James 1:13)
Likewise, "the Lord disciplines those he loves" (Hebrews 12:6), and just as he did so in the Old Testament, we have no reason to think he wouldn't use the same method today. A psalmist wrote that "in faithfulness you have afflicted me." (Psalm 119:75)

2. Universalists use this argument to say that everybody will eventually be saved. They argue that since none of us would send our son or daughter to hell for eternity and disown our children forever with no hope of reconciliation, then surely God would have more mercy than we would and would therefore always leave the door open, and eventually, everybody will be saved. Jehovah's Witnesses and Unitarian Universalists use this argument to say that hell doesn't even exist. They argue that surely no loving father would banish his own son or daughter to such vile torture as hell, and certainly not forever when the person committed only a lifetime of sins.

3. Atheists use this argument to say that God doesn't exist. They reason that any loving father would spare his children hardship if he could. If God is all powerful and all good, then evil should not exist. Since evil does exist, then God must not exist.

The reason all of these arguments are fallacious is because God is not like us. He's a lot smarter than we are.

"'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the LORD. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'" (Isaiah 55:8-9)
God did not promise us a rose garden. On the contrary, he promised us suffering. There is no logic in thinking God would spare us one kind of suffering on the basis that he's a loving father while not sparing us another kind of suffering for the same reason. In truth, God is often willing to deliver us from any kind of suffering, be it sickness or persecution, but there is no guarantee in either case. God delivered Peter from prison (Acts 12:5-11), but he did not deliver Stephen from being stoned (Acts 7:59-60).

C. We should be known by our good health.

The question is often put to me, "Why would anybody desire to be Christian if they saw that we had no advantage over them? How are we to be set apart from the world if not by superior health?" Somehow, this makes them reason that God must want all Christians to enjoy perfect health. Contrary to such reasoning, the Bible tells us explicitely how we are to be known by the world.

"By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34)
We are to be known, not by how prosperous and healthy we are, but by how we live our lives.
"Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody." (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12)

"In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)
Rather than being known for how God pours out material blessings and health on us, we are to be known by the joy we have in spite of our suffering.
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." (Galatians 5:22-23)

"I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." (Philippians 4:12)
Joni Erickson Tada is a shining example of how sickness can be used to God's glory. She has been a quadraplegic for around thirty years, and through it has become an inspiration to thousands of others. The thorn in Paul's flesh is what kept him from boasting (2 Corinthians 12:7). A psalmist wrote that "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word....It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your faithfulness you have afflicted me" (Psalm 119:67,71,75).

Sometimes, it is God's will that a person be sick because affliction brings about refinement.

"My son, do not despise the LORD's discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in." (Proverbs 3:11-12)

"Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:10-11)

Continue to Part 15.