Monday, November 30, 2020

The morality of abortion has little to do with the suffering of the unborn

One argument pro-choice people sometimes bring up to defend abortion is that the unborn do not suffer since their brains aren't developed enough. Typically, pro-lifers argue that the unborn do suffer in a lot of abortions. But I don't think the morality of abortion hinges on whether the unborn suffers or not.

This argument seems to depend on the notion that it's only wrong to cause suffering, and as long as you aren't causing suffering, you aren't doing anything wrong. I disagree with that assumption because it leads to absurd results.

Consider a situation in which you shoot a sleeping adult in the head at close range with a shotgun, and their brains instantly splatter all over their pillow and bed. This person will die instantly and without any suffering.

Now, compare that to punching somebody in the nose. This person will suffer quite a bit.

Although the second person suffered far more than the first person, and the first person didn't actually suffer at all, clearly murder is still more heinous than punching somebody in the nose.

So it isn't the degree of suffering that determines whether an action is immoral (or immoral to a greater degree). It's simply the value of human life. Even if you could kill somebody painlessly who was in a coma, it would still be murder.

So the real question, as far as abortion is concerned, isn't whether the embryo suffers or not. It's whether it's a human being or not.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Why theism is necessary and sufficient to ground objective moral obligations

There would be no such a thing as right and wrong, good and evil, virtue and vice, etc. if there were no God. The reason, basically, is because morality is prescriptive. It makes demands on our behavior. A blind and indifferent universe can't make demands on your behavior. Only a sentient authority can. If there is no sovereign authority over and above humanity, then any rules we had to live by would be rules we came up with ourselves and would be free to change if we wanted to. We do have civil laws, but all of these laws depend on authorities. Governments impose laws on citizens. Parents impose rules on children. Morality resembles these laws in the sense that they are prescriptive. But if morality is objective--meaning it exists independently of human preference, desire, sentiment, etc.--then it must originate from an authority that transcends humanity.

Morality is the law above all other laws. It's what allows us to say that a civil law or a rule that somebody gives us is immoral. For example, if your parent told you to kill your brother, you'd have a moral obligation to disobey your parent. If a government passed a law saying that you must sacrifice your parents when they reach the age of 60, that would be an immoral and unjust law that we would have a moral obligation to disobey. Since morality is the law above all human laws, it must originate in transcendent authority.

It's hard to imagine what kind of authority would be sufficient to ground morality, but another contingent being like ourselves wouldn't do the trick. No human, regardless of rank or status, would be sufficient to ground morality. No conceivable alien will do either.

But something like a God would. Imagine a being that was absolutely autonomous. It wasn't beholden to any other authority. It had no peers. It was at the absolutely peak of all authoritative hierarchies.

And imagine a being that is the source of everything else that exists. The being itself doesn't owe its existence to anything else, but everything else owes its existence to this being.

This would seem to be a sufficient source of morality. And it's hard to think of anything less that would suffice. So it seems to me that if such a being does not exist, then there can't be any objective morality.

There can still be *subjective* morality and moral *relativism*, though.

For more on this subject, check out:

If there is no God, then there are no objective moral values.

Does anything really matter?

The divine command theory

Saturday, November 28, 2020

In defense of free speech

Somebody on the internet did a "change my view" thing and argued that it should be illegal to deny the holocaust. This was my response.

I think that making it illegal to deny the Holocaust sets a bad precedent. It would mean we're comfortable with the government engaging in thought control and information control. If we allow the government to prohibit people from denying the Holocaust, then we could no longer object on principle to the government restricting speech in other areas.

You gave several reasons for why we can be sure that the Holocaust happened. If that's your argument, then to be consistent, you have to apply that same reasoning in other areas. You'd have to say that as long as the government thought some point of view was rationally justified and/or irrational to deny, then the government would have the right to force people, by law, to be silent about opposing views.

Shutting up opposition by force of law is the absolute worst way to settle disputes. If one point of view is so justified that it's irrational to deny it, then the argument should win the day, not the law. And if there are nut-cases who resist the force of reason, then so be it.

There have been a lot of ideas that people have been relatively certain about that were overturned eventually. Newton's law of gravity was overturned by Einstein's general theory of relativity. People were once so convinced that the Pope was God's representative on earth, that they would burn people at the stake for defecting from Catholicism.

Do you really want to leave it up to the government to decide for everybody else what is "certain"? How can you be confident that they'll stop with the Holocaust? What will you do when nut cases gain powerful positions in government and decide some other view is certain and want to silence opposers?

It's a dangerous idea to say that the government should have the power to shut people up who they deem to hold the wrong opinions.

A free exchange of ideas is the best way for a civilized society to arrive at truth and avoid error, not government suppression.

Friday, November 27, 2020

What is a Christian? Or what is Christianity?

I doubt I can define "Christian" in a way that somebody else won't disagree with it, but I think I can define it in a way that's somewhat clear.

A Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ.

Of course that raises the question of what it means to follow Jesus Christ. First, I think it means that you accept, as true, that Jesus is the Christ. That means Jesus is the fulfillment of God's promise to always have a man on the throne of David. David's dynasty came to an end near the beginning of the Babylonian exile. After that, the prophets (e.g. Jeremiah 33) said that God would fulfill his promise by raising up a descendent of David who would restore the throne. His coming would be associated with a gathering of all of God's people who had been scattered through the ages, and a restoration of national sovereignty for Israel, and there would be peace and prosperity to all the nations. Sickness and death will be done away with, and all wars will end. So to be a follower of Jesus Christ means that you accept that Jesus is the fulfillment of those promises, and you place your hope in him for their fulfillment.

It also means that you submit to him as king. So you strive to live according to his moral teachings. You also subscribe to his worldview. And since he believed in YHWH--the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, so should you.

It also means that you believe the gospel--the central proclamation taught by those Jesus hand picked to be his apostles. An apostle is somebody who is "sent out," i.e. a missionary. To be an apostle of Jesus Christ means that you were personally acquainted with Jesus, and he commissioned you personally. There were originally twelve of them, but Jesus later commissioned Paul.

Paul preserved, in written form, an oral formula that summarizes what is meant by "the gospel" in 1 Corinthians 15, and he said this is the same gospel taught by the original apostles (e.g. Peter, James, and John) in Jerusalem. It includes these facts:

  • That Christ died for sins
  • That he was raised from the dead
  • That he appeared to the apostles

There is a lot of theological content to the claim that Christ died for sins, and there is debate among Christians as to what it means (e.g. different theories of the atonement), but at a minimum it means that Jesus atoned for sins.

This implies that God imposes moral obligations on people, that people disobey those moral obligations, that God judges people for violating his moral requirements, and that we can receive a pardon on the basis of Jesus' atonement and therefore avoid being judged for our sins. In other words, God shows us mercy. Jesus saves sinners from tne judgment of God.

There is some dispute about what is meant by Jesus rising from the dead. You have Jehovah's Witnesses who deny any physical resurrection and claim that Jesus became a spirit. There are others, like Marcus Borg and John Crossan who claim the resurrection is just a metaphor, not a literal event. In spite of these differences, I'm convinced that the resurrection refers to a literal physical event in which Jesus himself physically rose from the dead and left an empty tomb behind him.

There's a lot more to being a Christian than that, but I think these are the essentials of Christianity. They are what all Christians share in common. It's what defines Christianity and makes it what it is and not something else. Christians differ about a lot of things, but if anybody differs on any of these essentials, then they aren't Christians.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

An inductive argument against disembodied minds

There is an argument against disembodied minds that goes something like this: Every example in our experience of minds is an embodied mind. Therefore, we have a good inductive argument that all minds are embodied.

Setting aside whatever philsophical arguments there might be for disembodied souls, spirits, ghosts, or gods that might outweigh this argument, I'm not sure this argument is sound even when taken in isolation. Suppose I had never left the state of Texas, and I argued like so: Every oak tree I've ever seen was planted in Texas soil. Therefore, I have a good inductive argument that all oak trees are planted in Texas soil. Obviously there's a flaw in this argument.

The reason that's not a good argument is because there is an observer selection effect. If there were oak trees growing in other parts of the world, I would not have experienced them since I've only lived in Texas. The fact that I haven't experienced them is because I haven't been in a position to experience them. It has nothing to do with whether they exist or not.

In the same way, if all we are able to experience are physical people, and we couldn't get in touch with disembodied minds even if they were real, then the fact that all the minds we know of are embodied minds doesn't give us any inductive reason to think minds must always be embodied. The fact that we only experience embodied minds is due to the fact that we ourselves are embodied minds, and our sensory organs are designed to only detect other physical things. It has nothing to do with whether there are disembodied minds or not.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

How Christians of differing theological persuasion reconcile free will with God's sovereignty

There are two different views of what free will is. One is called libertarian free will. The other is called compatibilist free will.

Libertarian free will is the view held by most Christians. There are different approaches to solving the problem of free will and God's sovereignty.

One is called open theism. This is the view that God's plan for the future is not exhaustive. In fact, he doesn't even know the future exhaustively because he can't predict what free creatures will do with perfect accuracy. While a lot of Christians will accuse open theists of denying God's omniscience, open theists disagree. In their view, to be omniscient is to know all true propositions, but they believe there is no truth value to future tensed propositions about free will actions. Since there isn't anything for God to know when it comes to your future free will decisions, the fact that God doesn't know what you will do tomorrow doesn't count against his omniscience.

Another solution is called Molinism. According to Molinism, before God creates anything, he knows what each possible free creature will do in any possible set of circumstances that creature could ever be in. With that being the case, God considers all the possible outcomes that would inevitably happen if he decided to create the world in a certain way. So eventually when God does decide to create the world, he takes his knowledge of what people would do in whatever circumstances into account. So the free actions people take become part of his plan. He incorporates those actions into his plan and works with them.

Another solution is to say that God exists outside of time and is able to observe the whole spectrum of time and everything within it. But within time, we have free will. In this view, the direction of entailment is what allows us to be free. It isn't God's knowledge that entails that we choose in particular ways; rather, it's the ways we choose to behave that entail what God knows. So our free choices determine what God knows; what God knows does not determine our choices. So our choices can still be free.

Compatibilist free will is different than libertarian free will. Libertarian free will is the idea that when you act freely, there are no antecedent conditions prior to and up to the moment of choice that are sufficient to determine what that choice will be. That includes a person's own mental states, such as their desire, motives, preferences, inclinations, etc.

Compatibilist free will is the idea that your choices are free to the degree that they follow from your own desires, motives, preferences, inclinations, etc. You're free in the sense that you're doing what you want to be doing. So in this view, your choices are determined by your antecedent mental states. Your mental states may, in turn, be determined by something else, including your environment and God himself. Since this is a form of determinism, it's perfectly consistent with God having an exhaustive and sovereign plan.

Reading for beginners in Christian apologetics

I've done reading lists before for various things. Today, I thought I'd do a new one. This is a list of easy reading introductory type stuff for Christian apologetics aimed at absolute beginners--people who may have no background at all in philosophy, New Testament history, or anything related. Also, this is general apologetic stuff aimed at defending Christianity as a whole rather than defending particular theological issues that Christians disagree about among themselves.

Worldviews In Conflict: Choosing Christianity in a World of Ideas by Ronald Nash

Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus edited by Michael J. Wilkins and J.P. Moreland

On Guard: Defending Your Faith With Reason and Precision by William Lane Craig

Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-air by Gregory Koukl and Francis Beckwith

Tactics: A Game Plan For Discussing Your Christian Convictions by Greg Koukl

Thinking About God: First Steps In Philosophy by Greg Ganssle

As a bonus: Miracles by C.S. Lewis

Other book lists I've made on this blog:

Some recommended books for new Christians

Life changing books

Some of my favourite books not related to religion, philosophy, apologetics, etc., at least not directly

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Facing uncomfortable truths

I'm not a big Steve Crowder fan, but this is an exceptional video about being honest with ourselves and the tendency we all have to lie to ourselves and rationalize when the truth is inconvenient or difficult. It's more serious than his usual stuff.

For more on this subject see my other post: Deluding ourselves.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Libertarian free will would be a dangerous thing if we really had it

Here's a post of mine I found on a discussion forum while I was looking for a different post.

I think LFW would be an unpredictable and unruly thing to have. Under LFW, your desires and motives can have some influence over your behavior, but they're never sufficient to determine your behavior. In fact, no antecedent conditions prior to and up to the moment of choice are sufficient to determine what your choice will be.

Think about that. That means no matter what your goals are, your plans, your intentions, your desires, inclinations, etc. prior to your choice are sufficient to determine what that choice is. And in the absence of Frankfurt cases (which are merely hypothetical and almost never happen in the real world), you could have done otherwise. With that being the case, nobody could possibly know what they were about to do next. The only way you can know what you are about to do is if you assume what's going on in your head will determine what you're about to do. If what's going on in your head isn't sufficient to make that determination, then whatever action or choice you make should be a surprise to you.

If antecedent motives and desires can have some influence that falls short of determination, that means some probability can be attached to your future action. For example, if given some desire, there is a 100% probability that you will do X, that means the desire is sufficient to determine that you do X. So under libertarian free will, each influence must create a probability less than 100% that you will do X.

Now, imagine a situation in which your antecedent desire has enough influence to make it 60% probable that you will do X. With that being the case, it follow that if you were in that same situation with the same desire a hundred or a thousand times, we should expect that it would average out to where 60% of the time you did X and 40% of the time, you did not-X.

For those 40% of times you did not-X, they could not have possibly been done on purpose. To do something on purpose is to act out of your own antecedent plans, desires, and intentions. The 40% would just be accidents that you had no control over and didn't even see coming.

Now imagine that a lot of those choices are choices you make in traffic. There would be a lot more car accidents because some of the time in spite of your desire, intention, or motive to change lanes, or to avoid hitting somebody, you arbitrarily make a more dangerous choice. So LFW is quite dangerous.

It seems to me that if we have LFW, then it must come in degrees since influence comes in degrees. The stronger the influence, the closer to creating a 100% probability that you will act in a certain way. Once it reaches 100%, you no longer have LFW. That means the stronger an influence, the less LFW, and the weaker an influence, the more LFW. And that means you have the greatest deal of freedom when antecedent conditions don't even so much as influence your decisions. You have the greatest freedom when your actions are completely random and arbitrary.

It is a strange view when your own mental states are seen as obstacles to your freedom rather than what your freedom consists of.

For more on this subject, see William Lane Craig against Calvinism, Part 3B of 5.

Monday, November 09, 2020

What is wrong with incest (or anything else for that matter)?

Somebody asked on a forum a while back why incest was wrong. Usually when Christians are asked why certain moral claims they make are true, especially when it comes to sexual ethics, they try to answer them by appealing to broader moral principles the other person hopefully will agree with. The typical response to why incest is wrong is because it leads to birth defects (and the unspoken premise is that it's wrong to do what leads to birth defects). There are weaknesses to these kinds of responses, though. Some of these negative consequences can be ameliorated, but they are no less wrong. Incest would be wrong even if it happened between two people incapable of reproducing.

So I wanted to argue in a different way. I wanted to argue that there must be some moral principles that don't require justification by appeal to broader moral principles. After all, the hidden assumption behind questions about morality is that there always is a broader moral reasons for various moral claims, and the assumption is that if we can't justify a moral principle by appeal to another moral principle, then we have no justification for accepting the moral principle at all. I wanted to challenge that.

Also, this question was not asked specifically of Christians. I wanted to avoid making the claim that what made incest wrong was that God forbids it because that would derail the conversation and turn it into an issue of whether there was a God, whether God is necessary for morality, wheteher God was sufficient for morality, whether God does, in fact, forbid incest and if so, why. I wanted to avoid all that, so I made an epistemological argument for why we should accept some moral principles even if we can't justify them by appeal to broader moral principles. Here's what I said.

There's a variation on your third argument called "moral intuitionism" or something like that. The idea is that while most of our specific moral conclusions can be justified on the basis of inferring them from prior general moral principles, that can't be the case with everything moral that we know. Take this argument for example.

  • It's wrong to harm people needlessly.
  • Punching a stranger in the face harms them needlessly.
  • Therefore, it's wrong to punch a stranger in the face.
This is an argument for the immorality of punching a stranger's face. That moral conclusion is inferred from a prior general moral principle--the wrongness of harming people needlessly.

That is how we derive most of our moral principles, but it can't be the case that all of our moral principles are derived this way because that would lead to an infinite regress. While the above argument explains how we know that it's wrong to punch a stranger in the face, it doesn't tell us why it's wrong to cause people harm needlessly. That first moral premise still needs some kind of justification.

You can justify that first moral premise in one of two ways. You can either do it using another syllogism with that premise as the conclusion and some other moral premise from which you infer the conclusion, or you can say the moral premise is known by intuition.

Intuition, in this context doesn't carry the same meaning as the colloquial use of the word. Usually when people say "intuition," they're talking about a subjective hunch about things. That's what people mean when, for example, they say "women's intuition." But that's not what intuition means in this context.

In this context, intuitions means immediate knowledge upon reflexion. There are some things we know simply because our brains are hardwired in such a way as to be able to apprehend them merely by thinking about them.

For example, you can know that two plus two is four just by closing your eyes and thinking about it. This kind of knowledge is different than knowledge through experience. You don't have to go out and test to see if two and two make four. Imagine discovering, by accident, that if you take two orange, and you find two more oranges, that lo and behold, together they make four oranges. And then imagine thinking to yourself, "Well, I know it works with oranges, but how do I know it also works with bananas? I better go test that, too." That may be how we discover how physical laws work, but addition is different. You can merely close your eyes and think about it and realize, through intuition, that it will hold for all things, anywhere in the universe.

Well, moral intuition is kind of like that. If we had to prove each moral principle by appealing to some prior moral principle, that would lead to an infinite regress, in which case we couldn't know any moral principle because we could not complete an infinite number of inferences or know an infinite number of moral propositions. So if we have any moral knowledge at all, then it must be ultimately grounded in one or moral moral principles that we can know without having to infer them from prior moral principles.

So if we grant that there are at least some moral principles that we know to be true, then it's necessarily the case that there are some moral principles we can know by intuition. Without intuitive knowledge, no knowledge of anything would be possible because it's the only way to avoid an epistemological infinite regress.

So it could be that we just know intuitively that incest is wrong. And that does seem to be the case because people have an easier time coming to the conclusion that incest is wrong than they do explaining how they know it's wrong. Whenever somebody is questioned with, "How do you know?" they always try to justify their knowledge with reasons. But we see people frequently claiming to know things while finding it difficult to put their finger on how they know it. The knowledge is more obvious to them than whatever reasons they cooked up to justify it. That means the knowledge comes first, and the real reason they know it is through intuition.

This is why people believe that their senses are giving them true information about an external world that actually exists. Since things would appear exactly the same whether the external world was real or whether you were just a brain in a vat, there's no observation you could make to adjudicate between thinking the world is real and thinking it's an illusion. But that doesn't mean the general population is all 50/50 on whether the world is real or not. We all instinctively believe the world is real until philosophy talks us out of it. So our knowledge of the external world is intuitive.

If you deny knowledge by intuition, then you have no justification for believing in the external world. Nor do you have justification for believing in the past since it's possible we were created five minutes ago complete with false memories. More than that, without knowledge by intuition, it would be impossible to know anything at all because without intuition, every line of reasoning would lead to an infinite regress.

This doesn't mean that intuition is infallible. There are some things, like two plus two make four, that we can know with certainty, but there are other things, like the external world, that we cannot know with certainty. So the most parsimonious rule of thumb we should use to think things are more or less the way they appear to be unless we have good reason to think otherwise. The default position we should take is that there's an external world because it looks like there's an external world, and we have no good reason to think otherwise.

The same thing applies to incest. It seems to almost all of us that incest is wrong, even if we can't put our finger on why it's wrong. So we are justified in believing it's wrong in the absence of any good reason to think otherwise.