Saturday, January 30, 2021

Tu quoque

I see the "you, too" fallacy come up a lot in political conversations. Whenever somebody on the left does something bad, the right jumps all over it. But then the left points out that people on the right have done the same thing. And vice versa. There's also a modified version of the You Too Fallacy. It's when you say something like, "Yeah, but you did it more," or, "Your side was worse."

You Too is a fallacy of distraction. It's a form of the red herring fallacy. The fact that I did something bad obviously doesn't alleviate somebody else's guilt for doing something bad. So if I'm accusing somebody else of doing something bad, it's irrelevant whether I'm guilty of the same thing as far as their guilt is concerned.

The only use of saying, "You, too," is to try to point out an inconsistency in the other person. If I'm criticizing somebody for things I'm guilty of myself, then I'm just being a hypocrite. I don't see anything wrong with calling people out on their hypocricy.

In the case of political conversations, I'm not sure there's necessarily hypocricy, though. I'm perfectly happy to critize people on all sides of the political spectrum. After all, whether we are criticizing the left or the right, it's not me we are critizing. The fact that Trump or Biden did something bad says nothing at all about me. So if I critize members of one side, I'm not being hypocritical just because members of my side are guilty of the same things.

On the other hand, I do see a lot of people in political conversations openly critizing members of the other side but then defending members of their own side who do the same things. I think that is inconsistent. It shows bias, a lack of objectivity, a lack of fairness, etc. I'm not sure whether I see that more on the left or the right, but I do see it in both sometimes.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Science channels on YouTube and popular scientists

I'm a big fan of science YouTube channels and popular scientists in general. Yesterday, I was thinking about them and what I would say to somebody else if they asked for recommendations. I woke up this morning and decided to blog about it.

Let me start with my two favourites--PBS Spacetime with Matt O'Dowd and Fermilab with Don Lincoln. These are both really informative and interesting. Both commentators are actualy physicists, which is a big plus. Matt talks mostly about astrophysics, and Don talks mostly about particle physics, but there's a lot of overlap between the material they cover. Matt is also entertaining, and Don sometimes goes into the math, which a lot of popular commentators don't do. I'm not a physicist myself, but I get the impression that the information these two people present on their channels is pretty solid and reliable. The only exception is that at the end of each video, Don says, "Physics is everything," which we know isn't true. :-)

The Science Asylum with Nick Lucid is another one I really like. It's more whimsical than the other two, but Nick still provides some pretty solid information in an easily digestible way. I don't think Nick has a PhD in physics, though. I think he has a master's degree. But he has taught physics professionally, and he wrote a book on advanced physics, so I think that's good enough.

Another really good one is Looking Glass Universe with Mithuna Yoganathan. She started her channel when she was a PhD candidate studying quantum computing. She made a lot of videos she animated herself while she was taking classes, and it's all really interesting, easy to understand, and fun to watch. She finally got her PhD, but she doesn't make as many vidoes as she used to. :-(

Anton Petrov is a wonderful person and he thinks you are a wonderful person. At the beginning of each video, he never fails to say, "Hello, wonderful person!" I like him so much, I bought his "wonderful person" t-shirt so everybody else will know that I'm a wonderful person. I don't know what his qualifications are, but it doesn't matter as much for the information he presents. He doesn't really teach physics or cosmology the way the other channels do. Instead, he summarizes recents papers he finds in scientific journals. Usually, it's some new finding in astronomy or astrophysics. Anton is the most prolific of all the people I watch. He posts a new videos pretty much every single day.

Those are my five favourites and the ones I value the most. Usually, I prefer to watch people who have actual PhD's in physics, or if the channel is about some other field of science, that the person is qualified. I mostly apply this to physics and cosmology, though, since that's where my greatest interests lie. But I also watch stuff in other fields. One of my favourite channels is PBS Eons that talks about the history of the planet and life on the planet. I have no idea what the qualifications of the people are on that channel, but I still enjoy it. There's another one that's more about math called PBS Infinite Series that is no longer active.

There are a few people who are legitimate scientists but who I watch with a lot of caution. Two of them I'm especially cautious about are Michio Kaku and Neil deGrass Tyson. The reason I'm cautious about them is because they are both sensationalists. They both seem to get a kick out of saying whatever they believe will evoke the most shock and awe in their audience. Michio, especially, has a tendency to wander into philosophy. He does it with the same confidence with which he comments on science, but with nowhere near the competence. For example, I remember one time watching him supposedly settle the free will debate by pointing to quantum indeterminancy as if he thought random quantum events were sufficient for free will. I've also seen Neil deGrass Tyson in conversations with Richard Dawkins in which Tyson will make what he seems, by his body language and inflection, to believe is some profound insight only to have Dawkins correct him and make him look silly. While I think each of these two people have a lot of interesting and valuable things to say, I think they should be treated with a lot of caution. And, by the way, I have read Kaku's book, Physics of the Impossible, and it's really interesting.

There's a channel called Physics Girl that I rarely ever watch. The reason I rarely watch it is because I don't think Physics Girl has any advanced degree in science. I think she has a bachelor degree in physics or something. I can't really say how reliable she is.

Arvin Ash has a channel I like, but I'm cautious about him, too. One of the things I really like about him is that he's a very good communicator. There are two problems with him, though. One is that I think he only has a bachelor degree in engineering. The other is that he doesn't always know what he's talking about. I remember one time he was talking about how space and time are quantized. I looked into that two or three years ago because I was trying to get to the bottom of it when I was thiking about the grim reaper paradox, and what I found is that nobody really knows whether space and time are quantized. Ash acted as if it were just a settled matter that they were. And there have been other things he's said that I questioned. He made a video fairly recently on fine-tuning that was downright cringeworthy for what he got wrong.

Sabine Hossenfelder is another YouTuber I really like. I wasn't sure if I liked her in the beginning because she always seemed angry. She is an interesting character. She is a qualified physicists, which makes me want to trust her as a reliable source. My primary hesitation is that she's a bit of a rebel in the physics community. A lot of the information she has is criticism of the rest of the physics community. For example, she criticizes a lot of what physicists do as not being science (e.g. the multiverse and string theory are not science because they are untestable). She wrote a book called Lost In Math where she criticized physicists for the kinds of things they look for in their theories, like elegence. Brian Green wrote a book called The Elegent Universe that I read several years ago where he explained, convincingly in my opinion, why physicists gravitate toward elegant equations. It seems to be a somewhat reliable guide. But Hossenfelder is really critical of it. Since I'm no expert myself, I can't really judge for sure, but the fact that Hossenfelder goes against the majority of scientists on a lot of issues makes me want to treat her with some skepticism. On the other hand, I like that there are scientists who are willing to challenge received wisdom. After all, science is all about progressing by testing and falsifying older views. So I fully support what she's doing. And it does, after all, make her very interesting. One other issue I have with her is that she often delves into the philosophy of science. A lot of scientists seem to wander into philosophy, sometimes without realizing they're doing it, and they usually don't do it very well. At least in Hossenfelder's case, she deals with the philosophy of science, so it's at least related to her field.

Speaking of Brian Greene, he has a channel called World Science Festival. Greene is another popularizer who likes to wow his audience, but I am not as cautious about him as I am about Tyson and Kaku. He seems to be a bit more tame and aimed toward truth and accuracy over pizzazz. So I trust him for the most part. I also like him because he is a really good communicator, whether he's speaking or writing. I've read two of his books and they are two of my favourites. My only hesitation about Brian Greene is the confidence he has in string theory. Considering the fact that string theory is not testable, I think it ought to be treated with a lot more hesitation.

I place Sean Carroll on about the same footing as Brian Greene. He's not quite as good of a communicator, but as far as accuracy and reliabliity goes, I trust him about as much. My only hesitation with him is the confidence he places in the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

I didn't include scientific authors I like to read in this post because I was mainly aimed at YouTubers and speakers you can find on YouTube. Maybe I'll do another post later on authors I like. I may have left somebody out. If so, I'll edit this later. But in the meantime, if there's some YouTuber or popular scientist you like to read or listen to, leave a comment and tell me about them.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Is God cruel and sadistic?

There's a lot of suffering in the world. People die in horrifying ways--geting burned alive, being tortured, etc. This has been going on for a long as there's been people. And that's not to mention animal suffering. If there's an all powerful God, and he lets this kind of thing happen, you'd think God must be cruel and sadistic to allow it. He's even worse if he causes it. So I want to answer that objection to God today.

Without God either telling us why he does stuff or us being able to read his mind, the best we can do is speculate, and to speculate, we have to consider all the possibilities.

One possibility is, as we said, that God is cruel and sadistic. Another possibility is that he has some hidden purpose in suffering that we don't know about. Another possibility is that he has certain goals that come with unwanted corollaries, and he does a cost/benefit analysis. If we thought about it long enough, we could probably come up with all kinds of possibilities.

But what this means is that we can't say for sure that God is cruel or sadistic. To say that, we would have to be able to rule out every other possibility, and we are just not in a position to do that. We lack the mental equipment to make those kinds of judgements about an all knowing God.

There are ways of arguing that God is good, though. One way is to recognize, first of all, that there's such a thing as good and bad, and they aren't merely a matter of personal preference. Some things really are tragedies, and some thing really are great.

But nothing matters unless it matters to somebody. So if it matters whether people suffer or not, then it must matter to somebody. It might matter to you but not to me, or vice versa, but obviously it wouldn't matter in any objective sense if it came down to you or me. So if it matters in an objective sense, then it must matter to a transcendent being, like God.

The God of classical theism is a sufficient ground for right, wrong, good, evil, virtue, vice, etc., because he is the ultimate ground of all being. Everything else exists because of him, and reality revolves around him.

So basically, if there is a real objective distinction between good and bad, then there must be something resembling the God of classic theism.

If the distinction between good and bad is grounded in God, then God would have to be perfectly good. The reason is because of the very nature of good and bad and what they mean. Good is what "ought to be" and bad is what "ought to be avoided." If this distinction is grounded in God, it would mean that God only prefers the good and never prefers the bad. That would make God perfect good by definition.

So we can form this argument:

1. If God is perfectly good, then whatever he does, he has a morally justifiable reason for doing it.
2. God created a world containing a lot of suffering.
3. Therefore, if God is perfect good, then God has a morally justifiable reason for creating a world containing a lot of suffering.
4. God is perfectly good.
5. Therefore, God has a morally justifiable reason for creating a world containing a lot of suffering.

We came to this conclusion through deductive reasoning, so if the premises are true, then the conclusion must also be true. That means we can deduce that God has a morally justifiable reason for creating a world containing a lot of suffering without even knowing what that reason is.

So, it's similar to how you might react if somebody you really trusted did something questionable that appeared, on its surface, to be a betrayal. Since it goes so much against their usual character, you would probably give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they had some good motive in doing it, or some hidden purpose in doing it, that you just didn't know about. You wouldn't jump to the conclusion that they were cruel and sadistic.

For more on this subject, see "Covid-19 and the problem of evil."

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Divorce and remarriage

Here's a topic I thought a lot about many years ago because I was divorced and hoped to some day remarry. Jesus explicitly forbids remarrieage after divorce (Mark 10:11), so it's an issue for a lot of Christians like me. I've never written about it because I'm afraid my views might be a bit self-serving. Maybe I came to my conclusions in a biased way. I wanted to remarry at some point. But I'm going to go ahead and give my thoughts on it anyway because I was just in a conversation about it today, and it is fresh on my mind.

First, we have to think about what God considers a marriage or when God considers two people to be married. I don't think a legal contract is necessary for a marriage to be binding in God's eyes. I doubt many people in the ancient world had legal contracts they called marriages. Throughout most of history, marriage has just begun with some sort of ceremony followed by cohabiting. Sometimes there's not even a ceremony. A man just takes a woman into his home, and she becomes his wife.

So I don't know what the necessary and sufficient conditions are for God to consider a couple to be married. Living together alone doesn't seem sufficient, and getting a legal contract doesn't seem necessary. Maybe it's just a matter of whether the couple agrees that they are married. But if one thinks they are and the other doesn't, who knows? Or maybe they both do, but one changes their mind and says, "I don't think we were ever married." I don't know what to think in those situations.

In the Mosaic law, if somebody committed the crime of having sex with somebody who was not already married or betrothed to somebody else, the "punishment" was that they had to marry them (Exodus 22:16). I used to think this passage, as well as some others, indicated that sex was the thing that made two people married. It would explain why the Bible doesn't explicitly forbid extra-marital sex.

I changed my mind about that after reading an article by J. Budziszewski called "The Revenge of Conscience." In this article, Budziszewski pointed out a lot of the crazy things people do when they behave contrary to what they intuitively know is right. That article had a lot to do with why I now put so much confidence in my moral intuitions. Before that, I had come to the conclusion that there was no such thing as pre-marital sex because to have sex is to become married in God's eyes. I had reasoned this out through the scriptures, but it didn't sit well with my moral intuitions. It still seemed wrong to me for two peopel to have sex if they weren't already married. So after reading Budziszewski's article, I decided my moral intuitions were correct. The Bible doesn't have to explicitly forbid something before we can know that it's wrong. But besides that, the Bible at least implies that pre-marital sex is wrong when it says things like, "It is better to marry than to burn with passion" (1 Corinthians 7:9).

Nevertheless, I think that of all the sexual crimes we can commit, the least of them is extra-marital sex. But that's not really the subject of this post, so no need to talk about that anymore.

Anywho, maybe you have an obligation to marry the person you have sex with if you're not already married since that's what Exodus 22:16 requires. On the other hand, the fact that the Mosaic laws has this requirement doesn't automatically mean any Christian has the same requirement. The Mosaic law was given specifically to the nation of Israel. But it can still act as a guide for how God views marriage, so it may still have some relevance. I said more about this in "Christians and the Mosaic Law."

Let's look at all the things the New Testament says about divorce and remarriage.

Matthew 5:31-32 "Now it was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away is to give her a certificate of divorce’; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."

Matthew 19:9 "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery."

Mark 10:11-12 "And He said to them, 'Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.'"

Luke 16:18 "Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery."

1 Corinthians 7:10-11 " But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife is not to leave her husband (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband is not to divorce his wife."

1 Corinthians 7:39 "A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord."

Romans 7:2-3 "For the married woman is bound by law to her husband as long as he is alive; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is alive she gives herself to another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress if she gives herself to another man."

From all these passages, we can see that (1) it is wrong to get a divorce, but (2) if you do get a divorce, you should not remarry because then you'd be committing adultery, and (3) if your spouse dies, then you are free to remarry. Notice, though, that in all the prohibitions about divorce and remarriage, Matthew is the only one that adds the phrase, "except for reason of sexual immorality." Many people, myself, included, think this means that if your spouse commits adultery against you, then you are free to divorce and to remarry.

Now, suppose you got a divorce, and it was not because of adultery. You'd think that would mean you can never remarry. But I think there's a loop hole in which you can remarry. We Christians are typically averse to loop holes, but I can't see any flaw in it. Jesus said that anybody who divorces their wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman, commits adultery (Matthew 19:9). This seems to suggest that if your marriage ended because of adultery that you're free to remarry. There are some Christians who disagree with that, but that is how I see it.

Well, you can only commit adultery against somebody if you are still married to them in some sense. So this must mean that even if you get a divorce, God still considers you to be bound to each other. Otherwise, it would be impossible to commit adultery against each other. The definition of adultery is having sex with somebody else's spouse or being married and having sex with somebody who is not your spouse.

So, here's the loop hole. If you have separated from your spouse and gotten a legal divorce, and neither of you have had a sexual relationship with anybody else, then you're still bound to each other. But as soon as either of you has sex with somebody else, adultery has occurred, and the other person is free to remarry. So the loop hole is that all you have to do is wait for your ex to either remarry or at least have sex with somebody else. Once they do, you are free to remarry because they will have committed adultery against you. If adultery frees you to remarry when it happens while you're still together, then it seems to me it would accomplish the same thing if you were not still together.

This makes good sense to me because imagine that your ex remarries. Obviously, you can't be bound to your ex if they marry somebody else. In fact, in the Mosaic law, if your ex remarries, then divorces, you cannot take your ex back because God considers that detestable (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). So if your ex is married to somebody else, then you can't possibly still be bound to your ex. If you're not bound to your ex, then you can't possibly commit adultery against them by remarrying. So I think if your ex remarries before you do, then you are free to remarry.

You're still guilty of something, though, if you were the one who initiated the divorce. According to Jesus, it would mean you caused her to commit adultery. By divorcing her without good cause (like unfaithfulness), you put her in a vulnerable position. Most of us don't want to be alone, so the temptation to remarry is very strong. But if she initiated the divorce, then you can't be blamed for her committing adultery.

Although my thoughts about divorce and remarriage might be influence by my own biases, I am nevertheless about 99% confident in my conclusion. My only reservation is in the slight possibility that I am wrong to interpret the exception Jesus made in cases of sexual immorality as meaning that if your spouse commits adultery against you, that you are free to divorce and remarry. And the only reason I have any reservation about that at all is simply because there are smarter Christians than me who have a different interpretation. I don't find their arguments the least bit persuasive, but since I'm fallible, and they're smarter than me, they could be right, and I could be wrong.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Some words of wisdom from John Lovell

John from Warrior Poet Society has created another jewel of a post that is well worth listening to and relevant to everything that's going on in our culture (especially in America) lately.

Saturday, January 09, 2021

Street Epistemology as a method of interacting

"Street Epistemology" is a method of engaging Christians invented by Peter Boghossian and explained in his book, A Manual For Creating Atheists. The method is essentially the same thing as the Socratic method except that it's more focused. In the Socratic method, instead of making ham-fisted arguments, you ask questions of the other person to lead them to your conclusion. Street Epistemologists use the same strategy except they apply it specifically to the subject of epistemology and even more specifically to make the point that faith is not a reliable or legitimate foundation for justified true beliefs. And since Street Epistemologists think that belief in Christianity rests on a foundation of faith, they figure if they can undermine faith, they can undermine a person's belief in Christianity.

I don't think there's anything wrong with this strategy. However, having run into a number of Street Epistemologists on the internet, I do have a problem with how they implement it. For example, in my most recent encounter with a Street Epistemologist, he came into a forum and started asking open-ended questions about Christianity. He portrayed himself as if he were an open-minded inquirer who was just looking for information. But as soon as somebody would take the time to answer any of his questions, he'd respond with something that amounted to, "Well, how do you know that?" Those who took the bait would try to answer his follow up question, and when they did, he'd again say, "How do you know that?" I'm paraphrasing, of course.

His strategy was to keep asking, "How do you know that?" until he eventually found the bedrock of what they believe and why they believe it, namely, blind faith. What bothered me about his method was that it was disingenuous. He wasn't actually interested in why anybody should believe Jesus is God, or why anybody should interpret the Bible a particular way, or why anybody should trust the Bible in the first place. He was interested in epistemology. And he wasn't just trying to gather information for his own benefit. He was there to undermine everybody else's beliefs. Since he was not forthcoming about his intentions, everybody else was jumping through his hoops thinking they were helping him.

After a couple of exchanges with him, I suspected he might be a Street Epistemologist. After the third or fourth exchange, it became obvious that he was trying to do Street Epistemology on me. When I confronted him about it, he tried to shame me for not wanting to play the game by suggesting I was too weak-minded to want to have my beliefs challenged.

I found his whole approach to be dishonest and manipulative. And this has been my experience with almost every Street Epistemologist I've run into on the internet. There has only been one exception. There was one person who sent me a private message and asked if I'd be willing to basically submit to being cross examined about the justification for my beliefs. He made it clear he wanted to challenge my epistemology. Although I didn't participate, I did appreciate his honesty in what he was trying to accomplish.

If you're a Street Epistemologist, I recommend taking that person's approach. Be honest with people about what your intentions are. Some people might be willing to submit to the "interview" or "cross examination" or as some of you call it, the "conversation." But a lot of people won't. Let me explain why a lot of people (especially myself) don't want to play the game.

It's a matter of preference in how a person want's a conversation to go down. If you want to have a conversation about epistemology and whether faith is a legitimate basis for belief in Christianity, I'd rather you just tell me that's what you want to talk about instead of mindlessly saying, "How do you know that?" after everything I say until you get there. Save us both some time and cut to the chase.

Most people don't like being cross examined. When you have a "conversation" in which one person is asking all the questions and the other person is basically on the witness stand, it's a very one-sided conversation. Only one person is doing all the work while the other person is just lazily asking "How do you know?" type questions. That's not even what I would call a conversation. Any child can ask, "How do you know that?" and make their parents eventually squirm with, "I dunno?" or "Because I said so." It's a very lazy way to try to have a conversation. It's actually a lazy way to use the Socratic method.

While I'm all for the Socratic method in general, I don't want to be in a conversation where that's all that's going on--just one person asking all the questions. I'd rather it be used as a supplement to arguments you might make in a two-way conversation. If you think there's something wrong with something I believe, I'd rather you just tell me why you think I'm wrong so we can talk about it. A conversation ought to be a two way thing, but the person who is asking the questions is barely even a participant in the conversation since they are offering no point of view of their own.

There are lots of people who would probably be more than willing to sit on the witness stand. If you want to engage people in this kind of game, you should be honest with them about it. That way, people can opt out if they want, or you can get a willing participant. And if somebody opts out, don't try to shame them for it. That's another childish middle school playground tactic, and it just turns people off. I would be much more likely to play the game if Street Epistemologists were just more forthcoming and didn't ask disingenuous questions and use manipulative tactics. I find it very off-putting.

Here are three posts related to this topic:

Tactics vs Street Epistemology

Working out an epistemology

What is faith? part 1

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Nothing vs. Something

I've noticed a pattern whenever the subject of "nothing" comes up. Whenever somebody talks about "nothing," there'll be somebody else who is quick to point out that they are treating "nothing" as if it were "something." Then the person who brought up "nothing" will say they were misunderstood. After that, it's like chess. Once the predictable openings are played, it can go in a variety of different directions.

I think there are two reasons this same "opening" keeps happening in coversations about "nothing." One reason is because of a difficulty in language. It's hard to talk about "nothing" in a way that doesn't sound like you're implying that it's "something." After all, it's a word that presumably has some meaning, but as soon as you start attaching meaning to it, it appears as if you're attributing properties to it. If "nothing" has properties, then it's "something." So it's hard to talk about "nothing" without sounding like you're talking about "something." That's one reason.

Another reason (which is almost the same reason) is that "nothing" is equivocal. Consider this argument:

  • Lima beans are better than nothing
  • Nothing is better than beef fajitas
  • Therefore, lima beans are better than beef fajitas

The first use of "nothing" means "not having anything," and the second use of "nothing" means, "no other thing." This equivocation between two different uses of "nothing" results in the bizarre claim that lima beans are better than beef fajitas.

Another reason is because of a lack of charity. People are quick to jump on the most uncharitable interpretation of what the other person says because it's easier to refute a strawman than the substance of their position. I see this happen all the time where somebody expresses something inarticulately, then the other person will pounce on the inprecision of their wording instead of really dealing with the substance of what they are saying. Actually, now that I think about it, I've probably done that myself.

I don't think anybody (except maybe Lawrence Krauss) thinks that "nothing" is actually "something." So when somebody speaks about "nothing" as if it were "something," I think the best thing to do is give them the benefit of the doubt and assume there's an imprecision in their wording. Instead of pouncing on them and pointing out the flaw of treating "nothing" as if it were "something," it's better to ask them for clarification. I'm willing to bet that with the exception of Lawrence Krauss, you'll find that they don't actually think "nothing" is "something." So if it appears to you that somebody is treating "nothing" as if it were "something," and the person you're talking to is not Lawrence Krauss, you're probably misundertsanding them. So instead of pouncing, take a step back and try to get some clarification.

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Different ways of formulating the KCA

In a lot of debate challenges I've seen on the Kalam Cosmological Argument, the person issuing the challenge always insists that the other person defend William Lane Craig's syllogism. I don't like that because I don't want my hands tied as to how I argue. I like to have the freedom to put things in my own words and defend it how I see fit. A lot of people think the KCA just is WLC's syllogism. But that is only one articulation of the argument. The argument can be expressed in a number of ways. Many of the objections raised to the KCA don't go to the substance of what the argument is saying, but rather nit pick over how WLC's syllogism is worded. I wanted to make this post showing several different ways the argument can be expressed in hopes that the reader will gain a better understanding of what the substance of the argument is rather than being hung up on the particular wording of WLC's syllogism.

Craig's version

  • Whatever begins to exist has a cause to its existence.
  • The universe began to exist
  • Therefore; the universe has a cause to its existence.

A more precise variation

  • If something comes into being out of nothing, then it has a cause.
  • The universe came into being out of nothing.
  • Therefore, the universe has a cause.

A more strongly worded first premise

  • It is impossible for something to come into being out of nothing unless it has a cause.
  • The universe came into being out of nothing.
  • Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Another variation that makes a distinction between efficient causes and material causes.

  • Anything that comes into being has either an efficient cause, a material cause, or both.
  • The universe came into being, but it did not have a material cause.
  • Therefore, the universe had an efficient cause

An alternate version with more steps

  • If the universe has a finite past, then the universe came into existence out of nothing.
  • If the univesre came into existence out of nothing, then the universe has a cause.
  • If the universe has a cause, then something exists that is spaceless, timeless, immaterial, and posessed of unusual creative power.
  • If something exists that is spaceless, timeless, immaterial, and posessed of unusual creative power, then something resembling a god exists.
  • The universe has a finite past.
  • Therefore, something resembling a god exists.

A disjunctive version with multiple steps

  • The universe exists
    • The universe has a finite past.
      • The universe came into being
        • The universe has a cause.
        • The universe does not have a cause.
      • The universe did not come into being
    • The universe has an infinite past.
  • The universe does not exist

Sunday, January 03, 2021

Faith vs. mere belief

Faith is a choice. It's different than mere belief. To put your faith in Jesus is to choose to become his follower and to trust him for your eternal well-being. You can do that even if you lack certainty about whether he will deliver.

It's similar to hiring a lawyer. When you hire a lawyer, you put your faith in that lawyer to do a certain job for you. You pay the lawyer and you agree to take the lawyer's advice. But you can choose to do this even if you have doubts about your lawyer's abilities.

While faith is a choice, belief is not a choice. You can't simply choose, by an act of will, to believe one thing instead of another. For example, if a cat appeared in front of you, you couldn't just choose whether to believe you're seeing a cat or not. You can't simply choose to believe there's a polka dotted elephant flying around outside above your house.

I suspect you can choose to put your faith in somebody even if you didn't believe they could deliver on what you were trusting them to do. It may seem unreasonable to do that, but there are situations in which it's not unreasonable. For example, you might be in some kind of danger, and somebody offers to rescue you if only you'll take hold of a rope or get behind them or something. You might not believe they can save you, but since you have nothing to lose, you put your faith in them by trusting them to save you. That's something you choose to do. But if you choose to put your faith in somebody when you are very unsure they can deliver, that's what I would call taking a leap of faith.

I'm not sure you can put your faith in Jesus without believing in God, though. Putting your faith in Jesus means trusting in the things he taught. To trust Jesus that he taught the truth (especially about judgment and salvation) entails believing in God. And since trusting in Jesus means becoming his follower, and being his follower entails adopting his worldview, then you can't put your faith in Jesus without also believing in God.

Besides that, there wouldn't be much point in putting your faith in Jesus if you didn't believe in God. Unless you believed there was a judgment and Jesus offered salvation, there would be no reason to put your faith in Jesus.

I don't think it's possible to believe in God without having some kind of reason to do so. A lot of people believe in God but can't put their finger on why. So they say they have "blind faith" and they don't even try to justify their belief. But I think what is going on in those cases is that God has changed their hearts. He has done something to cause them to have a belief. He has given them the gift of faith. The belief then becomes basic in the way that we have a basic belief that our senses are giving us true information about the external world. Nobody can prove that their senses correspond to a real external world. It's just an automatic belief we have that causes us to affirm that when we see things, there are really things out there to see. For example, when I see my cat, I automatically form the belief that my cat is there, even though it's possible the cat is only a perception that exists in my mind.

Whether you call this kind of justification "evidence" or not is a matter of semantics. Some people would say you can be justified in believing things without evidence provided they are hardwired into your brain in the same way that your belief in the external world or other minds is hardwired into your brain. Other people say these kinds of beliefs are self-evident. That is, the evidence is just in the appearance or apprehension. To some people, the existence of God is self-evident because when they pray, read the Bible, or just think about God, God presents himself to them in a way that they cannot deny anymore than they can deny the existence of the external world.

But for a lot of other people, there are evidences and arguments for the existence of God that depend on observations and reasoning. For me personally, it's both.

Friday, January 01, 2021

The inductive argument for the first premise in the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Happy New Year!

To create a smooth transition from 2020 to 2021, I have prepared for you another post on the KCA for the second day in a row. Enjoy.

In Bill Craig's formulation of the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA), he says, "Whatever begins to exist has a cause to its existence." There are a couple of ways one might defend this premise--by appeal to rational intuition or by appeal to inductive reasoning. The inductive case is a little problematic, but I do think it carries some weight.

In the inductive case, one extrapolates from observed instances of things coming into existence with causes to all things whatsoever that come into existence, including the universe. The weakness is in the fact that every observed instance of things coming into being always involve a rearrangement of previously existing parts. When a chair comes into existence, it is made out of previously existing wood. This is called creation ex-materia. But if the universe came into existence, then it didn't do so out of previously existing material. The universe is all of space, time, matter, and energy, so if the universe came into being, then it did so out of nothing. This is call creation ex-nihilo. So the beginning of the universe is very different than the beginning of everything else that we've observed. So what is true of everything we've observed may not be true of everything whatsoever, especially the universe.

But I do think the inductive argument carries some weight in spite of what I just said. I think the inductive case gives us some warrant for thinking that anything at all that comes into being must have a cause. I grant that the distinction between creation ex-materia and creation ex nihilo does weaken the inductive case for the general causal principle, but I don't think it destroys the inductive case.

Let me use an analogy to explain. Let's say every crow I observe in North America has been black and that I've been observing crows my whole life. And all my neighbors tell me they have observed the same thing. This gives me some inductive warrant for claiming that probably all crows are black.

But then suppose somebody comes along and says, "Well, you've only observed crows in North America. How do you know crows in Russia are all black?" It could be, for all we know, that location makes a difference. It's hard to say. It's also hard to say, on purely inductive grounds, that it makes a difference whether something comes to be ex-materia or ex-nihilo. But it seems to me that apart from any good reason to think it makes a difference, one is warranted in at least making a provisional extrapolation that they are open to having corrected later if the evidence warrants it.

Hasty generalization is a fallacy that can happen when reasoning inductively, though. But whether somebody has formed a generalization hastily or not isn't a black and white issue. There's no specific number of crows that one must observe before one is justified in forming the generalization that all crows are black such that observing one less crows means you aren't warranted in drawing that conclusion. This is the problem of heaps.

In the case of inductively reasoning about causes (and crows), the question is whether the difference you have identified is relevant to the generalization or not. It isn't obvious that location makes a difference when it comes to crows.

Let me press the analogy further. Let's suppose that every crow I observe in the northern hemisphere is black, and I form the generalization that all crows are black. But then you say, "Well, you only observed the crows in the northern hemisphere. This doesn't tell you anything about whether crows in the Southern Hemisphere are black." Or suppose all the crows I observed were in the day time. You could then say, "You've only observed crows that come out during the day. You haven't observed any crows that come out at night, so you can't form that generalization."

When it comes to inductive reasoning, you can always point to examples that haven't been observed. That's the very nature of inductive reasoning--extrapolating from the observed to the unobserved. Unless you've observed every crow that has ever existed under every possible set of circumstances, somebody can point out a difference betwen the crows you've observed and the crows you haven't observed. If that is any reason to say you're never warranted in making a generalization about all crows, then by the same reasoning, we're never warranted in making any generalization by the use of inductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning would be out the window.

Any difference you point out between the observed and the unobserved could make a difference. But that is precisely why inductive arguments can only give you probabilities. They can't give you certainty unless you observe every case under every possible set of circumstances. But if you observe every case, then it's no longer inductive reasoning. But merely identifying a difference doesn't mean you aren't warranted in making the generalization.

The inductive argument for the general principle that anything that begins to exist has a cause does not warrant the conclusion that anything that begins to exist must, by logical necessity, have a cause. It only warrants the conclusion that anything that begins to exist probably has a cause. That's the nature of inductive arguments.

The certainty I have about the causal principle as it relates to creation ex nilhilo, especially regarding the beginning of the universe, isn't because of the inductive case. It's because of the intuitive obviousness of it. The inductive case is a separate and distinct argument.

There are some defenders of the KCA that will accuse deniers of the first premise as it applies to the universe of engaging in special pleading because they will agree on the basis of observation that everything we know of that comes into being has a cause, but then they will make an arbitrary exception in the case of the beginning of the universe. I think this is an unfair accusation because the distinction is not arbitrary. There's a big difference between creation ex materia and creation ex nihilo. Whether's it's a relevant different can be debated, but the significance of the difference means that one is not engaging in special pleading by affirming a general causal principle that applies to creation ex materia but doubting that one can extrapolate to examples of creation ex nihilo.

So the bottom line is that I think the inductive arguments gives us some warrant for accepting a general causal principle that applies to the beginning of the universe, but the case is somewhat weakened by the fact that the beginning of the universe is an example of creation ex nihilo, and the beginnings of everything we observe are examples of creation ex materia. The argument from intuition is, in my judgment, much stronger than the inductive argument. I'm aware that a lot of people put no confidence at all in knowledge by intuition, but I've argued many times on this blog that that is a mistake.