Sunday, July 25, 2021

The ideal conversation

In most conversations I've seen, including the ones I've participated in, they don't go smoothly. There's lots of interrupting, people rarely ever complete a thought, the conversation meanders, nobody ever gets to the bottom of anything, and for me it's maddening. I remember sitting around the dinner table with some family marveling at how it didn't drive them all bonkers like it did me. Nobody seemed to mind being interrupted or not being able to get their point across. Nobody seemed very interested in what anybody else was saying. Nobody asked anybody a follow up question. I remember at one point jumping in there and saying, "Hold on, I want to hear what So & So was going to say." Most of the time, I sat there quietly and watched because I was curious how "normal" people conduct group conversations, and it was just bizzare. The whole conversation was nothing but a string of disconnected one-liners. Every now and then, somebody would initiate a topic that could have been interesting, but it never went beyond the initial statement, occasionally followed by a vaguely related statement from somebody else. This is the way my family usually interact when they get together in groups. It's mind-numbing to sit through. And that is how I see most conversations going, especially when there's more than two people.

There are exceptions, though. I joined a meet up group a few years ago to talk about "hard questions," and while there is still a lot of interrupting, meandering, and people not being able to complete their thoughts, it's nowhere near as bad as with my family. I think the fact that there's a pre-defined topic as well as a moderator to keep us on topic helps a lot.

In a lot of youtube videos where I see two or three people discussing topics, I see a lot of the same thing, but usually it's not as bad as every day conversations. It helps to have a moderator, too, like Justin Brierly. But when you have a moderation, it ceases to really be a conversation. It becomes a panel discussion or a debate. I would love it if it were possible to have deep meaningful conversations with people that don't require moderators by where each person is interested in what the other person has to say, and each person wants to talk about stuff, speak their peace, interact with what the other is saying, etc. It's extremely rare that I see this happen.

But I saw it happen yesterday. It was the most amazing thing to witness. William Lane Craig and Jimmy Akin went on the Pints With Aquinas YouTube channel to talk about the philosophical arguments for a beginning of the universe, which is one of the premises in the kalam cosmological argument. The host (whose name I don't remember) was barely involved. Jimmy and Bill just went back and forth explaining their point of view and interact with what the other person was saying. There were occasions when you could tell one wanted to jump in, but they stopped shy of interrupting. It was such a beautiful conversation that it inspired this post. I wanted to share it with you.

I would absolutely love it if this was the way conversations normally happened. Look at the way each of them spoke until they were finished while the other listened. Then once they were finished, the other person responded. Each person respected the other. Each spoke their peace. Each listened. Each engaged with what the other was saying. It was wonderful. What a breath of fresh air this conversation was! Please watch this video, and please try to be like this. That will make the world a better place.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

The wrong side of history

The last thing any Christian should be concerned about is being on the wrong side of history. This phrase, "the wrong side of history," is always used to refer to people who hold a point of view that is different than what culture has come to hold, and culture changes all the time. That is not to say culture is never correct in the positions it holds, but one shouldn't conform to a point of view just because it's the point of view their surrounding culture holds to. There is a lot of pressure for Christians to conform to their culture, and this pressure is increasing all the time. So I just want to remind you of a few things the Bible has to say about it.

John 15:18-19 "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you."

Romans 12:2 "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect."

Galatians 1:10 "For am I now seeking the favor of people, or of God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ."

Colossians 3:2 "Set your minds on the things that are above, not on the things that are on earth."

James 4:4 "You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."

1 John 2:15-17 "Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God continues to live forever."

Friday, July 16, 2021


I'm always surprised when a Christians says they are 100% certain of God's existence or that Christianity as a whole is true. I'm also surprised at their reaction when I tell them I don't share their certainty. They react as if I had said something impious.

To lack certainty about God isn't to say anything negative about God. Belief is something you do. So to lack certainty about God says something about you, not God. All one needs to lack certainty is a recognition of your own limitations.

Not even presuppositionalists can escape these limitations. Presuppositionalists think they can have certainty about God's existence because without God, nothing else makes sense, not even logic. But surely it was with their own minds that they reasoned their way into the belief that God is necessary for logic and reason. Could they not have made a mistake in coming to this conclusion? How is it any insult to God to have doubts about the soundness of the transcendental argument?

There are only a handful of things I have absolute certainty about. I have absolute certainty when it comes to the content of my present mental states (e.g. what I am experiencing right now, like my thoughts and sensations), and I also have absolute certainty about a handful of necessary truths because I can immediately recognize their necessity as soon as I reflect on them. But beyond that, it's a matter of thikning and reasoning. Since I am prone to make mistakes, and since most things I know are not necessary truths, it's possible that I'm wrong about everything else.

This mere possibility, of course, doesn't mean I have to entertain any serious doubt, of course. Although last Thursdayism is possible, I don't have any serious doubts about whether last Wednesday happened. But at the same time, I can't have absolute certainty about it. I can have even less certainty when it comes to other things.

In the case of Christianity, there are a bunch of statements that have to be true for Christianity to be true, one of which is that God must exist. The only way I can know about God is if God reveals himself to me directly, or if I reason my way to his existence through arguments. In both cases, I have to depend on the reliability of my belief-producing cognitive faculties. If God reveals himself to me in a subjective way, there's always the possibility that my mind is deluding me, just as it's possible my mind is deluding me when it comes to the external world, other minds, or the past. When it comes to arguments, there's always the possibility that I've made a mistake in thinking. In either case, I don't see how I could have 100% certainty. And I don't see how this is impious in any way.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Just answer: Yes or no?

Lately, I've been watching Christian/atheist youtube videos which I didn't used to do (at least not very much). In the process, I've discovered a lot of people I used to not know existed. One of them I discovered recently that I really like is called "Wise Disciple." But that's not what I wanted to tell you about.

What I wanted to tell you about is something I've noticed in some dialogues, whether in the videos or in the comment section. There'll be a situation where one person is asking another person questions, and they'll ask a yes/no question. The other person responds by giving some nuanced explanation of their view, but then they'll be interrupted by the questioner who will say, "It's a simple yes or no question. Just answer the question. Yes or no?" I saw a guy who goes by Pine Creek do that in one of his street epistemology episodes.

This kind of thing irks me because I don't think there is any excuse for anybody to behave that way. I'm pretty sure every single one of us has, at one time or another, been asked a yes or no question for which there was no simple yes or no answer. The answer might be, "Well, it depends. . ." followed by an explanation. Soemtimes, you have to give a nuanced response in order to avoid misunderstandings. Some yes/no question are based on misconceptions, after all.

Consider the question, "Is the Bible literal, yes or no?" Whether you say "yes" or "no," the answer is going to be misleading. If you are to respond accurately, you have to explain that some things in the Bible are literal and some are not. Just because a question seems simple to you doesn't mean there's a simple answer. It may seem simple to you because there's something you don't understand that the other person needs to explain to you. For example, my brother asked me one time if I believed in free will. Well, "free will," has a variety of different definitions, so rather than give him a yes/no response, I started to explain the different perspectives, but he interrupted me to insist on giving him a straight forward answer. Giving him a simple yes or no answer could've easily given him the wrong idea about what I believe, and I didn't want that to happen.

If you ever find yourself interrupting somebody who is trying to explain something to you by saying, "It's a simple yes or no question," it is you who is in the wrong. That's the sort of tactic you should use if you're just playing a game, being disingenuous, trying to score points, or be obnoxious. But if you want an honest and informative answer, you should listen. If after hearing them out, they still have not addressed what you wanted to know, then you have something to complain about. But it is foolishiness to interrupt somebody in order to complain that they are not answering your question. As it says in the Proverbs, "One who gives an answer before he hears, it is foolishness and shame to him" (Proverbs 18:13).

I can think of one exception, though, because this happened to me one time. I had some Jehovah's Witnesses over, and I asked a question. I don't remember what I asked, but I don't think it was a yes/no question. Anyway, the other guy started talking, and at first it didn't seem like he was addressing my question. But I gave him the benefit of the doubt and figured he would come around to it. But after listening to him monologue for a long time, I began to have doubts about whether he was even trying to answer my question. So eventually, I butted in and said something like, "Are you leading up to an answer to my question, or are you changing the subject?" I think in that case I had listened to him long enough. I had given him plenty of time to answer the question, but he was nowhere close to it. And as it turns out, he was changing the subject. So I guess there are limits, but in general, I think you should hear people out.

Wait, I just thought of one other exception. If you're in a timed debate, and it's the cross examination, and you're the one asking the questions, I think it's reasonable to interrupt to insist the person answer your question if it starts looking like they are engaging in a filibuster. It's appropriate in that scenario since you only have so much time to ask questions, and it isn't fair of the person to run out your clock by talking too much and not answering your question. I remember watching James White cross examine John Shelby Spong, and Spong kept filibustering, which limited the number of questions White could ask.

But I don't think you should ever interrupt a person just because the first thing out of their mouth when you asked a yes/no question wasn't, "Yes," or, "No." I mean if you're interested in the truth, you shouldn't want to do that. If there is a nuanced response, you should want to hear the other person out.

I just remember watching Matt Dillahunty do that to Trent Horn. Matt asked Trent something like, "Do you think testimony can establish the truth of the resurrection?" Answering "yes," or "no" to that would be highly misleading. Suppose Trent said, "No." Then it would look as if historical records couldn't establish a miracle since historical records are nothing but testimony. But that obviously isn't Trent's position. But if he said, "Yes," then that, too, would be misleading because then the audience would be left with the impression that Trent's whole case for the resurrection boiled down to somebody giving their word on it, and that doesn't accurately represent Trent's position either. So if Trent wanted to give Matt and the audience an accurate understading of his actual position, then he should have responded by giving a nuanced response rather than saying, "Yes," or, "No." And that's what Trent tried to do, but Matt wouldn't have it. Over and over, Matt kept interrupting him, even raising his voice, insisting it's a simple yes or no question. Matt wasn't interested in the truth or he would've heard Trent out. Instead, Matt was doing everything he could to silence Trent. Surely this showed weakness of Matt's part, not Trent's. After being interrupted multiple times, Trent caved to Matt's request and said, "Yes." You'd think, at the very least, that Matt would want Trent to exlain his point of view after that, but of course not. Matt was happy to let the misconception stand. He said something like, "I have no further questions." Then the people in the comment section mocked Trent becasue he believed in the resurrection merely because somebody said so, which is an obvious distortion of Trent's view. The audience had the exact misconception Matt hoped they would have. Truth did not prevail because neither Matt nor his fans were interested in the truth.

Don't be that person.

On the flip side, some yes or no questions are simple. You may want to explain yourself in more detail after giving a yes or no answer, but I don't think you should avoid giving a yes or no answer if you actually can give one.

The bottom line is that we should all be genuine, honest, and amiable in our interactions with other people. When it comes to conflicts and disagreements, we need to keep our cool, be fair-minded, listen to each other, and genuinely be interested in arriving at the truth. If you're playing games, trying to score points, or just being a douche bag, then you're doing it wrong.

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

The Calvinist joke

Last year when the Presidential race was all the buzz, I noticed that on every single video featuring Joe Biden, the same jokes kept coming up. For example, it was inevitable that somebody would say, "The only thing progressive about Biden is his dementia." A joke like that is funny the first few times somebody says it, but when it comes up a gazillion times every single time Joe Biden pops up, it's not funny anymore. It's unoriginal, and the person who makes the joke isn't contributing anything to the discussion. They're just being a lazy mindless drone.

Well, the same thing happens whenever Calvinism gets brought up. There's a joke that gets made every single time. No matter what a Calvinist says, a non-Calvinist will say, "Well, God determined it to be that way." For example just today I accused Leighton Flowers of being uncharitable (which I'm starting to notice is a habit of his), and somebody came along and said, "On the upside White and his folk, cant get upset because in their worldview God decreed from eternity past that Flowers would be seen as uncharitable." That was a cute and witty come back the first dozen or so times this joke was made, but I'm pretty sure we're in the millions by now. It isn't clever or witty anymore, and it doesn't contribute anything. It's just a gnat that enters the discussion and makes a buzzing sound. How can even a non-Calvinist still chuckle at it after all this time? Shouldn't we all collectively groan?

The joke is based on the faulty notion that if some action or belief is determined, then that removes all rationality and clupability for it. I've already argued multiple times on my blog and elsewhere why this is a faulty notion, so I won't repeat my arguments here. I'll just provide a few links where I've discussed it elsewhere.

William Lane Craig against Calvinism, part 2 of 5 In this post, I responded to Craig's claim that determinism cannot be rationally affirmed. His argunment was that if your belief is determined, then it can't be rational, which means that belief in determinism is self-refuting because if the belief is true, then the belief is determined and therefore not rational. Craig's point of view is often used in "the Calvinist joke." Whenever a Calvinist enters a debate, somebody will say, "Well, I'm just determined to reject Calvinism."

William Lane Craig against Calvinism, part 3B of 5 In this post, I respond to Craig's claim that determinism removes human responsibility. The argument is that if your behavior is determined, then you can't be responsible for it since you couldn't have done otherwise. With that being the case, there is supposedly no basis from which to criticize anybody's behavior. No Calvinist has anything to complain about.

Calvinism and Evangelism In this post, I argue that under theistic determinism, means are not superfluous. It's just the opposite. As long as X is in the causal chain leading to Y, it follows that X is not superfluous. Many people wrongly think that if God decrees everything that comes to pass, then all of our efforts are in vain since the outcome is determined and can't be otherwise. That's what many manifestations of "the Calvinist joke" are based on.

People should stop making the Calvinist joke for two reasons. One reason is because it's old, tired, over-used, unproductive, and not funny anymore. The other reason is because it's based on bad reasoning and incorrect philosophical assumptions.

And I know what you're going to say. "But I was determined to make the Calvinist joke." There, I said it for you. Now let's move on.

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

What is the unborn?

There's really only three things you have to show to establish that the unborn is a living human being. You have to show (1) that it's alive, (2) that it's human, and (3) that it's a whole distinct organism.

Believe it or not, I've run into pro-choice people who deny all three. I remember going back and forth with somebody on reddit about whether the unborn is alive. I was all involved in making arguments about growth, metabolism, cellular structures, miscarriages, and still births until I took a step back and thought, "Wait a minute." I had been taking this person seriously, trying to reason with him, when the fact of the matter is that it's absolutely absurd to deny that whatever the unborn are, they obviously are at least something that's alive. It made me question whether the person I was talking to was being serious or not. Was this one of those situations where somebody was embracing an absurdity just to win a debate or avoid conceding a point? As I thought about that, it all of a sudden seemed silly for me to be going into detail about the scientific understanding of what it means for something to be living as opposed to non-living. Nobody in their right mind ought to deny that the unborn are at least living things.

I have also run into people who deny that it's human. I can't remember a personal anecdote at the moment, but I do remember listening to . . . Oh wait, I just remembered a personal anecdote. This happened before class in one of my history classes in college. I don't remember the details of the conversation, but I was talking to two people, and one of them was saying either that the unborn were not human or that we couldn't know if they were human, and I remember saying something like, "Well, it's not a lizard or a bird. It's a human." . . . Anyway, I remember listening to a debate between Scott Klusendorf and a couple of Canadians on abortion. Durng the cross examination, Scott kept pressing them on this question of what the unborn were. He was trying to get them to admit it was human, but they kept saying, "It's a fetus." Scott wasn't getting anywhere with them, and in his frustration, he accused them of not understanding his question. But it was obvious they understood his question and were just being evasive. He was asking them what species the unborn belonged to. I wish he had used the word, "species," but it was obvious that's what he meant. They were talking about a stage of development as if it were a species.

It seem to me that no reasonable person ought to question whether the unborn are human and whether they are alive. Any reasonable debate ought to be over that third thing--whether the unborn is a whole distinct organism. After all, even a fingernail can be human, but it's not a whole distinct organism. Something is human as long as it is organic and comes from a human and/or shares human DNA and proteins and stuff. If a paleontologist found a bone, they could probably tell you whether it was a human bone, a dinosaur bone, or whatever. Any organ you have or any piece of hair or fingernail that falls off of you is human, but it's not a whole organism. So one might argue that the unborn are human since they are growing inside of a human, and it's alive since it isn't dead or inorganic, but they might also argue that the unborn is not a whole distinct organism. They might argue this on the basis that it isn't fully developed and that it isn't independent of its mother. It still gets it nuitrients from its mother. While I think this argument is wrong, it's not as unreasonable as denyhing that it's alive or human.

So why think it's a whole distinct organism if it isn't fully developed, and it's still living inside of and off of its mother? There's a few things. First, something doesn't have to be fully developed to be a complete organism. We are not fully developed when we're born. A caterpillar isn't fully developed. Some people never do fully develop.

Second, whole distinct organisms are things that undergo development, so you have to be a whole distinct orgnism before you can go through different stages of development in the first place. You don't become a whole distinct organism through a process of development. A hand, foot, organ, or whatever is incapable of going through every stage of human development because they are not whole distinct organisms. As long as the unborn aren't killed or die of natural causes, they will go through every stage of human development--embryo, fetus, infant, child, adolescent, adult. You have to be a full distinct human to do that. I like what Francis Beckweth said one time: "You didn't come from a zygote; you once were a zygote."

Third, the unborn have their own distinct DNA. If I cut off a hand or foot, that hand or foot will have the same DNA that I have since it came from me and used to be a part of me. But the unborn have DNA that is distinct from both of their parents, and they will have that same DNA from conception until adulthood. If they were mere parts or appendages of a whole distinct organism, then there would have to be a whole distinct organism that shared their DNA. Otherwise, what are they a part of? Not their mother since she has a different DNA.

Fourth, it would be absurd to think the unborn were mere appendages of their mother rather than being distinct oganisms because if they were part of their mothers, then there would be women with four arms, four legs, two heads, and in the case of boys, you'd have a woman with a penis.

I guess that's about all I have to say about that. Oh wait. I argued in this post that there's three things you have to establish in order to show that the unborn is a living human being. But as far as the abortion debate goes, there's a fourth thing that is relevant--whether the unborn is a person. I've met lots of pro-choice people will concede everything I've argued in this post, but then deny the personhood of the unborn. Maybe I'll talk about that another time.