Sunday, July 17, 2022

A pro-choice inconsistency

Most people I've talked to are neither 100% pro-life nor 100% pro-choice. They all make exceptions under some circumstances. A pro-life person might make exceptions in the case of rape or incest. A pro-choice person might make an exception in the case of viability.

Arguments from bodily sovereignty are the strongest arguments the pro-choice side has going for them. As an honest pro-lifer, I have to admit that they carry some weight. I think we do have a right to bodily sovereignty. The question for me is whether that right is absolute. In other words, are there exceptions to it, and is the preservation of human life one example of an exception?

An inconsistency I've seen in a number of pro-choice people is to insist that the right to bodily sovereignty is absolute, but then to turn around and argue that abortion is morally permissible and should be legal up to viability, but it's immoral and should be illegal beyond viability. If abortion is something a woman does with her own body, and the right to bodily sovereignty is absolute, then to be consistent, shouldn't a pro-choice person who subscribes to these ideas advocate for the morality and legality of abortion right up until birth?

If you think Judy Jarvis-Thompson's violinist argument (or one like it) is a sound argument, then you're essentially saying that abortion would be permissible even if the unborn are full members of the human family. But if you make that argument, then it's inconsistent to turn around and say you think viability should be the cut-off point, and abortions should not be permissible beyond that.

Friday, July 08, 2022

Reasons vs. Justifications vs. Excuses vs. Rationalizations

I was just thinking about these things on my way home today while reflecting on a YouTube video I saw recently. It was a police interrogation, and the person who posted the video would pause it every now and then to give his own commentary. Although I don't remember anything else about the video, one part of it jumped out at me. The person being interrogated explained why he did whatever it is he did. The YouTuber paused the video and commented by saying something like, "He tried to justify his actions by saying. . ." Wait a minute I thought. All he did was explain his reason for acting. He didn't offer that reason as a justification.

As I was thinking about that on my way home, I began to recall times in my life where I've tried to explain why I did something only to have somebody respond by claiming I was making an excuse when that wasn't my intention at all. So I was thinking about the differences and similarities between reasons, justifications, excuses, and rationalizations, and thought, "Hey, I could blog about that!" So that's what I'm doing.

A reason for why you did something is nothing more than an explanation. You can explain your behavior in terms of your desires, your motivations, or whatever. If my reasons for committing a murder is so I can collect insurance money, and I'm open and honest about that, it doesn't mean I'm trying to justify it. I'm just telling you the reason I did it. Everything we do on purpose, we do for some reason, whether we had a good reason for it or not. So you can't automatically assume that if a person is explaining their reason for doing something that they are trying to justify it.

A justification is a kind of reason, though. Hadley Arkes talked about this a lot in his book, First Things. He thought the whole enterprise of morality was rooted in giving reasons for our behavior that are meant to serve as justifications for our behavior. A justification is a reason that's meant to explain why what you did was either good or at least not bad.

Rationalizations are like justifications. They are also reasons that are intended to serve as explanations for why what you did was right or at least not wrong. I think what makes something a rationalization instead of a mere justification, though, is in whether it's being offered honestly. When a person explains that they did something with some supposed good purpose in mind, but the person knows good and well that the purpose they had doesn't really justify their behavior, then it's a rationalization. It's a pretend justification. Sometimes the rationalization is just as much to convince ourselves as it is to convince others. Knowing that we are in the wrong about something makes us feel uneasy, especially if it involves a behavior we really like. It makes us feel even more uncomfortable if somebody else knows about it. So we attempt to rationalize in order to save face in front of others and in order to supress our own feelings of shame and guilt.

An excuse can be a justification or a rationalization. It all depends on how we use it. After all, there are good excuses and bad excuses. The word is mostly used with a negative connotation, though. For example, when somebody says, "That's just an excuse," they mean, "That's just a rationalization." After all, you'd never say, "That's just a justification." If it's legitimate justification, then we take the word, "just," out, and say, "That's a justification."

It's not always easy to tell when somebody is rationalizing and when they are offering a good justification. I sometimes even have to check myself on that. As I said, we all rationalize because none of us are perfect, and we all have a conscience. Most of us don't like to own our bad behavior. We want to find some kind of justification for it that lets us off the hook. But how do we know if we're being honest with ourselves about it? I guess that's just a matter doing some soul-searching and reflection. I think it is possible to fool yourself--to be persuaded of the legitimacy of your own rationalization as if it really justified your behavior.

I have more to say about that, but I think I'll save it for another post another time.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

We got one!

I saw this video clip on YouTube the other day and thought it was hilarious. I laugh a little bit every time I think about it, so I figured it's worth sharing with you.

Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Jews for Jesus

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Election in Molinism is impersonal

Calvinists and Molinists both subscribe to the idea that God elects people for salvation. The major difference is that in Calvinism, God's election is personal, but in Molinism, it is impersonal. Here, I am reproducing an email I wrote to somebody back in 2015 that I just stumbled across today where I explained Molinism then expressed one of the biggest problems I have with it.

In Craig's view, possible worlds are subdivided between feasible worlds and infeasible worlds. Feasible worlds are worlds that God can actualize, and infeasible worlds are worlds that he cannot actualize. And it is because of people's freedom and the counter factuals that apply to them that God cannot actualize those worlds.

Let's say there are two possible worlds in which Jim meets Bob. Both worlds are identical in everything that happens up to that meeting. In one of those possible worlds, Jim chooses to shake Bob's hand. In the other possible world, Jim chooses to not shake Bob's hand.

In reality, Jim would have the freedom to choose either way. So it's Jim who determines which of those worlds are actual, not God. There are counter factuals about Jim that are true of Jim prior to God actualizing any world at all. One of those counter factuals might be:

If Jim meets Bob, he will freely choose to shake Bob's hand.

If that counter factual is true, then if God actualizes a world in which Jim and Bob meet, then that world will be a world in which Jim freely chooses to shake Bob's hand. So God can't just actualize any possible world. If the counter factual is true, then God cannot actualize a world in which Jim meets Bob but does not shake his hand. It is our free choices that limit which worlds are feasible for God to actualize. What God does in Molinism is to choose between all the possible worlds that are feasible for him to actualize. But as Craig says, God has to work with the hand he has been dealt.

So to answer your question, the circumstances don't determine our choices in Molinism. We are free to choose one way or another. The counter factuals merely describe which choice we will in fact make in what circumstance. God, knowing what those counter factuals are, actualizes worlds containing situations where people choose the way God wants them to choose. But again, God's choices are limited by the counter factuals.

That raises the question of what makes the counter factuals true. It isn't God that makes them true, obviously. It seems to me that it would be us who determine them by what we in fact choose. But one of the major problems most people have against Molinism is that nothing makes the counter factuals true. They're just brute facts with no explanation.

The basis of God's choice is a matter of controversy between Molinists. Does he choose the feasible world that results in the most number of people saved? Or the best ratio of saved to unsaved? Or the greatest good over all? One thing that seems to be clear is that God doesn't choose individuals according to the kind intention of his heart and the good pleasure of his will.

That's one of my main complaints about Molinism. Suppose in World 1, Jim gets saved, but most other people don't. In World 2, Jim does not get saved, but most other people do. If God was trying to save the most people, he'd actualize World 2. Even though God would like to have saved Jim, he ended up having to sacrifice Jim to save the greater number of people. So it isn't individuals that God chooses to bestow his grace on. God doesn't save you or me because he loves us personally. He saves us because we were lucky enough to be among the saved in the particular possible world God chose to actualize.

Sunday, June 26, 2022


Good morning. No, I didn't go to church this morning. That's why I'm writing now. In my defense, I have to pick my brother up from the airport this morning. I think Jesus will forgive me.

I have been really reluctant to write much about politics on this blog, although I guess I have touched on it in a few entries. I don't like politics because it seems to bring out the worst in people. It makes otherwise reasonable and intelligent people act silly, become mean, and throw fairness, reasonableness, and wisdom out the window.

It's ironic, but it seems like the older I get, the more I care about politics. It's ironic because the older you get, the shorter your time on earth remains, and the shorter your time remains, the less stake you have in the world. The less stake you have in the world, the less you should care about politics. Yet the opposite seems to happen. It isn't just me. I see it with other people, too.

I have been really tempted to post some political content lately. I've started three different posts on gun related issues, and they're still in draft. And now I've got things to say about Dobbs vs. Jackson and the politics behind abortion. I've been going back and forth over the last few weeks about whether I ought to say anything about gun related issues. I don't know if I want to go there on this blog, but at the same time, I have a lot to say.

Part of the reason I don't like politics is that I don't like conflict. I know that may seem strange given the fact that half of my internet presence involves argumentative writings, debate, and things like that. I used to enjoy a good debate as long as it happened in writing, but I've even lost my taste for that over the years. I've always disliked conflicts that happen in person.

I have some family members who it seems like never want to talk about anything but politics. And they don't seem to mind that it creates a lot of bickering, unpleasantness, and hard feelings. It makes me not want to be around them. I dread going over to somebody else's house sometimes because I just don't want to deal with it. I feel this way especially whenever there's something big in the news that's bound to lead to a political discussion.

But who knows? I haven't stuck strictly to religion and philosophy on this blog. I've even gone so far as to talk about bow building, knife making, and recipes. So why not politics? At least with politics we are dealing with the world of ideas and differing opinions. Maybe it's just because I don't want this blog to become unpleasant. I don't want it to descend into the muck of political discourse.

This blog is kind of like a refuge to me. I don't have many people in my personal life with whom I can exchange the kinds of ideas I talk about on this blog. If I didn't have this blog, I might explode from keeping my thoughts to myself. I could write about it in a journal, I suppose, and that might help. But since nobody would ever read my journal, it wouldn't be that much different than keeping it in my head.

Writing actually helps me think through things. It is hard for me to keep multiple thoughts in my head at once and to compare them and mull them over. But if I put it all in writing, I can have it all in front of me. This is hard to explain, but writing helps me think. Walking helps, too, of course. I think more clearly when I'm walking than when I'm sitting or lying down.

Writing is also a release. I can wrestle with something in my mind endlessly, but once I write it down, I feel like I can relax. I've gotten it off my chest. It makes me feel unburdened. Writing is a kind of therapy, I guess.

That might all be ruined if I started writing on subjects that just make people angry, especially if I started getting a lot of comments that just vented people's vitriol and didn't produce good brain-stimulating replies.

So I don't know. For now, I think I'll keep those political posts in draft and see how I feel in the future.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Dobbs v. Jackson

I was born in 1973, the same year as Roe v. Wade. Now I wonder if I'll die in 2022 since it has been overturned. Wouldn't that be poetic?

I don't have much to say about the decision today, but it's such an historic moment I feel like I ought to say something. So I just want to leave a short thought about it.

I understand why a lot of Pro-choice people would be very upset about the SC decision today. But I think people should be upset for the right reasons. Let's grant, for the sake of argument, that women have a right to abortion. I don't mean a legal right since that's what's being argued. I mean a natural right that ought to be enshrined in the Constitution.

Even if you grant that such a right exists, it shouldn't be the basis for your objection to Dobbs v. Jackson. The issue being decided today is not whether people ought to have the right to an abortion; rather, the issue is whether that right was implicitly in the Constitution to begin with. A lot of legal scholars, whether they were pro-choice or pro-life, have agreed that Roe v. Wade was decided wrongly.

One of the main objections that even showed up in the dissenting opinion was that it was an example of judicial legislation. The SC's job isn't to create laws. Rather, it's to judge whether a law coheres with the Constitution. But in creating a distinction between three trimesters, and giving states the right to restrict abortions to varying degrees, depending on the trimester, the SC was engaging in judicial legislation. The trimester distinction is nowhere found in the Constitution. Nor was it found in any precedent or tradition. It was created by the Supreme Court. That was the main fault of the decision.

If I were pro-choice, I might be very disappointed that a right that was once protected is no longer protected. But I don't see how I could really think Dobbs v. Jackson was wrong in overturning Roe v. Wade. If women actually do have a natural right to abortion, then the way to protect that right is either through legislation or through a Constitutional amendment. It is not through the Supreme Court making up law where none exists. That is not their job.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Why I find the moral argument so convincing

I just watched this clip from the Unbelievable podcast with Justin Brierly where Richard Dawkins said he finds the moral argument utterly unconvincing, but he thinks the fine-tuning argument is the best argument for God and that if there were any argument that might convince him to be a deist, that would be it.

I found that interesting because for the longest time, fine-tuning arguments (and teleological arguments in general) have struck me as being the least persuasive arguments, and the moral argument has struck me as being the most convincing. The Kalam was a close second for a while there, but that has slipped a little. I've recently started to come around on the fine-tuning argument, but the moral argument remains the most convincing argument to me.

I should say, though, that in my own thinking, I don't take the various arguments for God as stand-alone arguments. I take them more as premises in a whole case for God, which I explained in another post.

But lemme explain why I find the moral argument to be so persuasive. This isn't meant to be a full blown defense of the moral argument, just a bit of autobiography really.

There are essentially two premises in the moral argument. One is that there couldn't be a real moral law unless there were a God. The second is that there is a real moral law. If those two premises are true, then it's inescapable that there's a God. The existence of God would follow necessarily from those two premises.

In spite of everything I've heard to the contrary, the first premise seems almost logically certain. What I mean by a real moral law are prescriptive obligations that transcend societies and cultures. They are objective in the sense that they don't exist merely because we feel a certain way, or becasue we value certain things, or that we've made a pact among ourselves, or even because we've passed certain laws. While they impose themselves on us, they are not a product of us.

I don't see how there could possibly be a particular way that people were obligated to live unless there were somebody who imposed that obligation on them. There can't be a way we're supposed to behave is nobody supposes us to behave that way. There can't be a way we are meant to be if nobody means for us to be that way. I mean there couldn't be traffic laws if there weren't a governing authority, right? You need some kind of an authority behind any prescriptive rule of behavior.

But at the same time, I don't see how any creature could fulfill that role for morality. We have all kinds of authority structures in our world that create rules--governments, parents, bosses, military commanders, etc. But none of these authorities are sufficient to explain morality. If these moral laws exist, then they transcend all human institutions. The government can't make something right or wrong by making it legal or illegal. The moral law is above the civil law. It's what we use to judge whether a civil law is a good law or not. In fact, the validity of all human rules and laws are judged by their agreement with some moral standard.

Since no conceivable creature that originated and evolved somewhere in the universe like we did could possibly have the kind of authority required to impose transcendent moral obligations on people, then the source of the moral law must reside in some kind of autonomous supernatural being, which would be a God.

To me, the fact that you can't have objective moral principles without a God is just as obvious as the fact that you can't have a thought without somebody who is thinking it. That first premise in the moral argument has the same intuitive appeal to me as Descartes cogito which is almost logically certain. Maybe it is logically certain.

So it just comes down to that second premise. Now, I fully admit that I can't prove that second premise. And that second premise is not as obvious to me as the first premise. For me, the first premise comes very close to a logical certainty, but the second premise comes nowhere near a logical certainty. If it's not a logical certainty, but it also can't be proved, then why do I believe it?

I've written a lot on my blog about that (here for example), but basically it just comes down to being perfectly honest with myself. No matter what possibilities a person may raise about the meaninglessness of everything, if I'm perfectly honest with myself, I cannot bring myself to seriously doubt that there are real moral obligations or that what we do does ultimately matter in the big scheme of things.

I have no problem sitting around with a bunch of people speculating about the possibility of there being no real right and wrong save the ones we've made up or evolved to believe. But to me that's no different than when you're a teenager or a young adult sitting around smoking a doobie with your friends and talking about how you might all be parasites in a giant goat's stomach, or characters in somebody's computer game, or maybe even just dreaming the whole thing. When I was a kid, I used to toy around with solipsism all the time, and I even believed I took it seriously. But I didn't, and some time in my mid 20's or so when I decided to start taking philosophy seriously and start being honest with myself, I gave up all that nonsense as just childish playing at philosophy. There's no real reason to doubt the external world, and there's no real reason to doubt morality. And if I'm perfeclty honest with myself, I'm just as convinced of one as I am the other. I don't need it to be proved. In fact, it can't be proved. But I think it more than reasonable to believe and downright nutty to deny it.

I also think most people, whether they'll admit it or not, really would find themselves believing in both morality and the extenal world if they'd just stop playing philosophical games and be honest with themselves. The fact that moral non-realists are rarely ever consistent betrays them. Just as an idealists takes the apparent external world just as seriously as a naturalist or a dualist, so also do moral nihilists, subjectivists, and relativists behave as if morality were objective. This is evident in a number of things, not least of which is the fact that they hold other people to moral standards as if those standards actually applied to those people. I even had a moral nihilist one time tell me he thought it was ironic that a lot of moral objectivists were less moral than their moral relativist counterparts. How could one be worse than the other if there's no standard? This person lacked self-awareness, and I think most moral non-realists probably do as well. They are literally in denial.

So, I don't think it's just me who is hardwired to believe in morality in spite of the fact that it can't be proved. I think every mentally healthy person is hardwired that way. People can deny what they are hardwired to believe, but they rarely live consistently with that denial. If you're one of those people who are in denial about there being a universal objective standard of right and wrong, just stop it. Be honest with yourself. Think about that shooting in Uvalde that happened recently and ask yourself, "In the great scheme of things, can I honestly say there's nothing wrong with walking into a school and shooting a bunch of kids for no other reaon than the fact that you're frustrated with life or that you hate the world"? Be serious.

So that's it. There's a transcendent moral law that imposes itself on us but did not originate with us. There can't be such a law unless there's a God. It follows inescapably that there's a God. If you affirm both of those premises, but you deny the existence of a God, then you're being irrational. The reason I find the moral argument so convincing is because I am forced by the power of logical necessity to conclude that God exists because of premises that I cannot honestly bring myself to deny.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

What is compatibilism?

Here's another post of mine I found on reddit yesterday while I was looking for a different post. I thought this one might make a good blog post, too.

Compatibilism is the view that free will and determinism are compatible. Of course compatibilists aren't saying that libertarian free will is compatibile with determinism. After all, libertarianism is indeterministic. The same act can't be both determined and not determined at the same time and in the same sense because that's a contradiction. So compatibilists define freedom differently than libertarians.

Freedom, to a compatibilist, basically amounts to the idea that your actions are determined by your own intentions, plans, motivations, desires, inclinations, biases, etc. So, in other words, the more hand your own antecedent mental states have in bringing about your actions, the more free those actions are. The less hand your own antecedent mental states have in bringing about your actions, the less free you are.

Now, you can be less free in one of two ways. One way is if your actions are causally determined by blind mechanistic causes. For example, if you were a puppet on a string, the strings would determine your movement. Your desires would have nothing to do with it. Or, if somebody a lot stronger than you grabbed your wrist, started whacking your face with your hand, and said, "Stop hitting yourself!" you would not be hitting yourself freely because your action would not be determined by your desires.

Another way is if your actions arise spontaneously apart from any antecedent conditions. You have no more control over a spontaneous event than a event that is caused by mechanistic forces.

So you can't be free if your actions are determined the way a puppet's actions are determined, and you can't be free if your actions happen spontaneously the way some say subatomic particles sometimes behave. You can only be free to the degree that you are acting on your own inclinations. That's the compatibilist view of freedom.

Compatibilism is deterministic, but there are two kinds of determinism--hard determinism and soft determinism. Both are deterministic in the sense that given a set of antecedent conditions, only one outcome is possible. The difference is in what is doing the determining.

In hard determinism, your actions are determined by the laws of nature plus the initial conditions of non-sentient particles and things. If you apply a force to a mass, you will get acceleration, so the motion of a particle is determined by the force that acts on it, but the particle doesn't choose to move. It is caused to move. The same would be true of us if we were like puppets on a string. We would see our arms and legs move, but we'd have nothing to do with it. They'd be caused to move by the strings and gravity, and we'd passively watch it happen.

Soft determinism is the view that some actions are determined by mental states, like belief, desire, willing, etc. We are not like puppets on a string because in this case, we are acting on purpose. We are active, and not merely passive. Our wills and volition are engaged in the process.

This is a morally relevant distinction because we all, even libertarians, treat these two kinds of determining factors differently. Everybody agrees that the more physically difficult it is to resist some blind mechanistic cause, the less you can be blamed for your failure to resist it. So, for example, if you can't break through the duct tape that secures you to a tree, you can't be blamed for your failure to walk away from the tree. However, if there's no duct tape, and the only thing keeping you from walking away from the tree is your desire to remain with the tree, then you can still be blamed.

But imagine if we treated desire the same way we treat the forces of nature. It would follow that the deeper your hatred for somebody, the less you could be blamed for harming them since the deeper your hatred, the harder it would be for you to resist harming them. Likewise, the deeper your love for somebody, the less you could be praised for helping them because the deeper your love, the harder it is for you to resist the urge to help them. If your desire to harm somebody was so strong that you couldn't help but give into it, then you couldn't be blamed at all since the desire determined your choice.

This is really counter-intuitive. Moral culpability actually depends on the connection between motives and desires on the one hand, and actions and behavior on the other hand. If you shove an old lady because you hate old ladies, then you are to be blamed. If you shove an old lady to save her from on-coming traffic, then you are to be praised. And we are actually praised and blamed to the degree that our actions are determined by our desires. It is better, morally speaking, to act out of good intentions rather than bad intentions.

So we actually treat desire in the opposite way than we treat the forces of nature. The more our actions are determined by blind mechanistic causes, like gravity, the less we are subject to praise or blame. But the more our actions are determined by our own plans and desires, the more subject we are to praise and blame. It follows that we are most subject to praise or blame when our actions are determined by our plans and desires, i.e. our antecedent mental states.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

How rational instincts make it possible to know things

I was just looking for an old post I made on Reddit, and I stumbled on this comment and thought it would make a good blog post even though I've posted similar things a gazillion times before. Usually when I talk about this subject, I use the phrase, "rational intuitions" or just "intuitions," but so many people object to that term that I decided to use a different term: "rational instincts." I mean basically the same thing.

Okay, I just had something to say about rational instincts. What I mean by instinct is a natural inclination to affirm a proposition that exists independently of inference, evidence, argument, observation, etc.

An example of what I'm talking about is the natural inclination we all have to believe that our sensory perceptions are giving us true information about a real external world that actually exists. This natural inclination exists in all people. Nobody ever had to tell you that there was an external world. From as young as you can remember, you automatically assumed that what you were seeing and touching and hearing corresponded to something real out there in the world.

If not for trusting in the general reliability of our rational instincts, we would have no justification for believing in an external world at all. It's possible we are all plugged into the matrix or brains in vats or something along those lines. It's possible we're all dreaming or hallucinating. If you take this thought to its logical conclusion, it's possible that you are the only person who exists. There is no evidence you could point to that would prove there's anything in existence outside of your mind because any evidence you pointed to (such as your sensory perceptions) would depend on the assumption that your senses are giving you true information about the world.

You can't prove that the external world exists, but we are all rational in believing in the external world merely on the basis of our rational instincts, i.e. our natural inclination to affirm that our senses are giving us true information. This is just one example. There are several things we all naturally believe but that can't be proved. These beliefs happen automatically in people. You don't have to reason your way into them. People who deny these things had to reason their way out of them.

People aren't born with the idea that the external world is an illusion. That's only a view people adopt later on in life after engaging in philosophical gymnastics. The default belief of all people is that the external world exists. As long as we're talking about a mentally healthy person, that's the belief that automatically arises, and that the person takes for granted until philosophy comes along and talks them out of it.

As I said, there are a handful of these rational instincts we have. Some of the things we know through rational instinct are necessary truths, and some are contingent truths. There are necessary truths, like the laws of logic and the basic rules of geometry and math, that we know merely by inward reflection. There are experiments that show even dogs understand the law of excluded middle. A dog doesn't have to be taught this. The knowledge arises automatically with brain development. In the case of necessary truths, we can know these things with absolute certainty because we can grasp, by natural instinct, the necessity of them. You can tell, just by closing your eyes and thinking about it, that if two straight lines intersect, the opposite angles will be equal, and it's impossible for things to be otherwise.

Any argument you use to undermine the general reliability of rational instinct will necessarily be a self-refuting argument. The reason is because any premise you use in an argument against rational instinct will ultimately depend on the reliability of rational instinct. If you succeed in proving, with your argument, that rational instincts are unreliable, you will have undermined the premises that lead to that conclusion. Consequently, you will have refuted your own argument against rational instincts. So any argument against rational instincts is self-refuting.

Let's say, for example, that you point to the observations of science, or past experience, or any observation about the world to undermine rational instinct. You then have to justify your knowledge of the past, and you can only do that by appealing to your memory. But how do you know your memory is reliable? After all, it's possible you popped into existence five minutes ago complete with memories of a past that never actually happened. Or how do you know you made any observations at all? You can only know that by trusting in your memories and in your sensory perceptions.

It is only through rational instinct that you have any rational justification for believing much of anything. I am not saying that rational instincts are infallible. In the case of necessary truths, I do think they can be infallible, but in the case of things like the past and the external world, they are not infallible. But they are nevertheless generally reliable. The fact that we sometimes see things that aren't there or that we remember things differently than they actually happened is no reason to doubt the general reliabilty of our sensory perceptions or our memories. If we couldn't affirm the general reliability of our rational instincts, then we couldn't know anything at all about the past or the external world. It would be impossible to even have a conversation since by the time you got to the end of a sentence, you couldn't know how your sentence began or what you were even talking about because you couldn't trust your memory.

Moral instincts are just a subset of natural rational instincts. All mentally healthy people perceive a difference between right and wrong, and this perception does not go away just because people deny what their moral instincts are telling them. If we are rational in believing in the past and in the external world on the basis of rational instincts, then we're just as rational in believing in morality for the same reason.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Dana's banana nut bread recipe

I love banana nut bread. A long time ago, my ole buddy, Dana, gave me this recipe. It's so good, I thought it's just a shame to keep it to myself, so I'm sharing it with you.

Biggest bowl:
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup melted butter (i.e. half a stick)

Another bowl
  • 4 really ripe bananas (You can experiment with this. I've done it with three big bananas, four small bananas, or 3.5 medium sized bananas.)

A third bowl
  • 1-3/4 cups flour (I like King Arthur's all purpose)
  • 1 tsp baking soda (Do NOT use baking powder. I did that by accident a few times, and it came out terrible. I couldn't figure out why until I noticed I had used powder instead of soda.)
  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • however many walnuts you feel like using.

I take that stick of butter and rub all on the inside of a bread pan, then put some flour in there and move it around until the pan is coated in flour for a non-stick surface. You can also use grease instead of butter.

Put the sugar and egg in your biggest bowl and the butter in a sauce pan on low to melt it. While the butter is melting, beat the egg into the sugar with electric beaters. Once the butter is melted, pour that in there with the sugar and eggs and beat that, too.

In another bowl, mash the bananas with a potato smasher or whatever you have. I guess you could use the beaters, too. Or a fork or something.

In another bowl, put the dry ingredients--flour, baking soda, and salt. Mix that up.

Now put about half the dry ingredients and half the bananas in the bowl with the sugar/egg/butter mixture. Mix it thoroughly (I use electric beaters), then put the rest of the dry ingredients and bananas in, and mix it again.

Now put the nuts in there, and fold it in with a spatula or something.

Pour the mixture into your powdered bread pan and stick that in the oven at 350ºF for one hour. You might want to experiment with oven temperature because most people's ovens aren't all that accurate. I've found that about 350ºF or so works best for me. Dana's original recipe said 300-325ºF, but that always leaves a little raw spot on the top in the middle.

When you take it out the oven, immediately take it out of the pan and put it on a cooling rack. When you store it for the night, don't put it in plastic because that makes the surface mushy. I like to keep my surface kind of crispy if I can. I just wrap it up in paper towels. That works better than plastic.

There you have it. Good luck!

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Must Cameron have 100% certainty to be a Catholic?

I just listened to this "conversation" on YouTube between James White and Cameron Bertuzzi and wanted to comment on part of it. I'll spare you the whole background that led up to this conversation, but it's important to touch on some of it.

Cameron is thinking about joining the Catholic church, and lately he's taking a look at whether he should adopt the Catholic view of Papal succession and all that it entails. His approach is Bayesian, which James thinks is a mistake.

James' argument is that since the Catholic Church has defined the Pope and the Church as infallible, there can't be a Bayesian analysis of it. If you accept Papal infallibility, then this must push you to 100% certainty of everything the Catholic Church teaches dogmatically.

Cameron said he thinks that's false, and I agree with him. Unfortuantley, James wasn't interested in Cameron's reasons, so we never got to hear them. Instead, we just got to listen to James monopolize the conversation and lecture Cameron.

Let me speak in generalities here because although I don't accept the infallibility of the Teaching Magisterium of the Catholic Church or the infallibility of the Pope or anything like that, I do accept the infallibility of the Bible. So let me just talk about infallible sources in general. Does it follow that if you accept that there's some infallible source of authority that you are logically obliged to have 100% certainty about everything that source says? My answer is definitely not.

Now, James is right that if some source of authority is infallible, then by the very meaning of the word, it follows that they are 100% reliable. The reason you can accept that a source is 100% reliable without having 100% certainty about evrything they say is because you yourself are not 100% reliable. Your belief that the Pope or the Bible is infalliable is not itself an infallible belief.

It's possible to believe the Bible or the Pope is infallible, but to believe it with less than 100% certainty. I may believe the Bible infallible but acknowledge that I could be wrong about that. Maybe I'm only 90% sure that the Bible is infallible. The mistake James made was in conflating these things. He is confusing the Pope's infallibility with Cameron's infalliblity and acting as if one entails the other. I see a lot of presuppositionalists make this kind of mistake.

So no, if Cameron uses Bayesian reasoning to conclude with 80% confidence that the Pope is the infallible head of the Catholic church, this doesn't obligate Cameron to be 100% certain about everything the Church dogmatically proclaims. At most it only obligates him to be 80% certain of everything the Catholic church dogmatically proclaims.

I don't know if that was going to be Cameron's response or not because James wouldn't let him explain himself, but that's what I would've said. Although I'm on James' side theologically, I think Cameron was right and James was wrong on this issue.

Friday, May 06, 2022

Excusing Sinners and Blaming God by Guillaume Bignon

The Kindle version of this book is on sale right now for $2.99 at Amazon. I highly recommend this book. It's the best book I've found on this subject since The Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards.

Excusing Sinners and Blaming God by Guillaume Bignon.

Basically, it's a response to the claim that Calvinism (specifically devine determinism) removes all blame from humans and places it all on God. It makes God the author of evil.

He also addresses one of the strongest arguments against compatibilism--the manipulation argument.

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Posts on abortion

I saw a video pop up in my feed on YouTube saying there had been a leak from the Supreme Court that they were going to overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey in June. I thought this would be a good time to make a post with links to every post I've made on this blog about abortion.

Pro Life Strategy - In this post, I argued that pro-lifers should focus more on the moral question of abortion than on the legal question.

RE: A pro-choice perspective - This was a response to a post made by a friend of a friend of a friend on another blog where she argued for the pro-choice perspective while also arguing that we should stop arguing about abortion. She apparently wanted to have the last word.

What limits are there on bodily autonomy? - In this post, I questioned whether the right to bodily autonomy was absolute by seeing if there were any exceptions to it.

An Abortion Debate - This is my opening statement in a debate I had on on abortion a long time ago.

Two pro-choice myths - This is a response to two pro-choice myths: (1) that laws prohibiting abortions do nothing to reduce them, and (2) that abortion only accounts for 3% of the services offered by Planned Parenthood.

A quick and dirty argument against abortion - The title is a good enough explanation of what this post is about.

Unplugging the baby - The argument in this post was inspired by Judy Jarvis-Thompson's famous violinist argument in favour of abortion rights, and it's kind of a response to it.

The morality of abortion has little to do with the suffering of the unborn - Again, the title is descriptive enough.

Another charge of pro-life inconsistency - This is a response to the claim that pro-lifers only care about people before they are born, but not after they are born.

Is it inconsistent to be pro-life and pro-death penalty? - In this post, I argued that, no, it is not inconsistent to be pro-life while supporting the death penalty.

If a fetus is a parasite. . . - In this post, I responded to somebody who thought that whether a fetus is a parasite or not depends on whether it's wanted or not, implying that abortion is justified as long as the unborn is unwanted.

What is the unborn? - This post attempts to argue that the unborn are full members of the human family, not merely "potential humans," or human in anything less than the full sense of the word

The building is burning. Do you save the baby or the embryos? - This is an attempt to respond to a reductio ad absurdum argument that is frequently used to defend the pro-choice perspective - that if the pro-lifers were right, then you should save the embryos over the baby; however, even pro-lifers would choose the baby, allegedly showing that they don't really think the embryos are fully human.

Todd Akin and why I don't like political discourse - Although this is mainly my complaint about how political discussion takes place most of the time, it also addresses abortion, so I'm including it.

Obama on stem cell research - This is sorta kinda related to abortion, so I'm including this as well.

Alabama's abortion bill - These are just some short reflections on Alabama's abortion bill.

Men have no right to speak against abortion - I argue that this oft-repeated trope is an example of the ad hominem fallacy and that it suffers from irrelevance.

And that's about all the posts I could find. When I was in college, I wrote a paper on Roe v. Wade for my government class. I've debated with myself over the years about whether to post it on this blog. It's kind of long, and I'm a little self-conscious about it. I also had a devil's advocate debate on abortion one time that I've thought about posting. I haven't because I'm not sure if it would be edifying. I don't want to convince you of the wrong thing!

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Should Christians join the military and go to war? Part 2 of 2

In Part 1, I talked about my personal story surrounding this issue. Today, I want to talk about some of the specific reasons I had for being a conscientious objector and what I think about those reasons today.

Before I ever joined the Navy, I had already read the sermon on the mount where Jesus seemed to teach pacifism. All that stuff about turning the other cheek, doing good to those who harm you, etc., sure made it seem like you shouldn't hurt people no matter what. That, combined with the hippy phase I was going through as a late teen, made me friendly to the idea of pacifism even before I joined the Navy. So when I was exposed to the Watchtower arguments against Christian involvement in the military, I was already primed to agree with them. I was an easy sell.

Taken at face value, the New Testament does seem to teach a radical kind of pacifism. The fact that you may be harmed in the process doesn't seem to be a good excuse for retaliation or self-defense. We are explicitly told to love our enemies, to do good to those who harm us, not to seek revenge, to turn the other cheek, to forgive people, to seek peace and persue it, etc. Surely this prohibits Christians from taking up arms against anybody, whether in your own back yard or on a battlefield.

Probably the most compelling reason not to take things that far is the fact that sometimes it isn't just you who needs defending. It's your family. It's one thing to allow somebody to harm you without fighting back, but what if they're trying to harm your wife or kids? Surely, we have a responsibility to fight to protect them, don't we? The command to love our enemies surely doesn't nullify the command to love our neighbor. The command to love and care for our families ought to include protecting them when somebody else is trying to harm them. If you'll recall what I wrote in part 1, this reasoning is probably the biggest thing that has caused me to have doubts about my conscientious objector views.

One argument I have not found persuasive, though, is that Jesus was talking about personal conflict, not national conflict. I remember Greg Koukl making this point one time about loving your enemies, but I think he was mistaken. Jesus' command to love your enemies was juxtaposed with the already existing command to love your neighbors. If you look at the command to love our neighbor in its original context, you'll find that "neighbor" refers to fellow Israelites. That is likely how Jesus' audience would've understood the command because they were made up entirely of Jews. If "your neighbor" refers to fellow Israelites, then "your enemies" must refer to non-Israelites. That means the command to also love your enemies isn't talking about personal conflict. Jesus was making a political statement that applied to national conflict.

There seems to be an inconsistency in arguing on the one hand that the command to love our enemies only applies to personal enemies but not national enemies, but then to argue on the other hand that the obligation we have to protect our families with violence if necessary should apply just as much to protecting our country. There's a willingness to extrapolate from protecting our family to protecting our country, but an unwillingness to extrapolate from loving our personal enemies to loving our national enemies. But I digress.

There are a couple of other lesser points worth mentioning regarding Jesus' apparent teaching about pacificism and non-resistance. One is the possibility that Jesus was using hyperbole or he was only talking about insults and inconveniences, not physical harm, and it certainly didn't apply if somebody was trying to kill you. I don't know about that, though. I think we should take it seriously until we have good reason to make an exception. So I suppose we could take Jesus seriously but make room for moral dilemmas in which we have to choose the lesser of two evils. That would allow us to defend ourselves under dire situations like when somebody really wanted to harm us physically, especially if they wanted to kill us.

Another point worth mentioning that I already brought up in my digression is that it may be an unjustified extrapolation to go from defending your immediate family to defending your country. Surely we have obligations to our immediate families that we don't have to strangers who live a thousand miles away. But that does raise a thorny question, which is the question of where your obligation ends. I mean if I saw a stranger being attacked, surely I'd have an obligation to help them if I could. Maybe I don't have the same obligations to strangers that I do to my immediate family, but that doesn't mean I have no obligations. Moreover, tribes are extended families, and nations are extended tribes, so there isn't a clear line to draw between those we have an obligation to protect and those we don't.

That brings me to another argument I used to have against Christians in the military. In the New Testament, we are told that we should think of ourselves as aliens and strangers on earth and that our citizenship is in heaven. That means Christians shouldn't draw their "national" boundaries around certain areas of land the way secular governments do. Instead we should draw our national boundaries around our fellow Christians. There are Christians in almost every nation, and we should not go to war against each other just because of where we live. An American citizen who happens to be living in Canada would be thought a traitor if they joined the Canadians in waging war against America. Well, Jesus said his true followers would be known by the love they have for each other. Wouldn't that love be better displayed if the reason Christians gave for not joining the military is so they would not be forced to fight against Christians living in other countries?

I still think that's a decent argument, but it, too, is weakened by the Koukl Argument. What if the person trying to harm your family is a Christian? Well, if you have an obligation to defend your family with violence if necessary, it shouldn't matter whether the attacker is a Christian or not. So while I agree that in general, Christians shouldn't fight against each other, it does seem like one's fellow Christian can become one's enemy. An ideal solution would be that no Christian anywhere joined the military. Then scenarios like this wouldn't come up because Canada's army would not consist of any Christians trying to harm your neighbors. But the fact of the matter is that Christians do partipate in militaries, so you may be faced with having to defend your neighbors against Christian Canadians.

Another argument against Christian involvement in the military still carries a lot of weight with me. Joining a military requires taking an oath in which you voluntarily put yourself under the command of others who have the authority to tell you who to kill and who to protect. Not every war is a just war, and we all know that many unjust things happen in wars, even if we think the war in general is just. The Bible recommends not only avoiding sin but also avoiding situations that might cause you to sin. This should apply just as well to taking oaths. In fact, Jesus and Solomon both discouraged taking oaths, probably for reasons such as these. They force you into moral dilemmas. An oath could put you in a position of being obligated to do what you are obligated to refrain from doing. It would seem unwise, especially, to put yourself completely under the command of those who do not share your Christian values and are uninterested in your sense of right and wrong, which is exactly what a Christian would be doing by joining a secular military commanded by secular politicians.

The arguments I've heard against this are not at all persuasive. I remember when I was in the Navy, going through the conscientious objector process, being told that Jesus said to give to God what is God's and to Caesar what is Caesar's, as if to say you could have a divided loyalty. Jesus was talking specifically about paying taxes, though, and I don't see how this passage would allow you to engaged in an unjust war just because you belonged to the government. It is precisely because the government could at any time ask you to engage in an unjust war that you shouldn't have put yourself in that situation in the first place.

One other argument that also still carries a lot of weight with me is that it seems from historical evidence that Christians were nearly unanimous in condemning Christian participation in the military for the first two or three centuries of the church. This is evident both in the New Testament and in the writings of the early Church Fathers. In the New Testament, we have Jesus saying that those who live by the sword die by the sword, and Paul telling us that as Christians we do not wage war as the world does (i.e. by armed conflict). There is evidence in the early Church fathers that there were Christians in the military, but it was universally condemned. You have people like Tertullian explicitly condemning Christian participation in the military, and then you have accounts of people like Maximilian who succumned to martyrdom because he refused military service on the basis that he was a Christian and could not serve. I am sometimes surprised that Catholics became so friendly toward military service when they place so much weight on Tradition. There was a strong Tradition in the early Church about it being wrong for Christians to participate in the military, but that doesn't seem to matter to Catholics today. As a protestant, I'm not bound by Tradition, and I'm free to disagree with the early Chruch fathers. After all, they disagreed with each other on a number of things. But when there seems to be unanimity between them on a subject, that carries a lot of weight with me because it seems unlikely that they would have such a strong concensus on an issue if it were not correct.

One argument that used to be brought up a lot back in the day was that when the Centurion in Acts converted to Christianity, Peter never suggested to him that he should stop being a centurion. Also, John the Baptist told soldiers to be content with their pay, not to get out of the military.

In the case of John the Baptist, that argument didn't carry much weight with me because that happened before the ministry of Jesus in which Jesus introduced a new command--to love your enemies. The argument carries more weight with me now than it did then, though, because even though it's true that John the Baptist came before Jesus, we nevertheless have to consider the question of why the gospel writers decided to include that. The gospel writers weren't simply recording history in a disinterested way; they were teaching principles to a Christian audience. So it would seem that this teaching by John the Baptist was included because it's a principle the author thought still applied to his Christian audience.

In the case of the centurion, that argument didn't carry much weight because it's an argument from silence. We have no idea what advice Peter gave the centurion, because that wasn't the point of the story. The point of the story was about gentiles being able to convert to Christianity without first being Jews, which was a major controversy in the early church. So the argument from the centurion still carries little weight with me.

There's a lot more that could be said on this topic. It was not my intention to give an exhaustive account of all the arguments for and against Christian involvement in warfare and the military. I just wanted to share a bit of my personal reflections on the topic. If you want to read what I wrote back in the mid to late 90's in defense of Christian pacifism, you can check it out on the WayBack Machine: "Principles of a Conscientious Objector." I didn't address every point I made in that article in this post, and I didn't cite as many scriptures, but I hit on what I thought were the most significant points.

The bottom line is that I think there are good arguments for and against Christian involvement in warfare and membership in the military. I am not fully committed to either view. In Romans 14, Paul said that when it came to observing special days or not, or eating certain foods or not, it was a matter of personal conscience. But he also said that if you have doubts about whether it's okay to eat certain foods, then it's better not to do it. I apply Paul's principle to this subject because I am uncertain, so if I had to decide today whether I should join the Navy or not, I probably wouldn't. But at the same time, I wouldn't think any less of somebody who did, and I wouldn't try to discourage it. At most, I would only encourage the person to look into it because I think it's a topic any Christian considering joining the military should give careful study and thought to.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Should Christians join the military and go to war? part 1 of 2

Here's a subject I've been stewing over off and on for 30 years. In this post, I don't plan to prove any points. I just want to share a little bit about the development of my thoughts on the subject.

I joined the Navy in 1992 months apart from one of my best friends (Brian) who also joined. About a year or a year and a half in, he became one of Jehovah's Witnesses and got a conscientious objector discharge. I was a bit startled by his conversion because I thought it put his salvation in jeopardy, and I was also curious about the reasons for his oposition to being in the Navy. He gave me some literature to read from the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WTS)--the publishing company for the Jehovah's Witnesses that produces all of their literature.

Up until this point, I had been a Christian most of my life, and I had even read the Bible. But I had never studied the Bible, and I had never been part of a church long enough to be indoctrinated. I was pretty open to learning and just trying to figure stuff out. At the time, I could not have even explained the doctrine of the Trinity to you.

Through reading WTS literature I became a whole lot more interested in the Bible and in theology. I became interested in studying the Bible in depth. Although I was never persuaded to become one of Jehovah's Witnesses, I was persuaded to adopt their point of view about a few topics.

One topic I was persuaded by was their view that Christian should not join militaries or go to war for their governments. I was so persuaded that I applied for conscientious objector status and was discharged from the Navy after about four years. I was in the nuclear field which required a six year committment because the school was so long, so I got out about two years early.

After I got out of the Navy, I was so passionate in my belief that Christians shouldn't be in the military that I started the Conscientious Objector Help Page in order to discourage other Christians from joining the military and teach them how to apply for conscientious objector status if they were already in.

Not long after that, I went through my agnostic phase. That's another story. When it was over, I was still strongly opposed to Christians in the military.

Over time, as I delved into the Bible and theological literature, I abandoned most of the views I had adopted as a result of reading WTS literature (e.g. their denial of the Trinity). But I held on to the belief that Christians shouldn't join the military.

Around 1999 or so, I picked up Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air by Gregory Koukl and Francis Beckwith from a Christian book store, and that book was a turning point for me. That's another story, but I bring it up because it introduced me to Stand to Reason--the apologetics organization that Greg Koukl was the president of.

Greg has had an enormous impact on me over the years. When I first discovered him, he was a breath of fresh air, and I devoured every article, commentary, and radio show archived on their web site (that's before they had a blog). I remember agreeing with Greg about almost everything. But Greg was very pro-military. He especially seemed to love the Marines and seemed to wish he had been one. To me that was a bit of a scandal because he was so right about everything else but wrong about his pro-military views.

But there is one thing Greg said that put a stone in my shoe (to use one of his catch phrases). A big part of my case against Christians joining the military had to do with Jesus' command to love even our enemies, and Paul's statement that love does no harm to its neighbor, and various things along those lines. Greg pointed out that to stand by and do nothing while your family, neighbors, city, state, and country are being attacked is not at all loving toward your family, etc.

Now, I had heard this argument before. Lots of people engaged me in debate because I didn't exactly keep quiet about my beliefs. Usually the way other people would bring it up was to try to make it personal and ask me what I'd do if a loved one were being attacked. For a while, I answered this by saying I would do whatever I could to prevent it short of harming the attacker. In my heart, I knew I would gladly harm the attacker if I could, but morally I thought the nobel thing would be to avoid harming the attacker as far as possible, even if it meant that I and my family could be killed. I was supposed to just trust God the way Daniel trusted God when he disobeyed Nebuchadnezzer and was thrown to the lions.

But Greg didn't simply ask what I would personally do in a sticky situation. He made the argument that laying down my arms would actually be unloving toward those I was most responsible for--my immediate family and loved ones. Greg's argument, though simple, was far more persuasive.

In Relativism, Greg and Frank explained the whole notion of a moral dilemma in which one moral imperative can be overriden by another moral imperative when they come into conflict in the same situation. Before then, I had been kind of a moral absolutist, but as a result of reading their book, I became a moral objectivist (I explained the difference in "The difference between moral objectivism and moral absolutism.") So it seemed that while one might agree that in general people shouldn't harm even their enemies, there were circumstances under which it was appropriate to harm one's enemies. If you think you're supposed to love both your family and your enemies, then you shouldn't want to harm anybody. But if one person is attacking another person (especially an innocent one), and you can stop the attack only by causing injury, then you're in a moral dilemma since to stand by and do nothing may show love toward the enemy, but it does not show love toward the person being attacked. You can't actively love them both in that scenario.

It is because of the stone Greg put in my shoe that I have waivered over the years and have been uncertain about whether it's okay for Christians to join the military. After a while, I adopted the view that personal defense (including the defense of one's family) was okay, but it was still wrong for Christians to join the military for various reasons. I have since then waivered on whether it's wrong to join the military.

My position today is that I have enough doubt that I probably would not join the military if I had the decision to make again, but at the same time, I probably wouldn't discourage other Christians from joining the military, and I wouldn't blame them if they did. Right now, I put the whole subject in the Romans 14 category--follow your conscience. However, I would definitely encourage any Christian who is thinking about joining to carefully reflect on this subject.

In Part 2, I want to talk more specifically about some of my reasons for being a conscientious objector and what I think of those reasons today.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Can grief hallucinations explain the appearances of Jesus?

There are a lot of studies out there involving bereavement and how people respond to it. In many of these studies, they talk about grief hallucinations. According to one paper I found, grief hallucinations occur in anywhere from 30% to 60% of widows. They happen in different ways, though. It can involve seeing somebody, hearing their voice, smelling them, or just feeling their presence. "Hallucination" is a catch-all phrase, as this paper points out. It is sometimes used to refer to experiences that aren't hallucinations in the strictest meaning of the word.

Of course visually seeing a dead loved one is the least common experience among those who have visions, hallucinations, lucid dreams, etc. I didn't dig around to find the statistic on that, but I did find that when it happens, the most frequent interpretation is that it's a ghost or what appears to be a ghost. Just for the sake of argument, let's say visual experiences happen in something like 1% of those grieving the death of a dead loved one. If it happens to be higher, that will only strenghten the point I'm about to make.

That would mean there have been hundreds of millions of people who have experienced visual grief hallucinations. As far as we know, these experiences never lead people to think their dead loved one has risen from the dead. If we follow Hume's reasoning, this would amount to a full proof that grief hallucinations just don't cause people to believe in resurrection. With that being the case, it probably wasn't a grief hallucination that caused the disciples to believe Jesus had risen from the dead.

If, as most scholars think, the disciples saw something that lead them to believe Jesus had risen from the dead (e.g. E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, p.280), but it wasn't a grief hallucination, then maybe they actually saw the risen Jesus himself. Just sayin'!

Happy Easter!

For more on this subject see my 2011 post on The Hallucination Hypothesis.

Friday, April 15, 2022

The spoken v. the written word

When I was going through the Navy's nuclear power program, I remember them telling us early on that people learn in a variety of different ways that involve different senses and different modes. It's different for each person, too. One might learn more through seeing, another through doing, another through hearing, etc. Since they wanted to cram as much information into our heads in as short a time as possible, they taught us to study by using every means available to us. The classroom lectures were very structured. All the information was already outlined and written out. To teach us, they would first read it to us, which would engage our hearing. Then they would write it on the chalkboard (often with charts, diagrams, and illustrations), which would engage our vision and reading capacity. Then we would write it in our notes, which would engage, I guess, our writing faculties or muscle memory. To study, we would copy our notes on dry erase boards over and over, we would read them out loud over and over, we would quiz each other, and we would work problems. So we engaged as many of our various faculties as we could, and this was a very effective way of cramming information into us. These techniques helped me a lot when I got to college.

At the time, I didn't concern myself with which one of these things, if taken by itself, was more effective. But over the years, I've come to see that for me, the written word is far more effective than the spoken word. This is true whether it's me who is listening to somebody else or me who is trying to be heard. I have an easier time following what people are saying if they write it than if I listen to them talk. I also have an easier time explaining myself in writing than I do in speaking.

I don't think most people are like that, though. I often hear people say it's better to speak than to write because in speaking, you can hear the inflection in the voice, which enhances understanding. Speaking in person is even better because you can see facial expressions and hand gestures. That all makes sense to me, and yet I find the written word to be more effective than the spoken word, and I much prefer it.

Of course there are exceptions. If I'm listening to somebody who speaks okay but can't write worth a flip, then in their case I might have an easier time understanding them talk than write. But they are the exception.

Back when I started this blog, blogs were just becoming popular. A lot of people were starting blogs. People used to participate in the comment sections of these blogs. It seemed like that's where all the discussion was taking place. People would respond to each other's blog posts by posting responses on their own blogs if not in the comments.

Now-a-days, I see less and less of that. People have moved on to podcasts and YouTube videos. Now there are YouTube videos responding to other YouTube videos, and that's where all the conversation is taking place. It also takes place in the YouTube comment section, but that's mostly fly-by expressions of agreement or disagreement than engaging discussion.

I don't like it. There was a video recently where Braxton Hunter went on Cameron Bertuzzi's channel to argue against Calvinism. I thought about responding to it in my blog, but as I thought about it, I kept saying to myself, "This would be so much easier to respond to if he just had it all written out." I have no desire to make a YouTube response either because I'm such a terrible speaker.

The older I get, the more frustrated I get with verbal conversation in general. This is especially the case in group conversations. It seems like nobody ever completes a thought before being interrupted. No subject that gets brought up ever really gets discussed before the topic changes all of a sudden. I get frustrated just watching other people talk even when I'm not trying to participate. I don't see how they aren't more frustrated with each other. I keep wanting to interject to say, "Hold on! I want to know what So and So was going to say," or, "I want to know where they were going with that." If somebody says something, and I want to draw them out a little more by asking a question or two, somebody else will inevitably derail it by either answering it in an irrelevant way or by raising another question that takes the conversation in a different direction. How is everybody not at each other's throats all the time? Lately, I've dealt with these thing by simply not engaging people in verbal conversation as much as I used to. I just let stuff go because I feel like there's no point in trying to engage. It'll only lead to frustration.

I'm not trying to push the point of view in this post that the written word is superior to the verbal word. I'm just reporting a little autobiograpy and venting a little. For me the written word is more effective and enjoyable than the spoken word. I'd much rather read an essay than listen to a podcast. I'd much rather engage with a blog post than with a YouTube video. I'd much rather exchange emails than talk on the phone.

What about you? What is your favourite medium for learning and communicating? Why?

Friday, March 11, 2022

The problem of the criterion

I recently read "The Problem of the Criterion" by Roderick M. Chisholm. I first learned about this problem from J.P. Moreland a couple of decades ago. J.P. learned about it from Roderick Chisholm, though, and this was the first time I went to the source. I like the fact that I've now had it explained to me by two different people in two different ways. I want to write about it today because I've been thinking about it a lot and feel the need to get it off my chest. Also, writing about stuff you learn helps to make it stick. That is unless you have a misunderstanding about it, in which case the wrong thing gets stuck.

The problem of the criterion is a really general problem in epistemology. On the one hand, it seems like before we can sort the true things from the false things, we first need some method or criteria by which to test or determine whether something is true or false. But on the other hand, it seems like before we can distinguish between the good methods and criteria and the bad methods and criteria, we have to know which ones reliably give us truth and which ones don't. This creates what Chisolm calls a wheel. It seems to result in circular reasoning. We know such and such is true because it meets our criteria, and we know we're using the right criteria because it always delivers the truth.

It seems, on the surface, to be an inescapable problem, and there are only three possible ways out of it. According to Chisolm, none of the escapes are particularly satisfying, so it really just comes down to picking the lesser of three evils.

One way out of it is just to throw up your hands and say we don't have knowledge. The wheel is inescapable, and we might as well give up knowing anything. Let's call this way skepticism. J.P. calls it global skepticism--the position that we don't have any knowledge about anything.

The problem with global skepticism is that it can't be justified. It undermines itself. A person presumably reaches the conclusion that we have no knowledge because they've recognized the problem of the criterion. Skepticism turns out to be the conclusion to a line of reasoning consisting of premises and inferences. The reason this kind of skepticism is self-defeating is because one can't justifiably conclude that skepticism is true unless they could know that their premises were true and that their inferences were valid. Even if we allowed them their premises and inferences, they couldn't claim to know skepticism was true because that would be self-refuting. It would essentially be claiming to know that there's no knowledge.

Besides that, if we're just reasonable people, and if we're honest with ourselves, we're going to admit that we know at least a few things. I know I exist, that my cat is a picky eater, that the sun will rise tomorrow, and that drinking soft drinks is bad for your health.

The other two escapes to the problem of the criterion involve breaking the circle. You can break the circle either by beginning with a method or criteria, or you can break it by beginning with what seem to be clear case items of knowledge. Either you know something is true, and then use that to figure out some good methods and criteria, or you start with methods and criteria in order to find out what's true.

Let's call people who begin with methods and criteria methodists, and let's try not to confuse them with the Christian denomination by the same name. The problem with methodism is that it leads to an infinite regress. If you can't know anything unless you first apply some criteria or use some method to discover it, then you can't know the criteria or method either unless you first apply some criteria or method. Methodists think that before you can know anything, you first have to be able to account for how you know it. If a methodist claims to know something, one can ask, "Well, how do you know that?" To be consistent with their position, they're going to have to say they know it because it meets some criteria or because it used some method to test it or whatever. They'll have to give a reason to account for their knowledge claim. But then a person can ask them, "But how do you know that?" And the methodist will have to account for it in the same way. You should be able to see how this leads to an infinite regress. You can just keep asking, "How do you know?" forever, and the methodist will be obliged by their point of view to offer reasons. There's no starting point, so methodism leads inevitably to global skepticism, which we've already talked about.

The third option is to begin with what seem like clear case items of knowledge. Let's call these people particularists since they begin with particular cases of knowledge. While this position seems troublesome, too, it's the least troublesome of the three. As I said, it does seem to pretty much all of us, that we know at least some things. This is the position I hold because not only is it the most reasonable of the three positions, but I think it's the position almost everybody uses anyway. It's how knowledge actually works in practice.

Consider somebody who sees a cat sitting on their bed. They immediately form the belief that there's a cat on their bed. While this belief may be the result of an underlying prior belief in the reliability of their sensory perceptions, people don't consciously reasoning from that prior belief to the belief in the cat. Nobody explicitly thinks,

If I see something, then it must be there.
I see a cat.
Therefore, there must be a cat there.

If we begin with modest claims of knowledge about mundane things, we can use that knowledge to work out methods and criteria by which we can expand on what we know. Most people assume that the future will resemble the past, for example, and they apply this principle automatically without even being consciously aware of it. But if you take the time to think really hard about what justifies your belief that fire is hot, or whatever regularity in nature you've observed or learned about, you'll eventually discover that you were relying on the principle of induction or the uniformity of nature. Induction can then be used as a tool (i.e. a method) by which to learn about other things.

I think that is enough of a solution to the problem of the criterion to work for most people. Induction itself (or whatever other criteria or method you've discovered) can be considered an item of knowledge without necessarily having to know what justifies it. If you're a particularist, you've rejected the methodist principle that you have to be able to prove everything before it counts as an item of knowledge.

But that doesn't mean there isn't a justification for it. It only means you can know it without knowing how you know it. You can, if you like epistemology, think harder and try to discover what justifies belief in the uniformity of nature (or a host of other things like the reliability of your sensory organs, etc.). In doing so, you're going to be faced with another problem. It's a dilemma. Either you're going to get into an infinite regress or else you're going to hit the foundation.

An infinite regress might happen if you assume that for anything you know, it has to be inferred from something that's logically or epistemologically prior. This leads to an infinite regress because it means everything you know has to be preceded by something else you know. If that's the way things are, then knowledge is impossible. That leads again to global skepticism which is self-defeating.

The only way knowledge is possible is if there are at least some things we know a priori. In other words, there are some things we know that we do not infer from something that's logically or epistemologically prior. These items of knowledge form the foundation for everything else we know.

But it raises a thorny question. If these foundational items of knowledge are not arrived at by inference from prior items of knowledge, then what justifies them? Don't we typically think of justification in terms of some kind of inference? Well, yes, I think we usually do, but it can't be the case that we always do.

The only way I know how to explain what justifies our a priori knowledge is by pointing to examples of it and having you think through it with me. So let me use some examples.

Let's start with the cat on the desk. How do I know there's a cat on my desk? There are two reasons. First, because I can see it, and second, because I know my seeing is reliable. To make this illustration simple, let's talk about the first. I can see the cat. Now, how do I know I can see the cat, or at least what I take to be the cat? Notice that I don't base this on anything more than the immediate experience of seeing the cat. I just see it, and that's all. I'm immediately aware of my own sensory perceptions. I experience them immediately in the sense that I don't infer them. This is about as direct and basic as you can get.

Now let's look at something a little different. Let's consider a hypothetical. If I knew that Jim was taller than Bob, and Bob is taller than Dan, what could I infer about the height difference between Jim and Dan? Who is taller? Well, if you think about it, you should be able to see that Jim is taller than Dan. What I'm interested in here is not in how tall Jim, Bob, and Dan are or even in whether they exist. What I'm interested in is what justifies the inference. How do I know that if Jim, Bob, and Dan were related in the ways we're imagining that Jim would be taller than Dan? How do we know that it follows that Jim is taller than Dan just on the basis that Jim is taller than Bob and Bob is taller than Dan? Well, again, there isn't anything more foundational that we base this on. We base this on nothing more than our own careful reflection on it. As long as we understand the relation of "taller than," we can just "see" that it's true. We have a rational intuition about it.

Here's another similar thing. Suppose somebody says, "My cat is pregnant," and then turns right around in the next breath and says, "My cat is not pregnant." You might at first think he has two cats--one is pregannt, and the other isn't. Or maybe you think that between the first statement and the second statement, his cat must've given birth. Or maybe you think pregnancy is a metaphore being applied in two different ways. Or mabye one statement is literal, and the other is a metaphore. Notice that in all these cases, what you're trying to do is reconcile the two claims. Rather than jump to the uncharitable conclusion that the person is lying, you look for a way for it to be possible for both claims to be true.

Suppose you can't, though. Suppose after talking to the person, you realize he's talking about the same cat, at the same time, and in the same sense. At that point, you'd know he was lying. But what tells you he's lying? It's the fact that you know these two claims can't both be true at the same time and in the same sense. That's the law of non-contradiction. A contradiction (or at least an explicit one) is when one claim is the negation of another claim. The claim that my cat is pregant directly contradicts the claim that my cat is not pregnant as long as we're talking about the same cat being pregnant in the same sense at the same time. And we know that can't be. If one claim is true, than its negation must be false.

But how do we know the law of non-contradiction is true? Again, it isn't something you can infer from something prior. In fact, if you think about it, nothing you say can make any coherent sense at all unless the law of non-contradiction is already true. Unless your statement excludes its negation, it's a meaningless statement. So everything you say, if you're trying to be coherent, presupposes the law of non-contradiction. With that being the case, nothing can be logically priori to the law of non-contradiction. So how do we know it's true since any effort to justify it would seem to presuppose it and therefore beg the question?

Well, again, this is just something you have a rational insight about it. You can simply reflect on it, and once you understand what it is saying, you can immediately recognize that it's true. This is called knowledge by rational intuition.

I'm not going to go into it right now, but there's a handful of other things you can know in the same way. You can know some basic math, geometry, and logic simply by reflecting on it. The knowledge is immediate. You just "see" these things.

These are the sorts of items of knowledge that sit at the foundation of everything else we know.

That's about all I have to say. To wrap it all up, we don't have to necessarily know how we know something before we can justifiably consider it an item of knowledge. Most people aren't so reflective that they plumb the depths of what justifies every little thing they claim to know. We just walk around claiming to know basic things because we observe them, experience them, learn about them, or whatever. But if we do plumb the depths, then we discover everything we know rests on a foundation of knowledge that cannot itself be demonstrated to be true. The foundational items of knowledge can only be intuitively recognized to be true. And it's this rational intuition--this "seeing"--that justifies our foundational items of knowledge.

Since nothing can be more certain than the premises upon which it is based, and everything is ultimtely based on unprovable premises, it follows that the things we can know with the greatest degree of certainty turn out to be things which cannot be demonstrated to be true. This refutes any kind of evidentialism, empiricism, or scientism.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

I was wrong about aliens

For decades now, I've been making this argument that it's unlikely we've ever been visited by aliens. The argument goes like this:

1. The only thing that could set Earth apart from the billions of planets in the galaxy, and therefore make it worth singling out for a visit, is if it had life.

2. The only way of knowing from a great distance that there's life on earth is by receiving radio signals.

3. The farthest any radio signals have traveled from Earth is a little over 100 light years.

4. If an alien civilization could travel at the speed of light, then any aliens who just got here today because of having received our radio signals and disocvering we were here would have to live within 50 light years of us.

5. If there were any civilizations capable of traveling here who lived within 50 light years of us, we would know about them since (1) they would already have radio technology, and (2) SETI has been searching the skies for decades.

6. But we know of no such civilizations.

7. Therefore, there are no aliens sufficiently close to have discovered us and visited us.

8. Therefore, it's unlikely that any aliens have ever visited us.

People have raised a number of objections to this argument, and some of them have some merit, but not enough to convince me that the whole argument is worthless. But recently, I've come to realize that the second premise is just false, and that undermines the entire argument.

There's another way to discover life on distant planets even if there are no advanced civilizations on those planets. It's by looking at star light that passes through the atmosperes of those planets. You can tell the chemical composition of a light source by breaking it up into a spectrum and looking at aborbtion lines. Absorbtion lines are like finger prints because different elements and compounds produce unique absorbtion lines. Living things on earth give off certain chemicals that, as far as we know, aren't produced any other way. If we can discover some of those same chemicals in the atmospheres of distant exo-planets, that would be good evidence for life. And that's what some people hope to do with the James Webb Space Telescope. This means we could discover life thousands of light years away.

Since there's been life on earth for more than a billion years, life could've been discovered here hundreds of millions of years ago, giving an alien civilization lots of time to travel here or send probes here. So I was wrong. My argument doesn't make it unlikely for aliens to have visited us after all. It still may be unlikely, but for different reasons. I'm just admitting that my long time argument is a failure.

Saturday, February 05, 2022

Sabine Hossenfelder's objection to the fine-tuning argument

A little over a year ago, one of my favourite physics YouTubers, Sabine Hossenfelder, posted a video explaining why she doesn't think the fine-tuning argument is sound. To boil her argument down to what I think is the most important part, she doesn't think we can know whether the universe is fine-tuned because we can't know what the probability distribution is of the constants of nature. And the reason we don't know what the probability distribution is is because we can only observe one universe. We'd have to be able to observe many universes before we could know what the probability distribution is for the values of the constants, and only then could we know whether the universe was fine-tuned. Since we can't know whether the universe is fine-tuned or not, fine-tuning cannot be used as a premise in an argument for God or for a multiverse.

I think this is a decent argument, but it's not a satisfying refutation of fine-tuning. It plays on two other objections to fine-tuning that are pretty common, and which I'll talk about in a minute.

Notice, though, that Sabine has given us an undercutting defeater rather than a rebutting defeater for fine-tuning. In other words, she hasn't shown that the universe is not fine tuned, only that we can't empirically demonstrate that the universe is fine-tuned. It could be fine-tuned, and we just have no way of knowing it. But she is right that if we can't know whether it's fine-tuned, then we can't use fine-tuning as a premise in an argument for God or a multiverse. If we did, such an argument could still be sound (since the premises could still be true); we just couldn't know if it was sound (since we couldn't know whether the premises were true).

One problem I have with her argument is the assumption that an empirically demonstrated probability distribution is the only kind of probability we have to go on. In her dice analogy, she said that to get a probability distribution, we'd have to roll the dice many times to see the frequency with which it lands on each side. But that is not typically how people come up with the probability of things like dice. Instead, the probability is arrived at by making a ratio of 1 divided by the number of possibilities. If it's a six-sided dice, then there's a 1 in 6 chance of it landing on any given side.

The same sort of thing is true with the lottery. We say the probability of winning the lottery is one divided by the number of possible outcomes. We don't have to run the lottery a gazillion times to come up with an empirically demonstrated probability distribution.

In the case of poker, there are different kinds of probabilities we can come up with. There's the probability of any given hand, whether it's a meaningful hand or not. Then there's the probability of certain kinds of hands, like two pairs or a royal flush. Then there's the probability that you will randomly deal any worthy hand. You'd get a different probability in each of these cases, but it wouldn't be based on empirically observed frequency.

In the same way, fine-tuning arguments do not use empirically observed frequency to come up with probabilities. Instead, the probabilities are based on a ratio between the life permitting range of the contants and the possible values of the constants. One of the major objections brought against fine-tuning is that we don't know what the full range of possible values they could have is. But this is a weak argument because we can know something is highly unlikely without knowing precisely how unlikely. As Luke Barnes pointed out one time (I can't remember where), we can artifically limit the range to what is mathematically coherent. Robin Collins has a different approach to dealing with this problem, but that'll take us on a rabbit trail, so nevermind about that.

The only problem with using these kinds of probabilities (let's call them "statistical probabilities") is that it assumes the probability is evenly distributed among all the possibilities. We know that in nature, probabilities are not always distributed this way. Consider the path an electron might take when it goes through a double slit. Pretty much any spot on the wall behind it is a possibility, but the probability takes the form of a wave. If you shoot a bunch of electrons through the double slit (whether all at once or one at a time doesn't matter), a pattern will emerge that takes the form of a wave. There are peaks and valleys of probability. The wave can be described by the Schrodinger equation, so there's a law that describes the probability distribution.

In the case of the dice, the observed probability would only be evenly distributed if the dice were a perfect cube. If it has a funny shape, and we rolled it many times, the observed frequency with which it landed on each side would be different than the statistical probability would suggest.

That may be the case with the constants of nature. It may be that if we generated many universes while randomly shuffling the constants, that the frequency with which we got each combination would not be evenly distributed between all the possibilities. That is the heart of Sabine's objection to fine-tuning.

If you think about it, though, this is really just another version of the "deeper laws" objection to fine-tuning. According to the deeper laws objection, it's possible that there's some unknown law of nature that makes it to where the constants we observe in nature had to be that way or had to be very close to their current values. Well, the only way Sabine's argument could serve to undermine fine-tuning is if the probability distribution makes it to where life-permitting values happen to be more probable than life-prohibiting values. That means there has to be a hidden law that determines the uneven probability distribution. Sabine's argument fails for the same reason the "deeper laws" objection fails. It's because if there were a deeper law that made life-permitting universes more probable than life-prohibiting universes, then the law itself would be fine-tuned. So Sabine hasn't undermined fine-tuning. She's only artifically moved it back a step by suggesting the possibility that there's a deeper law that makes life-permitting universes more probable on the probability distribution curve than life-prohibiting universes.