Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Puddleglum's Argument

Many of us are familiar with the argument Puddleglum gives back to the Green Witch in Narnia.

"One word, Ma'am," he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. "One word. All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things--trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."*

Reading Adam Barkman's very thorough C. S. Lewis and Philosophy as a Way of Life (Zossima Press, 2009), I found the following gloss on it from a letter Lewis wrote a month before he died:

I suppose your philosopher son--what a family you have been privileged to bring into the world!--means the chapter in which Puddleglum puts out the fire with his foot. He must thank Anselm and Descartes for it, not me. I have simply put the 'Ontological Proof' in a form suitable for children. (Barkman, p. 91).

Those interested in a philosophical discussion of Puddleglum's argument should read Steve Lovell's "Breaking the Spell of Skepticism: Puddleglum vs. the Green Witch" in The Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy (Open Court, 2005), pp. 41-52.

Bending over Backwards: Why Dawkins says he was not "caught out" in Stein's Expelled

Another example. Toward the end of his interview with me, Stein asked whether I could think of any circumstances whatsoever under which intelligent design might have occurred. It's the kind of challenge I relish, and I set myself the task of imagining the most plausible scenario I could. I wanted to give ID its best shot, however poor that best shot might be. I must have been feeling magnanimous that day, because I was aware that the leading advocates of Intelligent Design are very fond of protesting that they are not talking about God as the designer, but about some unnamed and unspecified intelligence, which might even be an alien from another planet. Indeed, this is the only way they differentiate themselves from fundamentalist creationists, and they do it only when they need to, in order to weasel their way around church/state separation laws. So, bending over backwards to accommodate the IDiots ("oh NOOOOO, of course we aren't talking about God, this is SCIENCE") and bending over backwards to make the best case I could for intelligent design, I constructed a science fiction scenario. Like Michael Ruse (as I surmise) I still hadn't rumbled Stein, and I was charitable enough to think he was an honestly stupid man, sincerely seeking enlightenment from a scientist. I patiently explained to him that life could conceivably have been seeded on Earth by an alien intelligence from another planet (Francis Crick and Leslie Orgel suggested something similar -- semi tongue-in-cheek). The conclusion I was heading towards was that, even in the highly unlikely event that some such 'Directed Panspermia' was responsible for designing life on this planet, the alien beings would THEMSELVES have to have evolved, if not by Darwinian selection, by some equivalent 'crane' (to quote Dan Dennett). My point here was that design can never be an ULTIMATE explanation for organized complexity. Even if life on Earth was seeded by intelligent designers on another planet, and even if the alien life form was itself seeded four billion years earlier, the regress must ultimately be terminated (and we have only some 13 billion years to play with because of the finite age of the universe). Organized complexity cannot just spontaneously happen. That, for goodness sake, is the creationists' whole point, when they bang on about eyes and bacterial flagella! Evolution by natural selection is the only known process whereby organized complexity can ultimately come into being. Organized complexity -- and that includes everything capable of designing anything intelligently -- comes LATE into the universe. It cannot exist at the beginning, as I have explained again and again in my writings.

This 'Ultimate 747' argument, as I called it in The God Delusion, may or may not persuade you. That is not my concern here. My concern here is that my science fiction thought experiment -- however implausible -- was designed to illustrate intelligent design's closest approach to being plausible. I was most emphaticaly NOT saying that I believed the thought experiment. Quite the contrary. I do not believe it (and I don't think Francis Crick believed it either). I was bending over backwards to make the best case I could for a form of intelligent design. And my clear implication was that the best case I could make was a very implausible case indeed. In other words, I was using the thought experiment as a way of demonstrating strong opposition to all theories of intelligent design.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Robin Collins paper on design.

Donald Williams Reviews my book

A redated post.

This one appeared in Philosophia Christi a few years back.

Coming Soon: The Screwtape Letters

Why omnipotence is defined in terms of the law of non-contradiction

The most basic principle of logic is, on most views, the law of non-contradiction. It is considered to be a presupposition of rational discourse. When you say "the cat is no the mat" you are implicitly denying that the cat is not on the mat, otherwise you're just making noises.

Now, you say that if God is omnipotent, and then put a bunch of noise after it, and call that true. So, omnipotence has to be defined in terms of what is coherently possible.

But what happens to the definition of omnipotence if you buy into paraconsistent logics?

Kant's moral argument for God

Suppose you can't decide whether or not God exists. (Kant thinks he has arguments that show that, looking at the world around us, you can't tell one way or the other whether or not there is a God). You therefore have to choose either a theistic world-view in which it is thought that there is a God, there is free will, and there is an everlasting life, or a world in which there is no God, no free will, and when we die we feed the worms. You then ask "Which world-view will best undergird my moral life, the theistic world-view or the atheist world-view?" And Kant concludes that the only rational choice for someone seeking to be moral is to select the theistic world-view.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Reply to anonymous on Calvinism and God's promises

Ever heard of the judgment of charity? Are you suggesting that Calvinism posits that elect people have red E's on their forehead and that they should not take people's profession of faith seriously and treat them as if what they professed was not true of them? You can't be serious.

What I said was that no one could introspectively know who has real saving faith and who doesn’t, and that it follows from that that no one can be sure whether the promises of God apply to them or not. I also said that this may or may not be a problem for Calvinism, a statement you overlooked completely, so far as I can tell. (That wouldn’t have even taken charity, just reading). What you are saying, I take it, is that you agree that these passages should be read with suppressed election clauses, and that in fact it would be absurd to take them otherwise. Strictly speaking, we haven’t gotten to a disagreement yet.

James 1: 2,3 So you believe that people can have saving faith and then lose it? And you believe that the testing of some people's faith does not develop perseverance.

What the verse says is that “you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” But if Calvinism is true, no one can know whether they might not lose their faith and become a reprobate (reflecting, of course, God’s decision before the foundation of the world to withhold saving grace from them), and therefore nobody knows whether the testing of their faith will develop perseverance or not. An Arminian can understand this as implying that the perseverance will occur if the believer freely consents. Some crises of faith, as you know, have ended in disaster.

1 Cor 10:13 So why did the people you mention leave the church? If it was to all of them regardless, why did they get tempted and leave?

Again, read the verse. It says ”And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

It says can, not will. There is a way of escape and they can take it. But not every believer successfully resists temptation. It looks like libertarian free will is the only explanation that can reconcile this passage with the facts. (Calvinists keep asking for a biblical text for LFW, I think I've got one). If Calvinism is true, then given God’s plan before the foundation of the world, Ted Haggard could not have avoided committing the sins he committed. There was no way of escape, and it was more than he could bear.

Heb 13:5,6 Guess God didn't help them to not leave the church. If a crafty non-believer got them to deny Christ, guess they should fear what some men can do to them.

The passage says that God will not forsake us, it does not say that we will not forsake God.

Rom 5:3-5 Sucks that Jesus had to die for people that will leave the church and go to hell to pay for sins Jesus paid for. Or maybe we'll just give the atonement a makeover so natural man will not find it an offense but would find it the most reasonable thing ever.

To me, it sucks to go through life not being absolutely sure whether Jesus died for me or not.

The point I was making is that for every New Testament promise, there is room for doubt on the part of any believer as to whether that promise applies to that believer or not. Is this a disastrous consequence for Calvinism? You tell me. But that is the argument I was making. No more, no less.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Living each day by the promises in God's word (if you're elect)

I'm still sick of the question of Calvinism. But the following occurred to me. (This always happens).

Maybe this is no problem for Calvinism. But it seems to me that if Calvinism is true a number of bibilical promises which one would have thought could be appropriated by believers in a straighforward manner have suppressed election clauses in them. I mean God can't be issuing these promises to people he has reprobated, surely.

James 1 2:3
2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,
3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
(if you are elect).

I Cor 10:13
13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
(If you are elect).

Hebrews 13:5b, 6
"...I will never leave you, nor forsake you; therefore I can boldly say, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear what man can do to me" (Hebrews 13:5b,6)
(Assuming, of course, that I am among the elect).

Romans 5:3-5
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
(Assuming, of course, that we are the among the elect).

The point is that these biblical letter-writers presumably issued these promises to church members in general, some of whom left the fold subsequently and died pagans. I would be curious to see what a Calvinist pastoral theology looks like in response to this.

An argument for atheism: the scientific juggernaut

This is the what I call the argument from the scientific juggernaut. I am redating this post from a couple of years back, as it is a perennial issue. Every time some explanatory difficulty for atheism comes up, you get this argument that science is filling all the gaps and we just need to be patient.

1) In the past, many things were directly attributed to divine activity, ex. Rainbows were thought to be put in the sky by God as an expression of His promise never again to flood the earth after Noah.
2) However, these explanations have been displaced naturalistic explanations. Rainbows, for example, can be explained in terms of light refraction.
3) So if something appears as if it cannot be explained naturalistically, instead of invoking the supernatural, we should instead confidently wait for science to do its job.
4) Therefore, we should never accept a theistic explanation of anything.
5) But if God explains nothing, then we should simply deny His existence.
6) Therefore, we ought to believe that God does not exist.

LInk to McGrew's paper on the historical argument

This page links to McGrew's paper "Has Plantinga Refuted the Historical Argument?" Since Howard-Snyder used the dwindling probabilities argument against the Lewis trilemma, this critique is relevant to that debate.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Tolkien on the death penalty?

"Many who live deserve death, and many who die deserve life, can you give it to them? Then be not to quick to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for you own safety, not even the wise see all ends." -J.R.R Tolkien

Are you for animal rights? It's not quite that simple

Some people defend animal rights because they really think animals have a right to life. Others oppose the killing of animals for food as it is currently done by the meat industry because it is done inhumanely involving unnecessary suffering. The Kosher law in Judaism allows for slaughtering, but imposes rules that prevent unnecessary cruelty.

There is also the question of animal experimentation, which can occur for the sake of life-saving medicines, which is one thing, but is also used extensively by the cosmetic industry, which is another issue morally.

I am linking to a Stanford Encyclopedia entry on animal rights.

Some perennial reminders about cosmological arguments

For some reason people often get confused and think that all versions of the cosmological argument are liable to a "who made God" objection. Bertrand Russell wrote:

I read John Stuart Mill's Autobiography, and I there found this sentence: "My father taught me that the question 'Who made me?' cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question `Who made god?'" That very simple sentence showed me, as I still think, the fallacy in the argument of the First Cause. If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. It is exactly of the same nature as the Hindu's view, that the world rested upon an elephant and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, "How about the tortoise?" the Indian said, "Suppose we change the subject." The argument is really no better than that. There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor, on the other hand, is there any reason why it should not have always existed. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination. Therefore, perhaps, I need not waste any more time upon the argument about the First Cause.

Now there are versions of the Cosmological Argument that do have a "who made God" problem. If the argument had said:

1) Everything has a cause.
2) Therefore the universe has a cause.
3) Therefore, God caused the universe.

then we could refute the argument by asking who made God. But we don't have that problem if the premise says "Whatever begins to exist must have a cause of its existence." A cause is required only if there is a temporal beginning.
So the Kalam argument is:

1) Whatever begins to exist, must have a cause of its existence.
2) The universe began to exist.
3) Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.

And this argument exempts God, who ex hypothesi never began to exist.

Consider also the Thomistic argument from contingency. It follows this format:

1) Whatever exists contingently must have a cause of its existence.
2) The universe exists contingently.
3) Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.

Again, unless it is supposed that God exists contingently, the argument is immune to any "who made God" objection.

Dawkins offers the same sort of response. He writes:

First, most of the traditional arguments for God's existence, from Aquinas on, are easily demolished. Several of them, such as the First Cause argument, work by setting up an infinite regress which God is wheeled out to terminate. But we are never told why God is magically able to terminate regresses while needing no explanation himself.

Sorry, Richard, but you are told. In the Kalam argument, you are told that the universe had a temporal beginning, so it does need to be explained, while God had no temporal beginning, so God does not need to be explained. In the Thomistic case, the universe needs an explanation because it exists contingently, while God, ex hypothesi, is a necessary being, and is hence not a contingent being.

Now these arguments might, at the end of the day, prove to be flawed. Perhaps we don't have to accept the idea that whatever begins must have a cause, and maybe there is some theory of the universe that works and doesn't require an absolute beginning. Maybe the contingent/necessary distinction on which the updated Thomistic argument turns can also be undermined. The beat goes on, philosophically speaking.

I'm no fan of accusing opponents of intellectual dishonesty. But these slam-dunk refutations of
cosmological arguments do make me wonder about those who propose them.

I am linking to WLC's page on theistic argument for more information about the Kalam argument.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Jim Lippard's Infidels Paper on Messianic Prophecies

He doesn't think this argument has any credibility. James Price (not to be confused with Jesus Seminar member Robert Price), begs to differ.

An expanded version of the Kalam Cosmological Argument

This High School Apologetics site has a lot of interesting stuff!

1 Everything which begins to exist must have a cause for its existence.
1.2 The universe began to exist
1.3 Therefore the universe had a cause for its existence
2 The universe is primarily the expansion of time, space and matter
2.1 Therefore time, space and matter were caused.
3 An effect may be no greater than its proper cause
3.1 A thing may not cause itself to exist
3.2 Therefore the cause of the universe is eternal and immaterial.
4 Only a free-agent is able to produce real change (greater change) either through time, space and matter, in its creation, or in its annihilation. All other changes are merely natural and deterministic processes (lesser change)
4.1 In the absence of the universe (time, space and matter) there could be no change of the lesser sort
4.2 Therefore the immaterial, and eternal cause of the universe was not an inanimate thing, but a free-agent, a mind.
5 The difference between nonbeing “in reality” and being “in reality”, is an infinite difference
5.1 The difference between nonbeing “in the mind” and being “in the mind” is an infinite difference
5.2 The free-agent in question created something from nothing, and it follows that it conceived something from nothing
5.3 To create something from nothing is an infinite power, and to conceive something from nothing is an infinite act of conception or knowledge.
5.4 Therefore the cause of the universe is an eternal, transcendent, omniscient, omnipotent mind, which can properly be called God.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Freedom, Determinism, and Naturalism

A redated post.

C. S. Lewis wrote:

Thus no thoroughgoing Naturalist believes in free will: for free will would mean that human beings have the power of independent action, the power of doing something more or other than what was involved by the total series of events. And any such separate power of originating events is what the naturalist denies. Spontaneity, originality, action “on its own” is a privilege reserved for “the whole show” which he calls Nature.

The reason Lewis seems to be offering for saying that the Naturalist must deny free will doesn’t seem to mainly be that if Naturalism were true, determinism would be true, but he seems rather to be saying that free will involves a kind of independent agency on the part of persons that would be proscribed given naturalism.

In a footnote, John Beversluis replies as follows:

Some contemporary naturalists, for example, Daniel Dennett, John Searle, Jaegwon Kim, and Keith Parsons, reject determinism not only on the level of microparticles but generally and argue that naturalism is compatible with believing that human beings have free will.

I am not sure about these philosophers, and what kind of free will these people believe in. Students of the free will question know that there are two conceptions of free will: a conception compatible with determinism, and a concept that is incompatible with determinism. Daniel Dennett wrote an entire book, Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting, which is well known as a classic defense of the compatibilism.

Eventually, I would like to consider the question of whether a thoroughgoing naturalism is compatible with the incompatibilist or libertarian conception of free will. For the purposes of this discussion, however, I want to concede, for the sake of argument, that compatibilism is true, and I will try to show that it is far from clear that a thoroughgoing naturalism is really compatible with free will.

Compatibilist theories of free will trade on the idea that even if determinism is true, the proximate cause of an action can be one’s desire to perform the action. A compatibilist or soft determinist will say emphasize the fact that if you did something, if it is free in the compatibilist sense, you did what you wanted to do. If, say, you robbed the local Bank of America branch, it is not likely to be true that you wanted to be a law-abiding citizen, but the fickle finger of fate grabbed you by the scruff of the neck and made you commit a crime. No, you robbed the bank because, in the words of Willie Sutton, “That’s where the money is."

But notice what is implied in these kinds of theories. First, in order for this theory to be true, desires have to exist. There are naturalistic theories of mind, eliminativist theories, according to which desires are the posits of “folk psychology” and do not in fact exist. Now eliminativists do maintain that a matured neuroscience will replace the terms of folk psychology with successors, but will can the compatibilist theory be fitted in with a successor? Have eliminativists even addressed this issue?

But suppose we accept the existence of desires. In order for the compatibilist theories to work, the desires have to be causally efficacious. It must be the case that my desire for X can cause my action in pursuit of X. But, of course, naturalistic theories of mind, given their commitment to the causal closure of the physical, inevitably face the specter of epiphenomenalism. That is, even if it is thought that beliefs and desires exist on the hypothesis of naturalism, (which, as I have indicated in a previous post, typically involves a commitment to a causally closed mental-free realm and the bottom of everything), how can it be that my desire can cause anything? In other words, in order for a naturalist to even accept a compatibilist theory of free will, they must solve the problem of mental causation. William Hasker and I have argued that naturalists cannot solve the problem of mental causation, and if I have been right in my discussions here, they cannot consistently even believe in compatibilist free will, much less incompatibilist or libertarian free will.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Emptiness Objection

This is an article on divine command theory. I am wondering what versions of the divine command theory would be able to surmount this objection: namely, that if we define goodness in terms of God's commands, or even of God's nature, then "God is good" becomes non-informative. What we would mean would be "God obeys his own commands (does he give himself any?), or "God acts in accordance with his nature," which of course would be true if someone whose motivations with respect to all created beings were completely destructive.

Additionally, if any particular action is good only because God commands it, then God serves as the ultimate arbiter of what is morally right and what is morally wrong. An issue then arises as to whether the sentence "God is good" has any meaning in a world where God determines what is good. This criticism can be referred to as the Emptiness Objection. For example, DCT proponents state that "God is good," while the DCT itself claims that "Good is whatever God commands." The Emptiness Objection transposes these statements and claims that saying "God is good" is the same as saying "God is whatever God commands." The argument is then made that this statement is empty, trivial or entirely without meaning. Because adherents of the DCT strongly believe that the concepts "God is good" and "good is whatever God commands" have meaning, then any suggestion that these belief statements are meaningless tautologies undermines a core principle of the DCT.


What is coercion? In simple cases of coercion, one wants to do x, but through threat of force (a gun to the head), or maybe through the presence of a computer hooked up to one's brain, one does y instead.

But is there another type of coercion, in which another person uses motives that may be in place in order to bring it about that that person does what is contrary to their own best interests?

I saw a show (one of the 60 Minutes clones, can't remember which) in which an FBI agent or Lebanese was running a sting operation where he posed as an Al-Queda operative, got some teenagers to sign up for terrorist activity in exchange for money, and then had them arrested. The young kids agreed that they had been seduced by their own greed. But were they still coerced in some significant sense, because they were persuaded to act against their own best interests? Were they truly free even in the compatibilist sense?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Irresistible grace, or total depravity?

To my Calvinist friends:

Face it. Reppert isn't coming to Calvinism unless the Father draws, I mean drags him. There are so many layers of my resistence to this, that it will take irresistible grace for me to see it, if it's true.

To read some of the things I have heard from some of you guys, the primary explanation is that I'm totally depraved.

I've run out of stamina again. No doubt, once I stop, something will hit me between the eyes that suggests a completely better way of making the points I want to make. Happened last time.

But did anybody explain what was wrong with Hamilton's exegesis or Romans 9, when I posted it? I couldn't find it. Posting it again.

A Prosblogion entry on whether divine command theory is false or circular

A Couple of Clarifications

I am using examples related to racism because I think it's something most of us would agree is morally wrong, and our conviction on this is going to be pretty tough to shake. Or I think so. I'm in no way implying that Calvinism is implicity racist.

I will divide the claims of Calvinism into two propositions.
1) There exists a supremely powerful being who has predestined some to heaven and others to hell.
2) That being is morally justified in so doing.

2 seems false to me, but if I cam to think 1 were true, I would certainly have to entertain some questions about 2. That's where the humility comes in.

However, what I won't accept as an argument for 2 boils down to argument from might to right. So the writing in the sky wouldn't persuade me of the rightness of these actions, because that would only show might and would not be a moral argument.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Best Available Exegesis

Here's where I have been trying to go with the racial question. My question is, is just anything purported to come out of special revelation closed to moral evaluation based on natural moral knowledge? People have used special revelation to justify slavery, to justify flying planes into towers, to justify Indian genocide, to justify racial discrimination (the infamous curse of Ham), etc. Of course, all of these justifications came through interpretation, and those interpretations wouldn't be accepted by our best exegesis today. But could they have been refuted by the best exegeses at the time?

Suppose someone gave me an argument for Negro inferiority based on the Curse of Ham. Suppose I didn't know how to refute the exegesis. The best Bible scholar in town says it's what the Scripture means. But I am troubled. Even though I can't refute the exegesis, I just can't believe that God would curse a whole race of persons in perpetuity for the indiscreet act of their ancestor. I can't believe God would justify keeping those people enslaved for that reason. If God is like that, then God doesn't make sense. But my Bible student friend says "God said it, I believe it, that settles it. Do you dare answer back to God?" Of course, there's a problem with the interpretation, but I don't have access to good Bible scholarship, so I can't know that.
If I were in that situation, must I believe that blacks are inferior? The best exegesis available to me (flawed though it might be by seminary standards) says that I must.

Misplaced reliance on intuition?

So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn't know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I'll go and write the letter - and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:
Miss Watson, your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. Huck Finn.
I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn't do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking - thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn't seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I'd see him standing my watch on top of his'n, 'stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and suchlike times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he's got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.
It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:
"All right, then, I'll go to hell" - and tore it up.- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Scripture, Intuitions, and Calvinism

There is no conflict between believing that Scripture is inerrant, and believing that if one came to believe Scripture taught something that one in fact now believes that Scripture in fact *does not teach*, that that would be reason to doubt inerrancy.

Consider the following.
S believes in inerrancy.
S believes that biblical inerrancy is compatible with an ancient earth.
If S were to come to believe that no interpretation of Scripture consistent with an ancient earth were consistent with the literal acceptance of the Genesis text, then S would cease to believe in inerrancy.

All these can be true together. If we are assessing whether someone believes in inerrancy or not, we have to assess this relative to what the person thinks that Scripture actually teaches, rather than assessing it relative to what they say they might do if they were do discover that Scripture teaching something else.

How a Calvinistic God would reconcile me to the idea of reprobation in such a way as to permit me to worship him is difficult for me to comprehend. I sympathize with Talbott's statement 'I will not worship such a God, and if such a God can send me to hell for not so worshipping him, then to hell I will go'.

But let's put it this way. Suppose I became convinced that I couldn't deny Calvinism without denying inerrancy, and also that I couldn't reject inerrancy without undermining Christianity. (This is a real hypothetical scenario, but let's go there for a minute). Then I would be left with my intuition that this sort of God was acting wrongly, and what would I do with that? Could my intuitions be in error? I think I would pose the question as follows. Can Calvinism offer any reason for worshipping their God that is not a dressed-up version of the might-makes-right argument? If no, then I'm with Tom Talbott. I won't worship on the basis of mere power alone. If yes, then I can imagine questioning my intuitions. There are plenty of possible all-powerful beings who deserve to be answered back to and not worshipped. Is there something better than a might-makes-right argument that can be made on behalf of a Calvinistic God? That would be the question.

But we are a long way from this situation. I will repeat that the closest I ever came to atheism was when I started reading the Bible Calvinistically at the age of 19. However, I don't see any superiority in Calvinist interpretations of Romans 9, John 6:44, Ephesians 1:14, or whatever the other Calvinist proof-texts are, to anti-Calvinist interpretations (Hamilton on Romans 9 looks pretty good to me), and since I agree with Steve that a consistent Calvinist has to deny that God loves the reprobate, and I find the attempt to reconcile this denial with John 3:16 and verses like it to be strained. So I'm not, at the moment, faced with the hypothetical problem I posed for myself above.

A Thought Experiment for Calvinists

Suppose the best reading of Scripture were to yield the following version of Calvinism: God before the foundation of the world chose some for salvation and some for damnation, and what is more, we can be sure that everyone with black skin has been preordained for damnation.

Would such a God be worthy of worship?

Thursday, September 17, 2009


What makes debate between Calvinists and their opponents so difficult is that it really boils down to a difference of basic hermeneutical principle. What makes Calvinism difficult for many to accept is the fact that they see the Bible pointing in the direction of a hermeneutical center, and that center is love. When the I John 4:8 says God is love, for agapocentrists, this isn't just a statement that God is loving, (except, of course, when he's unconditionally reprobating people), it is rather, that this is an essential characteristic of God that provides the fundamental motivation behind everything.

Consider Wesley's response to a biblical case for predestination in "Free Grace."

Whatever that Scripture proves, it never proved this; whatever its true meaning be. This cannot be its true meaning. Do you ask, "What is its true meaning then?" If I say, " I know not," you have gained nothing; for there are many scriptures the true sense whereof neither you nor I shall know till death is swallowed up in victory. But this I know, better it were to say it had no sense, than to say it had such a sense as this. It cannot mean, whatever it mean besides, that the God of truth is a liar. Let it mean what it will, it cannot mean that the Judge of all the world is unjust. No scripture can mean that God is not love, or that his mercy is not over all his works; that is, whatever it prove beside, no scripture can prove predestination.

What Wesley is saying here is that for him, God love is the central to his understanding of Scripture, and that, as he sees it, it ought not to be interpreted in a way that conflicts with its most fundamental theme.

With respect to the Law, Jesus seems to set love up as the hermeneutical center: love God and your neighbor and in so doing you will fulfill, at least in spirit, the whole of the Law. Paul, with respect to what came to be known as the Three Holy Virtues, faith, hope and love, put love as the greatest. With respect to any question on limits on the scope of love (Who is my neighbor?) Jesus, through the parable of the Good Samaritan, undercut the conception of "in group" versus "out group" which, to a regrettable extent, infects all human efforts to love others.

Calvinists say that, yes, God is loving, God saved people he didn't have to save, but besides loving, he has other fish for fry, other attributes to manifest. In particular God's glory would be diminished if he only manifested the attribute of loving in his treatment of us, instead of also creating persons destined to be unrepentant sinners on whom he manifests his wrath.

I had complained against Calvinism that it leaves an unacceptable gap between what God wants us to do and what God himself does. Of course, Steve and Peter have both pointed out that there are plenty of situations in which, depending on who you are, what is right for you to do is different from what it is right for someone else to do. But I was not talking about specific actions, I was talking about the traits of character that God manifests and the God expects humans to manifest. John tells us those who don't love don't know God because that is who God is. He doesn't say "those who aren't wrathful don't know God, because God is wrath." It is no doubt true that an infinite God has the right to exercise "tough love" in ways that would be unacceptable if humans were to behave in the same way towards others. We are not talking about "sloppy agape" here at all. Sin has to be repented of, actions and thoughts have to be repudiated, and that's got to be painful. But in agapocentric theology there is a symmetry between the character God commands us to have and God's character. God is more powerful and wiser than ourselves, but his fundamental purposes are the same as those we are told to develop within ourselves. If Calvinism is true, then God has certain traits of character which are good for him to have but not for us to have. To me, that leaves us, not with an Omnipotent Fiend perhaps, but certainly with a God with a divided character that seems to me schizophrenic.

The essay I have linked to is by Thomas Talbott, who is an agapocentrist who is also a universalist. Other agapocentrists are Arminians; they believe in God's loving purpose, but think that in order to have genuine love there has to be freedom, and that some persons will permanently choose not to accept God's love, and will, as C. S. Lewis says, lock the doors of hell from the inside. However, the character of God is the same for universalists as for Arminians. Calvinists, however, see God's character differently.

One further objection might be that it is wrong to have a "hermeneutical center," because if we have one we will screen out important biblical data that conflicts with that center. What one must do is take the Bible as it comes, with each part of it being regarded as no more fundamental than any part.

But doesn't everyone have a hermeneutical center? Doesn't everyone read passages that are harder to understand from the point of view of their hermeneutical center through passages that express that center? If someone says "No. We do pure exegesis here. We read the Bible in an neutral unprejudiced way. That's how we came to accept he doctrines of grace," my response is that I simply don't believe you.

Can there be shifts in hermenutical centers? Yes, but they are massive shifts in understanding that involve massive biblical evidence.

Does agapocentrism make the problem of evil more difficult? There is a sense in which it does. Persons who advance the argument from evil expect God's goodness to involve loving all persons, which agapocentrists agree with. They also have a tendency to equate love for us with a pursuit of our own temporal happiness, which agapocentrists need not accept. Calvinists can say that it just isn't morally necessary for God to behave lovingly toward every person, and there is a sense in which they can deflect or dissolve the problem of evil more easily than can agapocentrists.

The chief end of man

Is the Westminister Catechism wrong when it says the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever? Because it doesn't look as if a Calvinist can unequivocably say that. That would mean that the persons in hell have not achieved their chief end, since they are not glorifying God and not enjoying him forever. It seems to me that a Calvinist has to say that the chief end of man depends upon whether or not you are elect. If a person goes to hell, you have to maintain that there is some fundamental, inherent purpose to their existence as a human being that they failed to achieve. But what sense does that make if God is in complete control of everything?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Reply to Pike on God and Morality in Calvinism

Peter Pike claims that I haven't done the job of defining goodness. Let's have a look at his own attempt to do so.

1. God exists with certain attributes that make up His nature.
2. God's nature determines how He acts, what He wills, etc.
3. God gives general commands to us, based on His nature.
4. God is immutable.
5. Logically, then, God's general commands will not change. They are what they are.

I argue that for us good is doing what God commands us to do, and evil is not doing so (including acts of comission or omission; that is, doing what you shouldn't do or NOT doing what you should do are both evil).That means we only have to concern ourselves with the commands of God.

At the risk of becoming tiresome, I would have to ask what definition of God we are working with here? If God is a being omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good, then but something is good if it is in accordance with the commands of God, we have a problem.

In my view moral obligation is created by the fact that God creates us with an intended purpose which is identical to our good, in that we as humans flourish if we fulfill that purpose. Further, God acts in a way that is consistent with the pursuit of that good for all his creatures. Our good is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, evil is what gets in the way of that.

On Calvinist theory there is a large gap between what makes God's character good, and what makes us good, a gap that cannot be explained in terms of a difference in God's wisdom or knowledge. A native may believe that men in white coats bearing long needles are mean to little kids because he lacks knowledge that the men in the white coats possess, but the standard of goodness for natives and for missionary doctors is the same. Both the native and the doctor want the child to be well, and for the child not to suffer, but they have different ideas as to how to go about it. Piper seems concerned to respond to the charge that God's interest in his glory makes him selfish, since selfishness is a vice amongst humans. If I were to read on someone's tombstone "He pursued his own glory single-mindedly throughout his life" I don't think I would think I was looking at the grave of someone I wish I had known. Glory hogs in basketball don't help the team win.

It seems to me that when you say God gives commands based on his nature, it is pretty clear that we don't have obligations to reflect all aspects of God's moral nature in our own conduct. We might be rightly wrathful when someone we love is raped, but we aren't supposed to be looking for or artifically creating opportunities for us to exercise our attribute of being wrathful at evil, (maybe by creating androids who commit crimes so that we can punish them for those crimes) as if there was some aspect of us that is going to go unfulfilled if we are fortunate enough never to be in a position where that sort of wrath is called for. So while divine commands are supposed to be based on the divine nature, the kind of people we are commanded to be fails to fully reflect the character of God, and there are actions on the part of God which are deemed right which, if parallel actions are performed by humans, they would contravene the commands of God.

How to eliminate the problem of evil

I am redating a post from 2005 which took place, if course, before my exchanges with Calvinists. I am aware of the fact that some Calvinists, notably Sudduth, dissasociate not only themselves from what I am calling Ockhamism here, but also dissassociate Calvin from Ockhamism.

The following is a presentation of an argument from evil:

(1) Gratuitous evils probably exist.
(2) Gratuitous evils are incompatible with the God of theism (omnipotent, omniscient, all-good).
(3) Therefore, the God of theism probably does not exist.

This argument has a presupposition that some Christians have questioned. It presupposes that "good" is somehow independent of the will of God, and that it has some objective meaning independent of the will of God. That presupposition, which John Beversluis calls Platonism is that "the term good cannot mean some thing radically different from what is means when applied to men." The opposing view is that he calls the Ockhamist view, set forth by William of Ockham. This is Beversluis's exposition:

"According to this view, when we talk about God's goodness, we must be prepared to give up our ordinary moral standards. The term good when applied to God does mean som ething radically different from what it means when applied to human beings. To suppose that God must be conform to some standard other than his own sovereign will is to deny his ultimacy. His is not under any moral constraint to command certain actions and to forbid others. He does not, for example, forbid murder because it is wrong; it is wrong because he forbids it. If God would command us to murder, then that would be our duty, just as it was the duty of Abraham to sacridice Isaac, or Elijah to slay the prophets of Baal, or Joshua to slaughter the Canaanites right down to the alst woman and child. Some Ockhamist Christians have even gone so far as to say that God could have reversed the entire moral law and made virtues not only of murder but of adultery, theft, coveting and bearing false witness. As Ockhamist John Calvin puts it, "The will of God is the highest rule of justice; so that what he wills must be considered just...for this very reason, because he wills it." (Calvin's Institutes, book 3, chapter 3, section 2)And one contemporary Calvinist, Gordon H. Clark, surpasses even Ockham and Calvin on this point. "God .... cannot be responsible for the plain reason that there is no power superior to him; no greater being can hold him accountable; no one can punish ... there are no laws which he could disobey."1

1 Gordon Clark, Reason, Religion and Revelation (Jefferson, MD: The Trinity Foundation, 1986), p. 241, John Beversluis, C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1985) pp. 102-103.

Now if "good" means "in accordance with God's will, then there is simply no possibility that God actions can possibly be wrong. If we are prepared to set aside the concept of goodness that we are inclined to apply to human beings and admit that "good" means be definition "whatever God wills," there simply can be no problem of evil.

You've heard of Ockham's Razor, this is Ockham's Solvent. Any version of the problem of evil that you could possibly advance can be answered by one sentence, "Who are you, O man, to answer back to God?" Or, as your mother used to say, "Because I said so!"

Earlier I put together a couple of posts on why Calvinists can't solve the problem of evil. That is true. But they can dissolve it. This is, I think the only possible option the Calvinist has in responding to the objection from evil. The fact is that for the Calvinist, for all eternity, the world could have been better than it was, is, and always will be, at least by any understading of goodness that humans can make any sense of.

So if you really want to get rid of the problem of evil, this is the way to do it. Unfortunately, it gets rid of a lot of other things as well. See the link to the first chapter of my book.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

More discussion with Manata on Calvinism

Hi Victor,
As I can’t get into an extended back-n-forth at the current time, I’ll offer a final response to this current issue. Before I begin, let me state that my liberal comment was meant more to portray the point that you don’t post blog entries indicting the “morally repugnant” nature of some liberal issues when juxtaposed against Kantian maxims. I understand your position on abortion and euthanasia and didn’t mean to imply that you were lock-step liberal on those matters. However, I do wonder why you don’t come out with a post entitled “Euthanists and Immanuel Kant,” concluding that euthanists need to say, “So much the worse for Kant.” That you don’t do this, and even seem to afford their arguments respect, always making sure their place is set at the table of rational discourse, strikes me as wondering if you really believe this Kantian argument you’re offering.

I don't think I would want to deprive Calvinism of a place at the table of rational discourse.

I take your current argument to be that Calvinism is morally repugnant according to your pre-argumentative moral intuitions. To flesh out what is pre-argumentative, you appeal to Kant’s Humanity Principle, HP. That is, "Treat humanity in yourself and in others as an end, but never as a means." You then claim that the Calvinist idea where God “guarantees a final outcome of [the reprobates] existence” is a violation of this principle because this makes these humans’ purpose to be “either for the glory of God or the edification of the blessed.” And so you say, “It is for that reason that I see reprobates as a mere means in the Calvinistic scheme.” That Calvinism violates Kant’s HP maxim, and so helps in substantiating your pre-argumentative intuitions, is because this violation shows that a “large chunk of moral thought common to various ethical traditions has to be set aside for the Calvinistic God.” Implicit here is that a “large chunk” of moral thought holds to the HP.

I take it that I have stated your argument correctly.

So here’s some problems I see for you. First, I disagree with your understanding of Kant. I do not see how the HP is doing the work you want it to here. As virtually all ethicists have pointed out, Kant’s position here is helpless to help us apply it to any concrete cases. You claimed that it was only helpless in “borderline” cases. However, as I read them, this is not what the ethicists tell us. This is not what the two ethicists I quoted, Timmons and Griffin, tell us. But agreement with my claim seems far and wide.

For example, Pojman points out that “Even if we should respect [other rational beings] and treat them as ends, this does not tell us very much.” I certainly doubt it tells a divine being what to do when looking over a mass of sinful humanity all deserving of punishment! Pojman says that at best it tells us not to treat others cruelly; and that without a good reason (Pojman, Ethics, 147)!

On the Calvinistic view, God is in a position such that he can bring it about that no one needs to be reprobated. God can do that by decreeing that they not sin or by decreeing that they receive redemption.

Wood claims that what constitutes respect for other persons always involves a need to combine that principle with contentious claims. He thinks that no criterion for deciding when someone is being treated as a mere means that comes out of HP (Wood, Kant, 150-155). Kant scholar Richard Dean admits that “it is far from clear what precisely the humanity formulation demands” (Dean, Humanity, 4).
When you rather confidently claim that, “the instantiation of a reprobate world seems to be a clear case of using the reprobates as a means to an end,” this strikes me as not just a free lunch you want, but also a lifetime supply of Big Mac burgers! Even setting aside worries about whether treating someone as a mere means is immoral, of if God has indeed treated the reprobate as *mere* means, the problem you have is that you apparently see farther than all of those who specialize not only in ethical theory in general, but Kant in particular.
Second, speaking of Kant experts, we have some general ideas of what it means to “treat humanity as a mere means and not an end.” For example, Kosrsgaard takes Kant’s treatment of the lying promisor, i.e., “you treat someone as a mere means whenever you treat him in a way to which he could not possibly consent (G 430)” as a hermeneutical light to shine on one of the most obscure ethical claims. Others claim, in similar fashion, and based off the role rationality plays in all of this for Kant, that if we have treated some agent, S, in a certain respect R, then we have made S a mere means *iff* S would not have agreed with R *given S was fully rational*. Rachels makes a similar argument (Rachels, Elements, 132). All that is required not to treat a person as an ends is “to respect their rationality.” Obviously none of this poses a problem for the Calvinist in that we claim no forcing is going on, and we would claim that if any agent were fully rational they would agree with all of God’s decisions. Indeed, in none of Kant’s specific examples, which many claim are unclear (Dean, Humanity, 4), is there something analogous to reprobation.

I didn't really intend for my claim to rest on the fine points of Kantian ethical theory. The Second Formulation has an intuitive appeal, why? The idea of someone being simply exploited is obnoxious to us.

I thought I provided a common-sense account of what it is for someone to be treated as a mere means. If another person's interests are completely set aside so that one's own goals can be accomplished, this is using a person as a mere means. Slavery and seduction would be paradigm cases of using persons as a means. Here interests need not be given any especially hedonistic definition. I take it that Calvinists agree that the interests of a created person are served when that person can "glorify God and enjoy him forever." Whether using violence to their will or not, the Calvinistic God guarantees that reprobates act in such a way that they spoil their chance at permanent happiness, and exist in irretrievable misery. No interest of these persons is taken seriously, these are all completely frustrated in the interests of fulfilling God's purpose either for himself (glory) or for the blessed (object lessons showing them he graciousness of their salvation). In ordinary contexts this would be a paradigmatic case of exploitation.

I think Kant would say that if a reprobate person were to see the true nature of his actions, he would not do them. He can only act in a reprobate way by being irrational. The fact that God can, without violence to their will, bring it about that people act irrationally and undermine their own best interests does not mean that they are not being exploited, any more than someone who plays on the irrational greed of someone in order to bilk them out of their money is exploiting them, even though they are not committing violence to their will.

But matters don’t get any easier. Next up is the notion of ‘humanity’. You seem to read this phrase as “actual persons.” However Kant scholar Richard Dean claims that figuring this out is even harder than the above questions posed, as it is “deceptively obscure” (Dean, Humanity, 4). In fact, and contrary to you Dr. Reppert, Dean claims that viewing ‘humanity’ as a “general noun to identify all members of the human species” is “not what Kant means by humanity,” according to “contemporary commentators” (Dean, Humanity, 5). Dean claims that ‘humanity’ is a property “in” a person, and that not all humans have this. In fact, some, like Singer, would argue that some animals and no human infants have this property! So to not treat cows as mere means I had better take back those free Big Macs you asked for above! And, if this were not enough, Dean points out that there is even disagreement on what this property is supposed to be. Not all agree it is the rational nature (Dean, Humanity, 5). Indeed, on Korsgaard, Wood, and Hill’s analysis infants do not come into the picture too! Dean has to admit that “there is no perfectly consistent and univocal sense that attaches to Kant's uses of the word ‘humanity’” (Dean, Humanity, 65).

Is it right to sacrifice the interests of a rational creature for the accomplishment of one's own goals? Is it right to raise rational creatures as food? For the purpose of doing slave labor? If we could create conscious androids with the kind of rich inner life as we have, would we be justified in treating them the worst plantation owners treated Negro slaves? After all we created them, so we can use the "potter argument" from Romans 9 to justify doing whatever the hell we want with them?

At this point things look dreary for your argument.

Only if you think the argument depends upon the fine points of Kantian theory.

Third, more problems can be seen, however, in that Kant’s argument *depends on* the idea that ‘humanity’ (whatever that is) is of the *highest* worth. But if the glory of God, or the benefit of the elect, are of higher worth, than the argument falls flat. And certainly, this is quite possible; indeed, most Christians admit it as pertains to God. But we don’t even need to go there at this point.

Well, here is where the real conflict lies. Does God's glory justify all of this, or the benefit of the blessed. My first question has to be "What glory does God get, and what benefit to the blessed get?" I don't see any. But if you can accept a "divine glory" theory of the good, and then be persuaded that reprobation maximizes that good, then you can get around my argument.

I am in agreement with philosophers Rhoda, Hasker, Swinburne, Widerker, Fischer, and Helm, to name but a few, in denying that omniscience is compatible with knowledge of the future indeterministically free actions of human agents. I am in agreement with other libertarians, like Hunt and Zagzebski, that foreknowledge renders all your actions settled, accidentally necessary. I have not seen a “way out” for those who are compatibilists about libertarian freedom and God’s exhaustive, meticulous foreknowledge of all things. Your claim that God “guarantees” certain outcomes is one that is had on more systems than just Calvinism. So you must find them morally repugnant too (unless you want to shore up the language used, but even so, I still would see no “way out” for Classical theisms). But an argument from a Christian that consigns all of historic, classical Christianity to the flames of the “morally repugnant,” is an argument that just tossed all its persuasive value into the same fire. All classical models have the fate of sinners “guaranteed.”

It is one thing to make the case that a position is itself morally repugnant. It is another thing to hold that a position has logical entailments not recognized by adherents of the position lead to morally repugnant conclusions. You have suspected that I have open theist leanings, and I do. Bill Hasker is both one of the founding fathers of the AFR, and the chief philosophical defender of open theism. I think Bill's arguments (and those of others on this score) may well be right. However, C. S. Lewis, for example, thought he could escape the implications of exhaustive foreknowledge by appealing to God's transcendence of time. Bill Craig thinks middle knowledge is the way out. They don't think they have to justify unconditional reprobation. They are certainly not philosophically omniscient, and they are not embracing reprobation in the way that a Calvinist does. The fact that many people, even conservative Christians, are willing to take the step of going to open theism instead of to Calvinism when they become persuaded that reconciliations of foreknowledge and freedom don't work is ample evidence that there is something repugnant, at least to them, about Calvinism.

Fourth, I still cannot figure out what your objection to God’s punishing criminals who deserve punishment is? Your claim is that he could have saved them all. But considered as sinners qua guilty criminals, he did not have to save even one. I once asked you if God was morally obligated to save anyone. You said “No.” This takes the teeth out of your argument. If you asked why he passed over Sam and not Jim, I cannot tell you, that belongs to the hidden things. If you asked why he made a world determined to fall over a world where no one ever fell, I respond by claiming that a redeemed world is better than an unredeemed world.

There is nothing in the character of sinners that merits salvation for them. However, the character of God is such that He will save anyone who can possibly be saved. And is a redeemed world better than an unfallen world? Do you have a model of each in a petri dish so we can compare? In C. S. Lewis's Perelandra the Un-man uses the Fortunate Fall argument to try to seduce the Green Lady of Venus to fall. I don't see why failure to fall should have cost the world the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity.

Fifth, I still did not see an *argument* for how these people were treated as *mere* means. I’m not even sure I understand the relevant difference between treating one as a means and one as a mere means. According to many popular understandings of Kant, Calvinism is not treating them as mere means.

The total frustration of all their interests for the sake of the ends of others strikes me as treating them as mere means.

Sixth, you claim that Calvinism is at odds with a major chunk of moral thought. Above I showed this to be false. What I will demonstrate here is that if you accept classical theism then you hold a view that is at odds with a chunk of moral thought. Take this moral claim:

[MC] If someone, S, knows the proposition {S* will kill and rape S** at t unless I, S, intervene, and I, S, have the power to intervene} then if S failed to stop S* from killing and raping S** at t, S would be immoral.

It's easy to see that if people are given a free will, God cannot be systematically insulating the world from its effects without in effect taking that free will away. If a billy-club turns into nerf every time I try to hit someone over the head, or if I start to throw up every time I lust, I am effectively unfree. Welcome to the world of Clockwork Orange.

I take it that almost all people would agree with [MC]. Now, one might *add* to [MC], say, claim that S had a *good reason* for allowing S* to kill and rape S**. But when you make *that move* I simply say, “Welcome to my parlor, said the spider to the fly.” If you claim I must know the reason, I deny this premise, appeal to skeptical theist arguments, and show that I am still untouched. BTW, this answer wouldn’t work on many interpretations of Kant!

Lastly, by way of closing I would like to say that I argued that your *Kantian* argument goes nowhere. I argued that you would have to condemn all of classical Christianity. I argued that you have yet to spell out what the problem with Calvinism WRT God passing over some sinners who deserve hell while saving some others is, exactly. I have argued that you hold a premise that conflicts with a major chunk or moral thought, and to the extent that you make it palpable, you also free Calvinism from your clutches. Furthermore, to the extent you can appeal to some kind of greater good, you still would have to say, “So much the worse for Kant;” or, perhaps, “So much the worse for traditional conceptions of omniscience.” So I hope this brief response shows why the Calvinist does not find your argument cogent (i.e., persuasive in the right kind of way). But perhaps the most damaging things I have done is shown that what you initially took to be an *explanation* of your intuition posits *more* things to explain! There is more now to explain at the level of the explanans than the explanandum.

Please take note of my analysis of exploitation above. No doubt Calvinists will say that this "exploitation" must be justified since, based on Scripture, this is just what God has done, and who are we to answer back. I am not here claiming that these considerations trump all other theological considerations. But I hope I have come a tad closer to giving you a sense of what makes Calvinism seem morally outrageous to many people, including Christians.

Infidels' library of atheistic arguments

Religious Rationality Part II

A redated post.

In response to Mr. Aspray, I would hope that he gets the chance to read the second chapter of my book, "Assessing Apologetic Arguments." There I distinguish three positions with respect to the relation between faith and reason, fideism, which denies that religious beliefs are open to rational assessment, strong rationalism, which says that in order for it to be rational to believe something in religion we should have a proof that at least ought to be acceptable to every reasonable person, and critical rationalism, which says that although we should have good reasons for our beliefs, we should not expect that the proof we expect will, or even should, be acceptable to every rational person. I endorse the third option, but not the second, in spite of spending the remainder of the book providing reasons for preferring theism to naturalism. (In passing, it looks as if Richard Carrier is a strong rationalist who keeps taking me to task for failing to successfully shoulder the strong rationalist's burden, something I explicitly indicate probably cannot be done. And then I have seen commentators who think maybe I claim to little for my arguments).

I believe strongly in reason; I just don't believe that there is a neutral, emotion-free perspective from which to reason. I expect people will reason from where they are intellectually, not from some Cartesian/Archimedean point of absolute zero.

A lot of people like to read Lewis's apologetics more rationalistically than it really is, and then say that since he met a real philosopher in Anscombe, he gave up the business of making religion rational. That's a bunch on nonsense, a crock of manure eight feet high. Lewis emphasized both reason and the emotions throughout his career, and did an excellent job of avoiding the Star Trek fallacy, the fallacy of assuming that when emotion is present, reason is not, and when reason is present emotion is not. Notice, for example, the Professor's rational argument for believing Lucy in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Who would care at all about reason if we didn't have a passion for the truth?

Religious rationality

A redated post.

t's important not to over-emphasize, or to under-emphasize, the role of reason in C. S. Lewis. It is often assumed that where reason is present, the emotions are not, and where emotions are present, reason is not, but this is what I call the Star Trek fallacy. Lewis was persuaded of various things by reason, with which he would not have become a Christian. He descibed himself as the most reluctant convert in all England; if he is telling the truth about himself, then it must be that rational argument played an important role in persuading him to believe. Even the appeal to the Desire for the Infinite has to be defended by rational argument, otherwise it can be dismissed as wishful thinking, which is precisely what Beversluis does with it.

We should expect to be as rational about our religious beliefs as we are when buying a used car. In both cases, irrationality can lead to being taken, by shark salesmen on the one case, and by cult leaders and television evangelists on the other. The religious skeptic and fideistic believer (a fideist is someone who believes that religious belief should not be open to rational evaluation) maintain that a person can be a Christian insofar is he or she abandons rationality. Lewis said "I am not asking anyone to believe in Christianity if his best reasoning tells him the weight of the evidence is against it." If Beversluis or anyone else has succeeded in showing that you can believe only if you go against reason, I con understand that this would be a problem for Mr. Ku, as it would be for me.

Monday, September 14, 2009

If atheism becomes predominant, will it lead to eugenic research?

This article is written by an agnostic.

Anscombe's part of the exchange with C. S. Lewis

Can be found here. You can read Anscombe's original response to Lewis's first edition of miracles, her brief response to the revised edition, and Lewis's initial reply to Anscombe which appeared in the Anscombe's book, and formed the basis for his revised argument.

The Bayesian Argument from Desire

A redated post.

A good place to start in making sense of the argument from desire is Peter Kreeft’s formulation.

1) Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.

2) But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy.

3) Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth and creatures, which can satisfy this desire.

4) This something is what people call "God" and "life with God forever."

A good deal of poetry and literature seem to support the second premise. Human beings are deeply dissatisfied even when all of their earthly needs are satisfied. On the face of things, the most difficult premise to defend is 1). How could we, without first knowing that Joy can be satisfied?

Kreeft responds: This is very easy to refute. We can and do come to a knowledge of universal truths, like "all humans are mortal," not by sense experience alone (for we can never sense all humans) but through abstracting the common universal essence or nature of humanity from the few specimens we do experience by our senses. We know that all humans are mortal because humanity, as such, involves mortality, it is the nature of a human being to be mortal; mortality follows necessarily from its having an animal body. We can understand that. We have the power of understanding, or intellectual intuition, or insight, in addition to the mental powers of sensation and calculation, which are the only two the nominalist and empiricist give us. (We share sensation with animals and calculation with computers; where is the distinctively human way of knowing for the empiricist and nominalist?)

But doesn’t this just mean “We just know?” Why shouldn’t natural unsatisfiable desires arise? This difficulty is especially acute when you look at the naturalistic world-view to which theism is opposed. The naturalistic atheist is prepared to accept a substantial amount of absurdity in human existence, at least if it is measured by the standards of expectations conditioned by theism. Consider the following comments by Keith Parsons here.

Bertrand Russell said that a soul’s habitation must be built on a firm foundation of unyielding despair. However, Parsons, in his debate with William Lane Craig, maintained that the despair is a despair from a theistically conditioned set of expectations concerning life’s meaningfulness.

The question I am asking is this: Is there any reason why a nontheist should be surprised that human beings have desires that are doomed to permanent frustration?

John Beversluis, in his critique of Lewis’s apologetics, suggests that in preface to The Pilgrim’s Regress Lewis offers a justification for 1 in the principle that nature does nothing in vain, but then offers no good reason why we should believe that nature does nothing in vain. In fact, it might be argued that the very principle itself presupposes a teleological understanding of the universe that presupposes theism, thus reducing the argument from desire to begging the question.

But I wonder if some version of the principle that nature does nothing in vain might be accepted by both parties in the debate. Beversluis says that the fact that we are hungry is no evidence that food exists, the actual discovery of food is the only thing that would suffice. But if we were to find creatures with, say, sexual desires, but no way of having sex, and which reproduced asexually, wouldn’t that conflict with out expectations? Wouldn’t biologists he shocked to find such a creature? Wouldn’t the existence of sexual desires be evidence that sex was at least possible or surely of some biological use, even if we did not see any actual mates for these creatures? To argue thus we would not need creationism; even evolutionary biologists would have to agree.

In an earlier post I wrote:

Why should we think that a natural desire within us would not exist unless it was satisfiable? Well, let us suppose that God and evolution are the main two explanations for why we have the desires that we have. We can understand easily why we have those desires if God has outfitted us with the desires that we have. These desires are God’s “calling card” whereby He draws us to Himself. But suppose evolution were the explanation, as it would have to be on naturalistic assumptions. It is possible, of course, that these desires should evolve, but should we expect this? Should we not expect that desires that don’t directly promote survival would be shoved out of the way by desires for food, clothing, and shelter, power, and strength, which do us so much more good from an immediate survival standpoint. If we didn’t know better, we should expect this meme to become extinct. On the face of things, we have something that obviously provides Bayesian confirmation for theism. We have something that is very likely on the theistic hypothesis, and perhaps compatible with atheism, but not very likely given atheism.

At least that’s what I’d like to think. But I do know that evolution is not perfectly efficient. If nature does nothing in vain, how do we account for the human appendix, an organ which now has no use other than to get infected and make money for doctors? In one sense, it is something nature did in vain, in that it doesn’t do anything for us now. On the other hand, I am told that it was used by our ancestors to digest raw meat, back before we learned how to cook. Should we expect human creatures in an atheistic world to desire an object that nothing on earth can satisfy?

This is Bayes’ theorem. H is the hypothesis, K is background knowledge and e is the evidence.

p(h/e & k) = p(h/k) x p(e/h & k)/p(e/k)

Suppose we haven’t considered the evidence concerning the human desire for the infinite, and so we consider this data as e. In using Bayes’ theorem, we begin by considering the probability of the hypothesis, in this case theism, on background knowledge alone. To see if the Bayesian argument from desire has any weight at all, let’s assume that we have a person who thinks that theism and atheism are equally likely. Bayesian theorists have tried in vain to find a method of determining objective antecedent probabilities. So let’s assume that p (h/k) = .5. The next question is how probability is the desire evidence to arise if theism is true. It seems that theism gives us a reason to suppose that these desires would be likely to arise in a theistic universe, especially if that universe were a Christian universe. On Christian theism God’s intention in creating humans is to fit them for eternity in God’s presence. As such, it stands to reason that we should find ourselves dissatisfied with worldly satisfactions. Let’s put the likelihood that we should long for the infinite given theism at .9. Now, what is the likelihood that infinite longings should arise on background knowledge alone. This is the hard part. If we don’t know whether theism is true or not, how likely are we to have desires like Lewis is talking about? I wouldn’t say that such desires couldn’t possibly arise in an atheistic world. Even though such desires seem to have limited evolutionary use, they could well be byproducts of features of human existence that do. But how likely would they arise in such a world? So long as the answer is “less likely than in a theistic world,” the presence of these desires confirms theism. Let’s say that, if we don’t know whether theism is true or not, the likelihood that these desires should arise is .7. Plugging these values into Bayes’ theorem, we go from .5 likelihood that theism is true to a .643 likelihood that theism is true. Thus, if these figures are correct, the argument from desire confirms theism.

I can see Bart Ehrman throwing a fit already. And I will admit that I don’t have supreme confidence in this argument. But I can’t help thinking that there must be something to the argument from desire, especially if the argument is presented in Bayesian terms.

50 things being killed by the internet

And by cellphones as well. Some of them will not be mourned, at least by me.

Lewis apparently had this wrong

Lewis said that dogs don't understand pointing. According to this report, he didn't have this right.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Are you entitled to your opinion? No.

This is a nice piece exploding a popular myth.

Free Market Economics and the Too Big to Fail Policy

The basic principle of underlying free market economics, I take it, is the view that when there is free competition businesses will have to behave in ways that benefit the general public. The reason why this must be so is that every business operates under the threat of failure.

But what happens when so much of our economic infrastucture depends upon the success of particular businesses? Two solutions are:

1) Businesses too big to fail must be bailed out by government to prevent infrastructure damage

or better yet

2) Businesses must be prevented by government from becoming too big to fail.

But these two solutions are socialistic in nature. The first of these measures, which was taken under the Bush administration, strikes me as a much larger step in the direction of socialism than Obama's public option.

Free market philosophy, it seems to me, requires this:

3) There is no such thing as a business to big to fail. If they go belly-up, let them go belly-up. Somehow, neither party was willing to accept this. Which suggests to me that we have to start looking for conservatives with a lantern, at least in Washington.

Friday, September 11, 2009

An exchange with Paul Manata on Kant and Calvinism

Don't you think the tone of this dialogue is improving?

PM: i) There should obviously be no problem in saying, "So much the worse for Kant." In fact, many of your commenters said as much when discussing Kant's idea of conceptual schemes. In epistemology do you say, "So much the worse for Kant?" It is well known that Kant's system is opposed to suicide. As a liberal on such questions, would you admit now admit that Euthanasia, or patients opting to end their painful lives, is immoral? Or, will you say, "So much the worse for Kant"?

ii) Does appeal to Kant here beg a crucial question? As Kant understands things: "The ground of the possibility of categorical imperatives is this: that they refer to no other property of choice . . . than simply its *freedom*" (Kant, MM, 15/222, emphasis original). By this he means *libertarian* freedom. Kant thought his system demanded libertarian free will. Is it a surprise that compatibilists might take issue here?

iii) Kant says, "Autonomy is . . . the *ground* of the dignity of the human nature and of every rational nature" (G, 43/436, emphasis mine). As a *Christian*, do you say "So much the worse for Kant" at this point? or is our dignity *grounded in* our autonomy?

iv) As you know, but seem to miss out on, Kant's position is on treating others as *mere* means. As Kantian scholar Mark Timmons points out: "There is nothing necessarily morally wrong in [treating others as ends]. However, treating people *merely* as means to one's own ends [is wrong]" (Timmons, Moral Theory, 157, emphasis original). Therefore your burden is to show that in Calvinism, granting you many other points for sake of argument, God is treating the reprobate as *mere* ends. I am not optimistic that you could prove such a strong claim.

v) As Timmons comments on Kant regarding the treating others as mere ends maxim: "This does not mean we help others in their goals no matter what those goals happen to be. Rather, according to Kant, we have a duty to promote the *morally legitimate* goals of others (ibid, 158).

vi) In what seems particularly devastating to your argument, conceived Armininaistically, Timmons points out that, "Regarding the other main obligatory end---the happiness of others---Kant distinguishes duties of love, *which are not strictly owed to another person*, from duties of respect, which are" (ibid, 160, emphasis mine).

vii) Many have pointed out that Kant's idea about respecting other people is fine but too vague and so fails a determinacy standard for evaluating moral theories. A pacifist might appeal to the same Kantian theory Victor has. James Griffen says, "Every moral theory has the notion of equal respect at its heart: regarding each person as, in some sense, on an equal footing with every other one. Different moral theories parlay this vague notion into different conceptions . . .[M]oral theories are not simply derivations from these vague notions, because the notions are too vague to allow anything as tight as a derivation" (Griffin, in ibid, 182). So when the Calvinist debates the Arminian, with their differing conceptual schemes, then, as Timmons is right to point out, "the most plausible route" to take in regards to Kant's system, "is to admit that any moral theory, including Kant's, is limited in power to resolve such conflicts" (ibid, 184). So, while the "upshot is that although the idea of respecting humanity, or, equivalently, treating persons as ends in themselves, is an intuitively attractive moral ideal," the downside is that, "it is too vague to be the basis for a supreme moral principle that one can use to *derive* a system of moral duties" (ibid, 182, emphasis original).

viii) Given these considerations, along with countless other ones, I maintain that you kant use Kant to beat Calvinism. There are too many question you would have to beg, strong positions you would have to prove, and self-excepting fallacies you would have to avoid for your argument to do the work you want it to.
-- Paul

Paul: Hello. I read, and linked to, a post of yours in which you seemed to be implying that you had responded in one way to a Kant-style objection and followed that by offering another rebuttal of the Kant-style objection. I actually couldn't find the prior response, so I quoted the subsequent response.

I thought that by saying that the Calvinist can respond by saying "So much the worse for Kant" I was agreeing that a refutation of Calvinism is not to be found here. In fact, my standing position that there are no silver bullets on these controversial issues applies to Calvinism as well as to other issues. I was trying to address a different question. I was trying to ask why many people, including myself, react to Calvinism with moral repugnance. Is it merely an emotional reaction? Or is it moral convictions which have a rational foundation? And is Scripture itself feeding into the very intuitions that cause the repugnance? My post was an attempt to unpack the intuitions behind my resistance to Calvinism.

(As a side-note, you overestimate my "liberalism" with respect to euthanasia; I am not an advocate of active euthanasia, as opposed to the mere refusal of life-sustaining treatment. I also maintain that abortion is almost always morally unacceptable and late term abortions should be illegal. I don't pass the standard of pro-life orthodoxy, but I consider my views on abortion moderately conservative. Yes, I have supported candidates whose support for "a woman's right to choose" is far more robust than mine, so you can accuse me of tacitly supporting abortion on those grounds if you like. But that doesn't change my actual position on abortion itself, or on euthanasia.)

It doesn't seem to me as if you have to be a full-blown Kantian in ethics to get the point of what Kant is driving at with his Second Formulation of the Categorical Imperative. Choosing to instantiate a world in which there are reprobates when a universalist world was equally possible and rational treats those sinners as mere means to an end. The fundamental end or purpose of human beings is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, yet God chooses for some a final outcome that guarantees a final outcome of their existence which frustrates those inherent purposes. Instead, the total frustration of their inherent purposes is willed either for the glory of God or the edification of the blessed. They are props in a cosmic drama, destined by the director for a totally failed existence, so that others might get some benefit (and I find the benefit, either for humans or for God, to be highly dubious at best). Humans have one purpose, according to which their deepest needs as humans might be satisfied. That purpose is completely frustrated, as the necessary result of a divine fiat, so that a benefit might accrue to God or to the blessed. It is for that reason that I see reprobates as a mere means in the Calvinistic scheme.

The Griffin quote seems to be quite good here:

James Griffen says, "Every moral theory has the notion of equal respect at its heart: regarding each person as, in some sense, on an equal footing with every other one. Different moral theories parlay this vague notion into different conceptions . . .[M]oral theories are not simply derivations from these vague notions, because the notions are too vague to allow anything as tight as a derivation" (Griffin, in ibid, 182).

Saving some and reprobating others based on a decision before the foundation of the world treats people differently in what looks like an arbitrary way. All men are not created equal. Some are elected, and others are reprobated.

While this conception of "equal respect" might be too vague to handle borderline cases, the instantiation of a reprobate world seems to be a clear case of using the reprobates as a means to an end. If we accept Steve's position, no action and no desire on the part of God is aimed toward the good of these people. They exist to be "object lessons" to teach the blessed in heaven that their salvation is by grace alone, or they exist to give God the opportunity to exercise his property of being wrathful, which he wouldn't have if there were no sinners to punish. The wedge between creaturely goodness and divine goodness seems, on this picture, to be nearly as wide as can possibly be imagined.

I would add that Scripture offers a very powerful object lesson from the point of view of "equal respect" in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The essence of Christian ethics is to love your neighbor as yourself, and that our attempt to distinguish between neighbor and non-neighbor is bound to fail. Yet God chooses some to be treated one way, and others to be treated in the opposite way? Isn't Scripture responsible for creating some cognitive dissonance here if Scripture if it at the same time teaches Calvinism?

Again, I'll repeat what I said. No silver bullets. But it does seem that a very large chunk of moral thought common to various ethical traditions has to be set aside for the Calvinistic God.

I hope this has been helpful by way of clarification.

Calvinism and Immanuel Kant

Kant's second formulation of the Categorical Imperative says "Treat humanity in yourself and in others as an end, but never as a means." Does it bother Calvinists at all that reprobates are, according to their theology, a mere means and not an end in themselves? Thus, heaven is not a kingdom of ends, there are people who interests are completely sacrificed to the interests of others?

I raised this issue parenthetically in one of my posts last year, and I was reading over a response by Paul Manata where he answers it, and I link to that answer here.

ii) Kant justified punishment by the categorical imperative by arguing that if someone S, say, killed someone, then S is acting as if this were a universal law, and thereby agrees with his punishment; agrees it is just. So, if S sinned against God, and knew this deserved death (cf. Romans 1), whence ariseth the Kantian problem?

The question here, though, is why such a sinner exists, and it is the second formulation of the Imperative, not the first, that we are concerned with. The only way this could work would be if you said that it served the true ends of the sinner to bring it about both that he sins and is punished. And I think what you have to say is that the sinner's interests are sacrificed completely for the glory of God.

The Calvinist response, I supposed, has to be "So much the worse for Kant." Which is surely a possible answer. However, I am attempting to cash out the intuitions that underlie the negative reaction that many of us have with respect to Calvinism. Is it mere emotion or sentimentality? Or is it something else? If the Second Formulation of the Categorical Imperative is a rational moral principle, then isn't there a rational difficulty with Calvinism?

The Westminister Shorter Catechism was, I take it, not written by an Arminian, and it says the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. I don't think reprobates glorify God (this is different from claiming that God is glorified in their reprobation, which Calvinists do claim) and they surely don't enjoy him forever. So apparently, if Calvinism is true, God creates creatures with a true end which they do not achieve, in spite of being in complete control of them.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hays on love and reprobation

I paged through a few old posts and got this straight answer about God's love for the non-elect.

SH: With respect to Todd, if Todd is one of the elect, then God loves him and desires his salvation. Indeed, if Todd is one of the elect, then God will regenerate Todd at some future date. But if Todd is a reprobate, then God does not love him or desire his salvation.

This is pretty straightforward. The love in John 3:16 is for the elect, even though it is the expression of God love for the Kosmos or world.

I think this is the only way for a Calvinist to go to avoid logical incoherence, and I am prepared to defend Steve's position against fellow Calvinists who wish to take a different position.

Some Essays on C. S. Lewis

A redated post.

This series of essays includes a particularly nice one by the late Kathryn Lindskoog bashing A. N. Wilson.

Link fixed.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Austin Cline Critiques the Argument from Consciousness

This rebuttal strikes me as a little too quick and easy. See what you think. HT: Ed Babinski

A message to Christian students in my classes

A redated post.

Some Information about a Philosophy Class

This is a class in philosophy, attempting to introduce the subject to students. Very often people enter a philosophy class thinking of it as strange and forbidding territory. I can understand these concerns on the part of students. Perhaps it would be helpful to clarify what, at least to my mind, a philosophy class is supposed to be about.

The textbook emphasizes that philosophy has to do with developing and articulating a world-view. Based on many years of teaching philosophy, I find this concern well-placed.

I am myself a Christian and my philosophical career has been centered around thinking things through from a Christian perspective. I have taught in both a Christian setting and a non-Christian setting, but most of my student career and my teaching career has been in secular institutions. I often find that in a non-Christian setting students seem unaware of the fact that they have a world-view, or else they haven’t really thought very clearly about what their world-view is and how to make it a consistent one. So you find people drawing from one source here and one source there whenever it suits them. In a Christian setting you will still find some of that as well. But the main issue that I believe I should try to come to terms with in dealing with Christian students is the fact that they have learned certain ways of talking about what they believe which are common in churches but have little meaning to anyone outside of four walls of the institutional church. One church outsider came to a church and was asked “Are you under the blood?” which prompted him to look up at the ceiling to see if there was some red liquid coming down. Consider even a phrase like “Christ paid the penalty for our sins.” What penalty? What sins? And how could Christ pay it, if we incurred the penalty?

Missionaries often spend years studying the peoples of the countries in which they minister, hoping to understand the thought-forms of those peoples, so that they can learn to present the Christian message in a way that is meaningful to the people of that culture. Yet, I think, a lot of Christians have no idea how their world-view differs from the world-views of others, or how to ask the questions a non-believer would ask.

While I am myself a Christian, the goal of this class is not to make Christians of everyone. I might personally hope for that result, but it isn’t my job. My job is enable people to discover what their own world-view is, so that they know what they believe, know why they believe it, and know how to explain the difference between their own views and those of others. The should be able to understand the reasons supporting their own world-view, and the reasons that could be used to criticize their world-view.

Nagel on Evolutionary Hand-Waving

Two quotes from Thomas Nagel's The View from Nowhere. HT: Jim Slagle. I am providing a link to his blog.

Evolutionary hand waving is an example of the tendency to take a theory which has been successful in one domain and apply it to anything else you can't understand -- not even to apply it, but vaguely to imagine such an application. It is also an example of the pervasive and reductive naturalism of our culture. 'Survival value' is now invoked to account for everything from ethics to language....

Even if randomness is a factor in determining which mutation will appear when (and the extent of the randomness is apparently in dispute), the range of genetic possibilities is not itself a random occurrence but a necessary consequence of the natural order. The possibility of minds capable of forming progressively more objective conceptions of reality is not something the theory of natural selection can attempt to explain, since it doesn't explain possibilities at all, but only selection among them.