Monday, February 27, 2006

Lewis and demons

Here's something I wrote on a usenet in response to an inquiry by Steven about Lewis and demons.

How did Lewis think he could trust his senses or his reasoning that
materialism was false, when he believed demons could attack his senses
and his reasoning?

Steven: I'll take a shot at this one. I take it from your website that
you are an admirer of Carl Sagan, who is, among other things, one of
the founding fathers of SETI or the Search for Extra-Terrestrial
Intelligence. But believing in the mere possibility of demonic attack
doesn't do a whole lot to undermine belief in one's reasoning, any
more than admitting the possibility that one's senses or one's
reasoning might possible, after all, be tampered with by ETs. And you
don't get terribly concerned because the principle that the future
will resemble the past cannot be proved beyond all possible doubt,
which means that the laws of physics might change tomorrow. Even if
you admit that it *might* happen, we have every reason to ignore the
possibility that it *will* happen.

Demons, according to Christianity, are finite beings in a world in which God is sovereign,
and so the powers of demons will be limited to what God permits.

Actually, Lewis did use a version of the Argument from Reason to
criticize one form of theism, the theological voluntarist view that
our concept of goodness, when it is applied to God, cannot in any way
be commensurated with our concept of goodness when applied to, say,
human beings. If for example, you are a Calvinist and say that God has
predestined most people to Hell, and I reply that that would be unjust
for God to effective damn people and then to determine the choices
that get them damned, then if you are a TV you will say that the fact
that these actions don't fit with the ordinary conception of human
goodness only shows that you are totally depraved, and that what we
mean when we say "God is good" just means "God does what God does." If
that's so, God's being good wouldn't prevent God from damning all the
Christians, or breaking all His promises, or putting us in the grip of
some massive delusion. If that's the case then we have no reason to
heed God even when he tells us to turn or burn, because for all we
know he could burn us after we turned, just for fun. The existence of
theological voluntarist God, if He were to exist, would, on Lewis's
view be just as incompatible with the validity of reasoning as
naturalism is. (The argument is in A Grief Observed, and I discuss it
in the opening chapter of *C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea.*)


Steven Carr said...

' Even if
you admit that it *might* happen, we have every reason to ignore the
possibility that it *will* happen.'

I don't see how people can believe in Satan and demons and ignore the possibility of demonic possession.

In practice, almost all Christians are functional naturalists and ignore what their religion teaches them to expect to happen.

Steven Carr said...

'Demons, according to Christianity, are finite beings in a world in which God is sovereign, and so the powers of demons will be limited to what God permits.'

Why do demons not rebel against what God permits? What happened to free will?

Why does God permit the Holocaust, when he could simply have not permitted it?

Staircaseghost said...

It is a singularly delicious irony that the proponents of various strains of presuppositionalism purport to claim that only theism can solve the skeptical problem of a potential infinitely powerful deceiving spirit by positing the actual existence of a multitude of such beings who do in fact as a matter of routine interfere with human minds for purposes utterly alien and unfathomable to us. Simply astonishing.

Jason Pratt said...

"I don't see how people can believe in Satan and demons and ignore the possibility of demonic possession.

"In practice, almost all Christians are functional naturalists and ignore what their religion teaches them to expect to happen."

In practice, almost all Christians are functional naturalists, because our religion _encourages_ us to be that way. Nature is beloved by God and is an actual creation with its own character; and it's the system we live and are born within. We'd be ignorant (not to say pantheistic) _not_ to be functional naturalists; even ardent and passionate naturalists, in a sense. (But there's a big difference between functional and/or methodological naturalism, and philosophical naturalism. We've covered this before--one does not necessarily entail the other, despite the insistences of some philosophical naturalists.)

But Victor wasn't talking about Christians flatly discounting the possibility of demonic possession. There's a huge difference between recognizing the possibility, and estimating the probability (including before the fact). In similar practice (to borrow an example from C.S. Lewis), Englanders believed there were enemy spies in their midst during World War II; and they were entirely correct to do so. But it wasn't proper to go around believing everything in one's experience was part of enemy espionage. In practice they were correct to have a prudent scepticism about stories and theories of enemy spies; just as correct as they were to believe that there _were_ enemy spies.

Really, this shouldn't be terribly difficult to understand. (But then Steven has shown multiple times that he isn't interested in actually understanding what he's disputing against...)

The type of 'permission' Victor is talking about in "the powers of demons will be limited to what God permits", is _not_ the same as the permission involved in allowing free willed creatures to do evil things. The second permission involves positive capabilities, the first permission involves limitations.

Perhaps 'permit' shouldn't be used to discuss them both, precisely because it invites category error (whether pro or con)--but in this case I think it's sufficiently clear that the category error is being forcibly applied for mere intransigence sake. (Or maybe Steven's first language isn't English.)

Most people, not looking around for anything they can remotely snark about, will understand the distinction well enough, I think. The devils aren't rebelling against the positive capability they're allowed, because that would be stupid on their part. They can try rebelling against the negative limitations (and I expect they go the distance along that line), but sooner or later are going to run up against metaphysical necessities (if nothing else). A rebel against God can't _really_ become a self-existant Independent Fact by doing such a rebellion, Satan's temptation to Eve in the story notwithstanding.

A creature which understands power and effect but doesn't understand love very well, might easily come to believe, however, that a successful rebellion against the Ultimate Power would demonstrate that 'God' was not the Ultimate Power after all. (The creature need not even be a rebel angel--or a human agnostic or atheist for that matter. I can think of a school of Christianity under recent discussion which routinely falls into that way of thinking...)

Why didn't God stop the Holocaust (more than the Holocaust _was_ stopped)? For the same reason He doesn't simply give the three-fingered reboot to the rebel angels (much moreso simply stop any rebellion on their part before it begins.) It's also basically the same reason that Victor allows Steven to continue to be an annoyance on the site, instead of simply excomming him, even though Victor certainly has the power to do so.

But someone who refuses to even consider truly loving his enemies will never understand it.


Jason Pratt said...

Regarding heiro5ant's "singularly delicious irony":

That would certainly be astonishing, if someone tried it. But I don't see anyone here who is trying it. Victor certainly wasn't. Steven _sure_ wasn't (to say the least {g}).

The theistic presuppositionalists don't do that either: they purport to claim that only theism can solve the skeptical problem of a potential infinitely powerful deceiving spirit by presupposing the character as well as the existence of the infinitely powerful spirit. (Glorious circularity, remember? {wry g} Also known as argument by sheer assertion.)

There would be less than no point for them to try to solve the problem by presupposing the existence of finite evil spirits, since the sceptical threat you mention is directed against the character of the infinite spirit. Not that I can promise that someone somewhere _hasn't_ tried it, but it would run against their actual mode of operation, so I'd be far from expecting to see it done. Certainly no one here has done it.

Jason Pratt said...

Now, for anyone actually interested in understanding what Lewis was doing:

Lewis would, in fact, have actually gone _beyond_ what Steven tried to calumn against him. One hardly needs bring in the question of malevolent spirits, any more than one needs to bring in the question of brain cancer or chemical psychosis. Even in cases where a human is functioning nominally well, there still is _no_ possibility of (legitimately) justifying our justification abilities. (This is where the classical apologist, such as Lewis, differs in exactly reverse approach from theistic presuppositionalists attempting to use the TAG. They aren't using an argument _from_ reason to theism; they're trying to use an argument _from theism_ to _reason_. Or such reason as they're willing to admit, considering they frequently end up claiming that all reason is circular and so ultimately indistinguishable from sheer assertion. No surprise there...)

Lewis discovers that reason has to be granted from the outset. There is no question of trying to defend it (or more precisely trying to defend the possibility of its reliability), any more than in trying to call it into inextricable question. We presume it, and necessarily presume it, in order to do any argumentation.

Now, the loophole (if one decides to take it), is that this means we cannot in fact prove that we can reliably reason. We may all necessarily presume it (and notice that this presumption is extremely broad and charitable), but technically we could be mistaken. There is, and can be, no good reason even to assert (much less conclude) we're mistaken; and absolutely nothing can be legitimately accomplished from presuming we cannot reliably reason. But that doesn't amount to a legitimate proof that we can reliably reason.

So, a disputant _could_, if he so chooses, go the route of cognitive suicide (or pseudo-sucicide, since he won't really be holding consistently to his own proposition), to escape the claims of deduction which follow from recognizing the presumption in favor of reason in _any_ argumentation (whether tacitly or explicitly). I could name more than one respondent of my acquaintence, including one who has frequented this board (not present at the moment), who tries to do precisely this on any opportunity--because he knows perfectly well where the presumption of our reliable reasoning capability is going to lead, sooner or later, and he's very dedicated to avoiding that result, even at the cost of contradicting himself from paragraph to paragraph if that's what it takes to avoid it. (The practice of calling our reasoning capability into intrinsic inescapable doubt, when it seems to lead to a conclusion of theism, certainly doesn't lead to more accurate reasoning on his part, to say the least...)

This is why, technically, Lewis didn't worry about the existence of finite malevolent spirits (much moreso the proposition of an infinite malevolent spirit) undermining the claims of reliable reasoning, any more than he worried about a proposal that we're all suffering from advanced brain tumors. Either of those is indistinguishable in effect from the simple proposal that our reasoning capability cannot be reliable; and his argument already addresses that. Adding details to the proposal wouldn't, and didn't, impress him. (Or, rather, it _had_ impressed him once upon a time perhaps, back when he was an atheist looking for reasons to disbelieve. But then he got over it. {g})

Note, in passing, the important distinction between Lewis' procedure, and the methodology of Descartes. Desc begins with a method of wide-ranging scepticism, looking for a proposal which he cannot be sceptical about without rendering any further claim of his own to be nonsensical. The thrust of his procedure lends itself to trying to justify his own justification ability--which Lewis explicitly denounces--once it occurs to Descartes that his reason _could_ be inescapably deluded. Thus his escape via the postulate that God would solve the problem. This is _NOT_ Lewis' procedure; which is why it is fallacious to present Lewis as attempting such a God-of-the-gaps strategy. Desc's method, though, _does_ bear a striking resemblance to Trancendentalist Arguments of theistic presuppositionalists (Van Til, Bahnsen, et al). Their argument (such as it is) is ultimately similar in content, though they get to the point in different ways.

(Also note that Descartes didn't attempt to counter the postulate of an infinite evil spirt by postulating a bunch of finite evil spirits instead... {wry g} Nor would anyone have expected him to; it would have been a total non sequitor and wouldn't have addressed the problem that actually concerned him. Ditto the theistic presuppositionalists. Simpler and infinitely more to the point to counter-postulate the character of God instead.)


Steven Carr said...

Jason writes 'Why didn't God stop the Holocaust (more than the Holocaust _was_ stopped)? For the same reason He doesn't simply give the three-fingered reboot to the rebel angels (much moreso simply stop any rebellion on their part before it begins.)'

So why does God allow the Holocaust yet prevent demons attacking Victor's reasoning ability?

Is the ability of Victor to work out a mate in 4 something that should be allowed to happen without interference from demons?

Staircaseghost said...


I've been having a little difficulty with a related issue that perhaps you could help me with. I'm trying to find the precise passage in Scripture where we are commanded to respond on the internet with snide, snarky ad homs to people asking legitimate questions. I've looked at Prov. 14:29, 15:1, 22:10, and 29:8, but none of those were it. Then I looked at Matt. 5:22, but no luck there. Could you give me some pointers on this? Is it before or after the passage in 1st Peter that goes "Always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you for a reason regarding the hope that is in you, yet answer with gentleness and reverence"?

Or was this part of a later doctrinal accretion having to do with your somewhat unique interpretation of lecturing others about "refusing to even consider truly loving one's enemies"?

Jason Pratt said...


If you go back looking through the comment histories over the past year or so, you'll find that I am often _defending_ Steven for asking legitimate questions; and bending over backwards to recognize credit in what he is saying. My problem isn't with his questions. It's with his history of refusing to respect answers seriously given, even if he disagrees with them.

Even so, I _did_ treat his question seriously, and gave a serious answer, which is why I went into detail--which is more than anyone else on the board would do now for him. (I'm about to treat his follow-up question seriously, too; even though I know from experience that he's probably only asking it to be contentious.)

I also gave _you_ a serious answer: no one here was doing what you were talking about; and the methodology you mentioned would run altogether against the grain of theistic presuppositionalism. Instead of replying with a defense to the effect that Victor (or perhaps Steven??) was in fact doing this, you launched a snarky ad hom accusing me of (doing only?) snarky ad homs.

Questions of the sort Steven was asking require in-depth answers, if they're going to be taken seriously. I assure you that if I only intended to blow him off without taking him seriously, I could have replied far more effectively with a paragraph of about your size (and content) instead.

(Though I don't actually blame you for that; since you apparently don't know the history between us.)

In passing, I was actually serious (though I can see how it may easily have not been apparent) about _defending_ Steven on the possibility that English wasn't his first language. (This is the internet after all.) There are subtle connotations to the use of 'permit' which can be confusing and misleading; which is why I was also serious about suggesting that maybe the word shouldn't be used for both situations, since it _can_ lead to honest misunderstandings.

The comment about "someone who refuses to even consider truly loving his enemies will never understand it" was meant seriously on several levels, including the immediate context of demonic psychology. It _was_ also a call-back and criticism to Steven, though; since he had recently chided Christians on not respecting other religions, when he has rarely if ever shown (in what is now a long history here) any attempt at real respect to people he's contending against on the board. (The irony was that if he had given the kind of respect to the text under consideration which he had been chiding Christians for lacking toward other religions, he would have had a _stronger_ complaint against the doctrine of damnable exclusivism among Christians.)

In any case, I do agree with you about the importance of taking serious questions seriously. Go back to when Steven first appeared on the board, contending about St. Paul's belief of the resurrection of the body. I treated him as an entirely serious enquirer and disputant at that time--I would have been very interested to have met a non-materialist Gnostic, which is what he appeared to be defending at the time. (And this was _after_ he had already demonstrated he wasn't interested in taking seriously answers to his pot-shot questions about the meaning of Ez 20, etc.) I've defended him since that time, too. And Victor can testify that I voted _against_ excomming Steven from the board. (Though Vic was more tolerant than me {s}; I suggested a temporary excom, which didn't happen.)


Jason Pratt said...

Steven asks: "So why does God allow the Holocaust yet prevent demons attacking Victor's reasoning ability?"

I never said God does prevent demons from attacking Victor's reasoning ability. In fact, I explicitly said there's no way to legitimately prove that Victor's (or anyone else's) reasoning ability is even generally reliable.

That's technical metaphysics. On a more doctrinal side, a Christian of conservative mein (such as myself) is going to affirm that demons _do_ in fact attack our reasoning ability. We may have different or various ways of reaching that as a conclusion, but it'll be in there somewhere.

So, God allows _me_ to suffer at the hands of my enemies (whether we're talking about rebel angels or human beings); and also allows the Holocaust to happen to His specially chosen people. Considering that I believe I'm being grafted _into_ the promises to Israel, _I_ don't see any difference in principle there in the least. (In fact, I'd better take note: God's allies don't get a free pass. God doesn't even exempt Himself from the risk of a death by protracted torture...)

And considering that I'm nearly certain to finish dying in a spectacularly painful manner (along with every other person on the planet, sooner or later), plus considering that even if I happen to go out fairly quietly (which personally I don't expect to happen) I still _am_ going to be finishing dying sooner or later; then once again there is no difference in principle. One hardly needs to turn to such things as the Holocaust to address these issues.

Death is still death; pain is still pain; and injustice is still injustice. The scale is irrelevant. Putting it another way, any injustice _I_ work against someone, no matter how small (by external appearances), counts just as much (however much that is) as an apparent witness _against_ the character and/or characteristics of God, as the Holocaust or Hitler's and Stalin's massacre of 40 million Russians in WWII or anything else of that scale.

Relatedly, if you're asking why God doesn't allow demons to go the distance in abusing Victor, but does allow human beings (and maybe demons) to go the distance in abusing Jews (and gypsies and homosexuals and various Christian priests and laity)--I reply that we have no assurance that something _won't_ be allowed to go the distance on Victor someday; or on myself, either. That isn't the relevant question. The relevant question is why God would allow anything to go the distance in the first place; and that comes back to what I said a minute ago--that the _scale_ in fact is irrelevant. The question can be asked just as well about why God allows even small annoyances to occur to us; or why God allows any of us to inflict even 'small' injustices on each other.

As I've noted before, you aren't even being as scandalous about this as _I_ am, yet. Much of the Christian proclamation is based on recognizing the truth that the innocent do in fact suffer _for the sake of the guilty_; while still recognizing that the guilty ought to be doing something else than what they're doing instead.

This has practical application in my life. I abuse God's grace to me, when I do any abuse at all (even a 'small' abuse). God is committed to bringing me to stop someday, and do righteousness instead; but He won't be treating me as a puppet to reach that goal. This means other people will (and do) suffer for my sake; and that's my _fault_, for doing it, but God shares in my _responsibility_ for doing it, too.

Now, I am an immoral man, and when I am being immoral I sure (as hell {g}) don't want or expect to pay for what I do--I prefer to avoid admitting responsibility and trying to make reconciliation. God, however, is _not_ immoral; and so He does pay, even for my sin, even though sinless Himself. It's for my sake, the sinner.

_Even so_: God won't be letting me continue to hold to my sinning forever. He _will_ eventually put me out of contact with the one whom I am oppressing, sooner or later, one way or another (though never out of contact with Himself), if I insist on continuing to do the evil thing. He will prefer for other people to work along with Him in this work, and whether they do or not (and how they choose to do it) will make a difference in the historical shape of how my sinning is resolved. (I can testify from personal experience that this certainly happens; though I would prefer not to go into private details. Most people would consider it to be a very small thing, including perhaps the one against whom I have transgressed; but I recognize the principle involved, and abjure myself in shame, accepting my punishment.)

He will go further than that against my sinning, too--though still ultimately being _for_ me as a person He loves. To put it mildly, if I continue to insist on holding to my sinning, He will make it increasingly hot for me. {s} But then, _everyone_ gets to be salted by the fire (as Jesus is reported to have put it, in GosMark 9:49-50.) Everyone, includes _me_. My duty is to accept the salting, not to reject it; so that I may be at peace with God's creation, including all the people whom He loves.

Which, by the way, includes being at peace with _you_ some day. {s!}

(Notice I am saying this against _myself_, and in your favor. I wish you would try to remember that. It isn't the first time I've done it.)


Owen said...

Regarding heiro5ant's "singularly delicious irony":

"Presuppositionalists purport to claim"... wait, what?

How does one "purport to claim" something?

I can "claim" something.

But if I "purport to claim" it, I've done no less than "claim it".

Might I be mistaken about what I "purport to claim"?

Might I only purport to claim it, thinking I've actually claimed it, but being mistaken in that belief?

I can't.

For I purport to claim that one can't purport to claim something without simultaneously claiming it.

In doing so, I've done no less than claim it.

I'm going to start a coalition against excess language.


PS - further, I'm unaware of any evil/infinite being claimed (or purported to be claimed) existent by Presuppositionalists.