Saturday, May 31, 2008

Who is to say?

How many times have you heard the phrase "Who is to say?" What could it possibly mean? Is it a commitment to the "someone to say" theory of truth: "p is true just in case there is someone to say that p." But that seems clearly false.

Dallas Willard on The Dawk

A redated post.

I admit it. Dawkins is so much fun to pick on. If all Christian apologists had to do was beat up on redneck atheism, their job would be much easier than it really is. HT: Christian Cadre.

"He should not reserve his views for infliction upon a largely helpless public whom his scientific credentials and elaborate rhetorical devices will overwhelm and make incapable of any accurate assessment of argument. When he writes books like The Blind Watchmaker he is just a naturalist metaphysician, trying to cozy up to the scientists and blend into their company in such a way that his true colors will not be noticed. He takes the liberty to dress down what he calls "redneck creationism" (252), but unfortunately there are rednecks on the side of "Darwinianism" as well. He is one of the most outstanding."

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Fodor questions Darwinian Orthodoxy?

From Post-Darwinist.

Scripture and the underground railroad

Colossians 3.12 Slaves, obey your masters.

Does this mean that Harriet Tubman was breaking the laws of God by helping slaves to escape from their masters? What do you think? This links to the Harriet Tubman website.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Does Scientific Progress Lessen Our Need for God?

This is Dmitry Chernikov's post why scientific progress doesn't refute theism.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

An argument against the Christian God

Is the Christian concept of God inconsistent?

Jim Lazarus' resource page on the Kalam cosmological argument

This is a internet resource page for the Kalam Cosmological Argument, posted on iidb by Jim Lazarus. A lot of stuff both pro and con.

HT: Oystein

Bowing out, sort of

I think it should be pretty clear to most people that debating Calvinism is pretty much a full-time job. I am not exactly pleased with the extent to which Calvinism has been prevalent in these discussions here, nor am I very happy with the tone of much of the debate. I may touch on these issues from here on, but I want to discuss other things here for the most part.
On a certain website it was said that what Richard Dawkins is to Christianity, Victor Reppert is to Calvinism. Dawkins, if I understand him correctly, thinks Christianity is completely bad and wants it destroyed. I would never say that about Calvinism. Its advocates are motivated by a desire to believe God's word in Scripture and exercise intellectual obedience. They start from an unconditional belief in biblical authority and on that basis maintain that exegetical arguments must rule the day. This is an argument they believe they can win.
What underlies all of this is a "good soldier" view of faith, that faith, on the side of the intellect, involves analyzing Scripture and believing what is thought to be Scripture's teaching. A lot of Christians find it difficult to be good soldiers, but I really don't think that makes them bad Christians. However, a desire to listen to Scripture is a good thing.
Second, I think another thing that motivates Calvinism is to protect the graciousness of salvation, "lest any man should boast." That's also good. Calvinists, or at least some of them here, come across to me as arrogant about their analyses of Scripture, but the humility concerning one's salvation is, I think, perfectly laudable.
At the same time, Calvinists are sometimes disrespectful towards the motivations that lead one away from Calvinism. I still find Calvinism morally repugnant. The motivation starts from our love for other people and the desire for their salvation as well as our own. It is a profound desire that, one would have thought, was shared by the best Christians and by God Himself. But, it is not God's will, or, if it is God's will, God has another will that at the end of the day, gets things done. We are constantly enjoined not to put limits on our love (that's what the Good Samaritan is all about) but we are to believe in a God who puts limits on his love. That the issue in John 3: 16. You either have to say God's love for the world is limited, or say that God's love is universal but somehow doesn't include saving grace. The first seems to have no basis in the text, the second strikes me as absurd. Eternal damnation strikes me as a strange way of showing love.
The exegetical debates on this issue are endless. If I have avoided exegetical issues, it is because I think other people are better at it than I am. On both sides.
My initial claim back three years ago was that Calvinists can't solve the problem of evil. That's probably a bad way of putting it. I don't think I can make the logical problem of evil go through. I do think that you end up relying on mystery and Skeptical Theist responses if you are a Calvinist that make you more vulnerable to the argument from evil than anti-Calvinists are.
Again, although these issues interest me, I think for the most part my talents are best used on other matters. I don't think I'm wrong, I just don't want this site to become Arminian Perspectives.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Is Tom Talbott right?

John 6:44 "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day."

John 12:32 "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself."

A Calvinist Dictionary

HT: Arminian Perspectives

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Why the Calvinist treatment of John 3:16 won't wash

Looking at the Calvinist exegetical response to John 3: 16, I find it less than adequate. The significance of God's love for the world may be in virtue of its wickedness, but if there is to be a restriction on the persons that fall under God's love according to this passage, it is a restriction to the class of persons alienated from God.

Hence, I would read the passage "God so loved the all of those persons alienated from God that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

If this is genuine love for all those persons, then it must open the way of salvation to all of those person alienated from God, such that it is causally possible for all to be saved.

Therefore John 3:16 refutes Calvinism. Or rather, the most natural, least forced reading of the passage undermines the claims of Calvinism.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Richard Carrier has an update of his paper

But the updates are about ancient science. He told me once that he would try to deal with my objection that his analysis of intentionality uses intentional concepts. He doesn't do that here.

Moreland's brief defense of libertarian free will

I didn't say that

I didn't say that if Calvinism were to turn out to be true I would call God a fiend. What I did was generate a hypothetical scenario according to which I would say that, a scenario in which my factual beliefs about what the Omnipotent One is really like were to include Calvinism but there were no changes in my present moral beliefs. I said I could imagine a scenario in which my moral values didn't change but I were to discover that this omnipotent being was not good. If that were to happen, then the only morally right thing to do would be to call that being a Fiend. The phrase Omnipotent Fiend comes straight from Lewis's The Problem of Pain, in his discussion of theological voluntarism.

If Calvinism is true then I'm wrong on about 10 fronts: my theory of free will is wrong, my view of moral responsiblity is wrong, my view of the atonement is wrong, my interpretations of Scripture are wrong, my concept of what is good is wrong. Why in the world God would predestine me to have so much screwed up is beyond my comprehension, but then a whole lot of other things are beyond my comprehension as well if Calvinism is true.

Why didn't God just predestine all Christians to be Calvinists, if Calvinism is true? It would have made life a whole lot easier!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Exegete this!

How do Calvinists analyze John 3: 16?

Examining Calvinism on Is God the Author of Sin

I like this site, which seems pretty careful in examining the claims of Calvinism. I think it comes to pretty much the right conclusion on this. I would explain it this way. If Calvinism is true humans are the proximate cause of sin, God is the remote or originating cause of sin. If Calvinism is true, we can nonetheless act with compatibilist freedom and therefore be responsible for our actions. God, for reasons mostly unknown to human beings, is justified in his action of ordaining and decreeing the relevant sins.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Some notes on the exchange

I am wondering if the following type of analysis might be helpful. 

Suppose I were to argue as follows. 

1. Given the fact that Calvinism violates my conception of what it is for God to be good, I ought to accept it only if it can be established biblically beyond a reasonable doubt. 
2. Probably, Calvinism cannot be established biblically beyond a reasonable doubt. 
3. Therefore, probably, I should not accept Calvinism. 

1 can be objected to by saying that my belief concerning what it is for God to be good is based on a mere "intuition" or gut feeling. But of course, to my mind, it is central to retaining a reasonably strong analogy between divine goodness and human goodness. I think Calvinists leave the analogy far too weak.  Some allowances for the creator-creature distinction, and, more importantly, a difference in knowledge and wisdom must be considered. But there are limits on how far that goes. 

Consider the fact, for example, that Allah of the Muslims is a creator-God. We are, if Islam is true, the creatures of Allah. But one of the main reasons I have for accepting Christianity and not Islam is the moral superiority of the God of Christianity to Allah. A God who does the sort of things Allah is said to have done is, in my view, not a good God. A good Muslim would probably say "Who are you, o Victor Reppert, to answer back to Allah?" but it seems to me that the moral failings of Allah represent a good reason to reject Islam in favor of an alternative view of God. I would be answering back to a God that, in my view, does not exist, or if he did, would not qualify as possessing the three characteristic of God: Omniscience, omnipotence, and perfect goodness. 

Now my definition of beyond reasonable doubt is evidence sufficiently strong to justify and execution. Scripture teaches plenty of things beyond reasonable doubt: God's creation of the world, Jesus' resurrection, human sin, Jesus' crucifixion, the Ten Commandments, etc. But predestination? That strikes me as a judgment call at best. 

But notice that in this argument all I am doing is using my conception of divine goodness to impose a strong burden of proof on theologies that undermine it. In doing so I am certainly not rejecting inerrancy. It seems that some people are suggesting that in order to be a good Christian I have to commit myself not  only to Scripture's inerrancy, but to its counterfactual inerrancy.  "What if you were to discover that Scripture teaches Calvinism?" Well, I could ask "What if you were to discover that Scripture clearly teaches that Jesus predicted his own return within the lifetimes of the disciples. Would you still be a Bible-believing Christian?" 

I don't think I'm going to dedicate my life to examining this question biblically. It seem highly unlikely antecedently that it is the case. I am interested in Scripture study and in seeing how people from different theologies react to different passages. I'd like to know, for example, how a God who controls all things can sorrow over what humans have done. How he can seek lost sinners when all he has to do is bestow irresistible grace and guarantee their return to the fold. But for the most part, this is probably not the best use of my talents. Am I sticking my head in the sand? No, I am adjusting my belief system as evidence comes in, like a good Bayesian. I could be mistaken about all sorts of things. 

Am I not open to the teaching of Scripture? Do I have no clue what it means to be a Christian?The argument doesn't show that. As I indicated, Scripture teaches a lot of things beyond a reasonable doubt. It could have taught Calvinism beyond a reasonable doubt. It doesn't.  

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Did C S Lewis Go to Heaven?

I am redating this post from a couple of years ago. The first five comments are from 2006.

This is an essay by a Calvinist alleging that Lewis was not a Christian. This is where certain people's position leads. And I know they don't want to go there, as you can see from the combox replies from two years ago.

And no, it's not a question of whether Lewis's authority is greater that Jesus' or Paul's. My claim is that it is sometimes reasonable and faithful as a Christian to take your belief in divine goodness over your belief in biblical inerrancy. Steve said someone who says this has no clue what it means to be a Christian. My response is if that's the charge you want to make, then you have to make it against Wesley and Lewis as well as myself. I quoted these passages not to attack Calvinism or to use their authority but to show that these people were prepared to use their conception of divine goodness as a constraint on what conclusions they drew from Scripture.

You see, what Steve keeps forgetting is that he made a charge that goes well beyond the charge of committing an error. Steve had said that in making the move I make I go so far wrong as to not even know what it means to be a Christian. In other words, to not be a Christian. If someone doesn't know what it is to be a Christian, then that person can't possibly be one, just as if I have no idea what it means to be a Democrat, then I can't be a Democrat.

I am asking Steve to accept the logical conclusions of his statements or to withdraw them.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Reply to Steve--Probably My Last Post on the Moral Argument against Calvnism

This is getting silly. These quotes were not designed to show who is right in the debate. They were not appeals to authority at all. They were designed to show that persons who allow a conception of divine goodness to govern their reading of Scripture and even to affect their acceptance of the doctrine of inerrancy can be serious and dedicated Christians, who have a clue as to what it means to be a Christian. I'm sure Calvnists think the Lewis passage and the Wesley passage were wrong. Wesley does engage in inflammatory anti-Calvinist rhetoric. But with him you suggest that he had a bad day, and is a better Christian than that most of the time. My point was not to agree with Wesley's rhetoric but to insist that you can't draw conclusions about someone's understanding of what it is to be a Christian on that basis. Unless you want to go the route of Calvinists who say that, for example, Lewis wasn't a real Christian.

Does Scripture actually teach not only that predestination is true, but also that those who use their conception of God's goodness to influence their theology and their reading of Scripture have no idea what it means to be a Christian?? Are all Christians inerrantists?

There are a lot of people like me. They love God, they are evangelicals, they may be inerrantists. They are energized first and foremost by a vision of God who loves everyone, and by everyone they mean simply everyone. You see, every time I get into an exegetical argument about Calvinism I usually end up saying "All means all," and the Calvinist says "well, it means from all groups, not all persons." To people like us, Calvinists are saying "OK you signed onto following Jesus and you think He loves everybody. But read the fine print." Shoot, a Calvinist can't even walk up to someone and say Jesus loves you and He died for you, because for any random individual person it is more probable that both those statements are false for them. For people like me, we look to Scripture to show us more deeply the loving God who sent Jesus. Believing Scripture isn't an end in itself, it is a means, a means to knowing this kind of a God. To be told that God is running an enormous puppet show with living breathing puppets who are going to be tortured forever at the end of he show, however "just" that may be in some sense, is, for people like me, horrifying. (I know this is not how Calvinists would put it, but that is how the picture appears to me to be, however it might be dressed up theologically). Further, it undermines the very reason we came to Scripture for guidance in the first place.

What you denigrate as mere "intuition" is based on a picture of God that is built up by what appears to be the teaching of numerous passages of Scripture. It also leaves us with a picture of God that resembles to a large extent the way humans ought to treat others. It doesn't use the creator-creature distinction to justify all sorts of conduct on God's part that in human contexts would be considered reprehensible.

If the vision of God's universal love is an illusion, it's nevertheless one that is undergirded, at least on the face of things, by many Scriptures. Just off the top of my head John 3:16 and the Prodigal Son come to my mind. But perhaps, we have been led up the garden path. We didn't do the exegesis, we didn't read the fine print on the Publisher's Clearinghouse letter that said God loves you and everyone else.

I have heard defending this vision of God of God'a universal love ridiculed as "just a gut feeling", as even immature and childish. But God's love, on this vision, is anything but soft. It's tough as nails. But it's one thing to believe in tough love, it's another to believe in selective and apparently arbitrary love. I could fear and perhaps obey a Calvinistic God, but without brain surgery, I don't think I could love Him. For me. God's love for all human creatures and his earnest pursuit of their salvation is what inspires my devotion to Him.

This isn't a point-scoring contest. Although there are some issues related to Calvinism that interest me, (like Frankfurt arguments for compatibilism, and some exegetial matter as well), I am getting tired of this controversy. There are people who like to argue about Calvinism non-stop, on both sides. It's hard to back out and walk away once you start something, but I think maybe other people are better for this debate than me.

I simply think that Calvinists have a mistaken understanding of God. I would never say that Calvinists have no understanding of what it is to be a Christian.

C. S. Lewis rejected inerrancy, did not defend the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement (which, by the way, is hardly the majority view through most of the Church's history), and was certainly no Calvinist. His picture of hell certainly would not pass muster with Jonathan Edwards. It is certainly possible to go beyond just differing with him on these theological points to actually questioning his faith as a Christian.

Monday, May 19, 2008

No clue?

I had asked: "Could it not be rational for a person to say that they have more reason to believe that a predestinating God would not be good than to believe that Scritpure teaches predestination even if, upon the study of the Scripture, they discover that, so far as the biblical evidence is concerned, it is more likely than not that Scripture teaches predestination."

Now here you have to notice that I couched the question by saying that if it is more likely than not that Scripture teaches predestination. I did not say "beyond reasonable doubt," to use a Chisholmian expression.

Steve Hays replied: Victor Reppert really has no clue about what it means to be a Christian. A Christian is a follower. He doesn’t call the shots. God takes him by the hand and leads him.

Now I think God sometimes takes us by the hand, I think in some cases God expects us to take intiative. The Triabloggers are claiming that an adequate sense of what it is to be Christ's disciple means that I must believe what I think is most likely to be Scripture's teaching based on biblical evidence alone, regardless of what any other sources of knowledge might provide. What is in my way, they suggest, is my arrogant refusal to humble myself. They haven't quite said that I am not a Christian, but they have suggested that my devotion to Christ is massively deficient.

Well, if you want to make that charge against me, there are a couple of other defendants who must be put in the dock with me. How about C. S. Lewis.

"... believing in a God whom we cannot but regard as evil, and then, in
mere terrified flattery calling Him 'good' and worshipping him is a still
greater danger... The ultimate question is whether the doctrine of the
goodness of God or that of the inerrancy of scripture is to prevail when
they conflict. I think the doctrine of the goodness of God is the more
certain of the two. Indeed, only that doctrine renders this worship of
Him obligatory or even permissible."
[C. S. Lewis, in letter to John Beversluis]

I wonder what Jack would have said if the he had received the same lecture that I received. A few years back, when I linked to a Calvinist who had argued that Lewis wasn't really a Christian, and quoted Van Til to the same effect, they backed away from those Calvinists post haste. I don't even have to say that Lewis has things right here, all I am trying to show is that if I am an inadequate Christian for refusing to write biblical exegesis a blank check, then so is C. S. Lewis. Do you want to say that C. S. Lewis has no clue about what it means to be a Christian. Be my guest.

Or how about this from John Wesley;

This is the blasphemy clearly contained in the horrible decree of predestination! And here I fix my foot. On this I join issue with every assertor of it. You represent God as worse than the devil; more false, more cruel, more unjust. But you say you will prove it by scripture. Hold! What will you prove by Scripture? That God is worse than the devil? It cannot be. 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.

OK. Want to say that John Wesley has no clue about what it means to be a Christian? I know you think he's wrong, but does he have no clue about what it means to be a Christian? Go ahead. Make my day.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Alanyzer: The Theologian's Fallacy

Alanyzer: The Theologian's Fallacy

Alan Rhoda on the Theologian's fallacy, which is relevant to some of the discussions I have been having here.

On the Sock Puppet technique

Apparently someone or more than one person has been attributing statements to people who did not write them, turning them into "sock puppets." Of course this is done anonymously. This is unacceptable. I ran into this a couple of years ago, and it turned out to be just someone having fun at everyone's expense. Maybe I've got to cut of anonymous posts.

Does God change his mind?

This seems to go even further than open theism. What do you make of these types of claims from Scripture?

On intellectual humility, and the perspicuity of Scripture

An issue that has come up in the exchange with Calvinists here deserves a closer look. Suppose we come to our study of Scripture with a set of ideas as to what it is for God to be good. What this amounts to, for at least many of us, is that for God to be good, God must at least attempt as best he can to save everyone. That's what a loving God is expected to do. This cashes out either into classical Arminianism, in which God knows the fate of all but does not cause the free choices that result in damnation, whether this cashes out in open theism, according to which God must limit His own knowledge in order to insure that our acts are free, or whether this results in universalism, where God successfully converts all souls and fits them for eternal life with God, is surely open for discussion, but the concept of what it is for God to be good in all these systems is the same.

On the other hand, Calvinists here have said that this is based merely on moral intuition, that this our moral intuitions are not infallible, and therefore it should be possible, upon a close study of Scripture, to discover that this conception of divine goodness is not taught by God's revelation and should be abandoned in favor of a view that says that God unconditionally elects, effectually calls, and sanctifies some persons, but others are left in sin and condemned eternally even though God could have chosen to give irresistible grace to everyone.

I will concede that the discovery that something is taught in Scripture could result a reasonable Christian's changing their minds about what it is for God to be good. But wouldn't this be a matter of how strong a moral intuition one had as opposed to how sure we are that we are able to read an answer tot he Calvinist question off Scripture.

For example, we have been told that Calvinism logically requires a belief that the atonement is limited. There are three passages in particular that look bad for limited atonement: I John 2:2, I Pet 2:1, and II Cor 5:19. Can these passages be given a good Calvinist interpretation? This
essay suggests that the answer is yes.

The question I have is first that is it not the case that we sometimes have to accept an interpretation of a passage that we would not have accepted just examining the passage itself, simply because it conficts with what else we know. For example, a perfectly good inerrantist like J. P. Moreland suggests that although an exegetical study of the book of Genesis suggests that it is offering a comprehensive genealogy and therefore grounds for saying that the heavens and the earth came into existence in 6 literal days somewhere around 6000 years ago, scientific evidence suggests that if that is what is in text, either the text is errant or is being misinterpreted. Moreland therefore accepts a "second choice" interpretation of the Genesis genealogies, one that is consistent with an ancient earth.

Second, don't we sometimes have to accept a "second choice" interpretation based on what else we know from Scripture itself. Does God repent? Some passages say he does, but Christians usually interpret those passages in light of a wider doctrine of God according to which God is not really repenting. Look at Gen 6:6:

And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.

But a third suggestion might be that one might refrain from accepting what would otherwise be a "first choice" interpretation of a passage because it conficts with our conception of what is would be for God to be good.

You see, I am to be humble about my moral intuitions about what it would be for God to be good, but I have to be supremely confident in my ability to figure out whether 1 John 2:2 really teaches a universal atonement or not. If I say "I am surer that a predestinating God would not be good than I am that Scripture teaches predestination" am I sticking my fingers in my ears and sticking out my tongue, refusing to consider the evidence? That's what the Triabloggers would have you believe. This issue seems to have been extensively debated by exegetes over the centuries. Even if I had a good exegetical argument that Romans 8-9 is teaching predestination, is that necessarily better evidence that this would not be good for God to do.

Now it is quite true that some things are in God's secret counsel, that he has left unrevealed. That's true, and so there may be some things I do not understand.

The answer could be that Scripture is God's way of communicating with us and, as such, God has given us the tools to understand Scritpure and to answer the question of predestination from Scripture. On the other hand, we have to derive our concept of what it is for God to be good on the basis of what it is for humans to be good, but the analogies are too weak to get us anywhere. Therefore, exegetical arguments always trump moral intuitive arguments.

If Scripture really does give us a clear answer to all these questions (there are others which are frequently debated amongst evangelical Christians, such as the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, infant baptism, etc.), why is the evangelical community so divided on these matters?

I am linking to an article by Dave Armstrong criticizing the perspicuity of Scripture. Armstrong is a Catholic, and I am not endorsing his Catholicism here, but only raising some issues about how confident we should be in biblical arguments as opposed to moral arguments. Could it not be rational for a person to say that they have more reason to believe that a predestinating God would not be good than to believe that Scritpure teaches predestination even if, upon the study of the Scripture, they discover that, so far as the biblical evidence is concerned, it is more likely than not that Scripture teaches predestination.

I am not, by the way, conceding that it is more likely than not that Scripture teaches predestination.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

From C. S. Lewis's The Problem of Pain

"If God's moral judgment differs from ours so that our 'black' may be His 'white', we can mean nothing by calling Him good; for to say 'God is good', while asserting that His goodness is wholly other than ours, is really only to say 'God is we know not what'. And an utterly unknown quality in God cannot give us moral grounds for loving or obeying Him. If He is not (in our sense) 'good' we shall obey, if at all, only through fear--and should be equally ready to obey an omnipotent Fiend. The doctrine of Total Depravity--when the consequence is drawn that, since we are totally depraved, our idea of good is worth simply nothing--may thus turn Christianity into a form of devil-worship."

Gretchen and Bob Passantino discuss contemporary atheism

From what I understand, my book was one of the last ones Bob read before he passed away.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Harry Potter, Love Potions, and Free will

The value of free will does not end there. All sorts of relationships acquire special value because they involve love, trust, and affection are freely bestowed. The love potions that appear in many fairy stories (and the Harry Potter series) can become a trap; the one who has used the potion finds that he wants to be loved for his own sake and not because of the potion, yet fears the loss of the beloved’s affection if the potion is no longer used. For that matter, individuals without free will would not, in the true sense, be human beings at all, at least this is the case as seems highly plausible, the capacity for free choice is an essential characteristic of human beings as such. If so, then to say that free will should not exist is to say that we humans should not exist. It may be possible to say that, and perhaps even mean it, but the cost of doing so is very high.

William Hasker, The Truimph of Good Over Evil (Inter-Varsity, 2008) p. 156.

A Proof that BIll Clinton was right, or was it Nietzsche

A golden oldie.

A proof that Bill Clinton was right, or was it Nietzsche?
As you may recall, Bill Clinton once reminded us that a good deal depends on what we mean by the word "is." But it is possible to equivocate on other words as well. A syllogism I once sent to Bill Vallicella about an unsharpened pencil turned out to be an equivocation on the term "pointless," not the term "is," as I had intially suspected. Just for fun, I analyzed the famous proof that Ray Charles is God, and since Ray has passed away, a proof that God is dead. To wit:

Logical proof that Ray Charles is God , and that God is dead

1. God is Love.
2. Love is Blind.
3. Ray Charles is Blind.
4. Ray Charles is God.
To which we can now add the Nietzschean addendum
5. Therefore God is dead.

To subdivide, we find:

1. God is love.
2. Love is blind.
3. Therefore, God is blind.

On this one, of course these concepts are complex,one diagnosis would be that this English argument commits the fallacy of four terms, which would be clear in Greek.

1. God is Agape.
2. Eros is blind.
3. Therefore God is blind.


1. God is blind.
2. Ray Charles is blind.
3. Therefore Ray Charles is God.

seems to be the fallacy Clinton was noting. But since most people don't want to attribute blindness to God, we can see how the fallacy works as follows:

God is wise.
Socrates is wise.
Therefore Socrates is God

The absurd outcome is the result of ignroing different uses of the word "is."

On the other hand the "Nietzschan" syllogism

1. Ray Charles is God.
2. Ray Charles is dead.
3. Therefore God is dead.

seems to be an instance of the indiscernibility of
identicals, and is a valid argument whose conclusion
would be true if the first premise were true.

Isn't logic fun? You can prove almost anything, so long as the meanings of words can be manipulated!

There are no facts, only the interpretations of facts. -Nietzsche

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Helm's Deep: Analysis 11: The will of Calvin's God - Can God be trusted?

Helm's Deep: Analysis 11: The will of Calvin's God - Can God be trusted?:

This is Paul Helm's analysis of the issue of Calvinism and theological volutarism.

"For God's will is so much the highest rule of righteousness that whatever he wills, by the very fact that he wills it, must be considered righteous. When, therefore, one asks why God has so done, we must reply: because he has willed it. But if you proceed further to ask why he so willed, you are seeking something greater and higher than God's will, which cannot be found. Let men's rashness, then, restrain itself, and not seek what does not exist. (Inst. III. 23. 2 Italics added)."

Helm claims that this is consistent with denying that Calvin is a voluntarist. His view, which is picked up by the Triabloggers and also defended in a paper by Sudduth, suggests that Calvin is saying that God's reason for reprobation isn't nonexistent, but rather opaque to humans. There is a reason in the order of being, but it cannot be brought into the order of knowing by human beings.

The question I have is why Calvin uses the language that he uses. He says that there is nothing higher than God's will and that if we ask for God's reason we are asking for something that does not exist. The plain sense of the text seems to be not that we don't know what the reason is, but rather, that there just is no reason, that God's willing it is reason enough. To be consistent with Helm's interpretation, shouldn't Calvin have said "Let man's rashness, then, restrain itself, and not seek what we cannot know?"

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Some resources on Frankfurt from Triablogue

But I am still confused.

I wrote my master's thesis on free will. It still seems to me that the distinction between the freedom of action of freedom of choice means that we can ask the question "was the choice free" independent of any consideration of whether in a counterfactual situation, a person could have carried out their action had they chosen otherwise. PAP, as I see it, applies to choices, not actions. So if I am right the Frankfurt considerations are just irrelevant to assessing the freedom of an action.

I must ask myself, is it that easy to refute Frankfurt arguments? And maybe you guys can help me see why it isn't that easy. Still, I think the examples will all sooner or later founder on this problem.

Dmitry Chernikov defends universalism

Linking to you here may expose you to attack, I warn you Dmitry.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

On Frankfurt counterexamples

I must say I don't understand the fuss about Frankfurt's counterexamples, or why people are able to keep this argument alive. It really looks to me like a patient etherized on a table with feeding tubes, breathing equipment, artificial heart stimulators, etc. Look, don't these examples all founder on a failure to distinguish between choosing freely and carrying out the choice effectively. In the cases given, isn't it the case that you could have chosen otherwise. You have what is ex hypothesi a libertarian free choice. Of course, if you had chosen otherwise, unbeknownst to you, you would have been prevented from carrying out the choice. But the choice was free.

24 years ago I completed my master's thesis at Arizona State University. There, I argued that there conceptions of moral responsibility that were essentially utilitarian in nature, which indicated where one could supply a motive of deterrence or protection of society, could indeed be compatible with determinism. In other words, so long as we are asking "who is it practical to blame" as opposed to "who really deserves to be blamed," compatibilism seems to have some plausibility. When we get to the idea of a purely retributive punishment, an absolute just deserts for someone, compatibilism breaks down. It is in the last analysis unfair to punish (or reward) someone for the inevitable results of past causes.

Triablogue: Victor Reppert vs. C.S. Lewis

Triablogue: Victor Reppert vs. C.S. Lewis

Uh, I don't think so. In The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment Lewis is talking about the criminal justice system. The criminal justice system, Lewis says, should be retributive. But there are limits on how much retribution each act deserves. Jaywalking gets a fine, disorderly conduct gets a bigger fine, assault and battery a jail term, theft a longer jail term, armed robbery 10-20 years, second degree murder 20 years, murder 1 life or maybe even the death penalty. But there is a degree of punishment each crime deserves. But no crime ever deserves an infinite penalty.

On a retributive view of hell, at least according to most Calvinist theology I have run across, sin, all sin, even the sin of our federal head Adam, deserves an infinite amount of punishment. Lewis never uses deserved retribution as a justification for hell, and he expresses grave doubts about the Anselmian theory of the atonement. While I can see an ongoing sin being punished in an ongoing way by a separation from God, (which is guaranteed by the sinful state of the person), the idea that all sin deserves an infinite amount of punishment is never defending in Lewis, and in my view, for good reason.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Here's an Argument from Reason Wikipedia stub

Hey, Richard Carrier has a Wikipedia entry, so why not the AFR?

Defining causes and determinism: Does God cause sin?

Here is Hasker's definition of determinism:

Determinism: For every event which happens, there are previous events and circumstances which are its sufficient conditions or causes, so that, given those previous events and circumstances, it is impossible that the event should not occur.

Is there something wrong with this definition? After all, Bill Hasker is one of those nasty open theists, who clearly can't be trusted. But the upshot of this definition would be that the decrees of God cause people to do what they do. You cannot have a deterministic world in which God decrees X and not-X occurs. Saying "God's decree doesn't cause people to sin" is just plain ludicrous.

Modus Ponens and Incompatibilism

The argument for incompatibilism is really very simple.

1) I am not responsible for the eternal decrees of God (or the laws of nature and the condition of the universe at the big bang).
2) I am not responsible for the fact that, given the decrees of God, I sinned at 2 PM yesterday.
3) Therefore, I am not responsible for the fact that I sinned at 2 PM yesterday.

Or formally:

Not Responsible for A
Not Responsible for If A then B.
Therefore, Not Responsible for B.

How can I be responsible for that which is the modus ponens consequence of that for which I am not responsible.

Did Wright get something right?

Ivan Eland of the Independent Institute thinks so.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Are skeptics eternally secure?

Nonbelievers sometimes are so firmly convinced of their nonbelief that they suppose that theists somehow can't really be serious if they think the evidence favors them. Theism is based on belief, Mark Frank says, while nonbelief is based on skepticism. No, believers and unbelievers are skeptical about different things. Atheists believe that gaps in the evolutionary story will be closed in a scientifically acceptable way. That is a belief. Some theists look at the same thing and say that God must be the explanation, and then others say that it may go one way or the other depending on what else can be known.

Theists like to mention the Nagel quote (they may differ on how they use it, I never use it to prove that all atheists are irrational), but atheists love to bring this stuff up from Craig about believing based on personal experience even if the external evidence didn't exist. They like to ignore the fact that Craig said this about a situation they take to be counterfactual. None of this detracts from the fact that Craig believes that there is good and sufficient evidence to be a Christian.

Atheists will sometimes say that there can't be any real ex-atheists, hence C. S. Lewis or Antony Flew can't have converted from atheism. (I guess they have a doctrine of the Perseverance of the Skeptics or the Eternal Security of the Nonbeliever). You may think that believers are persuaded by bad evidence. But why think that they are somehow less than sincere?

Sunday, May 04, 2008

the unity of consciousness

A redated post.

The Unity of Consciousness
I have maintained that a key feature of rational inference is that it is inference that must be performed by an agent who possesses a unified consciousness. The idea is that if the self-same entity does not think the premises and think the conclusion, then we have no rational inference. If Dennis has the thought “All men are mortal,” and Bill has the thought “Socrates is a man, and I have the thought “Socrates is mortal,” then none of us have preformed a rational inference.

Now, I have quoted some naturalistic thinkers, such as Blackmore and Pinker (and Dennett seems also to be in this category) who deny the unity of consciousness. The unity is the result of some sort of a user illusion. But if the unity is an illusion, isn’t the inference as well? Or so I would have thought.

Perhaps I can begin discussing the argument by seeing how it appears in Immanuel Kant. Kant seemed to perceive this as a successful argument against materialism but not as an argument in favor of a simple soul, and this is because his own solution to these philosophical problems was to rely on a distinction between the self as it appears to us and the self as it is in itself. But Kant develops the argument as follows:

Every composite substance is an aggregate of several substances, and the action of a composite, or whatever inheres in it as thus composite, is an aggregate of several actions or accidents, distributed among the plurality of substances. Now an effect which arises from the concurrence of many acting substances is indeed possible, namely, when this effect is external only (as, for instance, the motion of a body is the combined motion of all its parts). But with thoughts, as internal accidents belonging to a thinking being, it is different. For suppose it be the composite For suppose it be the composite that thinks: then every part of it would be part of the thought, and only all of them taken together would be the whole thought. But this cannot consistently be maintained. For representations (for instance, the single words of a verse), distributed among different beings, never make up a whole thought (a verse), and it is therefore impossible that a thought should inhere in what is essentially composite. It is therefore possible only in a single substance, which, not being an aggregate of many, is absolutely simple.

William Hasker, the argument’s chief contemporary architect, has a version of the argument that has been formalized as follows:

1. I am aware of my present visual field as a unity; in other words, the various components of the field are experienced by a single subject simultaneously.
2. Only something that functions as a whole rather than as a system of parts could experience a visual field as a unity.
3. Therefore, the subject functions as a whole rather than as a system of parts.
4. The brain and nervous system, and the entire body, is nothing more than a collection of physical parts organized in a certain way. (In other words, holism is false.)
5. Therefore, the brain and nervous system cannot function as a whole; it must function as a system of parts.

6. Therefore the subject is not the brain and nervous system (or the body, etc.).
7. If the subject is not the brain and nervous system then it is (or contains as a proper part) a non-physical mind or “soul”; that is, a mind that is not ontologically reducible to the sorts of entities studied in the physical sciences. Such a mind, even if it is extended in space, could function as a whole rather than as a system of parts and so could be aware of my present visual field as a unity.
8. Therefore, the subject is a soul, or contains a soul as a part of itself.

Now people on the Internet Infidels Discussion Board have been trying to persuade me that my brain can experience my visual field, or the diachronic experience of rational inference, as a unity. The brain, they say, is closely interconnected functionally, and has billions (and billions) of neurons. But I guess I just have to ask them whether they think holism is true, or not. Are physical systems the sum of their parts. If so, then the properties of the “whole” have to be summative properties of the parts. Tell me where all the red bricks are, and even without using the word wall, I can know that there is a wall over there. The properties of the wall are entailed by the properties of the bricks. Wallness is a summative property of bricks. Intentionality and the unity of consciousness do not seem to be entailed after you add up all the properties of the proper parts of the brain. This will be controversial, but I’m prepared to argue that if you add up all the physical states of a person, you could still end up with a zombie.

Is the dish of the day free?

From CADRE comments.

NCSE's response to Expelled's claim that there is an absolute scientific orthodoxy

Though, the intense passion against ID on the part of some people in science suggests that it would be somewhat more difficult than these scientists found it to be to advance a case for ID, should they be able to support it scientifically. Also, none of these scientists defended scientific views that were regareded as being pseudoscientific by definition. Nevertheless, this essay makes some important and valuable points.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Parsons on misconceptions of atheism

This is an interesting Keith Parsons essay on misunderstandings of atheism. A redated post.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Another year, another Suns-set

Four the third time in the last four years, the Suns have gone down, and to the same team. Every team except the eventual champion, though, ends up disappointed. Someone who is not disappointed in this result is John Depoe, who has highlights on this link.

The coach is facing a lot of criticism, and some of it is deserved. D'Antoni plays a short bench, while Popovych has a role for everyone on the team, even if they receive short minutes. In both game 1 and 5 the Suns were disadvantaged by foul trouble for all their big men, O'Neal, Stoudemire, and Diaw. A longer bench would have helped prevent this. Still, if either Finley's or Duncan's three-pointer had rimmed out in game 1, the series might every well have been very different. I have heard a lot of talk radio slamming the organization, the coach, and the players. But there can be only one champion and a the Suns were facing the defending champions who are experts at winning playoff series.

Finally, it is interesting to see a coach who leads his team to a big turnaround be given Coach of the Year plaudits. Of course this is another of those "regular season" awards that strikes me as a little silly. Should coaches who put rings on their teams' fingers year after year be regarded as the best coaches?

Meaning, Divine Justice, and Calvinism

One point on which, I think, Calvinists can provide me with some clarification. God would be just if God were to damn everyone. God would be just if God were to save everyone. God is just if, as they think he actually has done, saves some and not others. How could God possibly be unjust? And if the phrase "God is just" will come out true regardless of what God does, we have to ask what it could possibly mean to say that God is just. If I say "The cat is on the mat" there has to be a possible scenario according to which the cat is not on the mat, which is denied by the assertion. What is the Calvinist denying when the Calvinist says that God is just? What could it turn out that God has done that could be identified as unjust, given the fact that God is the creator and we are creatures. It looks to me as if the potter has so much freedom there's no meaningful sense to be made of the claim that God is just. "God is just" becomes a miserable tautology, like "God does what God does."

I don't see that trivializing scriptural claims is no better than denying them, and I think Calvinist exegesis tends to do that with a lot of things.

No doubt there's an answer to this. But I'd love to know what it is.

Some Further Clarification for Paul M

I haven't confessed anything or conceded anything, except for the sake of argument. My argument is this. On the hypothesis that what God is after is His own glory, then he should save all of us. Why? Because we're only going to praise him forever if he saves us. It isn't unjust for him to save us, since he does save at least some of us. The more people in the heavenly choir, the more laudits of glory (like turps of evil) he gets. If he sends those people to hell, he doesn't get the laudits of glory from those people since those people aren't praising him.

This arguments isn't saying God wouldn't be nice if he damned people, it is saying that God's interests, *as defined by Calvinist theology* are not served by reprobation. In other words, God shouldn't condemn people to hell because it doesn't serve his own professed interests to do so. It's not that I object to the Calvinistic God's actions on moral grounds (I do of course, but I'm not discussing that here), but rather, I am arguing that even after all sorts of Calvinistic theological points are conceded, points that I am in real life not about to concede, you still don't get to Calvinism. A theology that says that God is out to maximize His own glory is a theology that heads straight for universalism more surely than a theology that says that what He is out to do is love his creatures. If love is the goal, then he might have to give them LFW, and then who knows what the hell will happen. If he's just going for glory, he can get more of that my saving everyone than by reprobating anyone. My claim here isn't that God's actions wouldn't be morally acceptable, my claim is that God's actions make no sense even if they were morally permissible.

There is a difference between defense responses to the problem of evil and theodicy responses. Theodicies attempt to provide likley explanations for evils. The general consensus in the problem of evil literature seems to be that you should try to explain what you can, and then minimize the weight of what you can't explain by appealing to an expectation that we don't know all the reasons in play. As I see it, there is an epistemic cost involved in appealing to mystery and unknown or unknowable reasons, and so you want to bring that pitcher in as late in the game as possible. When I read books like Lewis's The Problem of Pain, I get the sense that I can understand why a lot of evils occur, including virtually all of them in my own life, but certainly not all evils. (The suffering of small children is one Lewis doesn't deal with, for example). When I look at it from a Calvinist perspective, it looks to me as if I have no clue why suffering exists, in this life and certainly not in the next life. The proffered explanations fail even on their own terms to make the ways of God intelligible. Is it possible to believe without understanding? Of course. But faith seeks understanding, and prefers theologies that hold out the most hope of providing some explanations.

I wish the site this site is parodying were also a parody