bookmark_borderInitial Impressions on the Andrews-Schieber Debate: Part 2

(Continued from Part 1)
Justin Schieber’s Case against Christian Theism
Schieber presents three arguments against Christian theism: (1) the GodWorld argument; (2) the soteriological argument from evil; and (3) an argument about the possibility of divine lies in the Bible. Let’s each argument in turn.
The GodWorld Argument
Schieber defines “GodWorld” as “that possible world where God exists alone (AND nothing else exists) for eternity.” The arguments runs as follows.
(17) If the Christian God exists, then GodWorld is the unique BPW.
(18) If GodWorld is the unique BPW, then the Christian God would maintain GodWorld.
(19) GodWorld is false because the universe exists.
(20) Therefore, The Christian God, as so defined, doesn’t exist.
I think this is an interesting argument. One worry I have about this argument is (17), which seems to based on a highly questionable assumption. It starts with the following, correct statement:
(17.a) If the Christian god exists, then then Christian god is the best possible being.
And then somehow arrives at this conclusion:
(17) If the Christian God exists, then GodWorld is the unique BPW.
What justifies the move from (17.a) to (17)?  Schieber suggests the following answer.
(17.b) If the Christian god exists, then there is no Goodness independent of God.
As I say, Schieber suggests that answer but it isn’t clear if he actually believes it.
The next step seems to be:
(17.c) If there is no Goodness independent of God, then any possible worlds which contained both God and other objects (or subjects)  would not be as good as Godworld.
From (17.a), (17.b), and (17.c) we then get:
(17) If the Christian God exists, then GodWorld is the unique BPW.
This argument fails, however, for two reasons. First, (17.b) is false. The existence of the Christian god (subject to various caveats) is logically compatible with Goodness independent of God. Second, even if (17.b) were true, (17.c) is false. Consider the following analogy. There various denominations of U.S. dollar bills: $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100, etc., up to a $100,000 bill. Let’s call the $100,000 bill the “most valuable bill” or MVB. Suppose someone said, “A safe that has “only” the MVB is more valuable than another safe that has the MVB plus a $20 bill.” Since $100,020 is greater than $100,000, we would reject that as absurd.  $100,000 may be the most valuable bill, but it doesn’t follow that a safe with only the MVB is the most valuable safe.
It seems to me that Schieber’s argument faces essentially the same problem. It equivocates between the value of a being (the Christian God) and the value of a possible world (GodWorld). The Christian god may be the best possible being (BPB), but it doesn’t follow that a world with only the BPB is the best possible world (BPW).
The Soteriological Argument from Evil
Next, Schieber appeals to the so-called “soteriological problem of evil,” namely the problem of why, if God exists, He allows eternal suffering in Hell. I shall Schieber’s argument the “soteriological argument from evil” because it turns the problem into an argument for atheism.
(21) If God exists, he is essentially morally perfect, omnipotent, omniscient.
(22) If God exists, he chose to create Hell and send the vast majority of people to suffer eternally within it.
(23) There is no moral justification for sending anybody to suffer eternally in Hell.
(24) A being who acts in a way that is morally unjustified cannot be essentially morally perfect.
(25) God does not exist.
So long as we modify all of the references to “God” to “the Christian God,” then I don’t have much to say, other than I agree with this argument.
Divine Lies and Greater Goods?
Finally, Schieber presents the following argument.
(26) If the Christian GOD exists, then he has exhaustive knowledge of all moral Goods, Evils – And the entialment relations between them.
(27) We limited humans have no good reasons for thinking that OUR knowledge of the Goods, Evils & the entailment relationships between them is even slightly representative of the Goods, Evils & the entailment relationships between them that actually exist.
(28) IF 1 & 2, THEN We are in no position to place probabilities on whether there is a beyond-our-understanding justification for GOD’s lying to us in asserting D. (D being some biblical assertion.)
(29) IF we are in no position to place probabilities on whether there is a beyond-our- understanding justification for GOD’s lying to us in asserting D, THEN we do not ‘know’ any proposition that has biblical justification only.
This argument fails for the same reason that so-called “skeptical theism” fails as a response to evidential arguments from evil: both “skeptical theism” and Schieber’s divine lying argument ignore the theorem of total probability. Let E be some statement about evil in the world. Evidential arguments from evil typically contain a premise like this:
(30) Some known fact about evil is much more probable on the assumption that atheism is true than on the assumption that theism is true, i.e., Pr(E | atheism) >> Pr(E | theism).
Critics of arguments from evil (like Wykstra) argue that we cannot know if  Pr(E | atheism) >> Pr(E | theism), because there may be greater goods which justify God in allowing E, goods that are too complicated for humans to understand. While such goods are possible, their mere possibility misses the point. It’s also possible that there may be greater evils which prohibit God from allowing E, evils that are too complicated for humans to understand. Since there’s no reason to believe that unknown greater goods are more likely than unknown greater evils, both types of unknowns “cancel out.” The result is that we are left with a prima facie reason to believe that known facts about evil are much more probable on atheism than on theism.
It seems to me that Schieber’s divine lying argument faces a parallel problem. While it is possible that the Christian God has lied to us (for unknown greater goods), it doesn’t follow that probably the Christian God has lied to us (for unknown greater goods). It’s also possible that the Christian God has extra reasons for telling the truth, reasons that involve unknown greater goods. Since there’s no more reason to believe that God has lied to us for unknown reason than to believe God has told the truth for unknown reasons, both types of unknowns “cancel out.” The result is that, if we believe that the Christian God has made some Biblical assertion D, we are left with a prima facie reason to believe that God is telling the truth.

bookmark_borderInitial Impressions on the Andrews-Schieber Debate: Part 1

Christian Max Andrews and Atheist Justin Schieber recently had a debate on the existence of the Christian god. Both audio and a transcript are available online. I think it’s well worth listening to or reading. In what follows, I want to offer my initial impressions of both debaters’ opening statements.
Max Andrews’ Case for Christian Theism
Andrews offers three arguments for Christian theism: (1) the Thomistic Cosmological Argument; (2) a fine-tuning argument; and (3) an explanatory argument for the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. Let’s consider each argument in turn.
The Thomistic Cosmological Argument
(1) There are contingent constituents to the universe.
(2) Given the contingent constituents of the universe, the existence of the universe (U) is very, very unlikely under the hypothesis that these constituents are themselves uncaused or self-caused (~Cu): that is, P(U|~Cu & k) ≪ 1.
(3). Given the contingent constituents of the universe, the existence of the universe is not unlikely under the hypothesis of a first uncaused cause (Cu): that is, ~P(U|Cu & k) ≪ 1.
(4) Therefore, U strongly supports Cu over ~Cu.
Is this a good argument? Let us first turn to clarifying how Andrews defines his terms.
Constituents of the universe (CC): include galaxies, planets, stars, cars, humans, leptons, bosons, and other particles.
Metaphysically necessary: For something to be metaphysically necessary that means that it could not have failed to exist—it exists in every possible world.
Contingent: Something is contingent if and only if it is not necessarily false and not necessarily true.
These definitions immediately reveal a fatal flaw which lies at the heart of Andrews’ argument. Both (2) and (3) begin with the expression, “Given the contingent constituents of the universe,” and then proceed to make statements about the probability of U on the existence (or non-existence) of a first uncaused cause. As it stands, however, this way of formulating the argument is fatally flawed. Andrews does not seem to have noticed that, on his definitions, treating the “contingent constituents of the universe” as a given entails U. The upshot is that, if we already know that the constituents of the universe exist, we will know that U is true, regardless of whether there is an uncaused cause.
Andrews may reply that this objection misses the point, since the question is whether U favors an externally caused universe (CU) over a universe without an external cause (~CU). But this reply itself misses the point of objection: (2) and (3) do not ask whether U favors CU over ~CU. Instead, they ask whether U favors (CU & CC) over (~CU & CC). Those are not equivalent.
Fortunately for Andrews, however, his argument can be easily modified to avoid this defect.
(1) There are contingent constituents to the universe.
(2′) The existence of the contingent constituents of the universe is very, very unlikely on the assumption that the universe lacks an external cause, i.e., Pr(CC|~CU & k) ≪ 1.
(3′) The existence of the contingent constituents of the universe is not unlikely on the assumption that the universe has an external cause, i.e., ~(Pr(CC|CU & k) ≪ 1).
(4) Therefore, CC strongly supports CU over ~CU.
Even so modified, however, the argument still seems doubtful. Andrews–and the argument–asks us to choose between three mutually exclusive possibilities: (i) the universe is metaphysically necessary; (ii) the universe is self-caused; and (iii) the universe is contingent (and has an external cause). I agree with Andrews that both (i) and (ii) seem far-fetched. But these options do not exhaust the possibilities and so we cannot establish (iii) by eliminating (i) and (ii).
For example, it’s also possible that (iv) the universe is uncaused. Here is an argument for an uncaused universe.
(5) Cause and effect are always related to time, i.e., causation is necessarily temporal.
Consider the nature of causation. Cause and effect are always related to time. Causes always happen before their effects or, if you believe in such a thing, happen at the same time as their effects.
(6) Time itself must be uncaused.
Since it would be a contradiction in terms to speak of a cause “before” time, it follows that time itself must be uncaused.
(7) Time itself began with the Big Bang.
(8) Therefore, the Big Bang is uncaused.
(9) Therefore, the universe is uncaused.
A Fine-Tuning Argument
Next, Andrews defends the following version of the fine-tuning argument.
(10) Given the fine-tuning evidence, a life permitting universe (LPU) is very, very unlikely under the non-existence of a fine-tuner (~FT): that is, P(LPU|~FT & k) ≪ 1.
(11) Given the fine-tuning evidence, LPU is not unlikely under FT (Fine-Tuner): that is, ~P(LPU|FT & k) ≪ 1.
(12) Therefore, LPU strongly supports FT over ~FT.
Is this a good argument? Let us first turn to clarifying how Andrews defines his terms. First, what is the “fine-tuning evidence” (hereafter, E)? Andrews lists two items of evidence, which I will call E1 and E2.
E1. The special low entropy condition.
E2. Strong Nuclear Force (Strong nuclear force coupling constant, gs = 15)
Second, what does Andrews mean by a “life permitting universe” or (LPU)? As I read him, a LPU is a universe that “is finely tuned for the essential building blocks and environments that life requires.”
Again, these definitions immediately reveal a fatal flaw which lies at the heart of Andrews’ argument. Both (1) and (2) begin with the expression, “Given the fine-tuning evidence,” and then proceed to make statements about the probability of FPU on the existence (or non-existence) of a fine-tuner. As it stands, however, this way of formulating the argument is fatally flawed. Andrews does not seem to have noticed that, on his definitions, E entails LPU. The upshot is that, if we already know the facts and observations reported by E, we will know that LPU is true, regardless of whether there is a Fine-Tuner.
Andrews may reply that this objection misses the point, since the question is whether LPU favors FT over ~FT. But this reply itself misses the point of the objection: (1) and (2) do not ask whether LPU favors FT over ~FT. Instead, they ask whether E favors LPU and FT over LPU and ~FT. Those are not equivalent.
Fortunately for Andrews, however, his argument can be easily modified to avoid this defect.
(10′) LPU is very, very unlikely on the assumption there is no fine-tuner, i.e., P(LPU|~FT & k) << 1.
(11′) LPU is not very, very unlikely on the assumption that there is a fine-tuner, i.e., ~(Pr(LPU|FT & k) << 1).
(12′) Therefore, LPU strongly supports FT over ~FT, i.e., P(LPU|FT & k) >> P(LPU|~FT & K).
Even so modified, however, this argument doesn’t justify Andrews’ claim that it “gets us to an extremely intelligent mind.” This is for two reasons.
First, Andrews completely neglects the issue of the prior probabilities of the rival hypotheses. (3′) could be true and yet it could also be the case that ~FT has a prior probability that is very, very, very much greater than FT. In other words:
(13) Pr(FT | k) <<< Pr(~FT | k).
If (13) is true, then we could combine it with (12′) to show that there probably is no fine-tuner.
(14) Pr(~FT | LPU & k) > Pr(FT | LPU & k).
The upshot is that because the argument says nothing about the prior probabilities of FT and ~FT, the argument is, at best, incomplete. Unlike the previous objection, I do not how to repair the argument to overcome this defect. (Theism & FT) has the greatest intrinsic probability of all the variants of FT. Likewise (Metaphysical naturalism & ~FT) has the great intrinsic probability of all the variants of ~FT. Here’s the problem. While there seems to be no good reason to think that theism has a higher prior probability than metaphysical naturalism, there is good reason to think that metaphysical naturalism has a higher prior probability than theism. Thus, while it might be tempting to revise (13) to something like this,
(13′) Pr(FT | k) >= Pr(~FT | k),
the problem is that there is good reason to believe (13′) is false. But something like (13′) is what Andrews needs in order to justify his inference to FT.
Second, Andrews makes the evidence for FT over ~FT appear much more impressive than it actually is by understating the evidence. Suppose, but only for the sake of argument, that (3′) is true. Given LPU, the fact that so much of the universe is hostile to life is much more probable on the assumption that there is no fine-tuner than on the assumption that there is one. And it’s far from obvious that the fine-tuning evidence for FT outweighs the evidence of the universe’s hostility to life–what I will call the “coarse-tuning evidence”–against FT.
Andrews’ statement, “All the empty space in the universe, all the dead stars, all the non-life in the universe are necessary components of the fine-tuning of the universe,” completely misses the point of this objection. Indeed, it’s amazing how, when talking about the fine-tuning, we are asked to believe that the Fine Tuner is extremely powerful, so powerful that the Fine Tuner could choose whatever values he or she wanted. But then, when we consider the coarse-tuning evidence, we are supposed to believe that the Fine Tuner was somehow stuck with coarse-tuning as the inevitable outcome of fine-tuning. But this is purely ad hoc. If the Fine Tuner could choose literally any laws of physics and literally any values for the physical constants, then the Fine Tuner could have done a better job designing the universe to be consistently fine-tuned, not the strange combination of fine- and coarse-tuning our universe actually has.
Explanatory Argument for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus
Finally, Andrews offers an explanatory argument for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. He argues there are five facts relevant to the Resurrection (R).
E1. Jesus died by crucifixion
E2. The apostles claimed to have seen resurrection appearances of Jesus
E3. The conversion of Paul
E4. The conversion of James
E5. The empty tomb.
Let E be the combination of these five facts (E1 & E2 & E3 & E4 & E5). Andrews’ argument seems to be as follows.
(15) The best explanation for the five historical facts in E is that God raised Jesus from the dead, i.e., Pr(E|R) > Pr(E|~R).
(16) Therefore, God raised Jesus from the dead, i.e., Pr(R) > 0.5.
This argument fails for many reasons, but here I will focus on just one. (15) is false. Even if we assume that all five facts are true–an assumption I am willing to grant–it still doesn’t follow that R is the best explanation. Why? Because R isn’t even an explanation. Something cannot be the best explanation of a fact if it is not even an explanation of that fact. Contrary to what Andrews suggests, R does not predict any of the statements in E. This is because R, by itself, tells us nothing about the death or postmortem activities of Jesus. In order to explain R, however, Andrews has to make dubious assumptions about the postmortem activities of Jesus. For example, Andrews has to assume that, after His resurrection, Jesus had the ability to pass through solid matter and to appear and disappear at will, the power to create ‘heavenly’ visions of glory, and so forth. The problem with these assumptions, however, is that they are not implied by either R or our existing (background) knowledge. Thus, R is not the best explanation for the five historical facts in E. Indeed, utterly lacking in explanatory scope and explanatory power, R is not even an explanation at all. Instead, R is merely an ad hoc hypothesis. But this entails that (15) is false.
(to be continued)

bookmark_borderDid Jesus Exit? – Part 12

Back in Part 10, I took a look at Mark and (in the Comments section) Q, and determined that they both represent Jesus as a flesh-and-blood person. Now I’m looking into the M-source, the unique material used by the author of the Gospel of Matthew, to see whether M also represents Jesus as a flesh-and-blood person.
One problem with M, at least in terms of the material that G.D. Kilpatrick concluded was from M (in Origins of the Gospel of St. Matthew, 1946), is that it does not include narratives, only sayings and parables of Jesus. So, we would not expect to find as much clear evidence for Jesus being a flesh-and-blood person in M as we found in Mark or Q.
For one thing, an angel or a spirit could, in theory, say anything it wanted to say. So, the words coming from Jesus cannot provide conclusive evidence for his being (or being represented as being) a flesh-and-blood person.
However, if Jesus were represented as saying “I have a physical body, and can feel pain, and I can be injured or killed.” this would be very strong evidence that Jesus was being represented as a flesh-and-blood person, because believers in Jesus would assume Jesus to be honest and truthful, so they would not view these words as an attempt by Jesus to deceive others into believing he had a physical body when he was actually a spirit or an angel.
But since Jesus is generally represented as teaching, or at least discussing, religious beliefs and moral values, there is no reason to expect that he would make such claims about himself, or that he would claim to be a physical person.
Furthermore, if Jesus was a flesh-and-blood person, that would be a fairly obvious fact for the people who were his disciples and the people who came to listen to him speak. There would be no point in Jesus saying “I have a physical body” when the people listening to him could see his body with their own eyes, when they could hear his voice, and touch his arm, and see him eating food.
The expectation that M would probably not provide clear evidence of Jesus being represented as a flesh-and-blood person is what in fact turns out to be the case, as far as I can tell from a quick review of the passages in Matthew that come from M.
Three passages provide some significant support for Jesus being represented as a flesh-and-blood person, and one passage provides significant evidence against Jesus being represented as a flesh-and-blood person. Four passages provide some weak support for the view that M represented Jesus as a flesh-and-blood person. Most passages from M seem to me to provide no relevant evidence for or against M representing Jesus as having a physical body.
I found one passage from M that provides significant evidence against the idea that Jesus was a flesh-and-blood person:
For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them. (Matthew 18:20, NRSV)
Jesus had followers in many different towns and cities in Palestine, so this passage suggests that Jesus was either able to be in many places at the same time, or else that he was able to travel long distances in the blink of an eye. Either way, this stongly suggests that Jesus was a spirit or an angel, and NOT a flesh-and-blood human being.
Of course, this saying can be fit in with the belief in a flesh-and-blood Jesus. Christians believed that Jesus died and rose from the dead (at least by the time the Gospel of Mark and the early letters of Paul were written). So, such a saying could have been attributed to the risen Jesus, who had obtained a ‘glorified’ body, which could have been thought of as being radically different than an ordinary physical body, having special supernatural powers and properties.
In other words, given the belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus, a Christian could hold that Jesus was a flesh-and-blood person prior to his resurrection, and that after the resurrection Jesus had an extraordinary supernatural body that is radically different from a typical human body.
So, although this one verse clearly points to the idea of a Jesus who was NOT a flesh-and-blood person, it is possible to fit this passage into a larger framework in which Jesus is represented as having been a flesh-and-blood person during his ministry in Palestine, up until his death and resurrection.
One more consideration is that this alleged M passage might not be from M. The scholars from the Jesus Seminar comment on this passage:
“Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name” has rabbinic parallels and was probably a standard feature of Judean piety. Since it was a part of common lore, Jesus cannot be designated as its author.
(The Five Gospels by Robert Funk, Roy Hoover, and The Jesus Seminar, p.217)
A similar comment appears in another scholarly commentary on Matthew:
Just as contemporary Judaism handed on sayings to the effect that wherever two or three discuss words of Torah [OT Law] they are attended by the divine presence, so also Matthew’s church proclaims that when it gathers in Jesus’ name, Christ himself is present.
(The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VIII, p.379, “The Gospel of Matthew”- commentary by M. Eugene Boring)
If this idea was part of common lore, then Matthew and/or some people in his Christian community were probably aware of this idea and so that awareness could have been the source of this passage, rather than a written M source. This is a plausible alternative explanation for the origin of this particular passage, so this raises significant doubt about the assumption that Matthew 18:20 was based on the M source.
There are three passages that I think provide some significant support for the view that M represented Jesus as a flesh-and-blood person (assuming these passages were taken from the M source):
[Jesus responds to criticism from some Pharisees:] “Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”
(Matthew 12:5-7, NRSV)
Then he [Jesus] left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen! …”
(Matthew 13:36-43, NRSV)
Then the disciples approached and said to him [Jesus], “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He [Jesus] answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.”
(Matthew 15:12-13, NRSV)
There is, however, a significant problem with these passages. There is good reason to doubt that these three passages are actually from M.
The commentary on Matthew 12:5-7 in The New Interpreter’s Bible suggests that the author of Matthew created this passage, with a bit of inspiration from Q for verse 6:
In rabbinic debate, a point of law (Halaka) could not be established on the basis of a story (Haggadah), but required a clear statement of principle from the Torah. Matthew, conditioned by this rabbinic context, adds an example from Num 28:9-10…. Since the priests sacrifice according to the Law on the sabbath, sacrifice is greater than the sabbath. But mercy is greater than sacrifice, as the divine declaration makes clear (Hos 6:6 again….), so mercy is greater than the sabbath.
The declaration that “something” greater than the Temple is here is Matthew’s adoption of a Q formula (cf. 12:41-42)…

(The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII, p.278)
If the author of Matthew is the creator of this passage (with some inspiration from Q), then this passage was not based on the M source.
The same commentary provides reasons for doubting that Matthew 13:36-43 came from the M source:
Since the language, style, and theology of this interpretation are thoroughly Matthean, most scholars regard it as his own composition, even if (an earlier form of) the parable of the weeds may derive from Jesus himself.
(The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII, p.310)
Finally, the same commentary casts doubt on the view that Matthew 15:12-13 came from the M source:
The scene changes again, and the disciples become the only addressees. Into the Markan story Matthew inserts vv. 12-14, mostly composed by him (with a Q point of contact; cf. Luke 6:39).
(The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII, p.333)
So, the passages that provide the clearest evidence that M represented Jesus as a flesh-and-blood person, might well not be from the M source. Since there is significant doubt that these three passages are from M, I won’t bother to go into the reasons why I interpret these passages as representing Jesus as having a physical body.
============
UPDATE
The four M source passages that I believe provide some weak support for the view that M represents Jesus as a flesh-and-blood person are:
Matthew 5:27-28 refrain from lust
Matthew 5:38-41 endure pain and discomfort for the sake of others
Matthew 19:10-12 castration and celibacy as a way to be devout
Matthew 25:34-45 feed the hungry, give drink to thirsty, clothing to the naked, care for the sick, visit prisoners

Although a spririt or angel could give such advice and commands, Jesus would seem more sincere and more authoratative in giving such bodily-oriented advice and commands if he himself had a physical body. Also, the fact that he frequently deals with physical desires and needs suggests that he has experience with these things.
Three M passages clearly indicate that Jesus had a body, and four passages provide additional but weak support for the view that M represents Jesus as a flesh-and-blood person, whereas only one passage clearly indicates that Jesus did not have a body.
Although there is doubt about each of the three passages that clearly indicate a physical Jesus, doubt that they are actually from the M source, there is a significant chance that at least one of the three passages was from the M source. So, the combination of the three passages provides some added support to the four less clear passages.
I conclude that the M source leans in the direction of representing Jesus as a flesh-and-blood person, though this is less clear than in the case of Mark and Q.
To be continued…

bookmark_borderDarwin Proofing

Students say the darndest things. In their exams, no less. In one of my classes students were required to read selections from Darwin’s Origin and Descent of Man. Here are some comments from one exam: “I found Darwin’s The Descent of Man hard to read and hard to understand. As a Christian I have always been taught to just ignore Darwin’s work and I believe that played a large part in why I had trouble understanding what I was reading.”
Wow. I think it was H.L. Mencken who said (paraphrasing) that it is hard to make someone understand if that person’s livelihood depends upon not understanding. A fortiori, if a person’s salvation depends upon not understanding, then that person will have a very hard time understanding. I appreciated the honesty of the student’s comments. It is eloquent testimony to how effective fundamentalism has been in making people Darwin proof. Arguing against Darwin because you think he is wrong is one thing. Making it harder for young people to understand Darwin at all is something else altogether.
To affect people’s minds so that they have a harder time understanding important ideas is, effectively, to lower their intelligence. It makes people selectively stupid. This is why fundamentalism, and other pernicious ideologies, are so opposed to reason. It is not just that their positive dogmas are irrational, which they are; it is their appalling effectiveness in undermining the very capacity for rational thought. Fundamentalism induces the mental equivalent of plugging one’s ears and shouting “la, la, la, la…not listening” when somebody say something you don’t want to hear.

bookmark_borderGod as a ‘Necessary Being’ – Part 4

Previously, I argued that it is not possible to become eternal. Recall that a person P is eternal if and only if P has always existed and P will always continue to exist. Here is a step-by-step proof showing that it is impossible for a person to become eternal:
<————|———–|————–>
…………….t1………..t2
1. At time t1 person P is NOT eternal AND at a later moment t2 P is eternal. (supposition for indirect proof/reduction to absurdity)
2. At time t1 P is NOT eternal. (from 1)
3. At time t2 P is eternal. (from 1)
4. At t2 P exists. (from 3)
5. At every moment prior to t2 P exists. (from 3)
6. At every moment after t2 P exists. (from 3)
7. At t2 P exists AND at every moment prior to t2 P exists AND at every moment after t2 P exists. (from 4, 5, and 6)
8. If at t2 P exists AND at every moment prior to t2 P exists AND at every moment after t2 P exists, THEN at every moment P exists. (analytic truth)
9. At every moment P exists. (from 7 and 8)
10. EITHER at t1 P does not exist OR at some moment prior to t1 P does not exist OR at some moment after t1 P does not exist. (from 2)
11. If at t1 P does not exist, then there is a moment when P does not exist. (analytic truth)
12. If at some moment prior to t1 P does not exist, then there is a moment when P does not exist. (analytic truth)
13. If at some moment after t1 P does not exist, then there is a moment when P does not exist.(analytic truth)
14. There is a moment when P does not exist. (from 10, 11, 12, 13)
15. Any moment when P does not exist is a moment when it is NOT the case that P exists. (analytic truth)
16. There is a moment when it is NOT the case that P exists. (from 14 and 15)
17. It is NOT the case that at every momement P exists. (from 16)
18. At every moment P exists AND it is NOT the case that at every moment P exists. (from 9 and 17)

19. The following statement is FALSE: At time t1 person P is NOT eternal AND at a later moment t2 P is eternal. (1 through 18, indirect proof/ reduction to absurdity, because 18 is a self-contradiction that was deduced from 1).
Thus, it is logically impossible for a person to become eternal.
I have been thinking about omnipotence and the idea of omnipotence as an essential property of some person.
Some of my thoughts remind me of the conversations that boys in Jr. high used to have: “What if Superman was to get into a fight with Batman? I think Superman could take one swing at Batman and knock him so hard that he would land a block away.” Such conversations seem silly and trivial, but in the case of philosophy, it can be helpful to have a childlike enjoyment of such imaginary scenarios. Imagination helps one to map out the logical boundaries of a concept, plus it makes thinking about God fun, even for an atheist.
We have previously seen that ‘existence’ appears to be an essential property for anything that in fact exists, so if ‘necessary existence’ means ‘having existence as an essential property’ then necessary existence is nothing special. We have also seen that ‘being eternal’ is an attribute that cannot be lost; once something is eternal, it will always be eternal (and will always have been eternal). So, again having the property of ‘being eternal’ as an essential property is nothing special, there is no other way of ‘being eternal’. One cannot have the property of ‘being eternal’ as an accidental property.
I eventually want to figure out what it means for a person to have the property of ‘being eternally omnipotent’ as an essential property. But before I tackle that challenge, it may be helpful to first consider the simpler property of just being omnipotent. After that I will consider the more complex idea of having the property of omnipotence as an essential property.
Being omnipotent does not mean that one can literally do anything. An omnipotent being cannot create a four-sided triangle. This is no limitation of power or ability. The idea of a four-sided triangle is incoherent, so the statement “John made a four-sided triangle” is an incoherent statement, a statement that contains a self-contradiciton.
Can an omnipotent being create a rock so heavy that he cannot lift it? I agree with Swinburne’s analysis of this traditional problem. The answer is: YES.
But in order to do so, the omnipotent being must make itself less than omnipotent. Time is the key missing ingredient in this puzzle. At one point in time an omnipotent being creates a massive rock, say a rock that has ten times the mass of our universe. Then the omnipotent being causes itself to have a certain degree of weakness- the inability to lift rocks that are ten times the mass of our universe. Now the being is unable to lift the massive rock. The being, however, has sacrificed its omnipotence in order to achieve this feat, but it is a feat that an omnipotent being can achieve.
The being started out as an omnipotent being, formed the objective of creating a rock that it could not lift, and then using its unlimited power acheived that objective. However, in order to achieve the objective the being must sacrifice its omnipotence.
There are various other limitations on what God can do. God cannot change the past. This is because changing the past would involve backwards causation, and backwards causation is logically impossible. So, again God’s inablility to change the past is not a weakness or lack of power. The problem is, rather, that sentences like “John changed the past” are incoherent; they involve a logical self-contradiction.
Omnipotence can come into conflict with other divine attributes. God is perfectly good, and so according to Aquinas and Swinburne God cannot do evil. God’s goodness thus creates a limitation on what God can do. Human beings can be unjust and cruel but God is not able to be unjust or cruel, on this view. So human beings can do some things that God is unable to do. But this is considered to be a ‘legitimate’ exception or limitation of God’s power. So, when Christians assert that ‘God is omnipotent’ they usually will allow that God’s perfect goodness creates constraints on what God can do.
One might say that God can do anything that it is LOGICALLY POSSIBLE for a perfectly free and omniscient and perfectly good person to do.
I think there are some additional constraints on God’s power or ability to do things, but this clarification of ‘omnipotence’ covers the constraints that arise from God’s other divine attributes.
Can a person become omnipotent? or is omnipotence like the attribute of being eternal? One cannot become an eternal person, so perhaps it is also impossible for one to become an omnipotent person.
On the face of it, I don’t see an obvious problem with the idea of becoming omnipotent. Human beings have various powers and abilities. We can imagine becoming more and more powerful. One can imagine discovering one day that one can make objects ex nihilo (from nothing) just by willing the objects to appear. One can imagine stumbling on the power to move mountains or even planets by sheer willpower. Of course one could never have enough experiences to prove with certainty that one had become omnipotent, but we can imagine experiences that would strongly support this hypothesis. Thus, it seems perfectly conceivable that an ordinary human being could become an omnipotent person.
But once a person becomes omnipotent, one might think that they could never lose their omnipotence. We think of gaining great power as being like obtaining great wealth: someone else could take away what we have gained. But in the case of omnipotence, who could take that away? If I’m the biggest and strongest kid at school, then I don’t need to worry about a bully taking my lunch money, right? If I become omnipotent, then I don’t have to worry about any being taking away any of my power.
But what if there was another omnipotent person? Such a person, it would seem could take away my omnipotence, because our power would be equal, so I would not be like the biggest and strongest kid on the block, if there were other omnipotent persons who might want to take away some of my power.
However, there is an old puzzle about omnipotence that comes to mind: Can there be two omnipotent persons? It seems as if there can be no more than just one omnipotent person. Suppose that there are two omnipotent persons: John and Sara. John and Sara both simultaneously look at the same little gray rock resting on a desk. John wills the rock to immediately rise up into the sky, but Sara wills the rock to immediately plummet downward, through the desk and through the floor and the foundation, etc. These two objectives are not logically compatible with each other. The rock cannot both rise and fall at the same time. So, either the rock will rise and Sara’s will will be defeated by John’s will, or the rock will NOT rise and John’s will will be defeated by Sara’s will. At least one of them must fail to cause their desired outcome.
Let’s suppose that there can only be one omnipotent person in existence at any given point in time. Does that mean that becoming omnipotent, and thus being the one and only omnipotent person, would mean complete safety? Does this mean that I have no reason to fear losing some of my newly gained power? Sadly, it does not. Even if there can be at most only one omnipotent person, there is nothing to prevent some other person from being or becoming omniscient (all knowing).
If I have become omnipotent, I would still be in danger of losing my omnipotence if some other person was omniscient. This would set up the classic struggle between brains and brawn. The omniscient person would know everything about me, including my deepest secrets and my every thought. The omniscient person would know all of my weaknesses. The omniscient person would know every detail of my personal history. The omniscient person would know everything there was to know about human psychology and about how to persuade and manipulate other people. So, it is quite possible that an omniscient person could fool me into destroying myself or causing myself to become less than omnipotent, perhaps even getting me to make that other person into the one and only omnipotent person, and then that person would be both omniscient and omnipotent.
However, an omnipotent person does have a way to fight back. An omnipotent person could make himself or herself become omniscient. There is no obvious logical contradiction between there being two or more omniscient persons. Two people can know the same fact without there being any conflict or contradiction, for example. So, if an omnipotent person was concerned about the possibility of being fooled or manipulated by an omniscient person, then he or she could simply will it to be the case that he or she immediately became omniscient, and presumably a being that was both omnipotent and omniscient would not have to worry about a being that was merely omniscient being able to fool or manipulate him or her.
Nevertheless, although there is this nice strategy for how a person could easily secure his or her newly discovered omnipotence, there is no logical necessity that this would be the case. If you wake up tomorrow morning and have become an omnipotent being while you were asleep, it will probably take several hours or days before you have enough experiences to confidently conclude that you have become omnipotent. The experiences you have that convince you of this fact would be quite unusual and extraordinary experiences (such as moving the moon across the sky with just a thought), and those experiences would keep you very distracted for a while. You probably would not immediately start thinking about the question “How can I secure my omnipotence, so that if there is a omniscient being somewhere I can avoid being fooled or manipulated by that being into giving up or losing my omnipotence?”. For as long as you do not think about this question, you would be vulnerable to being deceived by an omniscient person.
Furthermore, even if you immediately began to worry about this possibility of being decieved by an omniscient person, you might not immediately come up with the solution of making yourself become omniscient. Having been an ordinary weak human being for many years, your attitudes and beliefs about yourself may take time to change, and you might not immediately realize that you have gained the ability to radically transform yourself.
Even if you immediately started to worry about the possibility of being deceived by an omniscient person, and even if you immediately realized that you had the power to make yourself omniscient, you might well hesitate to do so. You have lived your entire life up to that moment as a limited and finite human being, and willing yourself to become omniscient would mean basically willing yourself to become God. But being omniscient or having a God-like experience of reality would be radically different from experiencing reality as a limited and finite human being. Would you really want to give up ordinary human thoughts and feelings and experiences, to become a god-like being? The idea seems terrifying to me. I would certainly hesitate, and give some thought to the matter before turning myself into an omniscient person.
So, although it may be possible for an omnipotent person to turn himself or herself into a person who was also omniscient, it is quite possible that it would take a significant amount of time for a person who had recently become omnipotent to become worried about the possibility of being deceived by an omniscient person, to come up with the solution of making oneself omniscient, and to actually make the very serious decision to carry out this plan and make oneself omniscient, and some might well decide to live with the risk rather than to so radically transform their own consciousness of reality. Thus, it is likely that there would be a significant period of time in which a person who had become omnipotent would remain less than omniscient and thus would be subject to being deceived or manipulated by an omniscient person, so that the omnipotent person would destroy himself or herself or would cause the loss of his or her own omnipotence.
Therfore, it seems to me that not only is it possible for a person of finite and limited power to become an omnipotent person, but it is also possible for an omnipotent person to lose his or her omnipotence.

bookmark_borderRichard Schoenig’s New Paper: “Objective Ethics Without Religion”

Abstract: Theists frequently aver that atheism is incompatible with moral realism (the view that there are objective moral facts). This paper defends a justifiable objective moral code, termed ethical rationalism (ER), that does not depend on the existence of any supernatural being. ER is a seven-principle moral code comprising two general prescriptions: do not harm others and help them whenever feasible. It is argued that ER (and hence objective morality) is justified by the fact that all moral agents would have a greater chance of achieving more of their plans of life leading to a long and fulfilling life if they lived in a society that followed ER rather than one that followed any other moral code.

LINK

bookmark_borderRob Lovering’s New Book: God and Evidence: Problems for Theistic Philosophers

God and Evidence: Problems for Theistic Philosophers (Continuum, 2013). Here’s the blurb:

God and Evidence presents a new set of compelling problems for theistic philosophers. The problems pertain to three types of theistic philosopher, which Lovering defines here as ‘theistic inferentialists,’ ‘theistic non-inferentialists,’ and ‘theistic fideists.’ Theistic inferentialists believe that God exists, that there is inferential probabilifying evidence of God’s existence, and that this evidence is discoverable not simply in principle but in practice. Theistic non-inferentialists believe that God exists, that there is non-inferential probabilifying evidence of God’s existence, and that this evidence is discoverable not simply in principle but in practice. Theistic fideists believe that God exists, that there is no discoverable probabilifying evidence (inferential or non-inferential) of God’s existence, and that it is nevertheless acceptable-morally if not otherwise-to have faith that God exists. Lovering argues that each type of theistic philosopher faces a problem unique to his type and that they all share two particular problems. Some of these problems take us down an entirely new discursive path; others down a new discursive path branching off from an old one.

Further information about the book can be found here.

bookmark_borderCraig’s Defense of Moral Objectivity in his Moral Argument for God’s Existence

William Lane Craig’s moral argument for God’s existence is as follows.
(1) If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist.
(2) But objective moral values and duties do exist.
(3) Therefore, God exists.
In defense of (2), Craig offers an appeal to intuition. Here’s an excerpt from one of his debate opening statements:

But the fact is that objective moral values do exist, and we all know it. There’s no more reason to deny the objective existence of moral values than to deny the objective reality of the physical world. Actions like rape, torture, and child abuse aren’t just socially unacceptable behavior. They’re moral abominations. Even Ruse himself admits, “The man who says that it is morally acceptable to rape little children is just as mistaken as the man who says two plus two equals five.” Some things are really wrong. Similarly, love, equality, and self-sacrifice are really good.

How, precisely, does this support (2)?
One interpretation of Craig’s sparse remarks is that “we all know” objective moral values exist by intuition. In a forthcoming paper, “Intuition Mongering,” Moti Mizrahi argues that appeals to intuition are similar to appeals to authority. If that’s the case, then that creates a problem for appealing to intuition to support (2).
Here’s why. Start with the logical form of a particular type of inductive argument called the statistical syllogism.
(4) Z percent of F are G.
(5) x is F.
(6) Things that are F bear such-and-such relevance to property G. [This premise is usually suppressed.]
(7) Therefore, x is G.
The argument from authority is an inductively correct argument which conforms to the same pattern as the statistical syllogism.
(8) The vast majority of statements made by authority A concerning subject S are true.
(9) p is a statement made by A concerning subject S.
(10) Therefore, p is true.
As Wesley Salmon points out, an inductively correct argument from authority must satisfy two conditions.
(a) Subject S must be within authority A’s area of expertise.
(b) There must be no equally qualified authorities who disagree with A about S.
If an argument from authority does not satisfy both (a) and (b), it is inductively incorrect: it fails to make the conclusion probable.
Now consider the argument from intuition.
(11) The vast majority of intuitions held by philosopher A concerning subject S are true.
(12) Concerning subject S, it seems to philosopher A that p.
(13) Therefore, p is true.
Conditions (a) and (b) also apply to the argument from intuition.
What does all of this have to do with Craig’s moral argument? Craig’s defense of (2) is interpreted as an appeal to intuition, it fails to satisfy condition (b). There are equally well qualified philosophers who disagree with Craig about the objectivity of morality. Indeed, non-cognitivists deny that morality is even cognitive! The upshot is that an argument from intuition for objective moral values is weak.

bookmark_borderAnother Paper by Moti Mizrahi: “New Puzzles About Divine Attributes”

European Journal for Philosophy of Religion (forthcoming)
Abstract: According to traditional Western theism, God is maximally great (or perfect). More explicitly, God is said to have the following divine attributes: omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence. In this paper, I present three puzzles about this conception of a maximally great (or perfect) being. The first puzzle about omniscience shows that this divine attribute is incoherent. The second puzzle about omnibenevolence and omnipotence shows that these divine attributes are logically incompatible. The third puzzle about perfect rationality and omnipotence shows that these divine attributes are logically incompatible.

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