bookmark_borderYou get the Weirdest Things in your Inbox

Here is a message sent to my e-mail. I have no idea why it was sent to me. I sent a reply indicating that this is egregious drivel and blocked the sender from my inbox. I am omitting the name of the sender, not so much to protect his privacy but so as to not give him any publicity.
Dear Keith,
“I filed a First Amendment lawsuit against Columbia University that is now before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. This lawsuit is analogous to Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (2005), which barred public schools from teaching the theory called “Intelligent Design.” The state actor is the General Counsel of Columbia and a department of the New York State Unified Court System. The scientific question concerns not how elephants evolved from bacteria, but the cosmological argument for God’s existence. I explain in the brief that the cosmological argument is based on the scientific fact that human beings did not evolve from animals.
I’m accusing New York State of promoting the religion called humanism. In the United States, many humanists have a church, a pastor, and a creed. What makes humanism a religion under the First Amendment, however, is the fact that humanists discriminate against people who believe in God. Humanists also consciously and unconsciously disseminate misinformation about history and science to promote their religion.  An example of discrimination can be found in Wikipedia’s entry titled,  “Sternberg peer review controversy.”
What follows is a list of truths about evolutionary biology that many non-biologists don’t know because of humanistic pseudoscience and misinformation:
 

  1. Charles Darwin contributed nothing to biological evolution. Pierre Louis Maupertuis in the 18th century and al-Jāḥiẓ in the 9th century invented the theory of natural selection.  Darwin was just a propagandist for eugenics.
  2. The theory of evolution is more accurately called the theory of common descent with modifications because of how rapidly bacteria evolved into elephants and how much more complex an elephant is than a bacteria.
  3. The branch of science called biology does not address the mind-body problem because the mind-body problem is a philosophical or metaphysical question.
  4. Natural selection is just one proposed mechanism for common descent. Three other mechanisms are epigenetics, natural genetic engineering, and facilitated variation. All these mechanisms only explain why giraffes have long necks, not how giraffes descended from worms. No biologist claims these mechanisms explain common descent.
  5. Biological evolution does not violate the second law of thermodynamics because the second law does not apply to biological systems, not because of energy supplied by the Sun.

The American Journal of Physics published an absurd article titled “Entropy and Evolution” (November 2008) with a calculation proving that #5 is not true.”
Parsons: There are very many very odd claims here. What do you make of a passage like this: “The scientific question concerns not how elephants evolved from bacteria, but the cosmological argument for God’s existence. I explain in the brief that the cosmological argument is based on the scientific fact that human beings did not evolve from animals.” OK, so a metaphysical argument is based on a false empirical claim? How could that be, even if the claim were true? What about “Charles Darwin contributed nothing to biological evolution.”? This is like saying “Albert Einstein contributed nothing to relativity theory.” Also, neuroscience has nothing to say about the mind/body problem. Gee, I didn’t know that. Well Goll-lee. You can always tell an utter ignoramus by the number of grand, sweeping, totally unsupported assertions he makes. Here is my favorite: “No biologist claims these [evolutionary] mechanisms explain common descent.” Gee. I didn’t know half this stuff.

bookmark_borderHinman’s ABEAN Argument – Part 1: “Eternal and Necessary”

Joe Hinman wants me to seriously consider two arguments for the conclusion that “God is real”.  I’m going to focus on his ABEAN argument for a number of posts, before I examine his argument from religious experience.
I have attempted to summarize Hinman’s  first argument in a brief standard form argument:
Hinman’s ABEAN Argument

1. All natural phenomena are contingent and temporal.

2. IF all natural phenomena are contingent and temporal, THEN some aspect of being is eternal and necessary.

THEREFORE:

3. Some aspect of being is eternal and necessary.

4. IF some aspect of being is eternal and necessary, THEN there is good reason to believe that the Ground of Being is real.

5. IF there is good reason to believe that the Ground of Being is real, THEN there is good reason to believe that God is real.

THEREFORE:

6. There is good reason to believe that God is real.

I think of this argument in terms of three steps or phases:
THREE STEPS OF THE ABEAN ARGUMENT
   Step 1            Step 2          Step 3
—->ABEAN—->GOBIR—->GIR

ABEAN:  Some aspect of being is eternal and necessary.

GOBIR:  The Ground of Being is real.

GIR: God is real.

Each of these three key conclusions is unclear, at least they are unclear to me.  Perhaps Hinman has a clear idea of what these three assertions mean, but before I can have any hope of rationally evaluating his ABEAN argument, I need to have a better understanding of what these assertions mean, what they imply and what they don’t imply, what they rule out, and what they don’t rule out.
The Meaning of ABEAN
The first step or phase of Hinman’s argument is to show that ABEAN is true:

ABEAN: Some aspect of being is eternal and necessary.

But meaning is prior to truth.  We must first understand the meaning of ABEAN before we can assess whether it is true or false, coherent or incoherent.
Here are some other similar assertions with different subjects that should be understood in relation to the meaning of ABEAN:

ATEAN:  Some aspect of TIME is eternal and necessary.

ASEAN:  Some aspect of SPACE is eternal and necessary.

AMEAN:  Some aspect of MATTER is eternal and necessary.

AJEAN:  Some aspect of JELLO is eternal and necessary.

Here are some other similar assertions with different predicates that should be understood in relation to the meaning of ABEAN:

ABBAY: Some aspect of being is bright and yellow.

ABCAR: Some aspect of being is curved and round.

ABSAP: Some aspect of being is strong and powerful.

ABAAA: Some aspect of being is alive and aware.

If the meaning of ABEAN is clear to someone, then the meanings of the above similar statements should also be clear to that person.  If Hinman understands the meaning of ABEAN, then he ought to be able to explain the meaning of these similar statements, and comment on their coherence or incoherence, and their truth or falsehood.
Some of the above statements may be incoherent. but a person who understands the ABEAN assertion should be able to understand and explain why such an incoherent statement was incoherent.  For example, it might be incoherent to assert ABBAY, the assertion that some aspect of being is bright and yellow, because there is a category mistake in applying the properties of “bright and yellow” to being.  The same might be said about ABCAR, and the application of the properties “curved and round” to being.  But if we are to reject ABBAY and ABCAR as incoherent because they apply inappropriate properties to being, how can we be confident that ABSAP and ABAAA are not also incoherent statements?  And if ABSAP and ABAAA are incoherent statements, then how could we be confident that ABEAN was not similarly incoherent?  What sorts of properties can we coherently apply to “being”?
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NOTE:
We are much more familiar with describing physical objects, plants, animals, people, human activities, historical events, etc.  People don’t generally go around describing “being”.  So, the rules or logic and language concerning how to talk about “being” are unfamiliar at the very least, and are presumably unclear, at least to most of us.
However, we do sometimes talk intelligently and coherently about abstractions like “gravity” and “integers” and “science” and “logic” and “time” and “morality”,  so it is possible to make coherent statements about abstractions.  We cannot simply rule out the possibility that there are coherent and true statements that can be made about “being”.
I, for one, would be more comfortable talking about the properties of “being” if there was a collection of several statements ascribing properties to “being” where those statements have a fairly clear meaning and also were obviously true, or at least seemed to be true.  (Mr. Hinman or anyone else reading this post: Can you provide some examples of clear statements about being that are clearly true or that at least seem to be true?  I’m looking for statements about being that are less controversial than ABEAN.)
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Furthermore, if ABSAP and ABAAA are incoherent statements, then it is hard to see how it would be coherent to make similar assertions about the Ground of Being, namely that the Ground of Being was strong and powerful, and that the Ground of Being was alive and aware.  But if we cannot coherently make these assertions about the Ground of Being, then how can we coherently make these assertions about God?  But surely any God who is worthy of worship must be (at the least) strong and powerful and alive and aware.  So, if we cannot coherently make these sorts of assertions about the Ground of Being, then the ABEAN argument falls apart.
Let’s consider what Hinman has to say about the meaning of ABEAN, and whether his comments and attempts at clarification help to answer these questions and concerns:
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BB:
What does it mean to say that an “aspect of being is eternal”?
Joe:
There are only three alternatives for origin of all things given the assumption of cause and effect. They are             (1) reality began in a state of nothing and something emerged from nothing, (2) There is an Infinite Causal Regression (ICR) that just happens to always be as a brute fact. (3) Something exists eternally that gives rise to all that is. for various reasons I reject 1 and 2. From the premise that something cannot come from true absolute nothing, something must be eternal and thus able to give rise to all that is not eternal. So at this point we have a distinction between the eternal which I might call “primordial being;” the first form of being, or “ground of being,”  and temporal being or “the beings.” McQuarrie makes the distinction between primordial being and the beings.
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Joe provides three alternatives and attempts to eliminate two of the alternatives.  Joe rejects the option that something came from nothing (hereafter: SFN), and he rejects the option of an infinite causal regress (ICR).  That leaves the third alternative: “Something exists eternally that gives rise to all that is.”
But “all that is” would include the “something that exists eternally”, so this option can be ruled out, since it is logically impossible for something to give rise to itself.  However, I think Joe unintentionally incorrectly stated the third option.  Here is a revised version of the third option that avoids the logical contradiction of a self-caused being:

SEE: Something exists eternally that gives rise to everything else that has ever existed.

This is more like the language of traditional arguments for God, and I have no problem with the meaning or coherence of SEE (unless Hinman understands the meaning of this sentence in an odd and idiosyncratic way that is different than it would be understood in relation to traditional arguments for the existence of God).
I take it that the initial phrase “Something exists eternally” represents the meaning of the assertion that “an aspect of being is eternal” and that the remainder of the sentence (“that gives rise to everything else that has ever existed”) represents the meaning of “an aspect of being is necessary”.
The “something” here is clearly what Hinman will at some later point argue to be identical with “God”, but then it would follow logically that “God exists”, which is a statement that Hinman wishes to avoid asserting.  Perhaps he only avoids the expression “God exists” because of a concern that this statement, while being a true statement, would tend to be misunderstood in a way that the assertion “God is real” would not tend to be misunderstood (?).  But if Hinman actually rejects the claim “God exists”, then he cannot use SEE as part of his case, because in identifying “God” with the “something” that “exists eternally”, he will logically imply that “God exists” is a true statement.
The ordinary meaning of “exists eternally” is as follows:

X exists eternally IF AND ONLY IF  (a) X has always existed in the past,  and (b) X exists right now, and (c) X will always continue to exist in the future.

There is an indication in one of Hinman’s recent comments about his ABEAN argument, that he is using the phrase “exists eternally” in this ordinary sense of those words:
My point is some thing has to be eternal, the big bang is not eternal, it has a beginning…
The Big Bang is not eternal because “it has a beginning”.  In other words, the Big Bang did NOT always exist in the past, so the Big Bang is not something that exists eternally.
If Hinman is using the phrase “exists eternally” in the ordinary sense of that phrase, then I see a serious problem with his argument in support of ABEAN.  He has left out at least two other options:

Option 4: Something has always existed in the past prior to the beginning of the universe, caused the universe to begin to exist, then ceased to exist (at some later point in time in the past).

Option 5: Something has always existed in the past prior to the beginning of the universe, caused the universe to begin to exist, but will cease to exist either now or at some later point in time in the future.

Hinman’s argument is logically invalid, because it presents us with three alternatives, and eliminates two alternatives, leaving us with the conclusion that SEE is true, but there are more than just the three alternatives that Hinman’s argument presents, so we cannot logically conclude that the third alternative, SEE, is true.  Hinman’s argument for SEE is a false dilemma, or to be more precise, a false trilemma.
Hinman also appears to commit the same fallacy as Aquinas and Geisler in the sloppy use of the ambiguous word “something”.  SEE has at least two different meanings:

SEE1:  There is exactly one thing that exists eternally that gave rise to everything else that has ever existed.

SEE2:  There is at least one thing that exists eternally that gave rise to everything else that has ever existed.

Only SEE1 identifies a single thing, and thus only SEE1 can be used to point to a thing that could be identified with “the Ground of Being” or with “God”.  If there were many things that existed eternally, then we could not identify “the Ground of Being” or “God” with what exists eternally (unless we want to conceive of God as a collection or set of different things, but  I don’t think Hinman’s concept of God allows for God to be a collection or set of different things).
Once again, there appear to be more alternatives than just the five alternatives that we have mentioned so far.  Each alternative that begins with the word “something” must be clarified and turned into two separate alternatives.  Thus SEE must be clarified and turned into SEE1 and SEE2,  and Option 4 and Option 5 must also be clarified and turned into Options 4A, 4B, 5A, and 5B, so we are now up to a total of eight alternatives ( SFN, ICR, SEE1, SEE2, Option 4A, Option 4B, Option 5A, and Option 5C).  We are way beyond a trilemma at this point.
Let’s consider what Hinman has to say in an attempt to clarify what he means by saying that “an aspect of being is necessary”:
=======================
BB:
What does it mean to say that an “aspect of being is necessary”?
Joe: 
In this case, that of ultimate origin. I see necessary more in terms of causality, whereas Necessary is usually taken to mean x is necessary iff x must exist in the same way in all possible worlds. Another way to say it, if it cannot cease or fail to exist. I think that is also true of God, God is necessary in that way. But in thinking about ultimate origins I think that there is another implication that being eternal God is uncased and thus not the product of any conditions prior to himself. Moreover, being the eternal aspect of  being God is in some sense the necessary condition upon which all contingencies depend. In this case being necessary is an implication of being eternal.
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Hinman says that “Another way to say it” is “if it cannot cease or fail to exist”.  This sounds like a definition:

X is necessary IF AND ONLY IF X cannot cease or fail to exist.

Previously, Hinman suggested that we understand the claim “An aspect of being is eternal” as meaning that “Something exists eternally”, so it seems reasonable to follow the same pattern and to understand the claim “An aspect of being is necessary” as meaning that “Something exists necessarily”.  Presumably, “X exists necessarily” means the same as “X is necessary”, so the above definition works for either phrase.  So, we have a series of expressions that have the same meaning:

Equivalence 1: “An aspect of being is necessary” means “Something exists necessarily”.

Equivalence 2: “Something exists necessarily” means “Something is necessary”.

Equivalence 3: “Something is necessary” means “Something cannot cease or fail to exist”.

From these three equivalences we may validly infer a fourth equivalence:

Equivalence 4: “An aspect of being is necessary” means “Something cannot cease or fail to exist”.

Hinman states that  “I think that there is another implication that being eternal God is uncased and thus not the product of any conditions prior to himself. … In this case being necessary is an implication of being eternal.”
But I don’t see how “being eternal” has any such implication.   Given the understanding that I have outlined of what it means to say that “X is eternal” and given the understanding that I have outlined of what it means to say that “X is necessary”, the claim that “X is necessary” does NOT follow logically from the claim “X is eternal”.
I take it that “X is eternal” means the same thing as “X exists eternally”, and my current understanding of the meaning of “X exists eternally ” is this:

X exists eternally IF AND ONLY IF  (a) X has always existed in the past,  and (b) X exists right now, and (c) X will always continue to exist in the future.

My current understanding of the meaning of “X is necessary” is this:

X is necessary IF AND ONLY IF X cannot cease or fail to exist.

Thus, if “X exists eternally” logically implied “X is necessary”, then the following inference would be logically valid:

(7) X has always existed in the past,  and X exists right now, and X will always continue to exist in the future.

THEREFORE:

(8) X cannot cease or fail to exist.

This inference, however, is logically INVALID.  The universe could, in theory, have always existed in the past, and exist right now, and always continue to exist in the future, even though the existence of the universe was contingent on God’s will that it exist.
Aquinas pointed out long ago that an eternal universe could be eternally dependent upon God, and thus even if the universe has always existed and continued to exist forever, the universe would remain contingent upon the will of God, and thus the universe CAN cease or fail to exist, namely IF God were to decide someday that it should cease to exist.  If God never in fact chooses to make the universe cease to exist, that would only make it a fact that the universe continues to exist forever, not a necessity that that universe continues to exist forever.
So, either Hinman is WRONG about his claim that “X is eternal” logically implies “X is necessary” or else he has some OTHER MEANING in mind for these expressions than what I have been able to discern so far.
In conclusion, I think I have a fairly good understanding of claims like “Something exists necessarily” and “Something exists eternally”.  So, if the somewhat perplexing expression “An aspect of being is necessary” simply means “Something exists necessarily” then I have no problem with understanding the former assertion.  Similarly, if the somewhat perplexing expression “An aspect of being is eternal” simply means “Something exists eternally”, then I have no problem understanding the former assertion.  But given the apparently invalid inference that Hinman makes, I’m not sure that he would accept these as equivalences, as statements having the same meaning.
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CORRECTION (6/27/17 at 8am):
Normally, when I find a mistake in my reasoning or a questionable factual claim in a post that I have recently published (say in the past 24 hours),  I just revise the post to fix the problem, and don’t bother to point out my error.   However, this post is a part of a debate with Joe Hinman, so I feel obliged to be more circumspect about making revisions to this post; hence this “correction” notice.
Above, I make this critical comment:
…so we are now up to a total of eight alternatives ( SFN, ICR, SEE1, SEE2, Option 4A, Option 4B, Option 5A, and Option 5C).  We are way beyond a trilemma at this point.
This comment is a conclusion based on a mistake in reasoning that I made.
I stand by the point that the word “something” is ambiguous and can mean either “at least one X”  or “exactly one X”.  However,  I was mistaken in treating these as two separate and independent possibilities.   The possibility that there is “at least one X” that is eternal includes the possibility that there is “exactly one X” that is eternal.  These two statements overlap in terms of possibilities.  Therefore, although the word “something” is ambiguous, if Hinman chooses to go with the broader sense of the word, i.e. “at least one X”,  then only five of the alternatives that I mention would be required to cover all of the possibilities, or at least all of the possibilities included in my list of eight alternatives (here are the five: SFN, ICR, SEE2, 4B, and 5B).

bookmark_borderIs Christianity True? – Part 2: The Christian Worldview

The Four Basic Worldview Questions
A religion is fundamentally a system of religious beliefs.  What makes a collection of religious beliefs a “system” is that they are built up around a set of core beliefs called a “worldview”.  There are different ways of conceptualizing worldviews; I favor conceiving of worldviews as problem-solving schemas, on analogy with medical problem solving, involving four basic questions/concepts:

1. SYMPTOMS: What are the most important problems of human life? 

2. DIAGNOSIS: What is the root-cause problem that underlies the problems that are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life?

3. CURE: What is the best solution to what is (allegedly) the root-cause problem that underlies the problems that are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life?

4. TREATMENT PLAN:  What is the best way to implement what is (allegedly) the best solution to what is (allegedly) the root-cause problem that underlies the problems that are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life?

The Christian Worldview – Reader’s Digest Version

The shortest summary of Christianity is John 3:16 (New Revised Standard Version):

For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son so that anyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

For very brief summaries of the Christian worldview, see Seven Theories of Human Nature by Leslie Stevenson (pages 5-7, and all of Chapter 4: “Christianity: God’s Salvation”, pages 41-51), and see God is Not One by Stephen Prothero (pages 70-73), as well as Religious Literacy by Stephen Prothero (see entries on “atonement” on page 160, and on “Christianity” on pages 168-169).

A widely distributed summary of the Christian worldview can be found in a Campus Crusade for Christ tract called “The Four Spiritual Laws“.

1. SYMPTOMS: What are the most important problems of human life? 

There are four different kinds of problems that constitute the most important problems of human life: (1) spiritual problems/evils, (2) physical problems/evils, (3) mental problems/evils, and (4) social problems/evils.

2. DIAGNOSIS: What is the root-cause problem that underlies the problems that are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life?

All of the most important problems/evils of human life are the result of one root-cause problem: SIN, especially human sinfulness.

3. CURE: What is the best solution to what is (allegedly) the root-cause problem that underlies the problems that are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life?

God sent his Son, Jesus, to become a human being and to die on the cross to atone for the sins of human beings, so that human beings could be saved from sin and from the various problems/evils caused by sin.

4. TREATMENT PLAN:  What is the best way to implement what is (allegedly) the best solution to what is (allegedly) the root-cause problem that underlies the problems that are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life?

If we repent of our sins, and believe that Jesus is the divine savior of mankind who died for our sins and who was raised from the dead by God, then God will forgive our sins and help us to become free from the power of sin, and to obtain eternal life in heaven (where we will be free from all of the most important problems/evils of human life).

The Christian Worldview – The Full Meal Deal
The above brief summary of the Christian worldview is a bit too brief for careful analysis and evaluation.  So, I have added a few more details, and have explicated each one of the above Christian answers to the basic worldview questions in terms of four beliefs or statements, so that the Christian worldview is presented in terms of sixteen different beliefs or statements (there are four answers, and each answer consists of four statements).  This provides a sufficient level of detail for analysis and evaluation of the Christian worldview.
Christian Answers to Worldview Questions 1 and 2 (click on image below for a clearer view of the chart):
Christian Answers to WQ1 and WQ2
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Note that in the above chart I have begun the process of evaluating Christian answers to basic worldview questions.  For example, in relation to the physical, mental, and social problems/evils, I comment that “Clearly these are significant problems.”  But in relation to the claim that SIN is the root cause of these problems, I point out that those kinds of problems existed before humans sinned (because such problems existed for non-human animals long before there were any human beings).  This casts serious doubt on the Christian claim that sin is the root cause of those problems.
On the other hand, human alienation from God and the threat of divine eternal punishment are more plausibly viewed as being the result of sin, but the reality of these “spiritual” problems is much more dubious.  There can be alienation from God only if God actually exists, and it is not at all clear that God exists.  The same is true for divine eternal punishment.  Furthermore, divine eternal punishment seems to be an incoherent idea.  God, by definition, is a perfectly morally good person, but punishing a human for an eternity appears to be the behavior of an evil person, not the behavior of a perfectly morally good person.
So, the problems identified by the Christian worldview that are most plausibly viewed as being among the most important problems of human life are also the problems that are least plausibly viewed as being the result of SIN, and the problems that are most plausibly viewed as being the result of SIN are least plausibly viewed as being actual problems in need of a solution.
Christian Answers to Worldview Question 3 (click on image below for a clearer view of the chart):
Christian Answers to WQ3
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Christian Answers to Worldview Question 4 (click on image below for a clearer view of the chart):
Christian Answers to WQ4
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Notice that in the “Assumptions” column, the comment “Assumes God exists” occurs frequently.  In fact, this comment occurs for some of the claims under each of the four basic worldview questions.  That shows how important this assumption is to the Christian worldview.  If God does not exist, then the Christian worldview provides mistaken answers to each of the four basic worldview questions.  Other assumptions also occur frequently or  in answers to more than one of the basic worldview questions.  Determining the truth (or falsehood) of such assumptions is critical to a rational evaluation of the Christian worldview.
 
 

bookmark_borderIs Christianity True? – Part 1: What is Christianity?

I have been producing a series of podcasts on the question “Is Christianity true?”.  So far, four podcasts have been published, and I’m currently working on podcast # 5:
http://thinkingcriticallyabout.podbean.com/
The first four podcasts are introductory in nature, but in podcast #5,  I will be shifting gears and will start working on an evaluation of Christianity.  The first four podcasts are introductory, because I was working on the questions “Why think critically about whether Christianity is true?” and “What is Christianity?”.  These are questions that help to clarify the main question at issue, because clarity is of fundamental importance:
Clarity is a gateway standard. If a statement is unclear, we cannot determine whether it is accurate or relevant.  In fact, we cannot tell anything about it because we don’t yet know what it is saying.  (The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts & Tools, by Richard Paul and Linda Elder,  p.7)
In podcast #5,  I will briefly review my thinking about the question “What is Christianity?”.  This post will cover similar ground.
1. Christianity is a RELIGION, not a RELATIONSHIP with Jesus.
Dictionaries define “Christianity” as a religion, not a relationship with Jesus.  Sociologists, religious studies experts, and philosophers of religion consider “Christianity” to be a religion, not a relationship with Jesus.  Intellectual defenders of Christianity (Christian apologists) assert that “Christianity is true”, but a relationship with a person is NOT something that can be true (or false).  So, those who defend Christianity logically imply that Christianity is NOT a relationship.
A religion, however, is something that could be true (or false), so the common-sense view that Christianity is a religion supports the assumption that Christianity is something that could be true (or false).
2. Christianity is a MULTI-FACETED historical phenomenon.
I agree with the religious studies expert Ninian Smart that religions, such as Christianity, have multiple aspects or dimensions.  Here is Ninian Smart’s list of six key dimensions of a religion (Worldviews, 3rd edition, pages: 8-10):

1. Doctrinal and Philosophical

2. Mythic and Narrative

3. Ethical or Legal

4. Ritual or Practical

5. Experiential or Emotional

6. Social or Institutional

3.  RELIGIOUS BELIEFS (the “Doctrinal and Philosophical” dimension) are the MOST BASIC Aspect of a Religion.
I defend a cognitivist view of religion.  Although my cognitivist view is consistent with and is supported by most of what Ninian Smart says about religions, I don’t think Ninian Smart sees the cognitivist implications of his own views about religion, so I doubt that he would agree with me on this point.
Although we must acknowledge that religions have several dimensions, including religious experiences, religious stories (or “narratives”), and religious rituals, we can identify religious experiences, religious stories, and religious rituals, and distinguish them from secular experiences, secular stories, and secular rituals only by determining whether the experience, story, or ritual has religious significance, and we can determine that something has religious significance only if we can identify and recognize religious beliefs.
Religious significance or religious meaning is grounded in religious beliefs.  The identification of religious experiences, religious stories, and religious rituals depends upon the identification of religious beliefs.  Therefore, religious beliefs are more basic logically and conceptually than the other dimensions of religion.
4. The WORLDVIEW Associated with a Religion is the HEART (the Most Basic Aspect) of the Religious Beliefs Associated with that Religion.
A religion is fundamentally a system of religious beliefs.  What makes a collection of religious beliefs a “system” is that they are built up around a set of core beliefs called a “worldview”.  There are different ways of conceptualizing worldviews; I favor conceiving of worldviews as problem-solving schemas, on analogy with medical problem solving, involving four basic questions/concepts:

1. SYMPTOMS: What are the most important problems of human life? 

2. DIAGNOSIS: What is the root-cause problem that underlies the problems that are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life?

3. CURE: What is the best solution to what is (allegedly) the root-cause problem that underlies the problems that are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life?

4. TREATMENT PLAN:  What is the best way to implement what is (allegedly) the best solution to what is (allegedly) the root-cause problem that underlies the problems that are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life?

The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism have this logical structure, and I believe The Four Noble Truths provide a clear analysis and explication of the Buddhist worldview, and this logical structure should be used as a model for the analysis of any religious worldview or secular worldview.
5. Although there are MANY VERSIONS of Christianity, there is just ONE CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW.
There are three main branches of Christianity:  Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant.  Catholics and Protestants disagree about several religious beliefs and practices.  Orthodox Christians disagree with Catholics about various religious beliefs and practices, and different Protestant denominations disagree with each other about various religious beliefs and practices.  It is clear that there are many different versions of Christianity.  Christians do NOT all accept the same collection or system of religious beliefs.
However, the Catholic church, Orthodox churches, and many Protestant denominations do share a number of core religious beliefs, and I have argued that among the shared religious beliefs are beliefs that constitute a Christian worldview (i.e. Christian answers to the above four worldview questions).  Because the Catholic church, Orthodox churches, and many major Protestant denominations teach beliefs that constitute the same Christian worldview, we can reasonably conclude that there is just ONE Christian worldview (that is taught by Christian churches and denominations that include at least 80% of the population of Christian believers).
6. To Evaluate the Truth of a RELIGION, One must Evaluate the Truth of the WORLDVIEW associated with that Religion.
More specifically, to answer the question “Is Christianity true?”, one must answer the question “Is the Christian worldview true?” If the Christian worldview is false, then we can rightly conclude that Christianity is false.  If the Christian worldview is true, then we can rightly conclude that the most basic beliefs of Christianity are true, and we can also rightly conclude that the worldviews associated with other religions and secular worldviews are false (or are mostly false), making the Christian worldview the best available worldview, and also making Christian systems of religious beliefs superior to other systems of belief (that were based on false worldviews).
If the Christian worldview is true, that would NOT imply that Catholicism is completely true, nor that Orthodox Christianity is completely true, nor that any Protestant denomination’s teachings are completely true, but it would mean that these various Christian belief systems are built on a solid foundation; they would be based on a true worldview.  So if the Christian worldview were true, that would make those Christian systems of belief superior to other religious or secular systems of belief (that are built upon false worldviews).
7.  To Evaluate the truth of the CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW, One Must Evaluate the Christian Answers to the FOUR BASIC WORLDVIEW QUESTIONS.
The Christian worldview is composed of four main parts, so it makes sense to evaluate the truth or correctness of each of these parts of the Christian worldview in order to arrive at a full and complete evaluation of that worldview:
1. Are the SYMPTOMS/PROBLEMS presented by the Christian worldview correct?
2. Is the DIAGNOSIS/ROOT-CAUSE PROBLEM presented by the Christian worldview correct?
3. Is the CURE/BEST SOLUTION presented by the Christian worldview correct?
4. Is the TREATMENT PLAN/IMPLEMENTATION PLAN presented by the Christian worldview correct?
 
8. Because there are FOUR BASIC PARTS to the Christian Worldview, there are (potentially) SIXTEEN different possible EVALUATIONS of the Christian Worldview.
It is probably an oversimplification to think strictly in terms of only two evaluative options, namely “true” or “false”, so we might want to keep in mind other categories (e.g. “partially true and partially false”  and “mostly true” or “mostly false”); however, what we are shooting for ideally is a decision to accept or reject specific aspects of the Christian worldview, so ideally we will arrive at determinations of “true” or “false” for each of the four parts, to the extent that this is humanly possible to do.
Click on the image below for a clearer view of the chart:
Christian Worldview Evaluation Chart
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
“TCW” means: “The Christian Worldview”.
“ATQ1” means: “Answer To Question One” (of the Four Basic Worldview Questions).
Note that to the extent that ALL WORLDVIEWS can be analyzed in terms of the four basic worldview questions, this same chart can be used in the analysis and evaluation of any worldview.
Obviously, if the Christian answers to all four of the basic worldview questions are correct, then the Christian worldview is true. Similarly, if the Christian answers to all four of the basic worldview questions are wrong, then the Christian worldview is false.
But it is possible that some parts of the Christian worldview are correct and that other parts are wrong, and it is not immediately clear how we should evaluate the Christian worldview in those cases.  In some such cases, the most reasonable evaluation might be that the Christian worldview is “mostly true”.  In other such cases, the most reasonable evaluation might be that the Christian worldview is “mostly false”.  In some such cases, the most reasonable evaluation might be that the Christian worldview is “roughly half-true and half-false”.
But we have to consider each of the various possible scenarios or permutations of truth and falsehood in order to determine (a) whether the possible permutation is a coherent possibility (some permutations might contain a contradiction and thus be ruled out), and (b) to what extent the specified false parts (of a given permutation) diminish the overall correctness of the Christian worldview, and (c) to what extent the specified true parts (of a given permutation) enhance the overall correctness of the Christian worldview.

bookmark_borderHow NOT to Argue for Agnosticism

I recently purchased a couple of introductory books on the philosophy of religion.  One of the books is by a contemporary analytic philosopher of religion, Richard M. Gale, titled: On The Philosophy Of Religion (Thompson Wadsworth, 2007).  The other is by a philosopher named Gary Cox, who is not a specialist in philosophy of religion: The God Confusion (Bloomsbury, 2013; hereafter: TGC)  Gary Cox is a British philosopher who appears to be primarily interested in Sartre and existentialism.
Gale’s book is aimed at undergraduate philosophy students, but it jumps right into contemporary analytic philosophy of religion, so although I find the book very interesting, there are passages that are not exactly “user friendly”,  for example, in the first chapter Gale explores some of the details of contemporary objections and replies about divine omniscience:
There are two other responses that also seem to require too little of God’s omniscience.  That it rains (tenselessly) at t4 reports one and the same event as does that it is raining now; for given that now = t4,  its raining now is one and the same event as its raining at t4.  Therefore, God knows of “its raining now” only under that description but not under the description “its raining at t4.”  But an omniscient being must not just know of the occurrence of every event but know of it under every description that is true of it, that is, he must know every proposition that truly reports the occurrence of the event.  (On The Philosophy of Religion, p.14)
There are many passages even in this first chapter that are as challenging, or more challenging, to read and follow.
Gary Cox’s book is an easier read, and it usually avoids the technical details of contemporary analytic philosophy of religion.  In Chapter 3, “The Existence of God”,  Cox does a good job of laying out the main traditional arguments for the existence of God, and he shows that there are serious problems with each of those arguments.  Cox provides a little bit of history of philosophy, and clearly presents the traditional objections to the traditional arguments for God: Anselm’s ontological argument, Aquinas’ cosmological arguments, teleological arguments by Aquinas and Paley, and Kant’s moral argument.  Chapter 3 presents a readable and informative introduction to philosophy of religion in about 100 pages.
However, Gary Cox also gives one of the lousiest arguments for agnosticism that I  have seen.  He argues that agnosticism is the only reasonable position on the question of the existence of God: “…agnosticism is the only tenable philosophical position…” (TGC, p.3).  Cox claims that his book
…simply explores in an objective and unbiased way what philosophers have said over the centuries about the idea and nature of God, his relationship to the world and his existence or non-existence. (TGC, p.3)
Cox commits a blatant Straw Man fallacy against both theism and atheism in an effort to make agnosticism appear to be the only reasonable point of view:
As for atheism, to be an outright atheist is to assert that one knows for sure there is no God.  But I am pretty sure that nobody knows this for sure.  As I tried to show in How to Be a Philosopher, philosophy reveals that there is very little if anything that we can know for absolute certain…
I have always argued that it is my scepticism that prevents me from being an atheist, from committing myself to such a strong position of certainty. …(TGC, p.5)
In the above passage Cox defines atheism this way:
DEFINITION OF “ATHEIST” (by Gary Cox)
Person P is an atheist IF AND ONLY IF person P claims to know for an absolute certainty that there is no God.
Cox implies that the word “theist” should be understood in a similar way:
Even in our scientific age there are still millions of people who claim to know for certain that God exists. (TGC, p.54)
Although Cox is correct that there are millions of such dogmatic theists, he fails to note that there are ALSO millions of theists who are NOT so dogmatic.  According to a survey by Pew Research Center, 63% of adults in the USA claim to be “absolutely certain” that God exists, but 26% of adults in the USA claim to believe in God, but to be less than “absolutely certain” that God exists (20% claim to be only “fairly certain”, 5% claim to be “not too certain” or “not at all certain” that God exists, and 1% claim to believe in God but “don’t know” that God exists).  http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/belief-in-god/
In 2014, when this survey was taken, the U.S. adult population was 244.8 million, so that means that about 154.2 million adults in the U.S. claimed to be “absolutely certain” that God exists, while 63.6 million adults in the U.S. claimed to believe in God, but to be less than “absolutely certain” that God exists.  Therefore, millions of Americans believe in God, but do NOT claim to be “absolutely certain” that God exists.
According to a survey by Pew Research Center, 76% of Christians in the USA claim to be “absolutely certain” that God exists, but 22% of Christians in the USA claim to believe in God, but to be less than “absolutely certain” that God exists (18% claim to be only “fairly certain”, 3% claim to be “not too certain” or “not at all certain” that God exists, and 1% claim to believe in God but “don’t know” that God exists).  So, even among Christian believers in the U.S., there are millions who believe in God, but do not claim to be “absolutely certain” that God exists.   http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/christians/christian/#belief-in-god
Because there are millions of American adults who believe in God, but who are not dogmatic about this belief, it is blatantly unfair for Gary Cox to imply that to be a theist or believer in God MEANS that one is a dogmatic believer in God who claims to be “absolutely certain” that God exists.  This is a blatant and obvious Straw Man fallacy.  Cox dismisses theism by suggesting that in order to believe in God, one must take the extreme position that one knows for an absolute certainty that God exists.
Cox dismisses atheism by the very same unfair and idiotic use the of Straw Man fallacy.  For example, he distorts the viewpoint of Richard Dawkins and other “new atheists”:
A number of high-profile evangelical atheists…are belligerently spreading the New Atheist gospel that God definitely does not exist, and that any suggestion that he might exist is utterly ridiculous. 
The problem with atheism, philosophically speaking, is that it is a very strong belief position, no less strong than theism.  It claims to know beyond all possible doubt that God does not exist.  But as philosophers who understand that there are strict limits to knowledge have long argued, it is not even possible to know beyond all doubt that the external world does or does not exist.  Now, if I cannot even prove or disprove the existence of the desk I seem to clearly see and feel before me, then how on earth can I hope to utterly prove or disprove the existence of a supreme transcendental being?  (TGC, p.56)
Although there is very little of philosophical value in Richard Dawkins book The God Delusion (which was apparently the inspiration for the title of Gary Cox’s book), one important point that Dawkins correctly emphasizes is that both theism and atheism come in different degrees.
There are absolutely certain theists, and absolutely certain atheists, but there are also theists who believe that the existence of God is nearly but not completely certain, and atheists who believe that the non-existence of God is nearly but not absolutely certain, and there are theists who believe that the existence of God is very probable but not nearly certain, and atheists who have a similar belief about the non-existence of God, etc.  If Cox had bothered to read The God Delusion, then he would have learned that his definition of “atheist” and his definition of “theist” are clearly unfair and unreasonable (see pages 50-51 of The God Delusion).
Dawkins himself does NOT claim to be “absolutely certain” that God does not exist:
That you cannot prove God’s non-existence is accepted and trivial, if only in the sense that we can never absolutely prove the non-existence of anything.  What matters is not whether God is disprovable, but whether his existence is probable. (The God Delusion, p.54)
So, Gary Cox, if he had bothered to read The God Delusion, would have learned that his extreme definition of “atheist” does NOT apply even to the leading “evangelical atheist”.  That reduces his definition to absurdity.  If not even Dawkins is categorized as an “atheist” according to Cox’s definition, then that definition is clearly a piece of crap (i.e. it is SPODS, a Steaming Pile Of Dog Shit).
But even if Dawkins, contrary to fact, was a dogmatic atheist who claimed to know for an absolute certainty that there is no God, that would still fail to provide anything near sufficient evidence in support of Cox’s idiotic definition of “atheist”.  One can no more define “theist” by the beliefs of Pat Robertson, than one can define “atheist” by the beliefs of Richard Dawkins.  The views of one particularly vocal “evangelical atheist” do not form the basis for an accurate definition of the word “atheist”; this is NOT how to accurately characterize the views of millions of atheists.
Here is Cox’s argument, in summary form:

1. Atheism is the belief that the non-existence of God is known with absolute certainty.

2. Theism is the belief that the existence of God is known with absolute certainty.

3. Agnosticism is the belief that the existence of God is NOT known with absolute certainty and that the non-existence of God is also NOT known with absolute certainty.

4. Atheism, theism, and agnosticism are the only three intellectual options concerning the existence of God.

5. Nothing can be known with absolute certainty.

THEREFORE:

6. Agnosticism is the ONLY reasonable intellectual option concerning the existence of God.

Given Cox’s idiotic definitions of “atheist” and “theist” and his definition of “agnosticism”, he can infer his desired conclusion.  But based on these definitions, there are millions of  American adults who believe in God, but who are NOT theists and who are instead “agnostics”.  And based on Cox’s idiotic definitions,  Richard Dawkins is NOT an atheist, but is just another agnostic.  And based on Cox’s definitions, most people who reject or deny the belief that God exists are NOT atheists but are simply agnostics.
These definitions are obviously false and distorted definitions, adopted merely to portray the alternatives to agnosticism as stupid and obviously false points of view.  But the fact of the matter is that millions of believers in God are NOT dogmatic theists who claim that it is “absolutely certain” that God exists, and there are many people who reject the belief that God exists and who believe that there is no God, who are NOT dogmatic atheists who claim to be absolutely certain that there is no God.  Cox is guilty of an obvious and idiotic use of the Straw Man fallacy in his argument for agnosticism.

bookmark_borderAn Evangelical Philosopher on LGBT Rights

Calm discussions of “hot button” issues are rare, but I am having this opportunity now. Matt Flannagan is a distinguished evangelical philosopher who has written a number notable works, including Did God Really Command Genocide?, with Paul Copan. I have enjoyed a number of very interesting discussions with him on a wide variety of topics, and have always found his comments to be logical, informed, and civil (Getting even one of these three in an Internet discussion is, alas, rarer than it should be.). I recently asked him some questions about his views of LGBT rights and he responded at length. These issues are too important to be buried in a comments box, so I am posting our conversation here. I asked him five questions, which I will give with his replies. His replies are in bold. Below these I will give my replies immediately after each of his responses.
Matt,
Just to be clear, please tell me which of the following propositions you accept and which you reject. A brief explanation of why would also be appreciated. Thanks.
1) It is a legitimate expression of religious freedom to exclude LGBT people from employment, housing, adoption rights, medical service, employee partner benefits, and service by government officials on the basis of “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Keith, thanks for your questions, I’ll do my best to answer them honestly, some of my answers are tentative.
 Re 1), there are a lot of different situations falling under the umbrella descriptions you have articulated, and I think some of them would probably be legitimate and some would not. Let me give some examples:
Consider employment, in many cases, it wouldn’t be legitimate to discriminate regarding employment. I can’t see any valid religious reason, for example ,why a person would refuse to hire a plumber because he was Gay.
 In other cases things are different, for example, a Catholic church might not want to hire a person in an active same-sex relationship for the priesthood, and a religious school might want to hire people whose lives involve practising the disciplines they teach and so forth.
 Similarly, regarding housing, I think if a person refused to provide shelter in a snow storm to a Gay person because he would be Gay that would be abominable. However, I can imagine cases for example where a deeply religious person refuses potential patrons to bed and breakfast because they are on the first night of their honeymoon and want to consummate their same-sex marriage in the room. I think compelling them to do this would essentially demand them to be complicit in an action their religion forbids.
 In health care, there can be cases where a person refuses to offer health care services as a legitimate expression of freedom of religion, such as a Catholic doctor refusing to perform and abortion or be involved in assisted suicide, which I see no reason wouldn’t extend to say offering sex change surgery. On other occasions, refusing for example to treat a Gay person who is bleeding to death with immediate life-saving treatment would be illegitimate. So again it depends on the case.
 Reply: Yes, there are situations where employers can legitimately “discriminate.” The Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, for instance, can legitimately refuse to hire males. Making such distinctions in employment seems to come down to the question of whether the distinction is relevant to the performance of the job. For instance, the Pope would need to be Catholic. I take it, then, that you would not be averse to laws that would prohibit discrimination in cases where sexual orientation or transgender status is irrelevant. If so, however, you are setting yourself against other evangelicals, who most definitely think that, e.g., the Christian owner of a plumbing company could legitimately appeal to “sincere religious convictions” to refuse to hire a gay plumber.
The case of the bed and breakfast is less clear. I am old enough to remember when many devout Christians thought that interracial marriage was a sin, and southern states even criminalized it as “miscegenation.” Indeed, a woman who bore a mixed-race child was subject to criminal penalties. What is the difference between refusing to let a room to a honeymooning mixed-race couple and a honeymooning same-sex couple? It cannot be that the latter but not the former is based on sincere religious conviction because, at one time, at least, interracial marriage was considered plainly against God’s law. It still is in some quarters. So, renting to same-sex honeymooners might indeed offend the sincere religious convictions of the B & B owner, just as renting to an interracial couple might have fifty years ago.
Tough. Sincere religious convictions do not always deserve respect. When they condemn something that is not objectively harmful, like interracial or same-sex marriage, such convictions should be scorned. Whether they should be dealt with by criminal or civil penalties, or by public shaming would be decided on a case-by-case basis.
2) Restaurants and other business establishments open to the public should be allowed to withhold service from African-Americans on the basis of race.
Re 2) I think the situation you describe is morally abhorrent and I would be opposed to a person doing this. I’ll say a couple of things, however. First, it can’t be wrong simply because it involves racial discrimination. Because I can think of cases where racial discrimination, by itself, isn’t wrong. For example, an Irish pub which wants to make an authentic environment might hire only Irish people, and that seems to me benign. I suspect what makes it wrong is the reasons people have historically discriminated against African Americans.
 Second, the fact some form of discrimination is morally wrong or arbitrary by itself doesn’t mean it should be illegal. I noted above that we already tolerate all sorts of arbitrary and irrational discrimination in this context.
 People who open bars to the public, for example, can refuse to serve people for all sorts of silly reasons such as that they don’t have a tie or a collar, or they don’t like the look of them.
 It’s a truism to me that we don’t legally prohibit every moral or irrational action people might engage in. Whether we do or not depends on whether the evils prevented by suppressing the practise are greater than the evils involved in suppression. Whether this is true can differ in differing social/political contexts. I am inclined to think that in the kind of pre-civil rights era where racial segregation was culturally institutionalised, allowing people to discriminate in this way probably brought greater harm than prohibiting it did. Whether that’s true in every other social context, such as one where racist attitudes of this sort are held only be a tiny minority, and African Americans have plenty of options to go elsewhere, and the laws would prohibit and target lots of more benign cases is an open question to me and depends on the facts of the case.
 Reply: Ethnicity might be a relevant factor to work as a server in O’Doul’s Old Irish Pub. The question here is whether a pub, restaurant, or other such establishment should be free to refuse service to African Americans on the basis of race. Ethnicity may be relevant to who is hired to serve a beer, but how is it relevant to who can drink one? Sorry, but “No shoes, no shirt, no service” is not at all the same as refusing service on the basis of race. You abridge no one’s rights by requiring him to wear a shirt in your place of business. However, when you tell him that he is excluded from patronizing your business, one that is otherwise open to the public, for no reason other than his race, you are practicing an inherently invidious and socially deleterious form of discrimination. Someone excluded from service on that basis can rightly claim to have been publicly humiliated, degraded, and stigmatized. Shouldn’t such persons be allowed to file a lawsuit over such treatment?
3) Restaurants and other business establishments open to the public should be allowed to withhold service from LGBT people on the basis of their sexual orientation or transgender status.
Re 3) Pretty much the same answer as (2)
 Reply: Again, though, there is no clear difference between exclusion on the basis of race and exclusion on the basis of LGBT status. If the one is offensive to the point of being lawsuit-worthy, then so is the other. Yet proposed “religious freedom” laws would protect from lawsuits those who discriminate against LGBT people on the ground of “sincere religious convictions.” But religious convictions, however sincere, provide no blanket justification for inherently offensive and harmful actions. Suppose that someone, as a matter of sincere religious conviction, believes that all atheists are devoid of moral character. He then proceeds to traduce, say, Richard Dawkins, calling him a pedophile and a criminal. When Dawkins threatens a lawsuit for defamation of character, could the calumny be justified as the product of a sincere religious conviction? I think not. On what basis, then, can one who discriminates against LGBT people claim immunity from civil litigation on grounds of religious freedom?
4) Transgender people should be required to use public restrooms that correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificates. (Proposed Texas Law)
Re 4) here I think one would have to ask first why it is we don’t let men in general enter women’s bathrooms and vice versa, and then ask whether the fact a person is transgender suddenly changes the situation so that these reasons are no longer applicable. I must admit to not seeing how a person being transgendered does change the situation in this way. This is because I don’t think the reasons behind the rule have anything to do with whether the person identifies as a male or not. But I could be persuaded otherwise.
 Reply: Here is how it changes the situation: Under the proposed Texas law, a transgender woman, who looks female and wears makeup and women’s clothing, would be required to use the men’s room since the sex on her birth certificate is male. This would subject her to harassment and violence, which transgender people already suffer disproportionately. The idea that allowing a transgender person to use the restroom matching his or her identity will open the floodgates to sexual predators is absurd on its face. A man entering a women’s restroom for predatory purposes has always been illegal, and will continue to be so. Transgender people just want a place to pee—without fear of harassment or intimidation.
5) The Bible teaches that non-heterosexual relations are sinful, and so every Bible-believing Christian should adhere to this.
Thanks for the clarification.
RE 5) This seems to me to be simply an issue of rationality. If I affirm a premise, then I am required rationally to affirm what follows from the premise. So in the case you mention, if a person is a “bible believer” that is they take the bible as authoritative, then it seems to follow pretty straightforwardly that if the bible teaches that certain actions are wrong they, in virtue of being a bible believer are committed rationally to accepting this as authoritative teaching. That seems to me to be simply an expression of modus ponens.
 Reply: While I admire your commit to logical consistency, I can only wish that you were logically bound to follow a loftier and more rational ethic. I know that some liberal Christians attempt to interpret the biblical prohibitions against same-sex relations as not really meaning what they plainly mean. I have little patience with this sort of contorted exegesis, and I appreciate your willingness to bite the bullet. However, these biblical condemnations clearly no rational basis whatsoever. There is no reason at all why same-sex relations cannot be as committed, enriching, fulfilling, and loving as heterosexual unions. If the Bible says otherwise, then the Bible is wrong, and the right thing to do is to utterly reject its teaching on these points.

bookmark_borderIs Necessary Existence Necessary?

Consider the following argument for the existence of God.
1. Something exists.
2. Anything that exists must either exist contingently or necessarily.
3. It is impossible that everything that exists is contingent.
4. Therefore, there must exist at least one necessary being.
5. Only God could be a necessary being.
6. Therefore, God exists.
I think any argument in support of 5 is going to be very weak, but I propose to set it aside for this post and focus on 2 (only peripherally on 3).
In order for 2 to be defensible, it first has to be the case that necessity and contingency are coherently applicable to the existence of things. Prima facie, it certainly seems so:
(C) x exists contingently if and only if x exists and it is possible that x might not have existed.
(N) x exists necessarily if and only if x exists and x does not exist contingently (x exists and it is not possible that x might not have existed).
It is hard to deny that there are all sorts of things that exist that didn’t have to exist, so it follows from (C) that  they exist contingently. But if contingent existence is coherent, then (since necessary existence is defined in terms of it) necessary existence also seems to be coherent.
I find myself highly sympathetic to Quine’s claim that “Necessity resides in the way we talk about things, not in the things we talk about.” (Ways of Paradox and Other Essays (1976), p. 174.) If a view along these lines is correct, then perhaps the whole idea of a necessary being or a thing that exists necessarily is a conceptual muddle. It might be like saying that the order of things on my dining room table is grammatically correct, or that I had nouns for breakfast, or that my furnace is true. A defense of the necessity of God’s existence would have to consist not in talking about necessity as an attribute or descriptor of God, himself, but rather in talking about the necessity of the statement “God exists,” — on how “God” is conceived or defined. But this “analytic necessity,” when applied to God, leads to a  notoriously disappointing end. Whether anything exists or not isn’t a function of its concept or definition (so said Kant, and I tend to agree). We can define or conceive God as existing, but for God to actually have the property of existing, God would, of course, first have to exist. Saying that something exists won’t make it exist. Nor will saying that something necessarily exists. In order for something to have any property at all, it first has to exist. If it does exist, that makes it pointless to then go on and ask whether or not it also turns out to have the property of existing. It is true of anything at all that, necessarily, if it exists then it exists; given any existing thing, look closely and you will discover that it has the property of existing and couldn’t exist without it.
There are cases where a Quinean view seems just wrong. If I say that it is necessary that the sides of a square meet at right angles, this seems to a statement about the square; not the way I talk about the square. The sides will meet at a right angle whether anyone talks about the square or not. That is, having sides that meet in a right angle seems to be something that is a necessary property of the square, itself, and not merely a property of the way we talk about squares. But this sort of  “constitutional necessity” (as we might call it) also requires that the thing in question first exists. To say that God exists as a matter of constitutional necessity also turns out to require that God first exists. It also turns out to be true of anything else — necessarily, if something exists, it will be part of its constitution that it exists.
All this seems to imply something interesting: that existence is always contingent. Since existence can’t be legitimately built into the definition or concept of anything, whatever exists can be conceived without contradiction not to exist, and therefore (C) applies to every existing thing, and (N) doesn’t apply to anything.
To put this in possible world talk, consider the following conversation snippet:
Theist: “I think God exists in every possible world.”
Nontheist: “No, because I can imagine a possible world in which nothing exists but this pineapple.”
It looks like if you can’t define something into existence in one world, you certainly can’t define it into existence in all worlds. The theist, then, is simply wrong to think that God can be usefully defined or conceived as existing in all possible worlds (saying God exists in all possible worlds doesn’t and can’t make it true).
Consider how this applies to a modal argument for God’s existence such as this one defended by Joe Hinman (http://metacrock.blogspot.com/2017/06/special-discussion-for-hunter.html):

1a. God is either necessary or impossible.
2a. God can be conceived without contradiction.
3a. Whatever can be conceived without contradiction is not impossible.
4a. God is not impossible.
5a. God’s existence is a necessity
6a. If God is necessary, then God exists.
7a. Belief in God’s existence is warranted

(I’ve added the letter ‘a’ after each premise number to contrast with the argument below). Note that (7a) is logically superfluous, but let’s let that pass. Instead, compare that argument with this one:
1b. God is either necessary or impossible.
2b. God’s nonexistence can be conceived without contradiction.
3b. Whatever can be conceived without contradiction is not impossible.
4b. God’s nonexistence is not impossible. (From 2b and 3b)
5b. God’s existence is not necessary.
6b. God is impossible. (From 1b and 5b)
7b. Whatever is impossible does not exist.
8b. God does not exist. (From 6b and 7b)
The only way to salvage Joe’s modal argument is to revert to the position that existence can be built into the concept of something so that (2b) is ruled out. But if, as I have been suggesting, anything can be conceived as not existing — if analytically necessary existence is a muddle — then this argument is in trouble. And I think it is. The argument fails at 1a/1b.
There is another kind of necessity worth considering. This would be the idea of being “necessary for”. This is what is involved in causal arguments (God is necessary for everything to have a cause), in arguments from explanatory regress, or in arguments that God is necessary for reality to have ontological grounding (it is roughly this sort of necessity that Hinman appeals to in arguing that God is “Being-itself”). The idea here is that you can’t have B unless you have A. But the problem arises when you ask whether there is anything, in turn, that you need to have in order to have A. There are only three possibilities:
(1) The chain of dependence is infinitely regressive; for everything that exists, there is something else that is necessary for it.
(2) The chain of dependence terminates in something that is a brute fact (nothing explains it, nothing caused it, and it doesn’t depend on anything else — it just is).
(3) The chain of dependence terminates in something that exists necessarily — not in the sense of being “necessary for,” but in being necessary in itself.
But it looks very much like we have ruled (3) out, and (1) doesn’t seem a promising way to get to God. This leaves (2). I have said before that I think theists should be more open to the idea that God is not a necessary being. If the whole notion of necessary existence is a confusion, then theism should either be rejected or rehabilitated to reject the view that God is either necessary or nothin’. Theism just needs a logically weaker concept of God. If theists give up as lost the game of trying to prove that God has to exist as a matter of logic or conceptual necessity, it seems to me they can still try to argue that God at least happens to exist. The obvious disadvantage to this is that theists will have to give up pretensions to being on clearly superior grounds in holding God to be the foundational brute fact rather than something impersonal.