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Friday, April 4, 2014

God and the Fact-Value Distinction

In philosophy, one of the key distinctions discovered by David Hume is the difference between what is the case and what should be the case.

Consider the argument over abortion. The two sides may argue over how the legality of abortion affects family structure, illicit sexual relations, and the crime rates in society. These disagreements can, at least in theory, be settled by investigation of facts. Enough research might be able to show the literal effects of abortion, such as whether women who have abortions have a higher chance of contracting mental illnesses, for example.

However, the disagreement is about more than just facts. There may be situations where people on both sides of the issue agree completely on the facts of the matter, may even have perfect knowledge of the facts, yet still disagree on whether abortion should be legal. One side may believe that the woman's bodily autonomy trumps all other considerations, while the other may believe that the right to life of the unborn trumps all other considerations. This is not a disagreement over the facts of the matter, but over which considerations trump which other considerations. It is a disagreement over value, and these values cannot be verified or even perceived by sense experience.

There are two fallacies that accompany this distinction. The first is the naturalistic fallacy. People commit the naturalistic fallacy when they derive a value from a fact. Consider the following argument:

(1) Sam is a human
(2) Humans feel pain if you hit them
(3) You should not hit Sam

This is a fallacious argument. The conclusion (3) simply does not follow from the premises. And you can add all the facts you want, such as:

(3) Pain is a form of suffering
(4) Sam does not want to suffer
(6) If Sam suffers, it will not prevent the worst possible misery for everyone

and still never be able to entail the conclusion. You need to add a "should" or "ought" statement in order to entail that conclusion.

The other fallacy is the moralistic fallacy. Consider the following argument:

(7) Women and men should have equal rights
(8) Women and men have equal abilities


(9) No one should live in poverty
(10) Social programs ought to keep people out of poverty
(11) Social programs do keep people out of poverty

As the opposite of the naturalistic fallacy, it starts with "ought" statements, and concludes with an "is" statement. Again, no amount of additional "ought" premises will give us an "is" conclusion. Feminist groups commit the moralist fallacy all the time. As Daniel Miessler notes:
Up until around 50 years ago–i.e. for the last tens of thousands of years–women have been considered “things”, and men have been considered “those who get things”. The fact that this ancient reality has not been eradicated in the eye-blink of the social equality movement should fail to surprise anyone. . .

Slavery is natural. Racism is natural. And so is sexism. We are primates pretending not to be, and every step on the ascent up Mt. Moral will be taxed by the gravity of our animal selves. The fact that these things are natural doesn’t mean we stop working against them, but it does mean we can stop looking for less obvious reasons for their existence. Alas, no additional actors are required.

So I join you in opposing sexism wherever it emerges, but not in assuming it’s some recently contrived tool devised by evil men. We are still the animals we used to be, and unnecessary mystery greets us whenever we forget this.
Here is the problem: if naturalism (the cosmos is all there is, was, or ever will be) is correct, then the only facts of the matter are the "is" statements about space, time, fields, particles, and energy. All facts of the matter are reducible to these facts. Values simply are not objective. Many Internet atheists will bite the bullet at this point and state that the values we have, such as "murder is wrong" are not really objective facts about reality, but are something else.

Theists, on the other hand, believe in the existence of a perfect being. In God, fact and value, is and ought, are one and the same. Fact = value. Is = ought. That is what it means to be a perfect being. If such a being exists, then we have a bridge between fact and value, and between is and ought.

The real kicker: consider an argument you had in the past over which religion is correct, or whether or not God exists. There is a good chance that even if you and your opponent agreed on all the facts of the matter, you might still come to different conclusions. Why? Because you have different criteria for what counts as a successful argument for or against your position. People of different positions disagree all the time over criteria, such as who has the burden of proof. Are these criteria facts or values? We just established that two people can agree on all the facts and yet disagree based on criteria, so criteria are values.

If there are no objective values, then there are no objective criteria by which one ought to judge arguments for anything. Yet, all arguments presuppose that there are such criteria, or else there would be no point in making the argument! An appeal to pragmatism will not get you out of the problem, because what is or is not practical is subjective.

Imagine that there are two routes you could take home from work. The highway will get your to your destination 10 minutes faster, but the back roads will give you a less stressful drive. Which one is more practical? It depends on whether you value a shorter trip or a less stressful one. It is subjective, and therefore cannot rescue objective value from this problem.

Without a perfect being, there can be no objective, factual criteria by which one ought to judge arguments for or against such a perfect being. In short, if there are any objective criteria by which one ought to evaluate arguments in the first place, then it follows with logical necessity that God exists.

For a more complicated and rigorous version of the argument, see Roger Wasson's version on the Ultimate Object website.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Contact Info and Conditional Security

I have been browsing the web, and noticed that some people have been wanting to contact me, but do not know how to do so. I have a YouTube channel, and I check the inbox pretty frequently, so you are welcome to contact me there if you want.

As far as my position on the issue of eternal security, I recommended Dan Corner's book The Believer's Conditional Security, because it gives a balance to the de facto Evangelical view of salvation. I agree that salvation is conditional upon having faith. Faith alone gives you salvation, and faith alone can cost you salvation. Faith is not a work, since Paul contrasts it with works, and therefore, one who has faith and receives salvation cannot boast in the sense that Paul is talking about. One might ask in response "can't you boast at least a little bit for having faith of your own initiative" but Paul was not talking about boasting in this sense. He was talking about the merit-based boasting of the Pharisees, who were in competition with one another for who can be considered the most pious.

William Lane Craig is addressing this issue right now in his Defenders class, so you can catch the sessions in podcast form or on YouTube.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Wikipedia: Push Your Propaganda

My apologies for the lack of updates. I have been busy doing preliminary reading for my upcoming semester at Oxford, and also reading a lot about the abuses of Wikipedia, as well as editing it.
In some fields and some topics, there are groups who 'squat' on articles and insist on making them reflect their own specific biases. There is no credible mechanism to approve versions of articles.
- Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia 

It’s chilling because so many people — young journalists especially — look to Wikipedia first. They not only shun print reference sources, they even balk at scouring the Web for information if it entails, God forbid, clicking on more than a single link.
-Steve Cuozzo, New York Daily Post

Wikipedia is rapidly becoming prime source material for American judges.
-Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian 
There are quite a few great articles out there, as well as blogs you should be watching.

Wikipedia Hijacked
The Wikipedia Battle for Rupert Sheldrake
Wikipediocracy: The Wikipedia Watchdog Organization

I have already mentioned Gerbic and her Gueurilla Skeptics in previous posts. What's even more interesting is what happened from 2003 until 2010. Instead of a group of ideologues hijacking Wikipedia, as Gerbic has done, a dedicated Green Party ideologue named William Connolley completely rewrote pretty much everything Wikipedia had to say about global warming.
All told, Connolley created or rewrote 5,428 unique Wikipedia articles. His control over Wikipedia was greater still, however, through the role he obtained at Wikipedia as a website administrator, which allowed him to act with virtual impunity. When Connolley didn’t like the subject of a certain article, he removed it — more than 500 articles of various descriptions disappeared at his hand. When he disapproved of the arguments that others were making, he often had them barred — over 2,000 Wikipedia contributors who ran afoul of him found themselves blocked from making further contributions. Acolytes whose writing conformed to Connolley’s global warming views, in contrast, were rewarded with Wikipedia’s blessings. In these ways, Connolley turned Wikipedia into the missionary wing of the global warming movement.
 Not only was he able to hijack over 5,000 articles, his admin status helped him control who got to write Wikipedia articles and who didn't. Ideologues know that the people who educate are in the best position to indoctrinate. This is why so many of them seek jobs as teachers and professors. Control where people get their information, and you will control where they receive their ideologies.

Co-founder Larry Sanger quit the Wikimedia Foundation out of concerns of Wikipedia's integrity, and founded rival online encyclopedia Citizendium. It allows anyone to edit, but requires verification by experts. I don't know if this will be any better, but I suppose time will tell if Citizendium becomes hijacked in the way that Wikipedia has.

What can we do about it? I have suggested building counter-movements to the one run by Gerbic. There are other ways.

For one, it is against the rules to run a "secret cabal" for editing Wikipedia the way that Gerbic is doing. So if you want to do something about it, email, call, or Skype the people at the Wikimedia Foundation. Let them know about these tactics, and that they have to put an end to this ideologically-driven madness.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Faith Strengthened (Pt 2) Under the Microscope: Chapter 20

Troki argued:
Matthew 20:23, Jesus, addressing his disciples, namely the two children of Zebedee, says, "To sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them, for whom it is prepared of my Father." The reader will find the same idea expressed in Mark 10. Now if the Son is less powerful than the Father, how can it be asserted that the Father and Son are all one? 
Williams replied:
This, however, is only one more instance of the way in which our Rabbi has misunderstood the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation. For it is plain to any thoughtful Christian that He answered in the character in which He was addressed. The two disciples, and their mother, did not make their request to Jesus as God, but as Messiah, the leader of Israel, and Jesus answered in the same capacity. You address Me as man, He might have replied, and as man I am unable to do this for you. It rests with My Father in heaven, and with Him alone. In other words, the question of the Divinity of Jesus is not raised. We should add that an attempt has been made by well-meaning Christian expositors to translate our Lord's words: "To sit on My right hand . . . is not Mine to give except to them for whom," etc. But it is barely possible to translate the Greek in this way. 
 We can better understand this passage if given the whole pericope:
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” (Matthew 20:20-23)
Troki is making the classic mistake of overinterpretation. The status of Jesus as God is nowhere in the context of the passage. Jesus received a mother's request that her two sons receive special preferential treatment as disciples. They were willing to drink from the cup of martyrdom, but God had already ordained who would sit at the right and left of Jesus in the kingdom. Jesus was not about to alter this plan for the sake of a mother's request. So how do you tell a mother "no" in the most polite way possible? You claim that the issue is out of your hands. In a sense, it was out of the hands of Jesus, since it was already set in place, and hence, no longer his to give.

Faith Strengthened (Pt 2) Under the Microscope: Chapter 19

Matthew 19:16 and subsequent verses, "And behold one came and said unto him, Good master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is God"; an expression which proves that Jesus is not God. Then Jesus continued, "If thou desirest spiritual salvation keep the commandments." An injunction indicating that there is no salvation without the observance of the law of Moses. He [the querist] saith unto him, "Which?" Jesus said, "Thou shalt do no murder. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness. Honor thy father and thy mother, and thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Further he said, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that which thou hast and give to the poor." The same is to be found in Mark 10:21. In Luke 18:22, Jesus thereby advises, "Sell all that thou hast and distribute unto the poor," etc. Jesus, in saying there is none good but one, that is God, taught his followers a monotheistic principle. He taught them at the same time that salvation depends on the observance of the Divine commandments. All these injunctions, given by Jesus, are renounced by Christians; and thus, having thrown off those inconvenient and onerous observances taught in the New Testament, they might well allege that the severe precepts of the Mosaic Law were abrogated, and must give place before a Lawgiver whose laws they think proper to disregard. We would ask, which precept is the most severe, that of Jesus, which demands that a man should divest himself of his property for the benefit of the poor, or the Mosaic Law, which ordains that a tithe only should be devoted to holy purposes, leaving the remainder at the free disposal of the owner of the property?

Quite the opposite of what Troki is claiming, this verse is implying Jesus' self-image as God incarnate. Notice that Jesus did not deny that he was good. He did not say "I am not good" or "I am not God." He let the man know just what it means to call someone good. Even today, we throw around terms without really understanding their meaning. Heresy has been historically a major charge. Today, we throw around the word "heretic" as though it meant very little. Jesus was correcting the man's light use of the term. As Lukyn Williams writes:

His reply cuts at the very root of much of the Jewish teaching of the time, subservience to mere authority. Human teachers, human institutions, however good they are, must not usurp the place of God. This young ruler, who assuredly has no real knowledge of the divine nature of Him whom he is addressing (and Jesus cannot at this stage enlighten him on this point without doing him more harm than good), is bid seek God rather than man. Alas, for the ever-recurrent need of the Lord's warning! Judaism has suffered, and is suffering, from insisting on tradition, instead of bidding men see that they come into touch with the living God.
The second attack that Troki uses is that Jesus taught his followers to live like Francis of Assisi. We should also note that Jesus is mentioning what a perfect person would do, and secondly, that this is a command to the rich young ruler, not some universal command to all of his followers at all times and places. Jesus knew that the rich young ruler valued money and status tremendously, and this was harming his ability to come close to God. The man thought he was just fine, hence his boasting that he had been so observant of the Law.

Randy Newman teaches based on this method. When conducting evangelism, you need to use questions in order to get the other person thinking. The rich young ruler was assuming that he was good, and trying to ask a holy man in order that he might boast in front of his friends. Jesus cut to the heart of the matter by questioning his very assumptions, calling into question his very motives in front of the crowd.

Also, Troki mistakenly believes that Jesus was asking people to behave perfectly. He was instead showing them that nobody else is perfect. Nobody else is truly good. We violate God's moral law all the time. Every time we lie, lust, act opportunistically, or pad our timesheets at work, we are violating God's moral law. The entire thrust of Romans is that nobody keeps God's moral law well enough to earn heaven. This is not to say that no one can in theory. This passage shows that it is the sins we commit that keep us out of heaven, and not some inherent sin nature or inherited sin from Adam. Again, the point in Romans is that Jesus knew that we all failed the test, and hence offered us a way out of our condemnation. If we would believe in him, then we can receive his righteousness.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Faith Strengthened (Pt 2) Under the Microscope: Chapter 18

Matthew 15:1 to 25, When the Pharisees blamed his disciples for eating without previously washing their hands, Jesus argued that whatever enters the mouth does not defile man, but that defiles him which goes out of the mouth. The same is said in Mark 7 from the beginning to verse 24. If that were true, why should the Law of Moses prohibit us from eating certain unclean things? See also Leviticus 11:8, "And ye shall not defile yourselves with them [viz. the unclean animals] lest ye grow unclean through them." This shows, that a certain class of food is considered by Divine authority as impure and unlawful. By what right then did Jesus dare to contradict the law, and to absolve his Jewish followers from prohibited meats? If unclean food did not defile the mouth of the eater, why did the Apostles forbid the eating of blood and of the flesh of strangled animals? And did not Adam commit a sin, even according to the belief of the Christians, by the act of eating of that of which he was enjoined not to eat? How much strong drink is able to defile the soul of man is early demonstrated in Scripture, as we learn from the history of Noah and Lot. While on the other hand the expression of Jesus that words coming out of the mouth of man alone defile him, is subject to great limitation. For all praises and thanksgiving offered up to the Almighty, as well as all wise, moral and social converse do not defile the soul. 
 The ritual hand-washing is not the same as the hygenic hand-washing that we do before we eat. When the disciples ate with unwashed hands, this does not mean that their hands were dirty. It just means that they did not perform the ceremonial hand-washing  that the Pharisees prescribed. Biblically, there is no mandate for hand-washing, except for the priests.
The Lord said to Moses, “You shall also make a basin of bronze, with its stand of bronze, for washing. You shall put it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and you shall put water in it, with which Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet. When they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn a food offering to the Lord, they shall wash with water, so that they may not die. They shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they may not die. It shall be a statute forever to them, even to him and to his offspring throughout their generations.” (Exodus 30:17-21)

The only other reference in the Pentateuch to hand-washing is in Deuteronomy 21, as part of a ritual for unsolved murders. Leviticus 11:8, by the way, means something quite different than what Troki is implying. The chapter lists the clean and unclean animals, suggesting that you should not eat pork because it will defile you and you will grow unclean through it. The remedy if one touches an unclean carcass is to wash with water and be ritually impure until evening. Rabbinic tradition does not interpret this as washing the hands, but washing the whole body in a mikvah.

This passage does not state that Jesus has absolved any law about kosher foods. It simply states that the Pharisees had a custom to perform something like the priestly washing before meals, probably something similar to the ritual hand-washing that Orthodox Jews do before eating bread.

Nowhere is this prescribed in the Torah. It is an additional commandment that the Pharisees added in order to democratize the Priestly function. With Hellenism threatening to destroy Jewish culture, the Pharisees added additional restraints to prevent assimilation. These added rituals exist to this day. Ever wonder why Orthodox Jews dip their bread in salt on the Sabbath table? It's because the Sabbath table is supposed to function as an image of the sacrificial altar.

J.P. Holding of Tektonics has a simpler solution. "These words alter or ignore no Jewish law; they merely stress the obvious point that it is the disobedience, not the food itself, that is the essence of the violation."

Also from Holding:
One Skeptic accuses Jesus of ignoring his own guilt in lawbreaking with a "you do it too" excuse. But Jesus is not breaking the OT law; he is violating a "tradition of the elders" - part of the Pharasaic oral law, or code of interpretation, not the actual law. Jesus' own reply is a typical rabbinic response which points out that his accusers are guilty of a greater offense, which is a violation of the clear law (to honor one's parents) for the sake of a lesser interpretation of the law (Corban).

Attempts to interpret the law after this fashion resulted in peculiarities: For example, one could borrow something as long as they did not ask to borrow it (for that would constitute a transaction, and hence work); one could put out a lamp to save one's life, but not merely to turn it off to save oil; a man could not put vinegar on his tooth for a toothache, but he could put vinegar on his food -- and if he happened to get relief from that, it was OK.
 The context clearly indicates that Jesus was using "defilement" to mean sin. It is not ritual impurity that makes someone a sinner. It is what that person says that God will judge.

Faith Strengthened (Pt 2) Under the Microscope: Chapter 17

Matthew 13:55; it is related there that the Jews said of Jesus, "Is not this the carpenter's son? And is not his mother called Mary, and his brethren James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us?" See also Mark 6:3. How then can the Christians constantly worship Mary as a virgin, she having given birth to the several brothers and sisters of Jesus? 

Again, I will reiterate that no denomination of Christianity worships Mary. Catholics and Eastern Orthodox venerate Mary in the way that you might give respect and honor to a hero or ancestor of yours. A Catholic or Orthodox defender might say that these are metaphorical brothers and sisters. The context, as well as other uses of brother and sister in the New Testament do not warrant such an interpretation. They might also say that these are half-brothers and half-sisters from Joseph's previous marriage. There is no evidence that Joseph ever had a previous marriage, let alone children from it