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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Faith Strengthened (Pt 2) Under the Microscope: Chapter 21

Matthew 20:28, Jesus thus communicates to his disciples, "Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister," etc. The same is stated in Mark 10:45. By this passage, Jesus makes the declaration destructive of the dogma of his divinity, that he, being the son of man, is a servant and not a master; or in other words, that he is not the King Messiah of whom it was said of Zechariah, in his book, chapter 9:10, "And his kingdom shall extend from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth." Also, in Psalm 72:11, "And all kings shall bow down unto him, all nations shall serve him." And in Daniel 7:27, "And all rulers shall serve and obey him."

Again, Son of Man is a reference to a divine being in Daniel 7, as well as in apocalyptic literature. This figure is heavenly, and is given dominion over all of God's creation. Zechariah also said in 9:9 that the king comes lowly and riding on a donkey. This seems like a humble gesture, and one that would indicate a servant's heart.

Also, remember that in Chapter 41 of the first part, Troki argued that Daniel 7:27 does not refer to Messiah, and yet in this chapter, he does.

But again, it's hard to understand what Troki's objection is supposed to be. It does not follow that because Messiah is supposed to be exalted, that therefore he cannot first suffer shame and humiliation. And it's not as though the New Testament denies a future reign of Jesus.
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
-Acts 1:6-9
 The context presupposes that Jesus will return to rule on earth. So what exactly is Troki's objection? Is he saying that the New Testament does not teach that Jesus will be glorified and rule the world? Is he saying that anyone who ministers cannot be God? Is he arguing that it is beyond the power of God to minister as a servant? If that is his objection, why does he think that. I do not remember any biblical teaching that prevents God from entering into his own creation in physical form, or of taking on the role of a servant.

Without more detail, it is hard to even understand how Troki is finding fault in this chapter.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Summer Break

Over the summer, I have been studying the ontological argument as a visiting student at New College at Oxford University. If I were a matriculated student, that would be something to brag about. But I'm not, so it isn't. Lots of people can study as visiting students, and I would encourage those who want to broaden their horizons to study here for a semester under something like the Oxford Study Abroad Programme. There is a definite cost in doing the program, about $10,000 for the summer and about $18,000 for a fall or spring semester. If you are associated with a college in the U.S., they may be able to subsidize some of the cost, and even give you credit for studying there.

I haven't had much time to do updates on the blog due to my Oxford studies and due to my activity training Christian apologists on Wikipedia. I will return to regular blog entries in the fall. So, in the meantime, here is a photo of Richard Dawkins' house at 16 Bradmore Road in North Oxford, worth about £3,000,000.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Faith Strengthened (Pt 2) Under the Microscope: Chapter 22

Matthew 23:35, "That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth from the blood of the righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar." This reproach rests on an error regarding the names, for it was Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada the priest, whom they slew (See 2 Chro. 24:20). It is impossible to admit the attempted reconciliation according to which Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada the priest, and Zechariah, the son of Berachiah, are identical. For the priest of that name was slain in the days of Joash, king of Judah, about two hundred and fifty-four years prior to the destruction of the temple; while the prophet Zechariah did not prophesy until the second year of Darius, the son of Artachsasta, during the Babylonian captivity. Such errors in the mouth of Jesus are decidedly unfavourable to the divine inspiration attributed to him, as well as to the authors of the New Testament.

 This is a common objection against the New Testament used by skeptics today. It's hard to see what the problem actually is. Troki just assumes that Matthew was referring to the Zechariah 2 Chronicles, yet Matthew does not mention this. A similar problem that skeptics bring up is where the book of Daniel states that Nebuchadnezzar had a bout of madness, while external records say it was Nabonidus who had such a bout of madness. It's not an explicit contradiction.

Troki argues that Matthew got the wrong Zechariah. For challenges against the New Testament, J.P. Holding's site Tektonics is the place to go. He gives 6 possible solutions to the problem.

1. The Zechariah referenced is the father of John the Baptist.
2. It is Zechariah the prophet who wrote the book named after him.
3. It is the Zechariah in 2 Chronicles, and Jehoiada is his grandfather; Berekiah, his unnamed father.
4. Berekiah is another name for Jehoiada.
5. Transmission error.
6. The Zechariah in question is simply unknown.

So if all you want to do is harmonize, this should not be a difficult problem. But if we can, we should do more than just force the text to say what we want.

I side with Michael Rydelnik that the most plausible solution is transmission error. Jerome noted that some variants of Matthew's text say "son of Jehoiada." Likely, the original version of the text said from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah. The "son of" part was added later as a marginal note, and got incorporated into the text.

As Holding argues:
Really, if the writer of Matthew did make an error of the type suggested, how hard would it have been for pious Jews to discredit him? That there is no evidence that they did is testimony to the veracity of Matthew's account, whichever one of these solutions applies.
We have the writings of the early church leaders, who repeatedly defended the New Testament documents against skeptical attacks, from both Jews and Gentiles. If Matthew had made such an error, we would have seen responses from these writers addressing this objection. The fact that we don't is pretty strong evidence that the opponents of the New Testament did not consider this a problem.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Philosophical Objections to Trinitarian Monotheism

The religion of Israel has always held to monotheism: this is the doctrine that there is one God. There are not two, three, or four gods. There is only one. As the Shema states "Hear, Israel, Yahweh your God, Yahweh the one and only!" This was used by Paul when he stated that there is one God the Father, and one Lord, Jesus. Jesus is still considered God in this usage, just as the Father is Lord.

The question then, is whether this formula is compatible with the religion of Israel. Trinitarian monotheism states that there is one God, and yet three persons in that one God. One of the more unusual philosophical argument I have heard was from a Hasidic anti-missionary, who argued that Leibniz' Law prevents such an understanding.

Leibniz' Law
\forall x \forall y[\forall P(Px \leftrightarrow Py) \rightarrow x=y]

If two objects have all the same properties, then they are the same object. This is closely related to the indescernibility of identicals, which is stated as follows:

Indescernibility of Identicals
\forall x \forall y[x=y \rightarrow \forall P(Px \leftrightarrow Py)]

If two objects are identical, then they have all the same properties.
So now the problem arises. If God the Son has the property of "being incarnated" and the Father does not, does this make them different beings, and hence, prevent us from affirming monotheism?

Aquinas used divine simplicity as his way out. As one Thomist stated:
Relations which result from the mental operation alone in the objects understood are logical relations only (inasmuch as reason observes them as existing between two objects perceived by the mind).

Those relations, however, which follow the operation of the intellect, and which exist between the word intellectually proceeding and the source whence it proceeds, are not logical relations only, but are real relations (inasmuch as the intellect and the reason are real things, and are really related to that which proceeds from them intelligibly: as a corporeal thing is related to that which proceeds from it corporeally). Thus paternity and filiation are real relations in God. 
So, Thomists think of the Father, Son, and Spirit as real relations within one being. Divine simplicity is difficult to understand, and I recommend the Wikipedia article to see the difficulties with it. The short answer is that if divine simplicity is true, then God does not have any properties, and even our language cannot apply to God. So did that previous statement apply to God? If it did, then it's false, for we have found a counterexample. If it did not, then it does not apply to God, and so is false as well.

With that as an unlikely choice, we can think of another solution. What is God? Well, we generally think of God as an unembodied mind. What does a mind have? It seems that a mind has mental faculties such as reason, volition, will, memory, consciousness, and other properties, and has these essentially. We also think of God as having omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence. The problem is that none of these things have the same properties. We cannot say the same thing of God's will as we can say of God's memory or power, or consciousness.

Do these plural attributes mean that there are many Gods? Not unless we think of faculties as distinctly separate objects. So as long as we do not consider God's center of self-consciousness as a different object from his memory, we still have monotheism.

Now consider the Trinity doctrine, that God is one mind or soul with such strong mental faculties that he has three centers of self-consciousness. It doesn't seem to commit us to Tritheism any more than God's separate will, memory, and consciousness do.

One tactic by anti-missionaries is to bite the bullet and say that God did not have any properties before creation. They would say that God's attributes are descriptions of him after creation. The problem with this view is that God is not dependent upon creation. He could have chosen to refrain from creation. If that were the case, would God be loving, merciful, kind, powerful, or would even exist? If these properties are time-dependent, and time is dependent upon creation, then the answer is no. This means that God is not essentially loving, merciful, kind, or even a necessary being!

As Psalm 90:2 states: "From everlasting to everlasting, you are God." The rabbis affirm this verse in the Psalms as from God. If they believe that before the world existed, the term "God exists" is undefined, it is inconsistent of them to demand that "The Son is begotten of the Father" or "The Spirit proceeds from the Father" are defined.

This is just to admit that the uni-personal God of Judaism and Islam cannot be the perfect being of perfect being theology. Such a God cannot be that than which nothing greater can be conceived. For we can conceive of a being that is greater: one that is essentially loving, kind, and existing.

The problem only arises that to talk about a separate person is to talk about a separate being. We make the distinction between "being" and "person" all the time. This desk is a being, but certainly not a person. Since a center of self-consciousness is a property of the mind and not a separate being, we can state that one mind with 100 centers of self-consciousness would be one being and 100 persons. It might be hard to grasp intuitively, since we are not multi-personal beings, but it's hardly incoherent.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Greatness Objection to the Ontological Argument

One of the most common objections that Internet atheists give to this argument is that there is no such thing as a great-making or lesser-making property. Greatness, they say, is a subjective thing. It is not really an objection to this argument for the existence of God, but to perfect being theology. William Lane Craig discussed this objection in one of his questions of the week. The questioner argued that the idea of a greatest conceivable being is inherently subjective. Craig responded:
To say that I tacitly endorse Anselmian Perfect Being Theology is an understatement, Aditya. I am an enthusiastic proponent. As I explain in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, I see the conception of God as the greatest conceivable being as one of the guides for systematic theology’s formulation of the doctrine of God. . .
This objection seems to confuse God’s being the greatest conceivable being with our discerning what properties a greatest conceivable being must possess. I’ve already acknowledged a degree of play in the notion of a great-making property. For example, is it greater to be timeless or omnitemporal? The answer is not clear. But our uncertainty as to what properties the greatest conceivable being must have does nothing to invalidate the definition of “God” as “the greatest conceivable being.” Here Anselm’s intuition which you mention seems on target: there cannot by definition be anything greater than God.

Now you might think, “But what good is it defining God as the greatest conceivable being if we have no idea what such a being would be like?” The answer to that question will depend on what project you’re engaged in. If you’re doing systematic theology, then you have that other control, namely, Scripture, which supplies considerable information about God, for example, that He is eternal, almighty, good, personal, and so on. Perfect Being theology will aid in the formulation of a doctrine of God by construing those attributes in as great a way as possible. On the other hand, if your project is natural theology, which makes no appeal to Scripture, then you will present arguments that God must have certain properties. Note that mere disagreement about whether a property is great-making does not imply that there is no objective truth about the matter. When we have a disagreement, then we may present arguments why we think it is greater to have some property than to lack it. The fact that some properties (like timelessness) are not clearly great-making does not imply that no properties are great-making or that the concept of a greatest conceivable being is wholly subjective. . .
There is a more fundamental confusion underlying the second question, and that is the confusion of conceivability with imaginability. These are not the same. A thousand sided polygon is unimaginable, but it is hardly inconceivable. Conceivability is taken to be co-extensive with metaphysical possibility. So the greatest conceivable being is the same thing as the greatest possible being. It is, as Plantinga says, a maximally great being, the greatest being possible. True, Plantinga does give content to this notion in terms of specific properties, but those properties are obviously chosen because he thinks of them as great-making properties which a maximally great being cannot lack. Maximal greatness is doubtless not exhausted by the properties he mentions. His version of the ontological argument is based, in effect, on one of those incomplete, inadequate conceptions of God that you mention in this question.
Even in secular literature, the field of ethics and the field of aesthetics are both filled with statements about objective values such as greatness. Some ethical theories talk about "ideal observers" and about contracts signed by "better versions of ourselves."

A Precise Formulation of the Modal Perfection Argument Terms
Putting this objection aside, we can formulate a more exact definition of a Maximally Great Being, at least as far as the argument is concerned. A being has Maximal Greatness if and only if that being has the properties of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence in every possible world. Thus, A being is a Maximally Great Being if and only if that being has Maximal Greatness. This entails that the being exists in every possible world, since a being that does not exist cannot have properties such as omnipotence. 

Let me cut off one objection really quickly. One might object that unicorns do not exist, and yet have properties, such as having one horn. It is not true to say that unicorns possess the property of having one horn. When we say that unicorns have one horn, what we really mean is that if unicorns had existed, they would have one horn.

We can also define great-making and lesser-making properties as follows. A great-making property is a property that a being would need to have in order to be a Maximally Great Being.

Obviously, the four properties just mentioned are Great-Making properties. These omni properties entail other properties, such as knowledge, will, potency, love, and many others. They also entail properties such as "being self-identical" which all things have. This makes the new formulation less intuitive. We do not think of "being self-identical" as a great-making property, but there is nothing incoherent in saying that it is so. We can then run a more efficient version of the Modal Perfection Argument, and one that does not even need Lesser-Making properties.

Advance Warning to Skeptics
Since the Modal Perfection Argument is valid, the only way to deny the conclusion rationally is to deny one of the three premises. As Marianne Talbot is fond of saying, it is not enough to fold your arms and say that you just think a premise is false, and that you are unconvinced. Philosophy is not concerned with your personal feelings or opinions. You need to give an argument for why anyone else should think that the premise is false. Since premises 1 and 3 are tautologies (true by definition), I suggest that the skeptic go after premise 2. But you need an argument for that, and preferably an example of a property that an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent being would need to have entailing a property that an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent being could not possibly have.

The Modal Perfection Argument
1. Maximal Greatness is a great-making property
2. If a property is a Great-Making property, its negation is the lack of a Great-Making property
3. A Great-Making property does not entail the lack of a Great-Making property

Premise 1 is a tautology. It states that the property of having the properties of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence in every possible world is itself essential for a being to have omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence in every possible world.

Premise 2 is a tautology. If a property is essential to being a Maximally Great Being, then by definition, a Maximally Great Being cannot lack this property.

Premise 3 is not a tautology, but it seems virtually impossible to deny. If we say that great-making property entailed the lack of a great-making property, we are saying that a property that a Maximally Great Being would need to have in order to be a Maximally Great Being entails the lack of another property that a Maximally Great Being must have. How could a property be essential for omniscience and simultaneously entail a property that an omniscient being cannot have?

If it were not possible that a Maximally Great Being exists, then the property of Maximal Greatness would not be instantiated in any object in any possible world. This means that: 

Necessarily, if a being has a property, then that being lacks Maximal Greatness.

Which is equivalent to saying that for any property, that property entails the lack of Maximal Greatness.

Which is equivalent to saying that every property entails the lack of Maximal Greatness. By premise 3, this means that no property is a Great-Making property. But we just said that Maximal Greatness (not to mention omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence) is a Great-Making property.

Therefore, the proposition: "it is not possible that a Maximally Great Being exists" which is equivalent to "it is possible that a Maximally Great Being does not exist" results in a contradiction.


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.