Friday, August 30, 2013

Theological Voluntarism and the debate over Calvinism

Roger Olson, an Arminian, thinks that the heart of the Calvinist-Arminian debate concerns theological voluntarism. I think that it really does boil down to this, although I have run into arguments to the effect that Calvinists are not necessarily committed to voluntarism.

When I debated the issue a few years back with the people over at Triablogue (mostly) I thought they were getting away from straightforward voluntarism, but that their position ended up in something like it in the final analysis. I think Calvinists like to cast the debate as reliance on intuitions vs. reliance on Scripture, but can we have knowledge of moral truths in the Platonistic sense which permit us to form judgments about what is can be plausibly attributed to God, which in turn affects our understanding of what we take from Scripture?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Musical Debate

The Louvin Brothers affirm belief in God with There's a Higher Power.  Robbie Fulks responds with God isn't Real.  How would the Louvins have responded to Fulks' argument from evil? Probably with Satan is Real. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Another version of the AFR

1. If there is no God, then all causation in the universe is blind, physical causation. 
2. If that is true, then what everyone believes is the result of blind, physical causation. 
3. But science exists. And if science exists, then scientists also exist. And those scientists do form beliefs because of the evidence for those beliefs. Otherwise, we would not take scientists any more seriously than tea leaf readers. 
4. But if science exists, then it is not the case that what everyone believes is the result of blind, physical causation. 
5. But if it is not true that what everyone believes is the result of blind, physical causation, then it is not the case that all causation in the universe is blind physical causation. 
6. If it is not true that all causation in the universe is blind physical causation, then God does exist. 

Heard from a Quad Preacher back when I was at the University of Illinois

A redated post.

Do they still have the fire-and-brimstone quad preachers that always get a big crowd around?

Back in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah, God had all the homosexuals in one place. So he smote them with fire and brimstone. Now, they're spread all over the world. So he sent AIDS.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


This is a brilliant term, which we can always use when we get tired of "gnu." Here.

Would you like fries with that?

A William Lane Craig Interview

On Reasons to Believe. Here.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Six Atheist Arguments. But are they new?

Apparently this atheist thinks its more of the same darned thing.

A Common Sense Atheism post on whether Christians really believe what they say they do

Here. In particular he is talking about the belief in soteriological exclusivism, which says that only Christians go to heaven and everyone else is going to roast in hell.

If we really believe this, would we spend every waking moment trying to evangelize the lost, and worrying ourselves sick that some of the people we really care about won't make it?

Back when I was an undergrad, a couple of guys by the names of Bob Prokop and Joe Sheffer convinced me that soteriological exclusivism was false, and interestingly enough, they brought up some of the same points that this atheist does.

Laying out the problem of evil: If there is a God, why does my back hurt so much?

Here is a version of the argument from evil. 

(1) Gratuitous evils probably exist
(2) Gratuitous evils are incompatible with the God of theism (omnipotent, omniscient, all-good
(3) Therefore, the God of theism probably does not exist. 

Gratuitous evils are unnecessary and pointless evils. On the face of things, there seems to be a number of those. My back hurting a lot of the time seems on the face of things to be unnecessary. In fact evolutionary biologists explain it as what happens when creatures transitioned from four legs to two legs, and started standing up straight. That put's pressure on a back that was evolved from creatures with four legs who didn't put so much pressure on their backs. 

What is the best way to respond to an AFE that is spelled out in this way? 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A note from someone on a discussion group I frequent

BTW I was talking to a Christian astronomer on Thursday. Curiously, even those scientists who believe that Nature is "the whole show" are in a quandary at the moment on the subject of "Dark matter" and "dark energy". Many scientists firmly believe these exist. They hypothesize the "dark" stuff from its "effects", but have no idea what it is and hence how to detect it (huh? methinks, how can they be sure that they are observing dark matter/energy's "effects" then?) 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Lewis's voice recording has moved

To here.

The Atheist's Guide to Reality

James Anderson claims that Alex Rosenberg has unwittingly produced an excellent case for theism. Thanks, Alex.

Peter Bide

Peter Bide is the Anglican priest who prayed for Joy Davidman Lewis, after which her cancer went into remission. He passed away in 2003.

HT: Steve Hays

The Kalam Cosmological Argument from Philoponus to Prokop

A redated post

To preface this, Bob Prokop, a sometime commentator here, is an friend of mine from undergraduate days at ASU, whom I met in a History of the Middle Ages class in 1973. I remember Bob explaining a theistic argument to me in a classroom at ASU in 1975, some four years before William Lane Craig published his first work on the Kalam Cosmological argument. I later discovered that the argument had been used by the Scholastics during the Medieval period. Little did I know that Bob's argument would become the most discussed theistic argument of the last 25 years. I got back in touch with Bob after a long time out of touch, and he wanted to see what I thought of this argument he invented when he was an undergrad.

The reason I wanted to e-mail you is that I would like you to try and find a flaw in what I believe is an iron-clad proof that the universe must have been created, and cannot possibly have always existed.

As prelude to my argument, I have to confess that for myself, my very existence has always been evidence enough for a Creator (read: God). My mind simply can not and will not accept the idea that the universe "just is". So for me, the existence of God is Case Closed, and I generally find debates on the subject to be rather pointless. BUT, I am fully aware that existence itself is not considered to be sufficient proof of a Creator by the hard-core atheist, who generally respond with two objections which they think are fatal flaws in the "Argument for Existence".

First Objection: "Then where did God come from?" This one is simple. The question is semantically null - without meaning. The Creator is by definition the Creator, and not a creation. To ask who created the creator is to string words together to no purpose.

Second Objection: Now this one is worth refuting. The argument runs thus. Existence does not require a Creator, because the universe has always been here from eternity, and therefore "just is".

I respond to that proposition with a simple thought experiment. Call this a sub-set of the "Argument from Existence" - maybe a good name for it would be the "Argument from there being a Now". Thus:

1. Imagine a time a billion years in the future. You know that in a billion years from now, that time will be the present. The same works for any finite number you can name, no matter how large. At some point, we'll get there, and some future person will be able to experience that point in time as "Now".

2. Now, imagine a point in time an infinite number of years in the future. In this case, no matter how long you wait, we'll NEVER arrive at that point. It will never be the present, but always and forever an infinite time in the future, and no one will ever experience that time as "Now".

3. Now let's go in the other direction. Imagine 14 billion years ago (the current rough estimate of the age of the universe, give or take a billion years or so). Starting from that point, we eventually get to where (when?) we are today - the present time.

4. Finally, imagine a point in time an infinite number of years in the past. Just as in step 2, we would never, ever get to today. Our present existence becomes an impossibility. It would always be an infinite time in the future, and never arrived at.

THEREFORE: The universe (Creation) requires a beginning, before which there was nothing. It cannot have always been here, or we would not be here "Now". Creation Ex Nihilo

So my challenge to you - where is the flaw in this argument? I cannot find one. Also, as an aside, has anyone else ever used this argument. I don't recall ever seeing it anywhere. (Here's where you get your chance to show how uneducated I am, and point out that it dates back to Augustine, or something like that!)


I gave a couple of replies to Bob: I remember you came up with an argument for theism which had not been discussed much by the early 70s, but a Christian philosopher named William Lane Craig developed it, and his book, the Kalam Cosmological Argument, was his first major publication, tracing it back to Islamic thinkers of the early Middle Ages.

Here is some Craig stuff on the argument:

And this is the response of who I think is his best critic, Wes Morriston.

There is also the move that says that the beginning of the universe just doesn't need a cause, that a cause is required only if there is a time prior to the beginning.

Whenever you see the phrase, "Kalam Cosmological Argument," that's the argument this is talking about.

Thomas Aquinas didn't use this argument.  I think Joe Sheffer (another friend of ours from undergrad days, and a big-time Aquinas aficianado who, tragically, passed away in 1989) criticized the argument also, but my photographic memory fails me as to just how that discussion went. Here is a discussion on Aquinas's understanding of the infinite, which provides the reason why he rejected the argument, and made the claim that the universe had a temporal beginning (and therefore a temporal first cause), an article of faith known through revelation, rather than something established by natural reason alone.

When Bob asked me my own view of the argument, I replied (well, mostly):

Well, you have to realize that, thanks to William Lane Craig, this argument has gone from being an obscure argument dating back to golden age of Islam, and used by some scholastics (but NOT Aquinas), to being the most discussed argument for the existence of God in the past 30 years. A large body of papers have been written about it, I've only read a fraction of them. The very latest is a paper by William Lane Craig and James Sinclair in Craig and Moreland, ed. The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology.

The argument basically says that, when it comes to counting anything, infinity can't be real. More precisely, a completed infinite set of past moments is impossible. Yet there is an infinite set of integers. All these numbers do exist, yet there is an infinite number of them. There is a set, but I suppose there is the question of whether it can be traversed. Hence there had to be a beginning, because if there wasn't, there would be no now. Mathematicians make a distinction between an actual infinite and a potential infinite, and say that an actual infinite is impossible.

One question might be to ask you how many moments are there in our heavenly future? If there can be an infinite number of future moments in which we praise God, (we've no less days to sing God's praise than when we first begun), then can't there have always been an infinite number of past moments prior to this one?

I haven't worked through what are considered to be the strongest objections to the argument against an infinite number of past moments, and I haven't worked my way through the question of why Aquinas rejected the argument, concluding that the claim that the universe had a temporal beginning was an article of faith, rather than provably false, which is what your argument shows if it works. (If it had made it into the Five Ways, it would have been extensively discussed by philosophers).

An interesting sidelight to this whole argument has to do with Big Bang cosmology. Is cosmology trending in the direction of accepting a beginning of the universe, as attempts to get rid of an absolute beginning at the Big Bang keep going down the tubes. Is science showing that there was a beginning?

The argument seems right to me, but I have some questions about it.

Bob replied:

I followed your link to Aquinas's take on the subject, and was somewhat startled to find myself disagreeing with him. The issue of future moments is not relevant. We will never arrive at a point an infinite number of years in the future. there is no requirement to traverse that interval, as there is, were there an infinite amount of time in the past (i.e., it has to have happened in actuality, not conceptually).

I had been mistaken, however, in attributing the argument to Islamic sources. Craig and Sinclair wrote:

The kalam cosmological argument traces its roots to the efforts of early Christian theologians who, out of their commitment to the biblical teaching of creatio ex nihilo, sought to rebut the Aristotltelian doctrine of the eternity of the universe. Iin his works Against Aristotle and On the Eternity of the World Against Proclus, The Alexandrian Aristotelian commentator John Philoponus (d. 580?), the last great champion of creatio ex nihilo prior to the advent of Islam, initiated a tradition of argumentation in support of the doctrine of creation based on the impossibility of an infinite temporal regression of events (Philoponus, 1987, Philoponus and Simplicius 1991). Following the Muslim conquest of North Africa, this tradition was taken up and subsequently enriched by medieval Muslim and Jewish theologians before being transmitted back again to Christian scholastic theology.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The argument from asymmetry

A redated piost

From the debate with Craig: Jesseph's atheistic argument from Asymmetry
This has been a tough one for me to make sense of. I think he has in mind something like this:
1) All believers in supernatural religions accept some supernatural claims and reject others. They, for example, explain the growth of Christianity in terms of the working of the Holy Spirit, but the belief that Joseph Smith translated the tablets with divine help as the result of some kind of delusion or dishonesty.
2) However, once you accept the supernatural, there is no principled way to prefer on supernatural explanation to another.
3) Therefore, theistic religionists of all stripes reject some claims and accept others for no principled reason.
4) But one should have principled reasons for accepting some beliefs and rejecting others.
5) Therefore, you should reject theism in favor of atheism.
Questions about Premise 2
The key premise is 2. It does seem that some supernatural claims seem antecedently more plausible than others. Actions attributed to God that serve a redemptive purpose seem more probable than those that don’t serve any. There is also better or worse testimonial evidence in favor of some claims as opposed to others. So I don’t see how premise 2 can be defended.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The role of religious scientists

A discussion of this is here.

Moderately conservative sexual ethics

One question I might pose is whether long-term happiness in relationships depends in any way on our willingness and ability to make fidelity promises and to keep them, taking into consideration the kind of stable atmosphere for childrearing that provides. If the answer to this question is yes, then what I would call a moderately conservative sexual morality results. I say moderately conservative because it doesn't rule on questions like what people of clearly homosexual orientation ought to do about it, or whether committed couples should have sex before the actual wedding ceremony. A lot of traditional religious people want to go further than the moderately conservative position to a full-blown conservatism that limits sex strictly to marriage and forbids gay relationships, but I am inclined to think that the discussion of sexual ethics should proceed in a two-stage fashion: we first ask if moderate conservatism about sex behavior is true, then proceed to discuss whether or not the moderate conservative position should be extended to full-blown conservatism. Intuitively, I think moderate conservatism can be defended without religious premises, but the conservative position needs them. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Can altruism pass an outsider test?

Some people might ask whether or not we have come to think a meaningful life has to do with doing things for other people because we have been brainwashed in our society to think that way. If we look at this from a perspective of an outsider, would we prefer a life concerned with others over a self-centered life? 

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Where did we get that idea?

Well, we came up with the idea of a three-headed dog by having the idea of three, the idea of heads, and the idea of a dog, and putting them all together. How did we come up with the idea of God? 

Relativism and the Westboro Baptist Church

Moral relativism is often motivated by a desire to be tolerant. Yet, it can end up providing a justification for the most extreme forms of intolerance. 

If morality is in the eye of the beholder, then people who, say, condemn homosexuals and carry "God hates fags" signs to military funerals can't be criticized morally, since they are doing exactly what their culture (Westboro Baptist Church) says that they ought to do. 

Thursday, August 01, 2013

The Haldane-Krauss Argument

My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world.
-- J.B.S. Haldane
This is an argument that people who practice or accept science ought to be atheists, and it has been endorsed recently by Lawrence Krauss.  But what is the argument exactly? Here numbered premises might be nice. 
Maybe this: 
1. In setting up experiments in science, scientists set aside the possibility of divine interference changing the result of the experiment. 
2. To be consistent, therefore, someone who practices science ought also to discount the possibility of divine interference in all areas of life. 
3. To discount the possibility of divine activity in the world in all areas of life is to be, at least in practice if not in theory, an atheist. 
4. Therefore consistent thinking on the part of scientists leads to atheism. 
But I fail to see why I should believe 2. If I ask a scientist about  whether or not a hundred  dollar bill will remain in my drawer if I leave it there, the scientists might answer "yes." By this I take it he would mean that the bill did not have properties that will cause it to disintegrate there, or spontaneously combust. . But he doesn't know whether a burglar might get into the drawer. In other words, the scientist is going to tell me what will happen to the bill left to itself. It is mapping the world apart from interference, telling you what will happen all things being equal. But it is a further question as to whether all things are equal.