Case and I have been debating the issues of religious freedom and the recent government mandate for businesses to cover contraception on Google+. Her most recent reply is on her blog here.

Criterion for Government Action

Before addressing Case’s most recent arguments, I think it’s important to take a step back and discuss the criterion for when government action is justified. I’m not sure what Case’s view on this is, but my view is that government action is justified to prevent the violation of the inherent human rights of it’s citizens.

Application to Employee Medical Coverage

In the case of government mandates related to medical benefits offered by employers, I see no rights being violated that government needs to defend. In fact, such mandates violate human rights in two ways in general and a third way in some specific cases.

First, the employer’s freedom to offer benefits of their choosing is violated. Second, the employee’s freedom to accept benefits of their choosing is violated. Third, in certain cases, such as contraception, the religeous freedom of employer’s is violated.

Therefore, not only is there no justification for government intervention in this case, but such intervention itself violates the very purpose and mandate of government.

Case’s Counterarguments

Justification of Coverage Mandate

While Case has not yet presented a clear criterion for government action, she clearly believes that government has a responsibility to ensure “integral health care”. For women, she argues that this includes contraception for four reasons:

  1. Anemia treatable by contraceptive treatment
  2. Poverty
  3. Wishing not to have children
  4. Awkard discussions with employer

None of these reasons are directly related to demonstrating that general contraception is an integral component of health care for woman nor do they justify a general mandate for coverage even if we accept Case’s premise that integral health care should be required.

First, if we consider integral health coverage to include coverage of treatment necessary for illness significantly threatening the life or healthy functioning of a person, the case of covering anemia treatment, whether via the same treatments also used for contraception or not, may fit into integral health coverage. However, that is irrelevant to Case’s conclusion. Coverage of treatment for the purpose of contraception for any woman who chooses to seek such treatment is not directly related to or justified by the fact that some of the same treatments may also be useful for treatment of certain illnesses.

Second, at best the poverty argument clearly only supports coverage for those who are poor, not all woman.

With regards to the third case, “wishing not to have children” or “potential inconvenience of children” for those who could afford contraception is completely unrelated to the issue of whether “medical coverage” is integral or not. Wishful thinking or personal desires does not have any relationship with what constitutes integral health care and justification of government action.

Similarly, avoiding awkard discussions hardly seems a reasonable justification for government intervention or even a reasonable goal. As long as one has agreed to accept payment by an employer for certain services, it is the employer’s business what is covered. Furthermore, asking government to provide or enforce coverage hardly seems to avoid the issue of awkward discussions. Rather, it transfers them to government agents or the public at large, which seems even more awkward to me.

Alternative of National Coverage

Next, Case argues that if we reject the premise that employers are the right mechanism for providing health coverage, the issue becomes more clear. It is not clear to me how this clarifies that the employer mandate is appropriate nor why she would assume that nationalized coverage is the only alternative. There are many who would prefer nationalization of medical coverage, but there are clearly also many who would prefer increased privatization of medical coverage.

Furthermore, even if we consider nationalization, I do not see that as clarifying the issue. My understanding is that even in most countries that have some form of nationalized health care, nationalized coverage is generally partial, not comprehensive. The question of what should be publicly funded and what would remain up to the individual to pay for would still remain.

Nature of Democracy

While it is certainly true that in a pure democracy the tyranny of the majority is absolute and in any human political system it is possible that those with the power of government may enact any policy they please, whether just or unjust. However, your argument is invalid for two reasons.

First, our focus is not what one side of the discussion can politically get away with, but what policy is most just. For this reason, the fact that the government system might allow a policy to be enacted is irrelevant.

Second, the US is not a pure democracy. This country was founded as a federalized, democratic republic in which the regional majority rules with certain restrictions as enumerated in the Constitution. One of those restrictions is the 1st Amendment which prohibits Congress from making a law “prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]”. This is not just a nice sounding provision which can be ignored when inconvenient.

Conclusion

In closing, Case summarizes the issue as men legislating control over the bodies of women. To characterize this issue as men controlling woman’s bodies is a gross mis-characterization. The issue here isn’t what woman can and can’t do with their own bodies, but whether employers should be forced to pay for what women choose to do with their bodies. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Contraception has a cost. As long as you insist on others paying for it the availability will be controlled by an outside party, whether that’s your employer or the government. In other words, medical coverage is a private matter only when one keeps one’s hands out of other peoples’ pockets.

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Posted by: arthenor | June 18, 2010

On Merit and Rational Faith

Cameron responded on Facebook to Response to the Reformed 2 focusing on my discussion on merit, providing a counter-example.

Seems to me that the example is flawed. I believe a better one is: Person A works hard and earns $1000. He offers to gift it to person B. Person B has only just heard of this man, who comes from Niger, who tells him all he has to do is believe him to get this free money. However, if he accepts his free money, he is no longer allowed to accept … See Moreanyone else’s free money. Oh, and there may not actually be in free money if this person A is in fact not real. And the downside of choosing wrong is loss of limited time that you have on this earth / eternal torment if you chose the wrong one and one of the other “You can only accept my free money” people are right.

So, basically, you have something to lose if you take the “gift,” which says to me it’s a reward for risking/taking it, not just a free 1000 dollars that you only have to “accept”. – Cameron

This counter-example is based on two key assumptions: there is no rational basis to accept or reject the gift and making such an irrational choice can merit salvation.

Merit

The second premise seems to me to be the most poorly founded and essentially denies any reasonable understanding of unmerited gifts. the basic argument here seems to be that one does x and afterwards receives y, therefore y is merited. No real difference is admitted between a man who works hard all week for $1000 and a man who does nothing and is gifted $1000, because the second man “earns” the $1000 by receiving it. Even if we accept Cameron’s argument that in the case of the gospel faith is more of a gamble than a gift, the argument still implies that a man who wins $1,000,000 at a slot machine has earned that money just as a man who works hard for years can be said to have earned that money. Clearly, there is a different here which can not simply be ignored.

Reason

The first premise is central to Kierkegaard’s existential Christianity. Kierkegaard focused on the record of Abraham’s decision to sacrifice his son Isaac. He argued that there was no rational reason for Abraham to do what he did. Rather, Abraham was called to take an irrational leap of faith in God and so should we. However, this premise is false. Abraham had multiple dealings with God before this event. God had promised to take care of Abraham in a foreign land and provide a son to be his heir. God had kept both of those promises, providing a rational basis for trust in his relationship with Abraham. God had even specified that Isaac was that son of promise. Therefore, while Abraham did not know all of God’s plan, he had reason to trust.

The same is true of the gospel message and it’s offer of salvation through Jesus Christ. The offer is not posed in a void but within the context of much evidence I have discussed elsewhere on my blog. For example, the General Revelation of Creation, Conscience, and the Inner Light. and the historicity of the Bible, which I have discussed with particular emphasis on the historicity of the gospels. The Bible is not a book which asks for irrational trust and condemns those who ask for proof. Consider the story of Gideon:

Jdg 6:36-40 And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said. And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water. And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew. And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground.

when Gideon asked honestly for a sign, God did not condemn him to hell, but provided evidence. Similarly, the Bible challenges us to seek and to question, saying:

Isa 1:18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

Mat 7:7-11 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

God does not ask for irrational choices. Rather, He challenges us to ask and seek answers.

Posted by: arthenor | June 2, 2010

Response to the Reformed 2

It’s been over a year since Response to the Reformed. I asked him for some clarification via e-mail and we’ve both been busy. Below is my response to his response to that thread.

Discussion Philosophy

Before getting into the core issues, I’d like to respond to several more tangential issues Jason brought up in his response.

Need for Analysis

First, Jason argued that he didn’t need to provide analysis on John 1:13 because there is no need for analysis:

I’m not making an argument at all. Instead, I am merely stating that the scripture when read plainly is as clear and as explicit as it can only be.

Clearly, this is insufficient. People frequently disagree on proper interpretation. Repeatedly citing passages does not change that. We have covered a lot of scripture and it is clear that both views represented here have examined a lot of scripture and developed synthesizing interpretations. There isn’t a magic bullet verse for either side, which when it is brought up, clearly settles the matter for both sides. Therefore, the only way to move this discussion forward is through careful analysis, presenting scripture, interpretation, and justification for the interpretation. Without the last two parts, this discussion will go nowhere. In short, Jason is making an argument. An argument that his interpretation is correct and mine is wrong. Supporting that argument requires analysis.

Terminology

Jason also took issue with my use of the term “selection salvation” to refer to his viewpoint. Instead, he recommended the term “election”. However, “election” is insufficiently precise for the needs of this discussion. Both sides represented here accept some form of the doctrine of election. Our focus is a specific mechanic or aspect of election and therefore more precise terminology is needed to adequately distinguish the two views. I chose “selection salvation” because it clearly distinguishes Jason’s view, that the determining factor in salvation is God’s selection as opposed to freewill faith and is not easily confused with shared terminology, such as “election”. If anyone wishes to recommend better terms, I am open to suggestion, but my criterion is as explained above: clear and precise identification.

Election

Ultimately, I think our disagreement boils down to three primary doctrines: atonement (who salvation is offered to), depravity (the nature of the natural man), and merit (payment for salvation). Jason’s interpretation of scripture holds that salvation is only offered to the elect (those God knew from the beginning would be saved), a view known as limited atonement whereas I interpret scripture as teaching that salvation is offered to all people and only the elect accept it, a view known as unlimited atonement. Regarding depravity, Jason holds that under no circumstance will the natural man choose salvation and therefore God must fundamentally change a person in order to save them. To the contrary, I posit that while the natural man will not natural seek salvation, given an intervention of God that merely informs and convicts a person of truth is sufficient to provide a choice to the natural man which he may either accept or reject. Finally, Jason condemns any interpration of salvation involving choice as involving works based salvation, even to the extent of concluding that those who hold my view are not saved. Clearly, I disagree and argue that such an interpretation fundamentally misunderstands what works-based salvation is.

Atonement

Our discussion of atonement is currently focused on five primary passages.

John 1:12-13 12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

Matthew 25:40-41 Two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.

John 3:14-16 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Ezekiel 33:11 Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

The first two passages were brought up by Jason to support the position of limited atonement. However, the first passage, John 1:12-13, declares that “As many as received him” (that is, the elect), God gave the power to become sons of God. The second verse enumerates this as being not “of the will of man, but of God”. It seems to me that there are two ways to understand this passage and neither contradicts unlimited atonement or freewill salvation. First, the focus of verse 13 is the birth as sons of God, not the causative reception or faith that leads to becoming a son of God. Therefore, it is by God’s will that the elect are made His sons, not by the will of the elect. Second, the gift of salvation is made possible by God’s will. No amount of willing on man’s part could bring salvation about. Salvation is made possible only by the will, sacrifice, and power of God. However, that does not preclude God from willing to save the mutually willing.

As for Matthew 25:40-41, at best for Jason’s case, it merely confirms that not all will be saved. This is in harmony with both unlimited atonement and freewill salvation positions.

I brought up the last three passages to support the doctrine of unlimited atonement. Each verse declares God’s desire to save “the world”, “the wicked”, and that none should perish “but that all should come to repentance”. Although Jason has not responded directly to Ezekiel 33:11, he has addressed John 3:16 and 2 Peter 3:9. In both cases, he attempts to interpret the passages in terms of the elect rather than all people.

In the case of John 3:16, Jason argues that the “world” refers to “the elect”. This appears to be a completely arbitrary and non-standard interpretation of the term “world” based solely on the fact that it is the only interpretation which does not completely undermine the doctrine of limited atonement, and with it, the idea that God would arbitrarily choose to save only a few. Not only does the term “world” seem to clearly be a universal term, but “world” is often used in scripture to refer to those who are not of the elect. Consider John 15:19:

John 15:19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

Here, Jesus, speaking to His disciples (the elect) declares that they are not of the world. On the other hand, no passage comes to my mind which clearly uses the term “world” to refer only to the elect as Jason suggests here. Finally, the preceding verses refer to an event during the wilderness wanderings in which a bronze serpent was setup on God’s command and those who looked to the serpent when bitten were saved and those who refused died. Jesus uses this illustration of a universal offer (anyone could look, but only some did) as a parallel example of His lifting up on the cross. This parallel indicates a similarly universal offer with limited reception, again denying Jason’s limited interpration of “world” as “the elect”.

Regarding 2 Peter 3:9, Jason argues again that the “us” which God is not willing to allow to perish is the elect. Because the context is a letter to the church, there is some abiguity as to whether us refers to all mankind or all elect. I do not concede that Jason’s interpretation is correct, but I do concede that the passage is not as clear as John 3:16.

In summary, the passages cited by Jason do not clearly deny unlimited atonement and although there is some ambiguity in 2 Peter 3:9, John 3:16 and Ezekiel 33:11 provide a powerful testimony of the universal offer of salvation.

Depravity

In my previous post, I boiled our disagreement on depravity down to the question:

Can man, confronted by God with truth, accept it freely?

I still believe this to be the most precise enumeration of our disagreement. I answer yes to the question and point to the doctrine of unlimited atonement, God’s offer and universal desire to save all, and the repeated calls in scripture to belief, faith, and trust in Christ as the key factor that devides the world into the elect and the damned. The selection salvation response is based primarily on two observations.

First, Jason cites several passages in which men reject that which is true and good (Mark 8:11-21, Romans 7:20). However, none of these passages provide any justification for concluding that because some men rejected truth that all will. This is a classic example of the Fallacy of Composition, which draws a conclusion regarding a whole or universal based merely on an observation of constituent parts. The doctrine of freewill salvation is not undermined in any way because not all people accept salvation. It requires only that some believe to be true.

Second, many reformed will turn to passages such as Romans 3:10-11 and John 6:44:

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.

No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

However, such passages do not teach that God coerces some to salvation and leaves others to damnation. They merely teach that all men, apart from the intervention of God, will remain unsaved. They do not teach that given an intervention of God, no choice is left in faith.

Salvation Merit

Finally, we disagree on the nature of works. Jason would argue that freewill salvation violates the principle that salvation is not of works. This was also the core concern Cameron raised that sparked this discussion:

Eph 2:8-9 8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

Jason argues that because man is doing something (accepting the gift), that is a work and therefore freewill salvationists teach the false doctrine of salvation by works:

It is the same old story, my friends — the same old story of the natural man. Men are trying today, as they have always been trying, to save themselves — to save themselves by their own act of surrender, by the excellence of their own faith, by mystic experiences of their own lives. But it is all in vain” – J. Graham Machen, “The Importance of Christian Scholarship” in his book, What is Christianity [Eerdmans, 1951]

The fundamental error here is confusing “doing anything” with “works”. Salvation by works is a meritorious concept. That is, salvation is earned by the person, not Jesus Christ. The key concept here is merit. Did Jesus merit salvation or did the saint? The Bible clearly rejects meritorious salvation, declaring that “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” and that “there is none righteous”. The question then is where is the merit that earns salvation coming from when one freely receives Christ? Is faith in Christ itself meritorious? Consider the following illustration:

Person A works hard and earns $1000. He offers to gift it to person B. Person B accepts.

Did person A or person B earn (merit) the $1000? Clearly, person A earned the $1000. Just as person A earned $1000 and person B freely received it, the merit of salvation is Christ’s, but the choice to receive it, is ours. As Eph 2:8-9 states, this is the gracious gift of God through faith in Jesus Christ. It is not earned by the act of faith or acceptence, but by the work of Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

After examining the evidence, it is clear to me that scripture affirms the universal offer of salvation; freedom in salvation; and that the merit of Christ, not of any of the elect, is the basis of our salvation.

Posted by: arthenor | September 23, 2009

Response to Atheist Under Your Bed on the Rationality of Theism

Atheist Under Ur Bed has responded to my article on the Rationality of Theism in A Few Responses to Arthenor. Below is my response:

Presence

Exactly how God “fills the earth” is not described. I see no reason to insist that this must be understood in the sense of divine substance being everywhere or in everything. Both passages can easily be understood as describing every place as being in or filled by God’s presence.

Problem of Evil

Allowing evil

Death, pain, and evil are not good, nor where they a part of the Creation originally pronounced to be “good”. These things became a part of this world at the fall as a consequence of sin. God could, of course, stop all evil from happening and instantly judge every intended evil deed before it happened. However, if He did, we would all be damned. God has chosen to allow evil to persist along with the accompanying pain and death for a time in order to save some.

Personal Responsibility

AUUB also attempts to counter my solution to the problem of evil by arguing that there are two possible explanations of human behavior: deterministic and chaotic. We are ultimately not responsible in either case. This is ultimately true from the perspective of a naturalistic world view. Either our behavior is a deterministic product of complex physical reactions set in motion from the beginning of the universe and we can do nothing other than the things we do, or our behavior is the chaotic product of relatively deterministic forces influenced by random quantum-mechanical events. If naturalism is true, AUUB is not responsible for being an atheist and I am not responsible for being a theist. Nature has simply forced us to be this way.

However, I am not a naturalist. If I am right and God exists, there is no reason to believe that the above argument negating personal responsibility obtains, because we are no longer necessarily purely natural machines. God could easily have given each human being a supernatural element (soul) capable of choice. Our choices would then not be random or predetermined, and as free agents, we would be responsible for them.

Power

As James has already attempted to do, AUUB attempts to refute my argument by insisting on different definitions. AUUB insists on understanding omnipotence in the absolute terms of “able to do anything imaginable, no matter how absurd”. I put forward a more limited definition as follows: “able to do anything which simply requires sufficient power”. Insisting on an inherently ridiculous interpretation is not a refutation of my argument, its a dodge, pure and simple. No justification has been presented for favoring this inherently absurd definition over my reasonable one.

As for where the laws of logic come from, the most likely explanation I can think of is that they, like moral laws, are also an inherent part of God’s character. God is not only the all-powerful and perfectly moral being, He is also the ultimate rational being. As such, I seriously doubt He has any interest in making things such as four-sided triangles even if His omnipotence allowed Him to do so.

Posted by: arthenor | September 23, 2009

Theism and Society

Atheist Under Ur Bed has posted the last segments of his series attacking theism. This last sequence of posts focuses on the consequences of theism. He covers a lot of things. In the interest of brevity, I’ll only be addressing the highlights.

Happiness

The first consequence AUUB deals with is happiness. AUUB closes with two primary points, which I actually agree with. First, he cites George Bernard Shaw, who said, “The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.” In other words, current happiness is not a good measurement of truth. Scripture itself contradicts such a conclusion, declaring that sin is pleasurable for a season (Heb. 11:25). Second, AUUB concludes that truth trumps feeling. Here at least, we agree. 🙂

Family

AUUB next examines the impact on family. However, in this case, the consequences covered are often not consequences of theism itself, but consequences of specific doctrines (such as rejecting certain kinds of medical treatments) or assumptions (theism is false, therefore time in church is wasted). It is true that many people, religious or not, have lived according to some pretty strange and in some cases damaging or deadly principles. Truth here is important and we should be careful not to reject truth because some theists also happened to accept some wrong principles.

AUUB also makes some invalid claims about the impact of theism, Christianity in particular, on marriage. He claims that the rate of divorce is higher among Christians, citing the Barna Group (but no specific study). The first one I found on their site from 2008 (http://barna.org/barna-update/article/15-familykids/42-new-marriage-and-divorce-statistics-released) contradicts this claim in two ways. First, the implication is that fewer divorces indicate stronger marriages. However, the article begins by pointing out that while 84% of Christians have married, only 65% of atheists and agnostics have ever been married. The Barna Group also points out that “[atheists et. al.] have lower rates of marriage and a higher likelihood of cohabitation, a combination of behaviors that distort comparisons…” Adjusting the divorce statistic to account for this difference (30% * 84/65) yields about a 38.8% divorce rate among atheist or agnostics, higher than all Christian figures and the national average. Therefore, the lower rate of divorce is probably best explained by a lower rate of marriage rather than stronger marriages. Second while notional and protestant Christians as a whole are either statistically indistinguishable from the national average or slightly higher, Evangelicals and Catholics have significantly lower than average rates of divorce (26% and 28%), suggesting that some Christian views do significantly impact divorce rates.

Society

Regarding society, I’ll be addressing two major points brought up by AUUB: homosexuality and morality.

Homosexuality

Regarding homosexuality, AUUB repeats the claim that people are “born gay” and this somehow absolves them of any responsibility for their actions. The argument here is that genetics cause actions and people have no freewill. Therefore, it is unfair to condemn actions which are unfree. There are essentially two ways to understand personal actions and responsibility: freewill and determinism. If freewill is true, then people are responsible for their decisions. If determinism is true, people are not responsible for any of their actions. People are “born gay” in the same way they are “born murderers”. If we accept this second option, as it seems the naturalist must, there are only two options: first, we can not hold anyone responsible for any actions. The end result is anarchy. Second, we can recognize that not all behavior is good for society and restrict that type of behavior for that reason. Whether homosexuality, like murder, is wrong may be debatable outside a scriptural framework, but observations of “born this or that” entirely miss any meaningful point.

Morality

AUUB also argues that atheists are more moral than theists. Again, truth matters. What is most relevant here is not rates of morality, but justification of morality. Christians have a solid foundation for understanding proper morality, even if they do not always live up to it. Atheists may follow moral principles as well, but what justifies their morality? Why is their morality preferable to no morality or any other morality? In previous articles, AUUB raised the problem of evil as an argument against theism. I submit that just as theists must explain how evil can exist despite a good God, atheists must explain how anything can be good at all.

Cultures

Without much evidence, AUUB next argues that religion makes people less creative, inventive, progressive, or democratic. While this may be true of certain people, I see no reason to believe that it is universally true or that the opposite is necessarily true of atheists.

War

War is certainly a complex and unfortunate reality and has in some cases been inspired by religion. However, the ideas that all wars are somehow caused by religion and that all engagement in war is somehow wrong seems naive to me. Other motivations, such as greed and hatred also fuel conflicts and when attacked or significantly threatened, self-defense, both national and personal is a perfectly reasonable response both rationally and scripturally.

Environment

While some have clearly taken Gen. 1:28 out of context, there are numerous passages that present not only man’s dominion over nature, but responsibility and stewardship for it. Even in the very next chapter, God declares that He placed man in Eden “to dress…and to keep it” (Gen. 2:15). The suggestion that Christianity necessarily teaches disregard for and abuse of nature is untrue.

Posted by: arthenor | September 8, 2009

Truth by Consensus and God: Too good to be true or false?

Atheist Under Ur Bed continues his argument against the theistic premises in points Phantom of the Mind, Doesn’t Pull It’s Own Weight, and Function Before Truth. While I went to considerable length in addressing the previous two arguments, these later arguments seem significantly less substantitive and include a great deal of repetition from the first two points. Therefore, this response will be considerable shorter.

Phantom of the Mind

AUUB’s argument here essentially seems to be that no consensus exists regarding the nature of God. People disagree about all kinds of things all the time, including AUUB’s claims in these articles. Concluding that everyone is wrong when consensus does not exist is frankly a ridiculous conclusion that would require us to reject most if not all ideas. To take such an argument to it’s logical conclusion would require one to conclude that we don’t know the shape of the earth (after all, some reputedly think it is flat) and that atheism is an equally unacceptable premise (after all, most people disagree with atheism’s central premise). Polling or counting people is not a particular logical way of establishing truth.

Does God Pull His Own Weight?

AUUB’s fourth objection largely repeats portions of the first three objections, returning to arguments regarding comparisons with four-sided triangles and unicorns, and the lack of consensus regarding the nature of a divine entity or entities. These were addressed in previous articles.

Function Before Truth

Under the fifth argument, AUUB again mostly repeats the same old arguments: Occam’s Razor, claims that the premise of God is absurd and unsupportable, etc. However, he does seem to present one relatively new argument. The argument (D-F) is essentially that the concept of God fits the needs of humanity so well, He can’t be real and must be only a figment or our imagination. This is essentially a converse of the argument that God is so perfect, He must exist. The argument that God is “too good to be false” is not particularly persuasive. However, the counter-argument that God is “too good to be true”, is, if possible, even less convincing.

Posted by: arthenor | September 7, 2009

The Deducibility and Detectability of God

Atheist Under Ur Bed continues to attempt to discredit the concept of God over at AnAtheist.Net.

AUUB’s next objection is that God is neither deducible or detectable.

Deducibility

As I discussed in Reason, Philosophy, Science, and Faith the complaint that God and similar premises are not fully deductive is due to the nature of deduction not the fallacious nature of divine claims.

AUUB does not deal with many of the proofs of God, he does specifically mention several objections to the first cause argument.

First, he repeats the classic objection that if everything requires a cause, what caused God? The flaw in this objection is that it misunderstands the basic nature of the argument. The first cause argument is essentially that everything we observe in the natural world has a cause, not incidentally, but necessarily. Therefore, a cause is required to start the kind of things we see, which must itself be significantly different from the things we observe. The immediate conclusion is that this thing must be uncaused. One can also reasonably posit that this thing must be powerful in order to be the initial cause of all effects, etc.

Second, AUUB denies the premise that nothing comes from nothing. There is no reason to believe such a thing is possible and every reason to believe it is impossible. AUUB attempts to bring up vacuum energy, but the vacuum energy example does not apply here because empty space (or space-time) is not nothing.

Third, AUUB argues that positing causes outside the natural order is an absurd excercise in the first place. This really seems like a different way of stating the first argument. The basic observation here is that everyone we see in this universe, including the universe itself, requires a cause. There is nothing particularly absurd about this observation.

Fourth, AUUB objects that the impossibility of infinite regress is an unwarranted assumption. Even if this is true, it seems irrelevant given the present consensus regarding the finite nature of the universe.

Finally, AUUB is correct that if we accept the first cause argument it does not itself imply any specific religious tradition. It merely demonstrates that some supernatural thing is implied by nature. More argumentation is required to arrive at particular details regarding this thing.

Detectability

It is interesting that AUUB should mention that some planets were hypothesized before they were discovered. These hypotheses posit the existence of entities which were not directly observed, but are indirectly implied. Consider the design and first cause arguments. Both begin with an observation (design is a product of a designer, cause and effect) implying an unknown (source of design, start of the cause and effect chain) and posit an implied entity as the best explanation. Most arguments for the existence of God follow precisely this line of reasoning. While AUUB may disagree with those arguments and their conclusion may not be 100% certain, but that does not mean that the premise of God is as utterly vacuous as AUUB claims.

In this way, the premise of God is not “untestable”. For example, if one could prove that the universe had always existed, the first cause argument would be discredited. If one could prove that the design inherent in living things and the fine-tuning of the universe actually were accidental or inevitable, the premise would be disproven.

Furthermore, the contention that the “God hypothesis” renders all meaningful explanations impossible is, frankly, bogus. Some people may treat the premise that way, but as long as one accepts God, not as the direct cause of all things, but as a rational first cause who established a logical order to the universe and occasional intervenes, there is plenty of room for meaningful, logical, and scientific inquiry with the goal of understanding God’s established natural order. That some people propagate a divine view which leads to the conclusion of an irrational and incomprehensible universe does not mean all divine views do so.

Occam’s Razor

Occam’s razor or the law of parsimony, as AUUB concisely states it, is that “assumptions ought not to be multiplied unnecessarily” (emphasis mine). The real question here is whether God is an unnecessary premise or not. As such, applying Occam’s razor is a circular argument which assumes God is unnecessary in the first place.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the concept of God is not a parallel to a unicorn (a plausible entity for which no evidence exists) because indirect evidence exists which supports the claim. Neither is God like an invisible unicorn (an entity for which no evidence can exist, untestable) because conceivably true premises would contradict the premise of God. Nor is God like a four-sided triangle or a round square (a definitionally absurd and illogical concept), because His various attributes are not absurd (see my response to AUUB’s first series of objections).

Posted by: arthenor | September 1, 2009

Rationality of Theism

Atheist Under Ur Bed has been arguing that the concept of God is fundamentally absurd. This is my response to the first three articles:

  1. 1A
  2. 1B
  3. 1C

Articles D and E seem primarily to build on, extend, or repeat problems presented in A-C. F addresses counter-arguments which differ from the ones I bring up here. Therefore, I am focusing only on A-C.

Problem of Evil

Another approach to the problem of evil is to note that God allows evil as a product, not of His own will, but of our own freewill. Thus, God, not being the author of evil, can be all-good, and allow evil. He can be all-powerful and will triumph over evil at some point in time, but must not necessarily do so from the beginning. God can be all-knowing, and have chosen to allow a period of evil to ultimately produce a world of even greater good than would have otherwise been possible.

I discuss this concept in greater depth on my blog in the following articles:

Divine Attributes, Logical or Absurd

AUUB tries to argue that divine concepts of “all-good”, “all-knowing”, and “all-powerful” are ultimately absurd, but they are only absurd if one insists in making them so.

All-Good

AUUB’s first argument is that good is a term relative to a specific context and things are often neither good nor bad. However, what is meant by God being all good is the following:

  1. God is the ultimately, absolute reference point for what is good
  2. God is morally perfect. All that He does is ultimately the best possible action. He can even use evil to produce good (Rom. 8:28)

The first point illustrates the error of the appeal to relative goodness and the second points out the error of making an analogy between moral agents and neutral objects in terms of morality. Things, not being actors simple are what they are. They are neither good nor bad, but can be used by agents to produce good or evil. To argue that agents must be neutral because non-agents are neutral is a false conclusion based on a false analogy.

All-Knowing

AUUB presents several arguments related to the concept of “all-knowing”.

The first confuses knowledge and experience. Essentially, he argues that knowledge of a state requires experience of a state and as God has not experienced every possible state, God must lack knowledge of that state. There are two good reasons to reject this claim.

First, “experiencing a state” is essentially receiving certain inputs. As God exhaustively knows all inputs, it seems reasonable to conclude that He would not be precluded from experiencing what every state is like.

Second, if knowledge requires experience, there would be no point to trying to teach anything directly. Everyone would have to learn “the hard way”, so to speak. We would not be able to learn something was bad from other peoples experience or learn from history.

The second objection does not make much sense to me. He seems to argue that knowing everything would imply a complete reproduction of everything inside one’s head. However, there seems to be no basis for this claim. One does not say of someone who knows a lot about, say a coffee mug has a coffee mug reproduced in their head, even to some small degree.

The third objection or group of objections seems to simply be the argument that he does not understand how all-knowingness would work, therefore the concept should be rejected. This is absurd. One would expect a transcendent God to be somewhat beyond full comprehension of finite beings such as ourselves. Therefore, lack of full understanding is not a reasonable objection to such a concept.

All-Powerful

The objection to the concept of “all-powerful” is essentially the classic question “Can God make a rock so big He can’t lift it?”. This fundamentally misunderstands the conception of “all-powerful”. The concept is not that “God can do anything imaginable no matter how absurd”, but merely that God can do anything which is merely a question of sufficient power. The concept does not require God to violate logic or do absurd things, it merely implies that anything which can be done given enough power is within His ability.

God and Being

Being

The answer to the question of image is that we are not the same as God but share in imperfect measure of certain of His qualities. The exact mechanics of “being everywhere” are not explicitly discussed in scripture to my knowledge. The way it makes sense to me has to do with understanding presence. One can be present in an entire room or space without materially filling it. Presence is limited by perception. If a room has walls, it limits one’s presence because one can not see through it. Therefore, presence is the space within which a being is sensorially aware. Because God is “all-knowing”, there is no limits on His space of sensorial awareness. He is therefore present everywhere. That does not mean He fills all space with some magical or divine substance.

Spirit

Spirit is merely a different form of being, not a form of “non-being”. There is no reason to insist that “being” is limited to a corporal existence. Much of the rest of AUUB’s discussion here seems to echo his critique of the term “all-knowing”. That one can not fully understand every aspect or mechanic related to a particular concept does not preclude that concept from being true. In reality, there really is not much that we can claim to fully, comprehensively and exhaustively understand in every minute detail (is there even one thing we understand that well?).

Time

Transcending time does not imply that one can not interact within time. It merely means one is not bound by time as we are. One is free to see all time at once and act at specific points. In fact, one might say that relative to such a being there is no past or present. There is only the present. This idea sounds quite a bit like Jesus’ claim that “before Abraham was, I am”.

Perfect

It is interesting that AUUB claims God can’t exist because He can not even be conceptually understood, but understands the concept well enough to claim that a perfect being would never create anything. We might not understand everything about Him, but that does not preclude His existence or creation.

Posted by: arthenor | August 8, 2009

Freewill, Evil, and Eternity

My recent post God, Evil, and Original Sin has received several responses. James from AnAtheist.net responds in Free Will & Sin, positing that limited freewill could conceivably allow both freewill and a lack of evil. In the comments on my blog, the Conversational Atheist asks the question: “Do you have free will when you get to heaven?” Qohelet asks a similar question in commenting on James’s reply.

Freewill and the Problem of Evil

In Free Will & Sin, James presents an argument and supporting analogy in an attempt to demonstrate that the ability to will evil is not strictly necessary for freewill. His argument is essentially that any physical limitations we have already limit our will, and therefore restricting our capacity to do evil would not limit freewill in any unique way in which it is not already limited. To support this argument, he presents an analogy between our ability to fly and our ability to do evil.

This analogy confuses will and ability. We can certainly will to fly, but we lack the ability. To use James’s terminology, we have the ability to choose to fly, but we lack the ability to actually fly. Will, therefore, is not dependent on ability as James suggests. It is therefore possible to will something beyond one’s ability to perform it. Therefore, our inability to fly does not represent a limitation on freewill which God could have merely extended to include sin.

While the analogy is faulty, James’s point is at least initially a reasonable one. It does seem conceptually possible for God to have created a world in which humans were free to choose certain things, such as what good work to perform on a particular day or pick a favorite color, but be unable to will to perform an evil deed. However, there are two objections to this:

First, as argued in my initial post, this would not be true freedom. Humanity would essentially be much like Isaac Asimov’s robots governed by the three laws. We would be good, not of our own choosing, but only because God forced us to be so.

Second, at least in the Bible, the most important choice there is is to choose to obey or disobey God. In other words, the primary purpose of granting freewill is to allow us to choose Him. Giving us freewill without the ability to choose against Him would defeat that purpose.

Other Remarks

James also disagrees with my post in two points:

Prior Knowledge of Good and Evil

Your claim is that she had knowledge that eating the fruit was wrong before she had knowledge of right and wrong. That would be like telling my dog that barking is wrong and wondering why she still does it. – James

False. My claim is that she did know right (obey God; do not eat of the tree) from wrong (disobey God; eat of the tree) beforehand and that the phrase “knowledge of good and evil would be better understood as “discerning good from evil”. It is invalid to argue that my argument is absurd by substituting one’s own premises for mine. We can debate whether my premise regarding the proper interpretation of the phrase translated as “knowledge of good and evil” is, but the fact that our premises differ and James’s premises conflict with my conclusion does not make my argument invalid or absurd because it is not based on those premises.

Determining or Knowing Good and Evil

Rather than addressing my argument on the proper understanding of the original word “yada” in the passage of the creation and fall, James essentially begs the question, assuming his interpretation is correct because it is “obvious” that the Bible is “a primitive attempt” by ancient people to explain certain concepts and that my argument was essentially false because it was too complicated.

That the story is obviously a primitive attempt to explain various aspects of humanity is clearly not as obvious as James would like it to be. What is obvious is that if one insists on interpreting the Bible through the assumption that it is a primitive and absurd book, one can certainly arrive at primitive and absurd conclusions by insisting on simplistic interpretations rather than entertaining the possibility that the Bible might be reasonable. However, that assumption is far from justified.

The argument I presented may not prove with certainty that the passage must be understood in the manner I described, but it does demonstrate that there is good reason to understand it in a different way than James suggests. This interpretation presents a much more consistent and sensible conclusion, undermining his claim that this passage is necessarily absurd.

Freewill in Eternity

Regarding the question of freewill for the saved in eternity, I am not aware of a statement in the Bible which directly answers the question of freewill in eternity. I think the general assumption is that the process of sanctification (essentially, putting off the sin nature) which is completed upon entry into heaven renders believers into a state in which, while they could sin, they never will again. However, I think a good case can be made which suggests that freewill will be at least limited in heaven.

The primary reason is this: if it is true that evil must be a possible side-effect of freewill, evil would be possible in heaven. The possibility of evil implies the possibility of suffering, which is denied in heaven. If there is no possibility of suffering, there must be no possibility of evil, which implies a lack of full freewill. Freewill may exist in a limited form, such as James suggests in “Free Will & Sin”, but this argument presents a reasonable case against the kind of freewill we have now. The idea that sanctification produces believers who have full freewill, but simply will not sin sounds a lot like Adam and Eve’s original state in the garden, a state in which they were clearly capable of sinning.

Qohelet argues that this conclusion contradicts the necessity and importance of freewill that I argued for above and in my original post. This is not so and it seems to me the reason helps to explain why as Rhodes said, a world which includes evil is the best possible path to the best possible world. If, as argued above, freewill implies the possibility or even the probability of evil, the best possible world, that is, one in which there is no evil and therefore no suffering, is one in which freewill is at least not absolute. However, if another property of the optimal world is its inhabitants freely choosing to love and obey God, freewill is necessary for that optimal world, but can not coexist with it. Therefore, one can not begin with an optimal world. Freewill and lack of suffering are incompatible. Therefore, the optimal world must be preceded by a sub-optimal world with freewill, by which people can freely choose to love and obey God, making the optimal world possible.

Given the importance of freewill in most Christians understanding of the world, sin, and the gospel, this is certainly an important question. I would be interested in any views, comments, or insights other readers might have on this topic. 🙂

Posted by: arthenor | August 5, 2009

God, Evil, and Original Sin

Over on AnAtheist.net, James asks the question “How can a perfect creator produce an imperfect world?” in the recent article Adam, Eve, and Suffering. The essence of the question is essentially the problem of evil. How can a good God create a world in which evil exists? Is God the author of evil?

The Problem of Evil

James says the answer he usually hears is a reference to the story of the fall. However, that does not really seem to answer the question. As James points out, God would have known they would have sinned. Why did he create them in the first place? Furthermore, why was sin made possible? God clearly created Adam and Eve capable of sin and even provided a means for sin (the tree).

The key answer is freewill. God certainly could have created a sin free world which contained only automatons. Clearly, God valued freewill enough that freewill with the potential for evil was more valuable to Him, and therefore, more perfect, than a world without it. The purpose for the tree seems clear as well. Freewill without the potential for negative exercise is not really free.

At this point, it is reasonable to point to the fall as the first example of humans exercising the negative side of freewill and reaping the consequence (the curse) which, together with continuing sin, responsible for pain and suffering in this world. However, that really still only explains the cause of suffering and evil, not why God continues to allow it or how a perfect God could allow such an imperfect world.

Biblically, God’s primary purpose in allowed this imperfect world to continue is mercy:

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

However, that does not fully answer the question. The real question remaining is why would God choose this clearly imperfect world over any other optimal alternatives. The simple answer is: He did not. Ultimately, this is not the world that God valued the most, but it is the way to get there. This is the world God ultimately valued most:

Rev 22:3-5 And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.

As Ronald Rhodes writes in Who Made God?:

the fact that God has not defeated evil today does not mean He is not eliminating it in the future (see 2 Peter 3:7, Rev. 20-22). This is not the best of all possible worlds, but it is the best way to the best of all possible worlds. (pg. 39)

Determining Good and Evil

Regarding the specific case of the fall, James raises some other objections which deserve answers. One is the observation that if eating the fruit granted knowledge of what was right and what was wrong (good and evil), Eve would have been ignorant of right and wrong before eating the fruit, and therefore, at worst, her eating the fruit would have been simply a misunderstanding. However, knowledge that it was evil (rebellion against God) was given to Adam and Eve prior to the fall (Gen. 2:17) and Eve refers to this somewhat inaccurately (Gen. 3:3). Therefore, she did have knowledge that it was wrong to eat the fruit.

Furthermore, the Hebrew word “yada” translated here as “knowledge” is a relatively broad word. Many understand it here as meaning “determining”, implying “determining for yourself good and evil”. This also fits much better with the implication that this “knowing” is a divine attribute. It does not seem reasonable to argue that knowing good and evil makes one a god, but establishing a moral law is a divine attribute. Therefore, eating the fruit, did not magically give Adam and Eve perfect knowledge of God’s Law, that which was good and evil. At that point, they already knew all of God’s Law (do not eat the fruit) and they decided for themselves to break it. Rebelling against God’s Law (do not eat the fruit) and substituting their own (eat the fruit). This attempt to become one’s own law maker is the root of sin.

Original Sin

James also refers to the imputation of original sin to all humans, which Paul discusses in Rom 5:12-19, interpreting it as us being punished for Adam’s sin. There are some questions as to what exactly Paul’s discussion means mechanically. Some say that God imputes Adam’s sin to us, others argue that Adam’s one sin represents all our sins. The relevant point is that we all have sinned independently and earned the penalty of sin (death). Before chapter 5, Paul spends a lot of time demonstrating this (Rom. 2-3). Therefore, whatever Paul is saying here, he is not saying that some of us may have lived perfect lives, but because Adam sins we are damned. Even those who interpret this passage as a full imputation of guilt for the purpose of salvation, do so on this basis; that God knew all would sin independently and therefore in place of that guilt imputed the guilt of original sin, so that “as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (Rom 5:19).

Iniquity of the Parents

James relates this to God’s statement in the commandments regarding “visiting the iniquity of the fathers” on following generations “of them that hate me”. As James also points out, more explicit passages distinctly state that children should not be punished for the sins of parents. The key phrase here is “of them that hate me”, which applies not only to the father, but the children. Therefore, while children should not be punished for the sins which their parents committed, they are punished for committing the sins of their parents, and the root of sin is hatred of God.

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