Be sure to check out Goodness Over God, the counter-apologetics podcast hosted by myself and philosopher Michael Long!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Collett's Transcendental Argument

Here I reply to Don Collett's online paper "Van Til and Transcendental Argument Revisited" [sic], by denying his implication that arguments following Bas van Fraassen's presuppositional semantics are distinct from deductive arguments, and also by pointing out the invalidity of his sole stated example of a transcendental argument.

Twentieth-century developments in the Reformed tradition of theology have led a number of apologists to assert that there exist arguments which they call transcendental, which are neither identical with nor reducible to arguments of deductive or inductive form, and that only these arguments are faithful to God's plan for ministering to the unregenerate, that is, to non-Christians. However, this position leads us to certain problems---namely, if transcendental arguments are not deductive or inductive, then in what sense ought we regard their conclusions as justified? Collett's paper appears framed at least in part as an attempt to help answer this question by appealing to the logical system induced by van Fraassen's presuppositional semantics, since he evidently believes that this system is something altogether different from either induction or deduction. However, we shall see that Collett does not, in fact, accomplish this task, nor does he suggest any strategies for doing so, for the very simple reason that, contrary to Collett's analysis, van Fraassen's system is indeed one of deduction.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Limited Response to Anderson's Sketch

Here I respond briefly to James N. Anderson's online essay entitled "The Theistic Preconditions of Knowledge: A Thumbnail Sketch" (2006) by pointing out two serious problems I see in his outlined case for theism. To that end, I critique his central argument against naturalism, as well as his contention that epistemic normativity cannot be subject to human convention.

Following a tradition of presuppositionalist apologetics, Anderson takes up the position that God stands among the necessary preconditions for knowledge itself, and that we must assume the existence of a divine author of the universe if we are to free ourselves from a paralyzing epistemological skepticism. He bases his outlined case, a kind of transcendental argument for theism, on the observation that one of same notorious difficulties of metaethics also frustrates inquiries into epistemology, namely the question of how normative standards can arise out of the impersonal properties of the universe; for the very concept of rationality presupposes epistemological norms to which we ought to conform. Similar to certain moral arguments for the existence of God, he suggests that we cannot derive the prescriptive standards we need for epistemology from a Godless description of reality.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

An Argument Concerning the Trinity

Although I can identify certain sentences which educated Christians take as descriptive of the Trinity, I remain unable to meaningfully interpret those sentences as a cohesive whole, or to otherwise find any substance to the various supposed descriptions of the doctrine. I suspect that this is not my own failing, but rather caused by a genuine lack of meaningful content therein. Indeed, I submit that even those Christians who claim to understand the Trinity doctrine may not actually understand it. However, I make this suggestion humbly, and with an earnest desire for correction in case I am mistaken. So it is that I have sought at some length to meaningfully interpret it, by inquiring after Christians how to do properly so. Yet this process has proved invariably unsuccessful, for a number of different reason, chief among them, in my experience, the supposition on the part of certain Christians that a non-Christian is simply incapable of understanding the doctrine in the first place. These Christians are unwilling to discuss the matter because, according to them, I must come to know God, or some such, before I can appreciate the meaningfulness of the Trinity. In this discussion, therefore, I shall outline a defense for my position that the following three statements are inconsistent when taken together:

(I) Non-Christians cannot understand the Trinity.

(II) Christians always understand the Trinity.

(III) Accepting the Trinity is rational.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Alexander Pruss on Self-evidence and the PSR

As long as I have seen it used, I've had no end of trouble interpreting the term "self-evident." The only way I know to make sense of self-evidence is to understand it as a kind of intuitive obviousness. So, when Alexander Pruss writes in one of his papers that he finds the principle of sufficient reason (hereafter the PSR) to be self-evidently true, I interpret him as having a strong intuition of it. Unfortunately, this cannot be all he means by "self-evidence;" for he speaks about it as if it were an objective property about which we can be correct or incorrect. So, on Mr. Pruss's view, if I do not find the PSR to be self-evidently true, then it follows that one of us is factually right and the other wrong. Yet on my interpretation, the difference in opinion amounts to varying intuitions. So, while we may disagree as to how to handle our often unique intuitions, we are not necessarily mistaken about having them or not having them. I shall not hesitate to point out, for instance, that Mr. Pruss commits a substantial error when he decides to trust his intuition uncritically, and urges others to do the same, but I do not dispute that the intuition is genuine (though I strongly suspect that in this case it is contrived).

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Recap of the Debate with Chris Bolt

EDIT: Chris has responded to this blog entry here.

A few weeks ago, Chris Bolt and I held an over-internet debate on the existence of God (audio, transcript). He and Brian Knapp proved to be gracious hosts, and I came away from the event having had a splendid time of it, and with the impression that they both felt similarly. More than just having a fun time, however, I learned a great deal both in my preparation for and during the debate. In all respects, then, I'm very happy with how things turned out. At some point in the future, we may try our hands once again at persuasion, perhaps picking up where we left off. In the mean time, this blog post aims to summarize some highlights from the debate, and to examine Mr. Bolt's two key arguments which he presented on that occasion. I do not intend to exhaustively criticize those arguments, but I will point out what I believe are serious problems with them.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Debate on the existence of God, Thursday, Aug 19, 8pm CST

EDIT: The debate is now available for download! Get it here. (Thanks to Brian Knapp for generously recording and mastering the event!) A complete transcript is now available here.

EDIT 2: Post-debate discussion is underway! Check out Chris's blog post on self-deception and my general recap.

On Thursday, August 19, at 8:00pm CST (9:00pm EST), I will be streaming a prerecorded audio debate with philosophy graduate Chris Bolt through the internet, while listeners and myself may engage in live text chat. To listen and/or participate, just go to paltalk.com and visit the room called Chris Bolt Ben Wallis debate Does God Exist. The room will open at approximately 7:45pm CST, fifteen minutes before the stream begins.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Free Will and Determinism

In my last blog post I presented an argument that if God has the omnipotence and omniscience typically ascribed to Him by God-believers, then he is in control of our choices.[1] There I carefully avoided using the terms "determinism," "free will," "compatibilism" and "libertarianism," and for this present post I would like to discuss my reason for keeping distance from them. In short, with a few possible exceptions, I no longer wish to use those terms because I find them all enormously problematic insofar as I cannot ever easily identify any coherent content behind them.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Sketched Argument for God's Control

Introductory remarks

Here we offer, in accordance with our title, an argument for the doctrine that God controls the choices of all agents, which I regard as the key underlying principle of Calvinism. So, by the term "God" we have in mind the creator-deity Yahweh from Judeo-Christian tradition. The argument is deductive, with seven premises, each intended to cause comparatively less controversy than the conclusion. Defenses of the premises are not given in this document. However, we do present an initial set of six points, along with a rhetorical appeal for each, intended to elucidate the reasoning behind the argument. These points do not themselves make up any deductive argument; rather, each one, save the last, will serve as an aid to rhetorical defenses for subsequent points, and suggest strategies for defending the premises of the final argument.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Laws of Thought in Formal Calculi

In philosophical discussions with laypersons I often encounter references to three so-called "laws of logic." Although they may take any of a wide range of different expressions which convey an arguably greater diversity of meaning, I shall adopt for the purposes of this document a simple and specific set of formulations, given thusly:

The law of identity: Every entity is the same as itself.

The law of noncontradiction: No proposition is both true and false.

The law of excluded middle: Every proposition is either true or false.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Q-device

In a blog post dated 2010 Mar 17, mathematician and philosopher Alexander Pruss expressed some interesting ideas regarding probability and countably infinite samples in an attempt to show an absurdity which would, in his judgment, lend support to the claim that the existence of what he and others call "actual" infinite collections of physical objects is impossible.[1] He suggests a set of hypotheses which, taken together, appear to violate our intuition regarding probability. While I do not believe this constitutes evidence against actual infinities, I find the argument interesting in another way which I shall discuss here. In particular, I maintain that we ought not assign probability values under certain conditions whereby the probability measurements in question are insufficiently interpreted. Paul Castell calls this position abstention,[2] and Pruss's ideas yield an opportunity to give an example of how we might find reason for adopting it.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

An English translation of a small portion of The Qalémentos

Earlier this month I became aware of a document (or collection of documents) called The Qalémentos (or Pseudo-Clement). I have had great difficulty in determining its origin, but from what I can make out, it survives in Ethiopic (or perhaps Coptic) mss. which are in the possession of Ethiopian Orthodox churches. The surviving text is thought to have been translated from Arabic (apparently it was among a large batch of Christian texts translated from Arabic into Ethiopic or Coptic). However, the Arabic may have itself been a translation, perhaps from Greek, Coptic or Latin. Unfortunately, the information I have is very sketchy, and I cannot provide any solid details regarding its earliest origins. Arguably the most important information---the place and date of authorship---remains entirely unknown to me.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Wandering Prophets in the Time of Mark

Examining the Scriptures, we may notice a passage in Mark 6, with parallels in Mt 10:1-15 and Lk 9:1-6, 10:1-12, in which Jesus charges his disciples to go out and evangelize. Here I reproduce the ostensibly original Markan passage (ESV):

7 And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff---no bread, no bag, no money in their belts---9 but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. 10 And he said to them, "Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11 And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them." 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Slavery in Antiquity

In my experience, skeptics of Christianity often have problems with the Bible's comments on slavery. The Old and New Testaments alike provide instructions on how God's people are to treat their slaves, not always palatable to their readers. Unbelievers have attempted to cast doubt on the divine origin of Scripture by pointing to the passages discussing slavery, and observing that they do not reflect our modern moral compass.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Colorful Re-interpretation of Paul and Polycarp

In my recent exploration of the Apostolic Fathers, one passage from Polycarp caught my attention. He writes, in his epistle to the Philippians,[1]

7:1 "For whosoever does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, is antichrist;" and whosoever does not confess the testimony of the cross, is of the devil; and whosoever perverts the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts, and says that there is neither a resurrection nor a judgment, he is the first-born of Satan.

Paul records a similar phrase in 1 Corinthians 1 (ESV):

17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

With Paul, he speaks of "the word of the cross" ("ο λογος γαρ ο του σταυρου"), whereas Polycarp urges us to "confess the testimony of the cross" ("ομολογη το μαρτυριον του σταυρου"). I find it quite natural to interpret both expressions as referencing the Gospel message, with a particular emphasis on the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. In the case of Polycarp this is especially likely, considering that he seems intent on answering the Docetic heresy.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Paul and Clement: Egalitarian Champions?

Codex Boernerianus, also known as G, relocates 1Co 14:34-35, and in their place has a single word, διδασκω, a verb meaning "teach."