Sunday, December 25, 2011

TAG revisited

A recent paper by James Anderson and Greg Welty (link) on “An Argument for God from Logic” has been made available. It does not purport to be “incontrovertible proof” for the existence of God, though it claims to be deductively valid and superficially sound.

Some of the points made in the article which whose importance could likely be overlooked are very good: “language-independence,” for instance, is something I’ve been meaning to talk about for a while, and I hope to do so in the near future. At the same time, there were a few things I think, highly qualified as I am to make such recommendations, require clarification:

1. The title of the article is a bit of a misnomer. What I mean is that certain polytheists or non-Christian monotheists could use the arguments: "Strictly speaking, the argument shows that there must be at least one necessarily existent person; it doesn't show that there must be one and only one necessarily existent person."

The purpose of the authors’ transcendental argument is certainly more conservative than Van Til’s attempt to defend Christianity in particular (cf. here
), and I would say that even if such a restriction in purpose is not due to recognition of epistemic limitations, it is at least a step in the right direction. I abandoned attempting to defend Christianity with a TAG when I realized that the step from theism – even theism with restrictions to rule out several options – to Christianity is inferential, but I’m more than willing to learn an apagogic argument.

2. The authors referred to a possible world as "a way the world could have been." But if, as some like me tend to think, this is the only possible world God could have effected due to who He is, then the authors' assumption of multiple possible worlds throughout their article is problematic. Perhaps this objection can be largely avoided if they were to switch "imaginable worlds" for "possible worlds" at the appropriate places. I would say an "imaginable world" is just a [fictional] world proceeding from our imaginations. Whatever we imagine, the laws of logic must apply to them, for our imaginings are a subset of our thoughts bound by the laws of logic.

3. They state that "There is no possible world in which... the Law of Non-Contradiction is not true." However, if the law of non-contradiction is mental, this statement begs the question: has there existed or could there have existed a world without minds and, if so, would not such a world demonstrate that the laws of logic are ontologically unnecessary?

Let me unpack this a bit: the authors argue that minds are a metaphysical precondition for the laws of logic. I agree. If the laws of logic exist necessarily, then “God” (i.e. and eternal mind) exists necessarily. I agree with that too. But I had trouble understanding how the authors claimed to know the laws of logic exist necessarily. Such only seems to be the case if minds exist necessarily; but from what I could gather, that is the purported conclusion of their argument – rather than their premise for it – according to which “God’s” existence is thereby posited. This would be circular reasoning, i.e. not a deductively valid argument.

I discussed this with a friend, and he replied that the laws of logic must be invariant in order to avoid a self-defeating position. But I didn’t find a reason given in the paper as why the existence of the laws of logic needs to be necessary in order for their invariance to hold when a contingent mind thinks. It is true that when minds think, they must think according to the laws of logic. But if all minds cease to think (exist), the metaphysical precondition is not met and the laws of logic cease to exist. This doesn’t mean that if such were to occur, true would become false, contradictories could be true, etc.; it would mean that since there would be no minds, there wouldn’t be thinking – there wouldn’t be laws of logic.

So while it’s true that “we cannot imagine the possibility of the Law of Non-Contradiction being false,” if the “we” isn’t a metaphysical necessity, neither are the laws of logic. No one would be thinking propositionally. No one would be thinking the laws of logic. Perhaps a good summary of this line of reasoning would be that a “necessary truth” is a truth without which no one could think, but it’s not a truth which must be thought. If this is possible, then this article’s argument for God’s existence fails.

I think, therefore, the argument of this paper requires a classical apologetic explaining the [pre]conditions under which a world can obtain to rule out these types of counterarguments.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Salvation and Synergism

Calvinists have a tendency to emphasize the divine activity in man's salvation. "Synergism" is viewed as a dirty word to be associated with free-willers who don't understand that if grace isn't sufficient to cause belief &c., salvation cannot validly be argued to have occurred by means of grace alone.

But etymologically, synergism only refers to activity in which multiple persons are involved. Contrarily, monergism refers to activity in which only one person is involved.

While the meaning of a word can evolve over time, a group shouldn't abandon a term just because of some misconceptions about it. If that were the case, perhaps Calvinists should abandon the word "predestination" because some people conflate it with "fatalism."

Rather, the burden lies on Calvinists to clarify what they mean.
So the question is: strictly speaking, is the whole process of salvation synergistic or monergistic?

Obviously, there are aspects of the process of salvation which are monergistic. God alone is active in the regeneration of man. Then again, man actively assents to truth. His faith and knowledge of God's word is not passive. Since faith is a condition for justification, salvation entails synergism (although man's activity always finds its root in God's determinative grace).

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Terminus to God's Determination?

The following conversation is between myself and an Arminian who is a member of the Society of Evangelical Arminians on the coherency of divine determination (his comments are in block quotes):

If an actual infinite set does not actually exist (which can be logically shown), how can it be that God has actually determined an infinite amount of actions stretching into an eternity of time into the future where the actions of sinners in Hell and the redeemed in the New Heaven and Earth are concerned?

I am confused. If you don't think God can determine an "infinite set" of actions, how can you defend God's knowledge of an "infinite set" of actions? Have you thought about what implications this argument has for your view of God's omniscience?

The proper definition of omniscience is "to know only and all truths". What is obvious from this standard and universally accepted definition is that there are a limited amount of truths in the universe, and if God knows all that can be known, obviously he knows a FINITE set of things, not infinite strictly taken. And yet he is omniscient still.

And yet to predetermine an actual set of things is to say that there exists a group of actions which goes on for eternity which are all meticulously laid out NOW--and yet God is laying out an actual infinite set of actions, which is impossible.

And given YOUR view, Ryan, that God's knowledge of the future is PREDICATED by his predetermination of all things (i.e. he knows all things BECAUSE he has predetermined all things), then it is you--not me--who must first answer the question as to how it is not logically incoherent to believe that God has predetermined an actual infinite set of things when an actual infinite is logically impossible.

If there are only a "finite set of [truths]," there can only be a finite set of states of affairs to which those truths correspond. If you can hold this to be true, I don't see why you won't allow us the same courtesy.

To give a more direct response, however, it seems to me your argument presupposes that we hold to a perpetually dynamic rather than an eventually static view of the way in which we will worship God &c. upon the consummation of new creation. Why do you think that this is the case? Furthermore, if you this that this is the case, how can you hold to a finite set of states of affairs?

I will add that some Calvinists would agree with you - perhaps myself included, as I have not committed myself either way - on the finite of God's knowledge:

//...if the theorems [of mathematics] are infinite in number, neither God nor man could know them all, for with respect to infinity there is no "all" to be known.//

- Gordon Clark, The Incarnation pg. 62

Against both Clark and yourself one might cite, say, the Cantor set as an uncountable set which, since it is bounded, provides an example according to which we could argue for the possibility of an infinitely knowledgeable God.

In any case, I think these arguments are pretty complex, and whichever position is true does not hurt the Calvinist any more than it hurts you.

To summarize the above points, the Calvinist can mirror whatever the Arminian's view is regarding of the scope of God's knowledge and further apply that to God's determination of events.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Fight or Flight

A friend of mine who is wading into the waters of epistemology asked some atheist called "Jersey Flight" if he had ever interacted with Gordon Clark. It seemed to me the subsequent replies were a little dismissive, so on my friend's behalf I sent a few emails back. You can find these interactions here. To point out a few problems with his latest reply:

1. JF never wrote out a syllogistic argument as I had requested. I suspect the reason he did not is because if he had, I would have done exactly what I told him I would do, i.e. asked him to justify his premises ad infinitum until he admitted the point of presuppositionalism:

The demonstration of a proposition, such as any theorem in geometry, is completed only when it is referred to the axioms. If the axioms in turn required demonstration, the demonstration of the proposition with which we began would remain incomplete.

Gordon Clark, Thales to Dewey pg. 88

2. He also ignored my request that he explain his own worldview. Since he was imputing principles like “inductive science” and “human reason” to my worldview, I assume he is an empiricist or rationalist. I’ve critiqued both on this blog before (example), though since he is unwilling to present his position, I see no reason to believe he knows anything, obviously including that his criticisms of my position are veridical.

3. He further ignored my link I provided in my first reply which addressed his analogy of Scripturalism to Islam (link). This is probably due to the following:

4. He takes these two previous points as sufficient evidence to claim I am a transcendental-rationalist. But if he is so well-up on presuppositionalism, I wonder why he would assume there cannot be necessary but insufficient presuppositions (e.g. logic), necessary insofar as any worldview which does not presuppose them will be self-defeating but insufficient insofar as they are in themselves unable to yield a sound epistemic system? Perhaps he can explain this.

5. On the other hand, it may just be that he misconstrued what I meant by epistemic humility. He viewed it as a cop-out to avoid answering his questions, though since by the time I had written that I had already responded to all his questions, I'm not sure why he took my statement that way. Epistemic humility is just a reference to our limitations to what we can know. For instance, since we're contingent creatures, our knowledge is limited by our source of knowledge. In my case, this refers to divine revelation and that which can be deduced from it. At no point did I claim or imply that Christianity should be exempt from the very epistemological tests which I myself explained in my first reply in response to the "arbitrary axiom" objection.

6. He didn't really seem to understand the difference between an ontological and epistemological presupposition. I honestly don’t understand why this is an issue. The Bible may have been written by the apostles such that their births were an ontologically prior to inscripturation, but the only reason I know about apostleship in the first place is by means of Scripture. So Scripture is epistemically prior to the birth of the apostles. Scripture is a historical document. Things occured prior to inscripturation on which inscripturation depended (ontological preconditions), but the point is these can only be known by Scripture (epistemological precondition).

7. He seems to think Scripture is ink marks on a page. This and his repeated citations of Van Tilian apologists incline me to think he is not very familiar with Clark’s works.

These are the main faults. I could talk about issues of Scriptural perspicuity, authority, &c., but I’ve addressed these points in the few links I provided for him.


JF has replied, though he's edited out the links I provided in my responses. It's not a long reply. Here's the assertion:

//As is usual, the standard, the common default mode: Christian rationalization, silent justification: "if men understood the position they would accept the position--- therefore, all those who reject the position don't understand the position."//

Are "rationalizations" and "justifications" derogatory terms?

I can only assume he's referencing point 6. But as he clearly stated that the Protestant canon cannot function as an epistemic axiom because it presupposes things like science and reasoning, my statement is accurate: JF doesn't understand my position. This isn't a universal conclusion from a specific example, it's a statement that JF does not, on this issue, get it. The means of knowledge by which one historically comes to believe a proposition and the preconditions for one's source of knowledge (ontological presuppositions) can and must themselves be found in or justified by that which is the sole source of knowledge (epistemic presupposition). The Protestant canon is such a case. This isn't too difficult.

If JF is not willing to answer my questions or internally critique my worldview, there's nothing more I can say.