Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Short Thought on Zeno's Paradoxes

The purpose of Zeno's Paradoxes is to deny the possibility of [a certain conception of] motion. Now, so far as I know, no Scripturalists deny that there is a physical world [though late Clark may have been a pure idealist]. But if so, Scripturalists must be careful, for Jesus is often described as walking to some place or other in Scripture, and if these propositions correspond to the physical world - or if any Scriptural proposition corresponds to an event in the physical world - then accepting Zeno's denial of motion seems unfeasible unless qualified as applying to a certain view of motion, viz. one in which infinite divisibility or a Heraclitean flux of "space" and "time" can be applied. I don't see any reason to suppose Planck units and discontinuous change in space are illogical even if not able to be discovered via sensation.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

God, Good, and Consequentialism

A while ago, I responded to someone with leanings towards open theism on an incongruency in the way in which certain Christians judge creaturely choices to be good [or sinful] as compared to how they judge God's choices to be good. Here is the argument:

I think when we employ a greater good theodicy (GGT), we are getting into some dangerous territory. Like when we use the moral argument, we want to say that the realm of objective facts is just as real as the natural realm. Certain things we just know are wrong. But then when it comes to the problem of evil, we say that things are happening for the greater good, and we can’t know if something is wrong. So we want to say we epistemically know right when it comes to other creatures, but when something bad happens we say God did or allowed it for a greater good and we can’t realize what that greater good is. Do you see what I’m driving at?

The GGT also seems to suggest that evil is necessary to the plan of God, as well as it commits seems to commit God to consequentialism, where the ends justify the means in determining what is right. And plus, say when we are poor for instance, why seek to get a better education or a better job when maybe God wills for us to be poor so that some greater good can come out of it? Or why should we help the poor if God is really working this or the greater good? For these reasons I think the GGT is inadequate and can for some people even be very damaging emotionally. (link)

I've addressed this implicitly in a view posts but never have directly responded to it. Here, I note:
God's praiseworthiness is measured on the same grounds as is ours, viz. by whether or not God's actions are to the purpose of the maximal manifestation His glory.
That is, the “greater good” so often alluded to in these conversations is usually agreed to be God’s glory (Romans 11:36).There is a bit of a disanalogy, however, in comparing God's choices to our own, as the above person says, i.e. God is committed to consequentialism. This point is well-taken in one sense but a bit imprecise. For instance, while I think God plans all things – evil included – for His glory, I do not think God Himself commits evil in the process. I would bite the proverbial bullet and claim that evil is indeed necessary to the plan of God, but I don’t see a problem in admitting this unless it is argued that this implies God does evil. Ends don't justify means.

I think the matter hinges on what it means to sin or do good. I would say that to sin is, at root, to scorn God’s glory whereas to do good is, at root, to intend to manifest God’s glory, which implies knowledge of how to do so. We know how to do so because God tells it to us; that is, the way in which we can tell whether man or God does good is by judging the choices of each in relation to whether or not they intend to and do manifest God’s glory. How can we discern this?

On God’s side of matters, the answer is simple. He does good because all that He does, even His inclusion of creaturely evil into His plan, is for the purpose of the manifestation of His glory. Any answer to “why” God planned something is, ultimately, that such manifests His glory. How evil can function towards this end is a matter of debate but a distinct issue.

On our side of matters, God has revealed that we should do all to His glory. How do we do that? Obedience to God’s commandments in faith (1 Corinthians 10:23-33, cf. Romans 14:13-23). Disobedience to God’s law (sin; 1 John 3:4), then, must be the scorning of God’s glory. And this makes sense, since disobedience to God is equivalent to a rejection of God’s authority.

So to take the example, say, of not providing for the poor when it is within our ability to do so, the response would be this: our choices can simultaneously be a creaturely disregard for God’s glory which nevertheless has been planned by God such that His glory will be manifested (e.g. Genesis 50:20). Whatever will happen – good or evil – has been planned by God for His glory; God is good. We may not have comprehensive knowledge of God’s plan, but then again, we don’t need to in order to know that we are responsible for the way in which our choices relate to God’s glory. Or as I put it here:
The chief end of man is to glorify God by following His commandments (1 John 5:3). As a matter of fact, the chief end of God is to glorify Himself in all that He does (Romans 9:22-23, Ephesians 3:10)
Or here:
The question “is everything as it ought to be?” lacks specificity. “Ought” implies responsibility, and while it may be jumping the gun to talk about what responsibility presupposes, all Christians should at least agree that it presupposes one to whom one is responsible. Men are responsible to God. God is responsible to Himself (Hebrews 6:13). If the question, then, is “is sinful man as he ought to be with respect to the laws of His sovereign?” the answer is unequivocally “no.” On the other hand, if the question is “ought God to have effected this reality?” the answer is “yes,” as Mr. Bryson can contend – but not substantiate, since one can only know counter-factuals via divine revelation – that a counter-factual world would more greatly manifest God’s glory.
This last sentence refers to the primary difference between God's choices and ours, or more precisely, God's intentions and ours. What the person at the top of this post did not take into consideration is that while it is within God's capacity as omnipotent sovereign to fulfill His intentions, man's intentions can fail to be fulfilled. A precondition of God's failing to manifest His glory, then, would be that God didn't intend to manifest His glory [which isn't a problem since such a situation isn't possible]. This is why it is necessary to highlight the fact that everything God has decreed successfully manifests His glory and why determination of evil (while at the same time not committing evil) can seem like consequentialism.

However, when people talk about consequential ethics, it is usually with the understanding that one cannot determine [what is, from his perspective,] the future. This is fundamentally problematic because it means, among other things, that the moral status of a given action can fluxuate - it's indeterminate. This is not so in the case of a sovereign God who has ordained all things. Furthermore, consequentialism doesn't take into consideration one's intentions. But God doesn't accidentally manifest His glory. That's the teleological end of all things.

So is God a consequentialist? Only in the qualified sense that a condition for God's choices to be labelled good is that they must successfully be to the purpose of the manifestation of His glory. But God isn't a consequentialist in the significant sense that the success of God's intentions is absent, uncertain, or indeterminate.

Parenthetically, men ought not be consequentialists for the same reason. If God has told us how we may manifest His glory, so long as we intend to manifest God's glory by following His commands, we do manifest His glory.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

God, Language, and Scripturalism

I noted in this post that I believed Language is a precondition for knowledge. I say Language with an upper-case "L" to distinguish it from alleged, particular languages like English, Hebrew, Greek, etc. This is a helpful article which distinguishes Language (or linguistics) from languages as well as makes some other acute observations.

For Language to be a precondition for knowledge is just for it to be necessary in order to know. Why do I consider language to be a precondition for knowledge? This becomes clear when it is explained what knowledge (at least, "philosophical" knowledge) necessarily entails: belief in propositions.

But given this, I do not find that I can agree with Clark that "words are arbitrary signs" which "tag thoughts" (cf. here, especially the quotes under the subsection "Meaning and Symbols"). Clark's Language and Theology is an excellent book, but at the very least, I find this assertion to be an over-generalization. The rest of this post will explain why. Firstly:

P1) Language is a precondition for knowledge.
P2) God's [self-]knowledge is eternal.
C) Language is eternal.

It is at least the case God's knowledge of Himself is necessary. So Language is necessary and natural to God. That is, what God knows about Himself must be non-arbitrary, so Language - and by extension, some particular language or languages, as that is something propositions require - must be necessary.

Unless we are prepared to concede that the meaning of the object of knowledge is not propositional but rather supra-linguistic or beyond expression - in which case we seem to be left with some kind of Plotinic, transcendent experience - the words or signs or symbols in the propositions God necessarily knows must also be necessary. Simply put, if there are necessary, known propositions, there are also necessary words, signs, or symbols.

This is not to say that people cannot perhaps create arbitrary words, signs, and symbols and designate them to be univocal with some set of necessary propositions (although see the last paragraph). But there still remains the necessary fact of eternal, non-arbitrary words and propositions.

The question then is, in what way is or are eternal language(s) necessary? I see two options:

1) it is inherently meaningful.

2) it symbolizes something not reducible to linguistics similar to operalization of so-called "physical objects."

As I believe the majority of Scripturalists hold to the idealistic idea that all things are a congeries, set, or complex of propositions (with the possible exception of the physical world), it would seemingly follow that Scripturalists should opt for 1); otherwise, we are back to a correspondence theory of truth bereft of univocality, which is pretty much the primary reason Clark rejects empirical "knowledge."

Thus, to assent to truth could simply be to assent to the eternal, linguistic expressions of God's knowledge (or arbitrarily designated equivalents thereof). [It is hard for me to grasp the idea that propositions act and will; alternatives, however, seem to be worse.]

To clarify, for example, Greek and Hebrew are spoken by God, so we know that either:

1) both particular languages are arbitrarily created but valid equivalents of the language of God's eternal knowledge, as they both are comprised of words, signs, or symbols which can be univocally designated as equivalent in meaning to the eternal, propositional language(s) of God's [self-]knowledge, or

2) one (or both) of them is (are) actually the language of God's eternal knowledge.

Or perhaps there are no arbitrary words, signs, or symbols. If I write a truth in English, God knows it. But does that really mean I created truth? Instead, we might consider that there aren't really any "particular" languages except in a geographic sense. Just as you can learn an "English" word which is synonymous with another "English" word, you can learn an "Arabic" word which is synonymous with an "English" word. What I mean is that "English" and "Arabic" may not modify the words but rather describe the people who usually use the words. In this case, all "languages" are in some sense necessary. There would simply be different expressions of knowledge, like two sentences being interchangeable (the same proposition). This would actually make more sense to me as I continue to work to understand the philosophy of language.