bookmark_borderRalph Reed Tries to Pull the Wool Over Our Eyes

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NOTE: This post was contributed by Gregory S. Paul, who is an occasional contributor to Free Inquiry, and who published an important article called “Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies”.  Here is how Michael Shermer summarized that article:

Is religion a necessary component of social health? The data are conflicting. On the one hand, in a 2005 study published in the Journal of Religion & Society–“Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies”–independent scholar Gregory S. Paul found an inverse correlation between religiosity (measured by belief in God, biblical literalism, and frequency of prayer and service attendance) and societal health (measured by rates of homicide, childhood mortality, life expectancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and teen abortions and pregnancies) in 18 developed democracies. “In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD [sexually transmitted disease] infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies,” Paul found. Indeed, the U.S. scores the highest in religiosity and the highest (by far) in homicides, STDs, abortions and teen pregnancies.

from “Bowling for God” by Michael Shermer
in Scientific American on December 1, 2006

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Ralph Reed Tries to Pull the Wool Over Our Eyes About the Popularity of Prayer and Religion in America on Bill Maher’s Real Time

I was watching Bill Maher’s Real Time on 8/27 when I realized that prominent hard right-wing evangelical political operative Ralph (Christian Coalition) Reed, who Maher seems to like, was trying to profoundly mislead viewers about the level of religious practice in this country. I am not sure how prevalent his misuse of survey data is among theoconservatives – a web search did not find anything – but he managed to slip a bogus item of information out to the few million who see Real Time every week. So I am sending this out in an effort to try to nip this theocon anti-fact in the bud. Plus this scientist is annoyed by the slick pol’s brazen yet sly misuse of statistics.
 
Reed used the classic tactic of lying by telling the truth while leaving out the pile of contrary data that shows he is lying. First, he acknowledged that rates of nonreligion are indeed rapidly expanding in these United States as church membership and attendance decline with amazing speed – after a slow decline from the 1950s Gallup has recorded a membership decline of about 70% at the turn of the century to under 50% these days (https://news.gallup.com/poll/341963/church-membership-falls-below-majority-first-time.aspx), in line with other surveys as well as reports of closing churches. The seemingly reasonable Reed then offered the logical explanation that the general societal detachment of people from social groups, driven in part by digital media, has something to do with that. Reed then began his verge off into misinformation land when he said all that did not matter all that much because rates of belief in and worship of God remain persistently high because people are becoming increasingly private about it.
 
Here is where being truthful can be a lie. Reed correctly claimed that in 1990 Gallup asked respondents if they pray often, sometimes, hardly ever, or only in times of crisis, or never.
 
Before proceeding, we need a digression about the statistical and other requirements of competent polling. Particularly regarding longitudinal surveys that track levels of and changes in opinions and practices over time. First, such polls must be sufficiently quantitative to give meaningful results that can be compared over the years. In the 1990 poll Gallup blew it – the only quantitatively reasonably useful possible answers were “hardly ever” or “never.” As for “often” and “sometimes” those values are pretty much useless. How often is often? How sometimes is sometimes? Each respondent would have a different notion on that, and will inevitably respond in inconsistent ways. Gallup should have known better and never posed such an ambiguous query. And to track changes the same questions need to be asked every one or a few years to generate an opinion level timeline. It’s basic stuff.
 
In 1990 half of respondents told Gallup they pray often. Which other than telling us what we already know that lots of Americans are religious has no scientific value. What they should have asked was something along the lines of do you pray multiple times a day, once a day, a few times a week, once a week, once a month or so — you get the statistical drift. I mean really, what were they thinking over at Gallup? Demographic dolts. Fortunately, Gallup then did not repeat the query, possibly and hopefully because they did a demographic dope slap and realized their error and good statistical riddance, since asking it again would risk giving misleading longitudinal results.
 
Alas, apparently inspired by the pandemic, in 2020 a Gallup that again should have known better did ask the same dam bogus query. And lo and behold now 55% say they pray often. Reed used this one pair of statistically valueless figures to try to sell Maher and his audience a demographic bill of goods that Amerotheism is not really in decline after all. Bill, and his other guest, understandably not being up on the minutia of recent Gallup results, were not able to perceive or counter Reed’s clever deception (I had to look it up and see what was really going down myself, even though this is an area of my research – for an extensive 2019 analysis of the subject discussed here and beyond see http://americanhumanist.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/art-1-Paul-The-Great-and-Amazingly-Rapid-Secularization-of-the-Increasingly-Proevolution-United-States.pdf).
 
The degree to which Reed was being deliberately deceptive by selectively picking Gallup data, or did not realize or understand the critical caveats and contra stats, I do not know for certain but am very suspicious. In any case, he was grossly misinforming Real Timewatchers one way or another.
 
First, Gallup itself admits that their little trend line on prayer is not statistically meaningful (https://news.gallup.com/opinion/polling-matters/309638/update-virtual-worship-during-covid.aspx), which Reed did not mention — saying that would have negated his claim right there on the air. Obviously.
 
And here is what Reed did not offer up because it directly disproves his propaganda line that American God belief and worship is not in decline. In a location where Gallup offers up the useless prayer result they also present a number of more properly posed and frequently repeated polls they have been executing and posting for decades. Ones that do a much better job telling us what is really happening in this country a/theism wise (https://news.gallup.com/poll/1690/religion.aspx). So how about let’s check those fascinating and very telling stats out —
 
Those who say that religion is very important in their life went from, well let’s see here, ~60 in the 1990s to under 50% these days in a nice, fairly steady downslope (as also is true of the rest of the results). Meanwhile, those who say theism is not very important rose greatly from 10-15% to a quarter (see below discussion on why levels of rationalism measured in polls are probably on the low side). Gosh, Ralph, you did not bring up that one on Real Time. Because you are too lazy and ill-informed to know it — which seems a stretch since it is right there on the web? Or because you knew it would blow your superficially clever lie out of the water?
 
How about this one. Back in the 1990s, almost two-thirds told the fine folks at Gallup that religion can answer all or most of today’s problems. Now it is heading toward and below half. The rationalists who think religion is largely old-fashioned and out of date? Rose like yeast dough from one-fifth to over a third of the respondents (check out season 1, episode 25 of I Love Lucy for a classic laugh on that bread baking item).
 
Here’s a good one that shows that the days in which the hardcore devout religious right that Reed is a leading fellow traveler of was doing pretty good, while it was the mealy mushy mainline faiths that were taking it on the demographic chin, are no longer operative. In the 2000s those saying they were born-again or evangelical were in the broad area of the lower 40s percentage-wise (which was a little above the values observed in the 1990s). Now is in the mid-30s, hello Ralph. Might you mention that next time you are on the telly?
 
Next up is an oldie but goodie. In the 70s one in four thought the Bible is literally true. Now it’s a quarter or so. So are those who are of the opinion that the Bible is supernaturalistic fantasy mixed with some history, which is impressive because those good people were a mere one in ten back when Jimmy and Ronnie were POTUS. And while support for the creation of humans by God has been slipping, support for evolutionary science is on the way up. Sorry Ken Ham, Philip Johnson, and Michael Behe.
Time for the BIGGIE. One Mr. Reed somehow again failed to chat about as he misled Bill on his own show. Convinced God exists? In 2005 80%. In 2017 64%. A decline of a sixth of the national population in a dozen years. How about God probably does not exist or convinced there is not one. Doubled from 7% in 2005 to 13% in 2017.  And if the fast-shifting trendlines have continued since then, probably still lower for the first and higher for the second here in 2021. But wait, there are more godly Gallup longitudinal deity queries. From 2001 to 2016 God belief sank from nine in ten to eight in ten, those who don’t opt for the supernatural rose to over one in ten. Gallup’s venerable simplistic yes or no on God belief question got virtually all to say yes in the 1950s and 60s, and after a yawning data gap has shown no results similar to the above surveys in the last decade. This is a good place to explain that it is well documented that persons are often reluctant to say they hold an unpopular opinion even when doing so privately by phone or online. A technical effort to use standard sociodemographic techniques to correct for this factor estimates that American atheists as broadly defined make up a quarter of the population (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170516143411.htm), matching or outnumbering a number of major religious sects. Likewise, other studies indicate actual church attendance is about half that claimed to Gallup (and other pollsters). It follows that all the Gallup (and other pollsters’) results for not praying, thinking religion is not societally important, attending church, are not Born-Again, thinking the Bible is not the word of God, understanding we are big-brained apes, are nonreligious, etc., are very probably markedly higher than Gallup, Pew, Harris, GSS, WVS, et al. results seem to indicate.
Gallup points out something interesting. One of their queries indicates that the number of Americans who think religion is having a major influence on America is currently on the high side. But they point out that is directly contrary to their own measures showing the opposite is true
(https://news.gallup.com/opinion/polling-matters/310397/religion-paradox.aspx). So what gives? Although the query has its uses, it is not a direct measure of how much influence religion is actually having on America, which is not practical to measure, one would think, but what people think it is having. Which may well not be the same thing. That is why, unlike most longitudinal questions, over time the results for this query have fluctuated wildly. Apparently, the rise of the hard right under the aegis of secular hedonist Trump, which has had a strong evangelical component to it, has caused many to presume that religion has revived as a major influencer. Which it has not because even among Republicans theism is on the decline (https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace).
 
So. Only one very unreliable Gallup result that the organization itself does not take all that seriously seems to support political operator Ralph Reed’s patently absurd pretension that polls show that Americans are remaining privately as Godly as ever over time, despite fleeing institutionalized religion. That when all of the more scientifically constructed and frequently asked Gallup queries show that while organized Christianity is declining faster than personal theism, the latter is going down fast too. One can and probably should presume that a data cherry-picking Reed knew that. Such is common among theists – it’s called lying for the church (or mosque or whatever; a young Muslim initially pretending to be uncertain about his beliefs showed up at a local atheist meetup not long ago and proceeded to try to convince the women to convert by quoting inane Quran lines ad nauseam). And if per chance he did not he has not the slightest excuse for not knowing the real and easy to find facts. Ergo, Godly, Born-Again evangelical Reed profoundly lied either deliberately or out of gross negligence and ignorance to a national audience.
 
The dire demographic reality is a big factor behind the push by many theoconservatives to rule this republic via minority votes at the presidential and Senate and state levels, and by packing the Supreme Court. What they should do is use persuasion via free speech to try to get the American majority to go along with their conservative supernaturalistic ways. But that effort has been failing big time for decades with no realistic hope for success. So they are trying to capture the government by electoral hook and crook and use sheer political power to remake America into the kind of right-wing Christian land this nation was back when the government was a bastion of traditionalist values. Remember Comstock Laws? They bemoan the onset of the unprecedented cultural and sexual revolutions of the 1900s that are helping drive the withering of theism. And that’s why the right continues to embrace a chronically dishonest and irreligious Trump who in turn depends on the religious right for the political success he has enjoyed. That makes twisted electoral sense since Trump lost the electoral college by just 45,000 votes in three states – interestingly, I have not found evidence that Reed has either supported or rejected the claim that Trump did not lose in 2020, seems he is trying to avoid entirely ruining his credibility with either side.
 
So how about it Ralph? Will you publicly and prominently retract your claims and acknowledge that Americans have become markedly less Godly over recent decades? And apologize to the host of the show you with your boyish grin tried to snooker?
 
Got to say, I am not holding my breath on that.
 
But you should.
 
Now, being a data-following scientist who really does my best to be objective — which is why I am not a theist – I note that the PRRI has released new results that while confirming the broader trends of recent decades, suggest that the deChristianization of the US may be plateauing out (https://www.prri.org/research/2020-census-of-american-religion). That is possible, but looking at their rather internally contradictory data I am not convinced. All the more so because the PRRI results do not look to be in line with those of other organizations. So we shall have to see over the coming years what the assorted surveys turn up and go from there.
 
And Bill. When you have Reed, and others of his ilk, on your program in the future and they make one of those that sounds kinda dubious claims, do one of your classic yeah like I (don’t) believe that one looks, and warn your audience to take what they just heard with a large load of salt. Really large.
 
You have to watch out for those theocons. They can be sneaky.

bookmark_borderProfessor Craig on Theistic Hypotheses

In 2018 I posted on SO a review of Tim Crane’s book The Meaning of Belief: Religion from an Atheist’s Point of View:
https://secularoutpost.infidels.org/2018/01/22/atheists-get-wrong-according-tim-crane/
Crane argues that atheists have largely misunderstood religion by regarding it as a sort of cosmological hypothesis, one that makes insupportable claims about the creation of the universe via the supernatural acts of a divine agent. By thus construing religion as a sort of spurious proto-scientific cosmology, atheists justify relegating it to the bin of irrelevance and irrationality. However, says Crane, religion should not be seen as any sort of hypothesis, but rather as consisting of the “religious impulse” and “identification.” The religious impulse is the drive to recognize a transcendent order that is both factual and normative. God is posited as real and his will is taken as defining right and wrong. “Identification” is the desire to belong to a community that defines itself in terms of a set of beliefs and practices and which understands the world in terms of those beliefs and practices. What unites these two elements is a shared experience of the sacred, which promotes a strong sense of identity. Atheists miss these points by dismissing religion as a crackpot cosmology and religious believers as superstitious.
In my comments on Crane’s claims, I note that if atheists are mistaken in regarding theism as a quasi-scientific hypothesis, this is not a gratuitous error, but is due to the fact that leading religious apologists defend theism as such a hypothesis. Defenders of “intelligent design” theory such as William Dembski and Michael Behe present their concepts of “specified complexity” and “irreducible complexity” as scientifically legitimate concepts. In The Existence of God, Richard Swinburne employs Bayesian confirmation theory in defense of his theistic hypothesis and appeals largely to the criterion of simplicity, which, of course, is a standard of theory choice in the natural sciences. William Lane Craig’s Kalaam cosmological argument is developed and defended in the context of physical cosmology. These considerations seem to justify the characterization of the theistic hypothesis as “proto” or “quasi” scientific.
However, such a designation is not really important. The important point is that theism is defended as a hypothesis. Whether that hypothesis is classified as “scientific,” “quasi-scientific,” or “metaphysical” is not of primary importance. In my review I make the point that, as John Hick argues in An Interpretation of Religion, the reasoning underlying religious  belief is primarily interpretive and not hypothetical. Hick says that the universe is religiously ambiguous in the sense that there are no facts that compel a religious or a naturalistic interpretation. The arguments for and against the existence of God are not compelling, and their conclusions may be reasonably rejected. Perfectly reasonable people may therefore disagree about the existence of God.
If Hick is right, what follows? Perhaps both atheists and religious apologists should cease their efforts to devise polemical weapons to bludgeon the other side into submission since we should know by now that this will not work. We should instead seek a more nuanced and informed view of belief and unbelief. We might actually learn something from each other!
In a 2018 podcast of “Reasonable Faith,” Kevin Harris interviews Professor Craig about Crane’s book and my review of it:
https://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/reasonable-faith-podcast/how-atheists-get-it-wrong-part-one/
Jeff Lowder drew my attention to this just recently, and I would like to respond to it here.
Professor Craig argues that, while theistic hypotheses are explanatory, it is “tendentious and inaccurate” to characterize them in general as “semi-scientific” or “proto-scientific.” Craig does admit that the ID theorists regard their hypothesis as scientific. However, they claim that their arguments for intelligent design are religiously neutral, so I err in identifying this hypothesis as a specifically religious or theistic hypothesis.
ID theory is religiously neutral? How can that be when it was developed and promoted explicitly as part of an aggressive apologetic program? Well, to avoid church/state entanglements, ID theorists note that the designer could be something other than the God of Christian theism–something like Plato’s Demiurge, or the “Q” Continuum from Star Trek, maybe. This lawyerly ruse has no bearing on the philosophical issue, however. Could the designer be God? Of course. The most charitable reading of ID is therefore that it is an argument for a disjunction of mutually exclusive and exhaustive designer hypotheses, including the theistic hypothesis as one disjunct.
As for Swinburne’s and his own hypothesis, Craig says that they are not scientific or quasi-scientific because they posit a personal cause rather than a naturalistic one. Scientific explanations are in terms of natural laws and initial conditions, but theistic hypotheses posit a personal agent who creates by acts of volition. However, it certainly seems that, in principle, there could be scientific confirmation of a personal cause. Suppose, for instance, that the famous Hubble image of the Eagle Nebula—the “pillars of creation”—were accompanied by glowing gas in the form of Hebrew letters, light years wide, proclaiming “I, Yahweh, did this.” In this case, we would have outstanding scientific evidence of a personal cause. So, as a general demarcation criterion, the personal/impersonal distinction does not work.
Craig and Harris then have this exchange:
KEVIN HARRIS: Just to be more specific, when he [me] mentions you here, again, he says, “Craig’s Kalaam argument is specifically and explicitly a cosmological claim presented within the context of physical cosmology.”
CRAIG:Right. And it doesn’t appeal to a theistic cosmology or an alternative to contemporary cosmology. It appeals to the normal cosmological model that is affirmed by secular scientists. So it is not in any way positing God as a scientific or quasi-scientific hypothesis.
Craig’s statement here is a non sequitur. A scientific theory need not be an alternative to another theory, but could subsume it. Theory T2 subsumes theory T1 when T2 provides a deeper and more inclusive explanatory framework that accounts for T1’s empirical success within its domain while locating that domain within a larger one that T2 covers. Advances in science often occur when a new theory does not just replace an old one, but places the old theory in a broader and deeper explanatory context. Thus, Carnot’s theories were subsumed by the thermodynamics of Kelvin and Clausius. Craig’s theistic hypothesis appears intended to provide a deeper and more inclusive explanation than physical cosmology. Physical cosmology is not falsified by Craig’s theistic hypothesis, but rather is subsumed by it. Craig’s theistic cosmology aims to go beyond physical cosmology and tell us why there is a universe at all. So, the fact that Craig does not present his hypothesis as an alternative to physical cosmology, but intends to provide a deeper context for it, does not disqualify it as “quasi-scientific.”
However, since nothing much really turns on it, let’s concede the point for the sake of argument and say that Craig’s hypothesis is a “metaphysical” hypothesis rather than a “scientific” or “quasi-scientific” one. The real problem identified by Crane is that religious belief is identified as any kind of hypothesis. Crane implies and Hick argues that the reasoning underlying religious belief is interpretive rather than hypothetical. That is, the reasoning supporting a religious worldview is more like understanding a text than confirming a hypothesis. We do not understand a text by confirming piecemeal hypotheses about its meaning. Rather, we seek a reading that will give us the most coherent understanding of the text as a whole. Likewise, for religious people, their faith is what, for them, makes the most coherent and comprehensive sense of their total experience. Nothing compels such a judgment; it is inevitably personal and subjective, but not unreasonable. Similarly for atheists. Nothing compelled me to become an atheist. Rather, a naturalistic worldview is the honest and authentic articulation of my total experience and knowledge.
Craig objects that if Crane is right, then he, Swinburne, Steve Meyer, William Dembski and other defenders of religious hypotheses must misunderstand religion, which he regards as implausible.
Craig does not reply to Hick’s view directly, but chiefly expresses surprise that I have supposedly so softened my view of theism that I am now willing to endorse Hick’s view that religious belief can be as rational as naturalism. (n.b., Actually, I have always regarded some religious belief as rational and some definitely not.) What, then, do I have against the apologetic enterprise that he represents? Why do I harshly characterize it as an attempt to “bludgeon” opponents into submission? After all, he is only trying to show that his belief is rational and not to show that atheists are irrational. Why do I persist in seeing the apologetic enterprise as coercive, i.e. as an effort to show not just that their belief is justified, but that mine is not? That is not his aim at all.
I honestly do not know what to make of Craig’s claim here. Does he regard his Kalaam argument as a refutation of atheism? I cannot read his presentation and defense of that argument in any other way. In this case, the argument is not a modest claim about what he is justified in believing, but the much stronger and more aggressive claim that atheism is demonstrably false and groundless. In other words, he seems to be arguing that he is right and that atheists are dead wrong. Atheists, of course, have often argued that they are right and that Craig is wrong. The debate between apologists and atheists therefore does appear to have an oppositional and aggressive character; it is not about what one may believe but what others must believe. However, if I have been misreading Craig all these years, and his aim all along has only been to affirm the rationality of his view and not to debunk mine, then I would suggest that Hick’s position provides a much better basis for such a softer and gentler apologetic.
Finally, Craig invites listeners to look at my debate with him on the existence of God to see if I did indeed effectively criticize his theistic arguments. I also would like to extend that invitation. (I think that Craig is referring to our debate at Indiana University in February 2002, not the earlier one at Prestonwood Baptist Church.).

bookmark_borderThe Unmoved Mover Argument – Part 12: What is Potentiality?

WHERE WE ARE
In his book Philosophy of Religion  (hereafter: POR), Norman Geisler provides an argument in support of the second premise of his Thomist Cosmological Argument (see pages 194-197).  Here is my understanding of the argument that Geisler gives in support of that premise:

52. But no potentiality can actualize itself.

THEREFORE:

53a. There is some actuality outside of every composed thing to account for the fact that it actually exists.

 51a. Every limited changing thing is composed of both an actuality (its existence) and a potentiality (its essence).

THEREFORE:

L1. There is some actuality outside of every limited changing thing to account for the fact that it actually exists.

THEREFORE:

2b. The present existence of every limited, changing thing is caused by another thing.

Before we can evaluate this part of Geisler’s argument, we must first have a clear understanding of what these claims mean.
 
CLARIFICATIONS NEEDED TO UNDERSTAND GEISLER’S ARGUMENT FOR THE 2ND PREMISE
This part of the argument is clearly steeped in concepts from Thomistic metaphysics.  If Thomistic metaphysics is fundamentally mistaken or confused, then this part of the argument is likely to fail under close examination.  If Thomistic metaphysics is fundamentally correct and logical, then this part of the argument is likely to be successful.
In any case, this part of the argument is UNCLEAR apart from careful and clear definitions and explanations of some basic concepts of Thomistic metaphysics.  The main question at issue for now is this:
Q1. Does Geisler provide us with clear definitions and explanations of the basic concepts that he makes use of in this part of his argument?
Premise (52), for example, MAKES NO SENSE, at least as it stands, apart from an explanation of Thomist metaphysics.  So, our main question at issue can be focused further:
Q2. Does Geisler provide us with clear definitions and explanations of the basic concepts in premise (52), so that we can have a clear understanding of what this premise is asserting?
Premise (52) consists of two main concepts, and so Geisler needs to provide clear answers to at least two questions of clarification:
Q3. What is a “potentiality”?
Q4. What does “X actualized Y” mean?
Furthermore, it is NOT obvious that (52) is TRUE, so Geisler also needs to provide some justification for this claim:
Q5. Why is it not possible for a “potentiality” to “actualize itself”?
 
WHAT IS A “POTENTIALITY”? (QUESTION 3)
Here is a passage where Geisler attempts to clarify the concept of a “potentiality” and attempts to answer Question 3:

Geisler states that a “potential” is “the mere capacity to have a certain kind of existence.”  That is a crappy definition. What the hell is “a certain kind of existence”?  How many kinds of existence are there?  Something either exists or it does not exist.  Do some things have SUPER existence? Do some things only have QUASI existence?  Do some things have MEGA-DOUBLE-SECRET existence? Talk about kinds of existence sounds like WOO-WOO pseudo-science bullshit.
However, Geisler does then go on to provide some specific examples, and that might help to clarify what the hell he means by the manifestly UNCLEAR phrase “a certain kind of existence”.   Geisler talks about “the potential for steel to be a skyscraper” and “the real potential” of an “empty bucket” to “be filled”.  So, steel has the potential to either be girders stacked into pile on the ground, or to be assembled together as the framework of a skyscraper.  A bucket has the potential to either be empty or to be filled with water.
We would NOT normally speak of these potential states as being “kinds of existence”, so the Thomistic terminology here is foreign to how we ordinarily talk about such things and states of things.  Steel has the potential to be used as the framework of a building, and buckets have the potential to contain water (and other liquids).  Air, at ordinary temperatures and pressures, does NOT have the potential to be used as the framework of a building, and (as Geisler points out) the flat surface of a desk top does NOT have the potential to contain water (or other liquids), at least not in any sizeable quantity (You could spray a mist of water onto the surface of a desk top, and the water would remain in place for an hour or more until it evaporated. But this would be a very inefficient way to transport water from one location to another!).

By some measures, what came to be known as a “skyscraper” first appeared in Chicago with the 1885 completion of the world’s first largely steel-frame structure, the Home Insurance Building. It was demolished in 1931.

But a particular steel girder either exists or it does not exist.  It’s “kind” of existence doesn’t change when it is moved from a pile of girders and assembled into the framework of a new building.  It existed in the pile, and it continues to exist in the framework of the new building; it does NOT take on some new “kind” of existence in this process.  The bucket exists when it is empty, and it continues to exist when it is filled with water; it does NOT take on some new “kind” of existence when filled with water.  So, when Geisler defines “A potential” in terms of the capacity “to have a certain kind of existence”, he is just muddying the water and failing miserably to clarify the meaning of this term.
It appears that there are not degrees of existence, and this casts doubt on the whole idea of “kinds of existence”.  However, the “potential” to be used in the construction of the framework of a skyscraper does appear to be a matter of degree.  Air clearly does not have the “potential” to be used as the primary material for constructing the framework of a skyscraper, nor does liquid water have such a “potential”.  But if water is frozen into large columns and bars, it could be used to construct a temporary framework for a one-story building.
Ice would, however, melt in warm temperatures, so it would be a poor choice to use it in the structure of even a small building (except for igloos in areas that stay freezing cold year round).  Ice also is not as strong as wood 2x4s.  You can use wood to construct the framework of a two or three-story building, and it would be sturdy and stable, in both cold and warm weather.  But wood  2x4s are not as strong as steel girders, so wood 2x4s would not work for construction of the framework of a skyscraper.  We can see that there are different degrees of suitability of materials for construction of the framework of a skyscraper:

Air & Liquid Water:  useless for constructing a framework for any building.

Frozen Water:  can be used to construct a framework, but not strong enough to support multiple stories, and melts in warm weather (over 32°F).

Wood 2x4s: can be used to construct a framework that is strong enough to support a few stories, doesn’t melt in warm weather, burns up at high temperatures (over 570°F), but is not strong enough to support dozens of stories.

Steel Girders:  strong enough to be used to construct frameworks for buildings with dozens of stories, will not melt in warm weather (steel melts at 2,500°F), and does not burn up at temperatures where wood burns up (steel burns at 1,500°F in pure oxygen, and at 2,246°F in air).

The suitability of a material for use in constructing the framework of a building is a matter of degrees, because (a) there are different degrees of strength, and there are different degrees of susceptibility to melting, and  different degrees of susceptibility to burning.  Thus, there are different degrees of “potential” of different materials for use in construction of the framework of a building, and of a skyscraper.
The “potential” of something to be used for a particular purpose is typically a matter of degrees and typically is a matter of more than one criterion.  Some things or materials might be completely unsuitable, while some things/materials are somewhat suitable, and some things/materials are very suitable or ideal for the purpose at hand.  The “potential” of something to be used for a particular purpose depends on the properties or characteristics of that thing that are relevant to the particular purpose under consideration.
Steel girders have “great potential” for use in construction of the frameworks of skyscrapers because they are very strong (stronger than wood 2x4s), because they don’t melt in ordinary temperatures, and don’t burn, except at extremely high temperatures.  These various properties or characteristics of steel girders are what make steel girders very suitable for this particular purpose; they are what give steel girders this “great potential” related to the purpose of use in construction of the frameworks of skyscrapers.
Here is an summary (in more abstract terms) of how we understand the idea of the “potential” of a steel girder to be used in the construction of the framework of a skyscraper:

The “potential” of thing T to perform function F depends on various properties of T that are relevant to how well it can perform function F

How do we determine whether thing T has the “potential” to perform function F well?

  • One obvious way of making this determination is to observe T performing function F, and evaluating how well it is performing that function.
  • Another way of making this determination is by making inductive inferences about T based on how well other things that are SIMILAR to T perform function F.   We might observe many wood 2x4s in the frameworks of many different buildings, and based on many such observations, we may reasonably infer that some particular 2×4 is well-suited for use in the construction of a framework for a two-story house or apartment building, and based on many such observations we may reasonably infer that some particular wood 2×4 is NOT suitable for use in the construction of the framework for a 40 story office building.
  • A third way of making this determination is on the basis of relevant properties, such as strength in the case of materials for use in constructing the framework of a building.  Strength tests could be made on a particular 2×4 to determine whether it was strong enough for the intended framework that is to be constructed.
  • A fourth way of making this determination is on the basis of relevant properties of things that are SIMILAR to the particular thing in question.  Strength tests can impact the thing being tested (the test itself can break or weaken the thing), so we might run tests on things that are very SIMILAR to the particular thing in question.  We might run tests on a random sample of 2x4s from a particular source of lumber, and if 100% of the samples pass the test, we might reasonably infer that other 2x4s from that source of lumber are also strong enough to pass the test, and thus suitable for use in construction of a framework for a specific building.

So, we can either (a) observe the particular thing performing the desired function, or (b) we can observe SIMILAR things performing the desired function, or (c) we can check or test the particular thing for the relevant properties that make it suitable for that function, or (d) we can check or test SIMILAR things for the relevant properties that would make them suitable for that function.  There may be other ways to determine the “potential” of a thing T to perform a function F well, but these are some of the important ways we have of making such determinations.
 
POTENTIAL VS. POSSIBLE VS. ACTUAL
There are three closely related concepts that I think we need to understand in order to have a clear understanding of what the term “potential” means in the context of Geisler’s Thomistic Cosmological Argument: potential, possible, and actual.  I think we need to understand how these concepts relate to each other.
In Aristotle’s theory of change, whenever any change occurs some potential has been actualized.  When a green banana turns into a yellow banana, we say that the green banana had the “potential” to become a yellow banana.  We KNOW that this particular green banana had this potential because we observed that it actually became a yellow banana.  In other words, when a property of a thing ACTUALLY changes, we infer that the thing had the POTENTIAL to have the new property.  The banana was ACTUALLY green, and had the POTENTIAL to become yellow, and then at some point it was ACTUALLY yellow, and no longer green.  The change in color of the banana was a POTENTIAL that became ACTUAL.
Because this banana is now ACTUALLY yellow, we know that is is POSSIBLE for this banana to be yellow, because what is ACTUAL is necessarily logically possible. But does having the POTENTIAL to be yellow the same thing as it being logically possible to be yellow?  I know that Ed Feser rejects equating these two concepts.  But I’m not sure whether Geisler distinguishes these two concepts.
One important difference, it seems to me, is that the POTENTIAL to be yellow ceases to exist when the thing in question is ACTUALLY yellow.  But the logical possibility of being yellow does NOT cease to exist when the thing in question is ACTUALLY yellow.  When the banana turns yellow, it no longer has the POTENTIAL to be yellow, and it is ACTUALLY yellow.  But we infer that it HAD the potential to be yellow previously, when it was still completely green.  In the case of logical possibility, when the banana turns yellow, it is still logically possible for that banana to be yellow, even while it is ACTUALLY yellow.  We infer not only that this was logically possible when the banana was completely green, but that it is still logically possible now that the banana is completely yellow.
Having the POTENTIAL to be yellow is a kind of physical possibility for the green banana.  We know from many experiences with green bananas that they often turn yellow over a period of days.  The chemical and biological nature of bananas makes it so that they tend to turn yellow as they age.  So, a banana turning from green to yellow is NOT merely a logical possibility, it is a tendency of (some varieties of) bananas to go from green to yellow over a matter of days after being picked.  This tendency is based on the chemical and biological nature or composition of bananas.   It is logically possible for a green lime to turn yellow a few days after being picked, but limes don’t tend to do this.  The mere logical possibility of some change in properties is NOT sufficient to bring about that change.  Limes don’t have the POTENTIAL to turn yellow in a matter of days after being picked, but they do have the logical possibility of turning yellow days after being picked.  Bananas have the POTENTIAL to turn yellow in a matter of days after being picked, because they have a nature or composition that gives them a tendency to do so.  This tendency to turn yellow in a matter of days is MORE THAN just a logical possibility for a banana, it is something more like a physical possibility for bananas to turn yellow.
Does an ACTUAL change in property logically imply that a thing had MORE THAN just a logical possibility of undergoing that change? Some changes are random and extremely rare.  According to quantum physics, it is possible for all of the air molecules in a room to quickly move to one small area in the corner of the room, causing any people or animals in the room to asphyxiate.  But this possibility is so extremely unlikely, so extraordinarily improbable, that we can safely assume this will never actually happen.  Since the laws of chemistry and physics are based upon such extreme improbabilities, it is logically possible for a law of chemistry or physics to be broken.  I take it that this means that an ACTUAL violation of a supposed law of physics is logically consistent with that law being a true law of physics.
 
TO BE CONTINUED…
In the next post on this topic, I will try t clarify the meaning of Geisler’s term “X actualized Y” (Question 4), and look into why he thinks it is not possible for a “potentiality” to “actualize itself” (Question 5).
P.S.  I hope that when I get around to examining Feser’s Thomist Cosmological Argument, that Feser will make more of an effort than Geisler to define and/or clarify the basic concepts in his argument.  The fact that Geisler makes so little effort to define or clarify his most basic terms leads me to suspect that he himself is UNCLEAR about the meaning of those basic terms, and that he literally does not know what he is talking about.

bookmark_borderDid Jesus Rise from the Dead? Part 3: The “No Expectancy” Objection

WHERE WE ARE
I generally argue in defense of the Apparent Death Theory, not in order to prove it to be TRUE, but in order to show that this skeptical theory about the alleged resurrection of Jesus is still viable and that the objections raised against  it by Christian apologists FAIL to refute it.  However, I am now in the process of arguing in defense of the Hallucination Theory and am arguing that the objections raised against this theory by Josh McDowell in his book The Resurrection Factor (1981; herafter: TRF) are weak and defective, and that McDowell FAILS to refute this skeptical theory.
Here are McDowell’s seven objections in TRF against the Hallucination Theory:

  1. Only Certain [kinds of ] People [have Hallucinations, like schizophrenics]. (TRF, p.84)
  2. [Hallucinations are] Very Personal [making it very unlikely that more than two persons could have the same hallucination at the same time]. (TRF, p.84-85)
  3. [An hallucination is an erroneous perception or] A False Response [to sense stimulation]. (TRF, p.85)
  4. No Favorable Circumstances [of time and place (to which hallucinations are restricted) apply to the experiences of the risen Jesus that took place after his crucifixion]. (TRF, p.85)
  5. [There was] No Expectancy [among Jesus’ followers that he would rise from the dead, but hallucinations require anticipation or hopeful expectation]. (TRF, p.85-86)
  6. [There was] Not Time Enough [in the period when appearances of Jesus occurred to consider those experiences to be hallucinations, which usually occur over a long period of time].  (TRF, p.86)
  7. [The Hallucination Theory] Doesn’t Match the Facts [because hallucinations of a risen Jesus don’t explain the empty tomb, the broken seal, the guard units, and the subsequent actions of the high priests]. (TRF, p.86)

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I argued that Objection 1 (Only Certain People) is clearly defective and FAILS.
In Part 2 of this series I argued that Objection 3 (A False Response) and Objection 6 (Not Time Enough) both FAIL miserably.
 
THE FOUR REMAINING OBJECTIONS
I have quickly eliminated three of McDowell’s seven objections to the Hallucination Theory.  That leaves us with four more objections to consider.  I have plucked the low hanging fruit first, eliminating the most obviously weak and defective objections.  My impression is that McDowell’s remaining four objections are also weak and defective, but they deserve a closer examination than Objection 1, Objection 3, and Objection 6, and I expect that it will require more work on my part to show that the remaining four objections also FAIL to refute the Hallucination Theory.
I think the most important objections, and perhaps the objections that will require the most effort by me to show they FAIL, are Objection 2 (Very Personal), and Objection 7 (Doesn’t Match the Facts).  So, I will deal with those objections last.  I expect Objection 4 (No Favorable Circumstances) and Objection 5 ( No Expectancy) to require a medium level of effort to show that they FAIL, and I suspect that Objection 5 will be the easiest of the remaining objections for me to deal with.
So, the order that I plan to address the remaining four objections is this (I am labelling them “TRF” because I plan to refer to objections from other books as well):

TRF5: No Expectancy

TRF4: No Favorable Circumstances

TRF7: Doesn’t Match the Facts

TRF2: Very Personal

These objections are also presented by Josh McDowell (and his son Sean) in the more recently published book Evidence for the Resurrection (2009, see pages 206-211; hereafter: EFR).  You can see how the objections in EFR line up with the objections in TRF in the following chart:

TRF5: THE “NO EXPECTANCY” OBJECTION
McDowell summarizes a number of his objections against the Hallucination Theory this way:

Why is the hallucination theory so weak? 
First, it contradicts various conditions which most psychiatrists and psychologists agree must  be present to have a hallucination. (TRF, p.84)

 If McDowell is going to make some strong objections to the Hallucination Theory on such grounds, then he will need to provide evidence firmly supporting various specific claims of this form:

Most psychological experts agree that condition X must be present in order for an hallucination to occur.

In order to provide evidence firmly supporting claims of this form, McDowell should consult hundreds, or at least dozens, of peer-reviewed books and journal articles by people who are recognized experts in psychology, preferably by psychologists who have specialized in the scientific study of hallucinations, or in the scientific study of mental diseases or conditions that are associated with hallucinations.  But we shall soon see that McDowell (and his fellow Christian apologists) clearly MADE NO EFFORT to investigate such articles and books on this subject.
Here is how McDowell presents the “No Expectancy” objection to the Hallucination Theory in TRF:

A fifth principle is that hallucinations require of people an anticipating spirit of hopeful expectancy which causes their wishes to become father of their thoughts and hallucinations.  As we look at the disciples, the last thing they expected was a resurrection.  They thought Christ had been crucified, buried. …That was the end of it.   (TRF, p.85-86, ellipses were in the original text)

This objection against the Hallucination Theory is also presented by McDowell in Evidence For the Resurrection (as objection #4  on page 209), as well as in Evidence that Demands a Verdict (objection #5 on page 252 of the Revised Edition), and in The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (objection #5 on page 277).
This objection to the Hallucination Theory is used by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli in Handbook of Christian Apologetics (as objection #7 on page 187), by William Craig in The Son Rises (as objection #3 on pages 120 and 121), and by Gary Habermas in his article “Explaining Away Jesus’ Resurrection: The Recent Revival of Hallucination Theories” (objection #1 on page 5).  Habermas also uses this objection in his interview by Lee Strobel in The Case for Christ (see page 239).
This objection is also used by J.N.D. Anderson in A Lawyer Among the Theologians (see pages 92 and 93), by Murray Harris in Raised Immortal (see page 61), as well as by Winfried Corduan in No Doubt About It (on page 221), by Hank Hanegraaff in Resurrection (on page 46 he quotes Gary Habermas from the interview by Lee Strobel in The Case for Christ), and by Paul Little in Know Why You Believe (objection #5 on page 56 of the 3rd edition).
McDowell’s reasoning here in TRF can be spelled out in a brief argument:

1. Hallucinations REQUIRE that a person who has an hallucination of circumstance C previously had a hopeful expectation or wish that circumstance C would occur, to which the hallucination provides an imaginary fulfilment (since circumstance C only seems to occur but does not actually occur).

2. After Jesus’ crucifixion, Jesus’ disciples had experiences of what seemed to be a living Jesus who had risen from the dead.

3. After Jesus’ crucifixion and prior to Jesus’ disciples having experiences of what seemed to be a living Jesus who had risen from the dead, his disciples did NOT have a hopeful expectation or wish that Jesus would rise from the dead and be alive again.

THEREFORE:

4. After Jesus’ crucifixion, the experiences of Jesus’ disciples of what seemed to be a living Jesus who had risen from the dead were NOT hallucinations. 

The logic of this argument is fine.  However, I would contend that each one of the premises of this argument is problematic, so TRF5 FAILS.  I will argue that premise (1) is clearly false, that an improved version of premise (1) is dubious, that premise (2) is dubious, and that premise (3) is  dubious.  Furthermore, I will argue that IF premise (3) were true, THEN this would give us a powerful reason to reject the claim that Jesus rose from the dead.
 
PROBLEMS WITH  PREMISE (1)
PROBLEM #1: McDowell provides ZERO EVIDENCE from any expert in psychology in support of the psychological generalization asserted in objection TRF5.
Josh McDowell FAILS to provide ANY significant evidence in support of the psychological generalization that he asserts in objection TRF5:

  • In The Resurrection Factor, Josh McDowell provides ZERO EVIDENCE from any expert in psychology in support of the psychological generalization that he makes in objection TRF5.
  • In Evidence for the Resurrection, McDowell provides ZERO EVIDENCE from any expert in psychology in support of the psychological generalization that he makes in objection TRF5.
  • In Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Revised edition), McDowell provides ZERO EVIDENCE from any expert in psychology in support of the psychological generalization that he makes in objection TRF5.
  • In The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, McDowell provides ZERO EVIDENCE from any expert in psychology in support of the psychological generalization that he makes in objection TRF5.

McDowell provides thirteen quotations in support of TRF5 in his book Evidence that Demands a Verdict, and also in The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, but NONE of the quotations is from an expert in psychology.  They are all quotes from ministers, evangelists, theologians, biblical scholars, and Christian apologists.
It is crystal clear that McDowell made NO EFFORT WHATSOEVER to read or study scientific articles or books about hallucinations written by psychological experts.  Therefore, his claim that “most psychiatrists and psychologists agree” that “hallucinations require of people an anticipating spirit of hopeful expectancy” has ABSOLUTELY NO BASIS in fact, as far as the intellectually lazy Josh McDowell is aware.*
Sadly, the same unmitigated ignorance of the scientific literature about hallucinations appears to be the case with McDowell’s fellow Christian apologists.
PROBLEM #2: Other apologists who make this objection also provide ZERO EVIDENCE from any expert in psychology in support of the psychological generalization asserted in objection TRF5.

  • Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli provide ZERO EVIDENCE from any expert in psychology in support of this psychological generalization in their Handbook of Christian Apologetics.
  • William Craig provides ZERO EVIDENCE from any expert in psychology in support of this psychological generalization in his book The Son Rises.
  • J.N.D. Anderson provides ZERO EVIDENCE from any expert in psychology in support of this psychological generalization in his book A Lawyer Among the Theologians.
  • Murray Harris provides ZERO EVIDENCE from any expert in psychology in support of this psychological generalization in his book Raised Immortal.
  • Winfried Corduan provides ZERO EVIDENCE from any expert in psychology in support of this psychological generalization in his book No Doubt About It.
  • Hank Hanegraaff provides ZERO EVIDENCE from any expert in psychology in support of this psychological generalization in his book Resurrection.
  • Paul Little provides ZERO EVIDENCE from any expert in psychology in support of this psychological generalization in his book Know Why You Believe (3rd edition).
  • Gary Habermas provides ZERO EVIDENCE from any expert in psychology in support of this psychological generalization in his article “Explaining Away Jesus’ Resurrection: The Recent Revival of Hallucination Theories“.

It should be noted that Gary Habermas, alone among these Christian apologists, does quote from a bona fide psychologist, named Gary Collins, in his interview by Lee Strobel.  However, the quote is NOT from a peer-reviewed article or book, but from personal correspondence from Gary Collins. Furthermore, Gary Collins is a devout Evangelical Christian who was a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where the Christian apologist Dr. William Craig also taught, so Collins is clearly a biased source of information on this subject.
Furthermore, Gary Collins specializes in Christian Counseling, and he appears to have no particular expertise in the study of hallucinations, nor in the study of mental illnesses or conditions that are associated with hallucinations.  Finally, the quote is about the obvious point that hallucinations are subjective in nature (a point that requires no psychological expertise because this is a conceptual point that requires only a good understanding of the meaning of the word “hallucination” in the English language).  The quotation of Collins by Habermas provides ZERO EVIDENCE in support of the specific psychological generalization asserted as part of objection TRF5.
PROBLEM #3: The psychological generalization asserted in objection TRF5 is clearly and obviously FALSE.
There is actually no need to consult the scientific literature on hallucinations (which NONE of the above apologists made any effort to do), because this psychological generalization is clearly and obviously FALSE.  Because this psychological generalization is clearly and obviously FALSE, it is extremely unlikely that “most psychiatrists and psychologists agree” with this psychological generalization.  In any case, even if “most psychiatrists and psychologists agree” with this psychological generalization, that wouldn’t change the fact that the generalization is FALSE.
Frightening Hallucinations
I can only recall one time in my life when I experienced an hallucination.  I was a young child (a toddler?); I was sick and had a fever.  I remember looking around in my room, and being frightened because the whole room was filled with fish and sharks swimming around in it.  This was an hallucination presumably caused by my sickness and fever.  We all know that hallucinations can be frightening, like this hallucination that I experienced as a young child. So, apart from studying the scientific literature on hallucinations, we all know that some hallucinations are NOT produced as the result of “a hopeful expectation or wish” that the event or circumstance that appears in the hallucination would occur.  As a young child I had no hopeful expectation or wish to spend the night underwater in the presence of large hungry sharks!
We all know that there are such things as “bad trips” that can occur when someone uses a mind-altering drug.  Evangelical Christians have been obsessed with opposition to “sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll” for decades.  Many of them have come to embrace rock-n-roll, but still froth at the mouth when talking about drugs and sex.  So, if anyone is aware that drugs can sometimes cause “bad trips”, it is Evangelical Christians.  But a “bad trip” often includes unpleasant or frightening hallucinations.  For example, the man who discovered LSD relates a “bad trip” experience he had:

One of the earliest documented bad trips was reported by Albert Hofmann, the chemist who discovered LSD. He had started experiencing a bad trip, and in an attempt to soothe himself, requested some milk from his next-door neighbor, who appeared to have become “a malevolent, insidious witch.”  (“What is a Bad Trip?” by Elizabeth Hartney)

We all know that hallucinations can be unpleasant or frightening, because we all know that mind-altering drugs can sometimes result in a “bad trip”.  So, apart from studying the scientific literature on hallucinations, we all know that some hallucinations are NOT produced as the result of “a hopeful expectation or wish” that the event or circumstance that appears in the hallucination would occur.
Evangelical Christians are very well aware of this fact about hallucinations.  So, if Josh McDowell, or any of the Christian apologists who follow him in his complete ignorance about the scientific literature on hallucinations had simply thought seriously about the psychological generalization asserted in objection TRF5 for a few minutes, they probably would have come to the realization that it is CLEARLY and OBVIOUSLY FALSE.  But in addition to being completely ignorant about the scientific literature on hallucinations, McDowell and his fellow Christian apologists apparently were also uninterested in giving any serious thought to the question of whether the psychological generalization asserted in objection TRF5 was true.  So, this objection is not only WITHOUT ANY FACTUAL BASIS, but it also reveals a complete lack of critical thought among Christian apologists, at least on this important issue.
 
CONCLUSION
I have more problems to discuss with objection TRF5, but the above problems are more than sufficient to show that objection TRF5 FAILS, and that this objection does NOT refute, or even significantly damage, the Hallucination Theory.
 
To Be Continued…
 
*McDowell does include ONE reference to ONE book by a psychologist (Outline of Psychiatric Case-Study by Paul William Peru), but he does NOT provide any quotations from that book, and the book was published in 1939, so it does not represent the state of the art in the scientific study of hallucinations.
Furthermore, I have read the three pages of Peru’s book that McDowell references (pages 97 to 99), and in those pages Peru does NOT assert the psychological generalization that PF5 is based on, nor does Peru provide evidence in support of that generalization, and in fact those three pages are filled primarily with QUESTIONS that Peru thinks a psychologist should ask a patient who seems to be experiencing, or seems to have experienced, an hallucination.  Peru does NOT make any relevant psychological generalizations about the causes of hallucinations in those pages.  So, McDowell just made this generalization up (or perhaps he accepted this empirical claim on the basis of the pseudo authority of an evangelist, minister, theologian, bible scholar, or Christian apologist who lacks expertise in the field of psychology).
=========================
Christian Apologetics books referenced in this post:
Norman Anderson, A Lawyer Among the Theologians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, copyright 1973, first American edition published February 1974)
Winfried Corduan, No Doubt About It (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997)
William Craig, The Son Rises (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981)
Hank Hanegraaff, Resurrection (Nashville, Tennessee: Word Publishing, 2000)
Murray Harris, Raised Immortal (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, copyright 1983, this American edition published in 1985)
Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1994)
Paul Little, Know Why You Believe, expanded and updated by Marie Little (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 3rd edition 1988)
Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Revised Edition (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, Inc.,1979)
Josh McDowell, The Resurrection Factor (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, Inc.,1981)
Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999)
Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell, Evidence for the Resurrection (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2009)
Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ (Grand Rapids, Michigan: ZondervanPublishingHouse, 1998)

bookmark_borderFeser’s Perverted Faculty Argument – Part 1: The Core Argument

HSIAO’S PERVERTED FACULTY ARGUMENT
I have REJECTED Timothy Hsiao’s Perverted Faculty “Argument” against homosexual sex NOT because it was a bad argument, but because it was a FAUX argument, and not an actual argument.  The core “argument” by Hsiao consists of three declarative sentences that were so UNCLEAR that they cannot be rationally evaluated, and thus those sentences do NOT assert actual claims, and thus those sentences do NOT constitute an actual argument.
For my analysis and criticism of Hsiao’s “argument” see the following posts:

Aquinas and Homosexual Sex – Part 1: A Thomist Argument
Aquinas and Homosexual Sex – Part 2: Argument Structure
Aquinas and Homosexual Sex – Part 3: Unclear Argument
Aquinas and Homosexual Sex – Part 4: The Logic of Applied Ethics
Aquinas and Homosexual Sex – Part 5: From Fake to Real
Aquinas and Homosexual Sex – Part 6: Sexual Activity
Aquinas and Homosexual Sex – Part 7: Definitions of “Sexual Activity”
Aquinas and Homosexual Sex – Part 8: Legal Definitions

 
FESER’S PERVERTED FACULTY ARGUMENT
Edward Feser has also put forward a version of the Perverted Faculty Argument (hereafter: PFA), so I will now examine that argument in the hopes that it is an actual argument consisting of actual claims.  Based on his book Five Proofs of the Existence of God, Feser understands the need to define and clarify the meanings of key words and phrases in philosophical arguments.  I am hoping that in his presentation of PFA,  Feser will define and/or clarify the meanings of key words and phrases in his version of PFA so that it constitutes an actual argument that is composed of actual claims.  If I find his effort to constitute an actual argument, then I will attempt to rationally evaluate that argument.
Here is how Feser summarizes PFA in his book Neo-Scholastic Essays (hereafter: NSE):

(NSE, p. 403-404)
The logical structure of this argument is simple and straightforward, consisting of a series of three inferences:

THE CORE ARGUMENT IN FESER’S PFA
Typically, the core of such a three-tiered argument occurs in the middle of the argument, and that seems to be the case here.  I have indicated what I take to be the core argument by the purple line drawn around the middle argument.
Here is what I take to be the core argument in Feser’s PFA:

(NSE, p. 404)
As with Hsiao’s PFA, this core argument is filled with UNCLEAR words and phrases.  However, for right now, I’m going to assume that Feser defines or clarifies the meanings of these UNCLEAR words and phrases (or most of them) somewhere in the chapter that he devotes to PFA, so that these sentences will turn out to be actual claims.
Before I try to nail down the meanings of the various UNCLEAR terms, I am going to work at eliminating UNCLEAR REFERENCES in these sentences, by applying a basic rule of argument analysis:

*** 86 THE MOTHERFUCKING PRONOUNS! ***

I don’t use the expression “motherfucking” here to indicate a criticism of Feser.  We ALL use pronouns, and even the best philosophers use pronouns when laying out philosophical arguments.  So, in using pronouns to summarize PFA, Feser is not doing anything contrary to normal practice, even among the best philosophers.
Nevertheless, it is good to develop some antipathy towards pronouns, if you want to properly analyze and evaluate philosophical arguments, or even if you just want to be a competent critical thinker.  Pronouns often create AMBIGUITY and UNCLARITY, and these things are anathema to philosophy and to critical thinking.
Don’t criticize what you don’t understand.  We need to understand the meaning of a claim first, before we can rationally evaluate that claim.  We need to understand an argument first, before we can rationally evaluate that argument.  So, CLARITY is a basic requirement for claims and arguments used in philosophical thinking and for thinking critically about any claim or argument.
 
EVIL PRONOUNS IN THE CORE ARGUMENT
I put the evil pronouns in bold red font.
Premise 3:
it is metaphysically impossible”
“for it to be good for us
“to use those faculties”
“in a manner that is contrary to their procreative and unitive ends”
Premise 4:
“homosexual acts” [ Note: I’m going to ignore the other “bad” sexual activities: “contraceptive acts”, “masturbatory acts”, and “acts of bestiality”.]
“involve the use of our sexual faculties”
“in a manner that is contrary to their procreative and/or unitive ends”
Premise 5:
it is metaphysically impossible”
“for it to be good for us
“to engage in homosexual acts” [ Note: I’m going to ignore the other “bad” sexual activities: “contraceptive acts”, “masturbatory acts”, and “acts of bestiality”.]
 
NOW WE 86 THE PRONOUNS
I replaced the pronouns in bold red font with words or phrases in bold blue font.
Premise 3:
it is metaphysically impossible”   ==>   “a situation is metaphysically impossible”
“for it to be good for us”   ==>   “for the activity to be good for a human being
“to use those faculties”   ==>   “to use the sexual faculties belonging to that human being
“in a manner that is contrary to their procreative and unitive ends”   ==>   “in a manner that is contrary to the procreative and unitive ends of the sexual faculties of human beings
Revision of Premise 3:

3a. A situation where a human being uses the sexual faculties belonging to that human being in a manner that is contrary to the procreative and/or unitive ends of the sexual faculties of human beings AND where that activity is good for that human being is a metaphysically impossible situation.

Premise 4:
“homosexual acts” [there are important elements missing from this phrase]   ==>  “in any situation where a human being engages in homosexual acts”
“involve the use of our sexual faculties”   ==>   “that human being uses the sexual faculties belonging to that human being
“in a manner that is contrary to their procreative and/or unitive ends”   ==>   “in a manner that is contrary to the procreative and/or unitive ends of the sexual faculties of human beings
Revision of Premise 4:

4a. In any situation where a human being engages in homosexual acts, that human being uses the sexual faculties belonging to that human being in a manner that is contrary to the procreative and/or unitive ends of the sexual faculties of human beings.

Premise 5:
it is metaphysically impossible” ==> “a situation is metaphysically impossible”
“for it to be good for us” ==> “for the activity (of engaging in homosexual acts) to be good for a human being
“to engage in homosexual acts” ==> “in any situation where a human being engages in homosexual acts”
Revision of Premise 5:

5a. A situation where a human being engages in homosexual acts AND where that activity (of engaging in homosexual acts) is good for that human being is a metaphysically impossible situation.

 
THE REVISED CORE ARGUMENT OF FESER’S PFA

3a. A situation where a human being uses the sexual faculties belonging to that human being in a manner that is contrary to the procreative and/or unitive ends of the sexual faculties of human beings AND where that activity is good for that human being is a metaphysically impossible situation.

4a. In any situation where a human being engages in homosexual acts, that human being uses the sexual faculties belonging to that human being in a manner that is contrary to the procreative and/or unitive ends of the sexual faculties of human beings.

THEREFORE:

5a. A situation where a human being engages in homosexual acts AND where that activity (of engaging in homosexual acts) is good for that human being is a metaphysically impossible situation.

This revised core argument is significantly more CLEAR than the statement of it by Feser.  However, all three sentences here still make use of UNCLEAR words and phrases, and so I’m not yet willing to admit that these three sentences make actual claims, nor that this is an actual argument.  It depends on whether Feser defines or clarifies the various UNCLEAR  words and phrases in these three sentences.
So, in the next post of this series I will begin to address this question:

Does Feser provide useful definitions or clarifications of the meanings of the key words and phrases in these sentences that are, apart from such efforts, too UNCLEAR to make it so the sentences may reasonably be treated as actual claims?

 
To Be Continued…

bookmark_borderThe Unmoved Mover Argument – Part 11: The Argument for Premise (2)

WHERE WE ARE
Norman Geisler has FAILED to show that premise (1) of his Thomist Cosmological Argument is true, but premise (1) is obviously true.  Since premise (1) is obviously true, we should not reject TCA just because Geisler FAILED to prove that (1) is true.  Since premise (1) seems to be obviously true, we should accept it, and examine the rest of this argument to see if the other premises are true, and if the inferences in the rest of the argument are all logically valid.
In Part 10 of this series, I began to analyze and clarify Geisler’s argument for premise (2):

2. Every finite changing thing must be caused by something else.

 
APPARENT GAPS IN GEISLER’S LOGIC
There is an obvious problem with Geisler’s argument for premise (2).   Premise (2) DOES NOT APPEAR TO FOLLOW LOGICALLY from his argument in When Skeptics Ask (hereafter: WSA).  Geisler is a sloppy and careless thinker, so it would be no surprise to me if his argument for this key premise is a non sequitur:

42. If a thing is limited and it changes, then that thing cannot be a thing that exists independently.

THEREFORE:

2. Every finite changing thing must be caused by something else.

There are two logical/conceptual JUMPS that occur between (42) and (2).  First, (42) talks about “limited” things, while (2) talks about “finite” things.  Second, (42) talks about things that exist “independently”, while (2) talks about things that are “caused by something else”.
Actually, the inference from (42) to (2) might be correct.  It might be the case that (2) follows logically from (42), but that depends on the meanings of the key terms in these claims: “a thing that is limited”, “a thing that exists independently”, a “finite…thing”, and a “thing…caused by something else.”  If these terms are defined in particular ways, then the inference from (42) to (2) would be logical.
Geisler, being a sloppy and unclear thinker, does not bother to define the key terms in his Thomist Cosmological Argument, so it is difficult to evaluate the correctness of his inference from (42) to (2).  Geisler’s argument in WSA for premise (2) consists of two measly sentences (WSA, p.18) , so it is no wonder that his argument is unclear and that it appears on its face to be a non sequitur.
 
GEISLER’S ARGUMENT IN POR FOR PREMISE (2) 
Geisler provides a longer and more detailed defense of premise (2) in his earlier book Philosophy of Religion (hereafter: POR).  So, I am going to shift my focus (for now) to his argument for premise (2) as presented in POR (on pages 194-197).
In POR, premise (2) of the Thomist Cosmological Argument is stated in slightly different words than in WSA.  Geisler uses the term “limited” in POR instead of “finite” in WSA:

2a. The present existence of every limited, changing being is caused by another.

He also uses the word “being” in POR rather than “thing” in WSA.  And in POR, Geisler specifies that it is the “present existence” of finite things that is “caused” by another.
Based on how Geisler switches freely back and forth between the terms “limited” and “finite”, those words appear to be equivalent in meaning, at least as far as Geisler is concerned.  Since I am now focused on the argument for (2) in POR, I will defer to his preference of the term “limited”,  for now.  Talking about the “present existence” of things being caused is a nice bit of clarification in POR, so I will now use those additional words in a revised formulation of premise (2).
I don’t care for the term “being” because this smacks of a technical philosophical term, but Geisler has FAILED to define this word, so it is unclear and misleading to use that term as opposed to the more common n0n-technical word “thing”.  I don’t object to the use of technical philosophical terminology, but if one wishes to use such terms, then one has an obligation to DEFINE the meaning of such a term.  Geisler rarely defines his key terms, so he needs to stick to common words and their ordinary meanings.
I take it that the phrase “caused by another” means “caused by another being”, and since I find the use of the term “being” unclear and misleading, I will interpret that final phrase as meaning: “caused by another thing“.  Here then is my clarified version of premise (2) that uses elements from both the WSA and the POR versions of this key premise:

2b. The present existence of every limited, changing thing is caused by another thing.

Geisler re-iterates the argument for (2) at least four times in just a few pages, with only slight variations.  Here is one instance of the argument:

51. Every limited changing being is composed of both an actuality (its existence) and a potentiality (its essence).

52. But no potentiality can actualize itself.

53. There is some actuality outside of every composed being to account for the fact that it actually exists.

There is also  an intermediate conclusion that Geisler, in his typical sloppy and careless manner, fails to spell out:

L. There is some actuality outside of every limited changing being to account for the fact that it actually exists.

Premise (52) is a reason for premise (53).  Premise (51) works together with premise (53) to support the unstated intermediate conclusion (L).
 
THE STRUCTURE OF THE ARGUMENT IN POR FOR PREMISE (2b) 
Because I have replaced the term “being” with the term “thing” in premise (2), following Geisler’s wording in WSA, we need to revise the wording of other premises that use the term “being” so that they also use the term “thing”:

52. But no potentiality can actualize itself.

THEREFORE:

53a. There is some actuality outside of every composed thing to account for the fact that it actually exists.

51a. Every limited changing thing is composed of both an actuality (its existence) and a potentiality (its essence).

THEREFORE:

L1. There is some actuality outside of every limited changing thing to account for the fact that it actually exists.

THEREFORE:

2b. The present existence of every limited, changing thing is caused by another thing.


 
To be continued…
 
 

bookmark_borderThe Unmoved Mover Argument – Part 10: Geisler’s Argument for Premise (2)

WHERE WE ARE
In his book When Skeptics Ask (hereafter: WSA), Norman Geisler presents his general version of a Thomist Cosmological Argument (hereafter: TCA).  I analyze this argument in Part 2 of this series.
The first premise of Geisler’s TCA is this:

1. Finite, changing things exist.  (WSA, p.18)

Geisler provides a very brief argument in support of (1) in WSA.  In Part 4 of this series I showed that Geisler’s brief argument in support of (1) was a stinking philosophical TURD.  It FAILS utterly and completely to support ANY part of premise (1).
In Part 5 of this series I clarified and analyzed a longer and more sophisticated  argument by Geisler in support of just one part of premise (1) of TCA, an argument that is found in his much older book Philosophy of Religion (hereafter: PoR).  This longer argument only supports the simple (and obviously true) claim that “Something exists”.  In Part 6 of this series, I argued that this longer argument by Geisler FAILS.
In Part 7 of this series, I analyzed and evaluated Geisler’s first argument in PoR for the following claim:

21. Changing things exist.

I concluded that this first argument in PoR for (21) FAILS.
In Part 8 of this series, I analyzed Geisler’s second argument for claim (21), and then I began to evaluate the argument.  But I repeatedly ran into problems with the argument, problems that could be fixed by making an unstated assumption explicit, or by clarifying the meaning of a premise, or by modifying a premise in order to make an inference in the argument logically valid.  I ended up adding a number of premises, and modifying the statement of each of the original premises.
Because I have revised each of the three premises that Geisler provided in order to clarify them or to make the logical inferences valid, and because I have had to add five different unstated assumptions, also in order to make the logical inferences in this argument valid, it is no longer clear that this is Geisler’s argument.  My thought, effort, and skills have gone into the construction of this argument, and it is significantly different from the argument that we started with.  So, even if this turns out to be a solid deductive argument, that will not show that Geisler’s original argument was a solid deductive argument.
It is clear that Geisler’s second argument as originally stated was NOT a SOUND deductive argument, and that it FAILED as a deductively valid proof of the conclusion.  But the enhanced version of Geisler’s second argument might have turned out to be a solid proof, so I evaluated this enhanced 2nd argument in Part 9 of this series.  Here is the conclusion of the enhanced 2nd argument:

21a. Changing things exist right now.

Although I made several significant improvements to his argument, it still has a number of unclear and dubious premises, and some invalid inferences in the sub-arguments for key premises.  Even the significantly enhanced version of Geisler’s second argument for the claim that “Changing things exist right now.” clearly FAILS.  Geisler’s second argument for (21a) FAILS.
Since all three of Geisler’s attempts to support premise (1) of his Thomist Cosmological Argument, he has FAILED in his attempt to prove the existence of God.
 
GEISLER’S THOMIST COSMOLOGICAL ARGUMENT (TCA)
The second cosmological argument in When Skeptics Ask is Geisler’s generalized version of a Thomist cosmological argument (WSA, p. 18 & 19):

1. Finite, changing things exist.

2. Every finite changing thing must be caused by something else.

3. There cannot be an infinite regress of these causes.

THEREFORE:

4. [There is]…a first uncaused cause of every finite, changing thing that exists.

THEREFORE:

5. There is a present, conserving cause of the world.

A. IF there is a present, conserving cause of the world, THEN God exists.

THEREFORE:

G.  God exists. 

Here is the logical structure of TCA:

Since Geisler has FAILED to show that premise (1) is true, it seems unlikely that he will be able to prove that premise (2) or (3) are true, since those premises are controversial and dubious, whereas premise (1) was obviously true.  But since premise (1) is obviously true, we should not reject TCA just because Geisler FAILED to prove that (1) is true.  Since premise (1) seems to be obviously true, we should accept it, and examine the rest of this argument to see if the other premises are true, and if the inferences in the argument are all logically valid.
 
GEISLER’S SUPPORT FOR PREMISE (2) OF TCA
Here is premise (2) of TCA:

2. Every finite changing thing must be caused by something else.  (WSA, p.18)

Geisler attempts to support premise (2) in just two sentences:

If it is limited and it changes, then it cannot be something that exists independently.  If it existed independently, or necessarily, then it would have always existed without any kind of change. (WSA, p.18)

It seems foolish and pathetic to attempt to prove premise (2) in just two sentences, so it will be no surprise if this argument FAILS, like most of Geisler’s other apologetic arguments.
The second sentence provides a reason in support of the first sentence.  Also, I take it that the term “necessarily” is supposed to be equivalent to the term “independently” in this context, so we can simplify by dropping the redundant term “necessarily”:

41. If a thing existed independently, then it would have always existed without any kind of change.

THEREFORE:

42. If a thing is limited and it changes, then it cannot be a thing that exists independently.

This is a bit sloppy, as Geisler often is in presenting his arguments.  There is a shift from the past tense phrase “existed independently” in premise (41) to the present tense phrase “exists independently” in premise (42).  So, it is unclear that this is a logically valid inference.
We can fix this problem by consistently using the present tense phrase in both premises:

41a. If a thing exists independently, then it would have always existed without any kind of change.

THEREFORE:

42. If a thing is limited and it changes, then it cannot be a thing that exists independently.

This inference seems OK.  It might well be a logically valid inference. However, the logic is not completely clear.  These statements are in the form of conditional statements (IF P, THEN Q), but they are both actually universal generalizations (ALL Xs ARE Ys).  So, I will restate the premises as universal generalizations:

41b. ALL things that exist independently ARE things that have always existed without any kind of change.

THEREFORE:

42b. NO things that are limited and that change ARE things that exist independently.

There are three different categories that are referenced in the above argument:

I: things that exist independently

A: things that have always existed without any kind of change

L: things that are limited and that change

So, if we abbreviate by using the above categorical designations, we can see the logical structure of Geisler’s argument:

41c. ALL I’s ARE A’s.

Therefore:

42c. NO L’s ARE I’s.

Since one of the categories referenced in the conclusion is not referenced in the premise, this argument is NOT formally valid.  The problem here is that there are logical relationships that Geisler is ASSUMING between these various categories.  But we need to make those logical relationships EXPLICIT in order to determine what other ASSUMPTIONS are being made here, and to determine whether this argument can be restated in a way that is clearly a logically VALID argument.
One assumption that Geisler appears to be making is this:

NO things that are limited and that change ARE things that have always existed without any kind of change.

OR:

H. NO L’s ARE A’s.

This seems clearly to be true, to be a necessary truth. A thing that changes cannot have always existed without any kind of change.
 
So, if we add this necessary truth to the original argument, we might have an argument that is clearly logically valid:

41c. ALL I’s ARE A’s.

H. NO L’s ARE A’s.

Therefore:

42c. NO L’s ARE I’s.

This categorical syllogism is formally valid, as can be seen by the following Venn Diagram:

The reddish brown shading represents the claim “ALL I’s ARE A’s”.  The shaded area means there is NOTHING in that sub-category, there is nothing in the part of the circle for I outside of the part of that circle that overlaps with the circle for A. The only I’s that exist (if there are any) are things that are in the area where I and A overlap, things that fall into both of those categories.
The tan shading represents the claim “NO L’s ARE A’s”.  The shaded area means there is NOTHING in that sub-category, there is nothing in the part of the L circle that overlaps with the A circle.  The only L’s that exist (if there are any) are things that are in the area of L that is outside of the part of that circle that overlaps with the circle for A, things that fall into the category of L but not in the category of A.
Note that the area of the circle for L that overlaps with the circle for I is completely shaded in.  That means that there is NOTHING in that overlap area.  In other words, there is NOTHING that falls into the category of L that also falls into the category of I.  That means that “NO L’s ARE I’s”, which is the conclusion of the above categorical syllogism.  Simply by diagraming the two premises, we have automatically diagramed the conclusion. That demonstrates that the conclusion of the syllogism follows logically and necessarily from the premises of the syllogism.
However, there are some gaps of logic here, so we need to fill in those gaps in order to be sure that (41a) does in fact logically imply (42):

41a. If a thing exists independently, then it exists without any kind of change.

THEREFORE:

J. IF a thing is such that it is NOT the case that it exists without any kind of change, THEN it is NOT the case that it exists independently. (from 41a by transposition)

K. IF a thing is limited and it changes, THEN that thing  is such that it is NOT the case that it exists without any kind of change.  (a tautology)

THEREFORE:

42. If a thing is limited and it changes, then that thing cannot be a thing that exists independently.

 
TO BE CONTINUED…
 

bookmark_borderEvaluation of the Christian Answer to Worldview Question #2 – Part 2: Does Sin Exist?

WHERE WE ARE
There are four basic questions that can be used to analyze a worldview. In this post, I will begin to evaluate the Christian answer to worldview question #2.
 
CHRISTIAN ANSWERS TO THE FIRST TWO WORLDVIEW QUESTIONS 
The following is a short version of what I take to be the Christian answers to the first two worldview questions:

Q1. What are the most important problems of human life? (Symptoms of Disease)
Alienation or separation from God, conflict and disharmony between people, mental and physical suffering, disease, death, and in the next life: divine eternal punishment.

Q2. What is the root-cause problem of what are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life? (Diagnosis of the Disease)
Sin (disobedience to God) is the root cause problem of separation from God, conflict and disharmony between people, mental and physical suffering, disease, death, and ultimately results in eternal divine punishment.

 
FURTHER ANALYSIS OF THE CHRISTIAN ANSWER TO WORLDVIEW QUESTION #2
The Christian answer to worldview question #2 can be analyzed into four categories: spiritual, physical, mental, and social (click on the image below for a clearer view of the chart):  
 
WHAT DOES THE WORD “SIN” MEAN?
In Part 1 of this series of posts, I clarified the meaning of the word “sin” as being purposeful or intentional disobedience to the will of God.  Here is a formal definition of “sin”:

Person  P commits a sin S by doing action A IF AND ONLY IF:

(a) person P’s doing action A violates a law or command L,
(b)  L is a law or command of God to persons (or to some sub-set of persons of which P is a member),
(c) P KNOWS that (a) is the case when P does A,
AND
(d) P KNOWS that (b) is the case when P does A.  

Conditions (c) and (d) are needed to restrict the concept of “sin” to purposeful or intentional violations of the will of God.  One must be aware that God has issued a particular command or law in order for one’s violation of that command or law to be an intentional violation of the will of God.
In Part 1 of this series I also pointed out that the Bible indicates that there are two different ways a person can sin, or two different ways a person can be aware of the laws or commands of God.  First, one can know that a command or law comes from God, because the command or law was revealed by God through one of his prophets.  For example, according to the Bible, God revealed the Ten Commandments through the prophet Moses.
Second, one can know of a command or law of God because of one’s conscience, because God has “hardwired” some of his commands or laws into the minds of human beings, as a bit of innate knowledge, knowledge that we don’t have to learn from a parent or teacher or prophet or priest.
 
HAS ANY HUMAN BEING EVER SINNED?
If there is no such thing as SIN, then the occurrence of sins by human beings CANNOT be used as an explanation for anything.  If sin does not exist, then sin cannot be said to be the CAUSE of any human problem.
In my view, there is no such thing as SIN.  No human being has ever committed a SIN.  This is because there is no God.  If there is no God, then it follows that there are no laws or commands that come from God.  Any laws or commands that exist must come from humans or from other intelligent beings who are not God.  If there are no laws or commands that come from God, then it is NOT POSSIBLE for any person to ever violate a law or command of God, and thus the first two necessary conditions for the occurrence of a sin cannot be met by the actions of any person.  Therefore, if there is no God, then there never has been and never will be any human actions that violate a law or command of God.  Thus, if there is no God, then there never has been or ever will be any human actions that are SINs.
Of course, Christians, Jews, and Muslims are convinced that God does exist, so this argument won’t persuade them to believe that SIN does not exist, unless one can persuade such a believer that God does not exist, which is difficult to do.
There are, however, other reasons for believing that SIN does not exist.  Another necessary condition for the existence of SIN is human KNOWLEDGE that a particular law or command comes from God:

Person  P commits a sin S by doing action A IF AND ONLY IF:

(a) person P’s doing action A violates a law or command L,
(b)  L is a law or command of God to persons (or to some sub-set of persons of which P is a member),
(c) P KNOWS that (a) is the case when P does A,
AND
(d) P KNOWS that (b) is the case when P does A.  

In order for a person to KNOW that (b) is the case, that person must KNOW that God exists. Even if we assume that God exists, this leaves open the question of whether any human being KNOWS that God exists.  There are very good reasons for doubting that any human being KNOWS that God exists.
Most contemporary philosophers, for example, do NOT believe that the existence of God has ever been proven.  Many contemporary philosophers believe that some arguments provide evidence that supports the existence of God, but that this evidence is not sufficient to establish that anyone KNOWS that God exists.  One can believe in the existence of God while also admitting that this belief does NOT constitute KNOWING that God exists.  Since it is doubtful that anyone KNOWS that God exists, it is also doubtful that any human action has ever met the necessary condition (d) for the occurrence of a SIN.
In order for a person to KNOW that (b) is the case, that person must also KNOW that a particular law or command came from God.  It is not sufficient to KNOW that God exists or even to KNOW that God has at some time issued some sort of laws or commands.  One must KNOW that some particular law or particular command (having clear and specific content that is KNOWN to the person in question) came from God.
This is even more difficult to KNOW, and it is highly dubious that any human being has ever had such KNOWLEDGE.  To the extent that it is dubious that any humans have KNOWN that some law or command came from God, it is dubious that any actions by any humans have ever satisfied necessary condition (d) for the occurrence of a SIN.  If it is dubious that any humans have KNOWN that some law or command came from God, then it is dubious that any human actions have ever constituted a SIN.
One of the main ways of humans becoming aware of a law or command of God, according to the Bible, is for God to reveal a law or command through a prophet.  For example, the Bible teaches that God revealed the Ten Commandments to humans through the prophet Moses.  But how do we KNOW that Moses is a true prophet, and that God in fact communicated to humans through Moses?
One key reason given for believing that Moses was a true prophet is that Moses allegedly performed some amazing miracles.  But most scholars who study the Old Testament have serious doubts about whether Moses actually existed.  So, obviously, most scholars who study the Old Testament also doubt that Moses performed the various miracles that are found in Old Testament stories about Moses.  This way of establishing the divine authority of Moses as a true prophet will not work.
One could try to establish the divine authority of Moses as a true prophet of God, by appealing to the sayings and teachings of Jesus.  The existence of Jesus can reasonably be questioned, but most NT scholars believe that Jesus existed.  However, there are a couple of problems with this approach to establishing the divine authority of Moses.
First, most NT scholars do not view the Gospel accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus as being historically reliable.  Although most NT scholars believe Jesus existed, they are often very skeptical about specific historical claims about what Jesus said or did.  Thus, intelligent and educated readers of the NT cannot simply assume that because a Gospel claims that “Jesus said X” that the historical Jesus did in fact say X.  NT scholars generally believe that we can only infer probabilities about what Jesus said or did.  We cannot KNOW that “Jesus said X” and we cannot KNOW that “Jesus did Y”.  So, using the teachings of Jesus to confirm the divine authority of Moses cannot produce KNOWLEDGE that Moses was a true prophet.
Furthermore, even if we could somehow KNOW that “Jesus said X” and that this implies that Jesus believed that Moses was a true prophet of God, it doesn’t follow logically that Moses was in fact a true prophet of God.  Jesus could be mistaken.  Why should we accept what Jesus said about Moses as being the absolute truth?
Christians believe that Jesus is the divine Son of God, that Jesus is God incarnate.  But we are trying to evaluate the truth of the Christian worldview here, so it would beg the question to simply assume that this basic theological belief of Christianity was true.  In order to establish that Moses is a true prophet on the basis of the teachings of Jesus, one must FIRST prove that Jesus is the divine Son of God, or God incarnate.   This is NOT an easy thing for Christians to do.
How can we KNOW that Jesus is the divine Son of God or God incarnate?  One key reason given in support of this claim is that Jesus performed miracles and that Jesus claimed to be the divine Son of God.  But many NT scholars doubt both of these claims.  Although NT scholars generally believe that Jesus existed, they are often skeptical about miracle stories in the Gospels, and they are often skeptical about claims in the Gospels that “Jesus said X”, especially when Jesus saying X implies that Jesus claimed to be the divine Son of God or God incarnate.
Many, perhaps most, NT scholars believe that these theological views about Jesus evolved AFTER Jesus died on the cross, and AFTER the belief that Jesus rose from the dead became widespread among the followers of Jesus.  So, the two main assumptions supporting the view that Jesus is the divine Son of God are assumptions that many or most NT scholar doubt or do not accept.  This sort of dubious argument cannot produce KNOWLEDGE that Jesus was the divine Son of God.
There is a further problem with these lines of argument used to support the claim that Moses was a true prophet of God.  In order to identify an event as being a “miracle” one must first KNOW some of the plans and purposes of God.  We cannot see, touch, hear, smell, or taste God’s presence or activity.  God is, by definition, a bodiless person, so God does not interact with the world using a physical body.  Thus our normal ways of KNOWING that a particular person caused an event do NOT apply to God.
The only aspect of our normal ways of KNOWING that a particular person caused an event  that seems to apply to God is that of MOTIVATION.  Part of how a detective identifies a murder suspect is by figuring out who had a MOTIVE to kill the victim.  This method seems like one that can be applied to God, but only if we KNOW some of God’s plans and purposes. But we don’t even KNOW that God exists, so KNOWING God’s plans and purposes is pretty much out of the question.
Again, a Christian will be tempted to point to the Bible or “divine revelation” for information about the plans and purposes of God.  But the Bible in general, just like Moses and Jesus in particular, cannot simply be assumed to be absolutely true.  Why should we accept what the Bible has to say about God?  Why should we accept what Moses has to say about God in the first five books of the Bible?  Why should we accept what Jesus has to say about God in the Gospels?
The key reason generally given by Christians is to point to miracles as evidence of the divine inspiration of the Bible.  But this means, for example, pointing to the alleged miracles of Moses to prove that Moses was a true prophet of God.  And this means, for example, pointing to the alleged miracles of Jesus to prove that Jesus was the divine Son of God.  We have already seen that such a line of reasoning cannot produce KNOWLEDGE about the alleged divine authority of Moses or Jesus.
Furthermore, none of the alleged miracles of Moses or Jesus can be proven to be miracles UNLESS someone FIRST proves some claims about the purposes and plans of God.  But the source of information that Christians point us to, to find out about the plans and purposes of God is the Bible, the teachings of Moses, and the teachings of Jesus.  So, they are now REASONING in a CIRCLE.
One cannot determine that a miracle has occurred unless and until one proves some specific claims about the plans and purposes of God, but this requires that one establish some person or some book as having divine authority, but in order to establish that some person or some book has divine authority, one must first prove that a miracle has occurred.  Thus, it is not possible to prove that a miracle has in fact occurred.  Therefore, no person or book can be proven to have divine authority.
 
CONCLUSION
For the above reasons, it is doubtful that one can KNOW that some particular law or command came from God, and therefore it is doubtful that a necessary condition of SIN, namely condition (d), has ever been satisfied by any action of any human being.  Therefore, it is doubtful that any human being has ever performed an action that is a SIN.
The reason that I have not concluded that it is clearly the case that no human has ever committed a SIN, is that I have not yet examined the second possible way that a human can allegedly KNOW that a particular law or command is from God (i.e. conscience or innate knowledge of laws or commands of God).

bookmark_borderEvaluation of the Christian Answer to Worldview Question #1

In this post I’m going to give you the Reader’s Digest version of my Podcast #6 (and the PowerPoint that it is based upon).
 
THE FOUR BASIC WORLDVIEW QUESTIONS
There are four basic worldview questions, four questions that can be used to analyze the content of a worldview:

Q1. What are the most important problems of human life? (Symptoms of Disease)

Q2. What is the root-cause problem of what are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life? (Diagnosis of the Disease)

Q3. What is the solution to what is (allegedly) the root-cause problem of what are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life? (Cure for the Disease)

Q4. How should we implement what is (allegedly) the solution to what is (allegedly) the root-cause problem of what are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life? (Treatment Plan for the Patients)

 
CHRISTIAN ANSWERS TO THE BASIC WORLDVIEW QUESTIONS 
The following is a short version of what I take to be the Christian answers to the four basic worldview questions:

Q1. What are the most important problems of human life? (Symptoms of Disease)
Alienation or separation from God, conflict and disharmony between people, mental and physical suffering, disease, death, and in the next life: divine eternal punishment.

Q2. What is the root-cause problem of what are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life? (Diagnosis of the Disease)
Sin (wrongdoing and disobedience to God and the human propensity towards wrongdoing) is the root cause problem of separation from God, conflict and disharmony between people, mental and physical suffering, disease, death, and ultimately results in eternal divine punishment.

Q3. What is the solution to what is (allegedly) the root-cause problem of what are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life? (Cure for the Disease)
Out of love and mercy for human beings, God sent his son Jesus to die on the cross and to rise from the dead in order provide salvation from sin, to atone for our sins, to reconcile us with God, and to provide eternal life to human beings.

Q4. How should we implement what is (allegedly) the solution to what is (allegedly) the root-cause problem of what are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life? (Treatment Plan for the Patients)
If one repents of one’s sins, and believes in Jesus as the divine savior of humankind who died for our sins and rose from the dead, then one’s sins will be forgiven by God, and the process of salvation from sin will begin, ultimately completing when Jesus raises the dead and gives eternal life in heaven to those who believed in him.

 
FURTHER ANALYSIS OF THE CHRISTIAN ANSWER TO WORLDVIEW QUESTION #1
The Christian answer to worldview question #1 can be analyzed into four categories: spiritual, physical, mental, and social (click on the image below for a clearer view of the chart):
 
EVALUATION OF THE CHRISTIAN ANSWER TO WORLDVIEW QUESTION #1
I have no significant objection to the problems identified by the Christian worldview in the categories of PHYSICAL, MENTAL, and SOCIAL.  Those problems identified by the Christian worldview are real and serious problems, and it seems to me that it is reasonable to consider those problems to constitute many of the most important problems that humans face.  So, the Christian answer to worldview question #1 is at least PARTLY correct.
My problem is with the alleged problems that fall under the category of SPIRITUAL:

  • Alienation or separation from God in this life
  • and in the next life: divine eternal punishment

These are actual problems ONLY IF God exists.  Since I do not believe that God exists, I do not believe that these are actual problems that humans face, and thus there is no need for a SOLUTION to these non-existent problems.
Furthermore, even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that God exists, these alleged problems would still NOT be among the most important problems that humans face.
Alienation or separation from God in this life might be a minor problem, but many atheists and non-religious people are happy and virtuous people, and many Christians and other religious people are unhappy and lacking in virtue.  So, Christianity and religion are NOT the keys to happiness and virtue.  At most, they provide some modest degree of help to some people to obtain happiness and virtue in this life.  Alienation from God is NOT a major problem in this life, even if God exists.
The other spiritual problem, namely the threat of divine eternal punishment in an afterlife, is clearly NOT a problem at all.  God is by definition a perfectly morally good person, but no person who is perfectly morally good would ever inflict eternal punishment on a human being.
Furthermore, a perfectly morally good person would never allow anyone else to inflict eternal punishment on a human being, if that perfectly morally good person had the power to prevent this from occurring.  God is by definition all-powerful, so if God exists, then there is no such thing as Hell, and there never will be such a thing as Hell.  The belief that God exists is logically incompatible with the belief that Someone will inflict eternal punishment and misery upon some human beings.  In other words, the belief that God exists is the strongest possible reason for rejecting the idea of there being a threat of eternal punishment in an afterlife.
Therefore, neither of the SPIRITUAL problems identified by the Christian worldview is among the most important problems that we humans face.  This part of the Christian answer to worldview question #1 is clearly WRONG.
 
CONCLUSION
The Christian answer to worldview question #1 is partly TRUE and partly FALSE.  The problems identified by Christianity that can be categorized as PHYSICAL, MENTAL, or SOCIAL are legitimate and important human problems that need to be solved.
However, the SPIRITUAL problems identified by Christianity are NOT among the most important human problems.  They are non-existent problems, because these are problems only if God exists, but God does not exist.  And even if we assume that God exists, one of the problems (alienation from God in this life) would be only a minor problem, and the other problem (eternal punishment) would NOT exist because it is logically incompatible with the claim that God exists.
Furthermore, each of the PHYSICAL, MENTAL, and SOCIAL problems identified by Christianity as being among the most important problems humans face, is an example of EVIL, and this raises the problem of evil, which represents a powerful objection to the belief that God exists.  Thus, this part of the Christian worldview, by acknowledging the existence of many serious problems/evils experienced by human beings, points to powerful evidence AGAINST the existence of God, and thus against the existence of the SPIRITUAL problems that Christianity identifies as being important human problems.
It should be noted that the problems that Christianity correctly identifies as being among the most important human problems (i.e. Physical problems, Mental problems, and Social problems), are obviously serious problems, so we don’t need a prophet or divine revelation (e.g. the Bible) in order to figure out that those are serious problems that need to be solved.  We don’t need Moses or Jesus to tell us that diseases and wars, for example, are bad problems that humans face.

bookmark_borderPodcast #6: Evaluation of the Christian Answer to Worldview Question #1

I fell off the wagon, and have not produced a podcast since 2017.  I got back on the wagon this year, and have finally produced Podcast #6 in my series “Thinking Critically About: Is Christianity True?”
I have analyzed the Christian worldview in relation to four basic worldview questions:
Q1. What are the most important problems of human life?
Q2. What is the root cause(s) of the most important problems of human life?
Q3. What is the solution(s) to the root cause problem(s) of the most important problems of human life?
Q4. What is the best way to implement the solution(s) to the root cause problem(s) of the most important problems of human life?
In Podcast #6, I discuss the evaluation of the Christian worldview’s answer to basic worldview question 1.  You can also download the PowerPoint (in a PDF) upon which this podcast is based.
Here is a page from the PowerPoint for Podcast #6: