Sunday, December 13, 2015

God, Prayer, and Free Will: Contra Justin Vacula



     Justin Vacula, an active NEPA blogger and outspoken atheist, occasionally delves into philosophical-religious topics by arguing against theistic presuppositions. I've written blogs related to Vacula's arguments before, especially his intriguing argument concerning natural evil. After the tragic San Bernardino terrorist attacks a few days ago, and following the release of the hypocritical Daily News cover criticizing prayer, I've decided to write a brief response to Vacula's blog entitled Selective Action and Prayer’s Incompatibility with Free Will. Through various arguments, I will conclude that Vacula, and skeptics like him, put forth fallacious arguments which do not reveal a contradiction between God, prayer, and free will.

   He begins by listing a common objection atheists make when Christians claim that prayer works:
‘Why doesn’t God intervene to stop mass murderers – perhaps even slightly, without notice — by altering humans’ thoughts? Since this does not happen, and God is supposed to be an all-loving, all-knowing being who can effortlessly stop heinous acts, we can be justified in disbelief of God.’
 Then he offers the typical Christian response:

A typical Christian response is such that if God intervened in human affairs [at least to stop mass murderers] free will would be infringed upon. Free will is of utmost importance — trumping all other concerns — and may not be infringed upon lest we be agents unable to exercise meaningful choice thus God does not intervene.
From this he argues that even if atheists accept the free will defense, then Christians still run into a several other difficulties, essentially jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire below.

     To demonstrate the problem, Vacula offers a brief thought experiment. Imagine Bob has just broken up with Jane. Heartbroken, Jane prays that Bob will get back together with her again. According to Vacula, if God intervenes then Bob's free will has been compromised:

Before the prayer there existed a state in which Bob, exercising his free will, decided not to remain in a relationship with Jane…but suddenly after the prayer Bob entered into a relationship with Jane. Free will would be infringed upon in this case because an already determined choice had been altered in some way because of God’s supposed interference.
But why should we think that? Ignoring prayer for the moment, it's not out of the ordinary for someone to make free choice X at time t only to go against that decision soon after t. In this case, Bob goes through two free choices: (1) To break up with Jane and (2) to get back together with Jane, each coming about at different times. These two choices certainly do not compromise Bob's free will.

     However, Vacula argues that if God is involved then it does, contrary to what I say, compromise Bob's free will:

If the Christian maintains that prayer instead led Bob and Jane to meet somewhere, for instance, and ultimately rekindled a romance there would still have to be a ‘divine rearranging’ of events by which Bob and Jane had met; God in some way had to have changed decisions of Bob and Jane so that they met.
I would argue that no such rearranging occurred. There's a misconception that God goes through real-time decision making. God, being eternally omniscient, knows the truth value of every proposition including counterfactuals. It follows that God knew that Jane would pray for Bob at that specific time. God's decision to answer Jane's prayer existed from eternity's past, but was only actualized at the proper time. Rearranging something presupposes that the old order of things wasn't satisfactory.

     What is consistent to say, however, is that God arranged it (from eternity's past) so that Bob and Jane got back together. Despite Vacula's claim, this doesn't entail that God directly changed the decisions of Bob and Jane anymore than encouraging my friend forces him to stick with a particular sport. My encouragement adds variables which promote a certain action by my friend, namely his decision to stick with the sport. Likewise, God may incite, or encourage, someone to freely choose something. God can do this in a Hollywood-esque way by booming His voice out of a storm complete with lightning and wind, or, as is generally the case, He can use subtle methods.

     I'll demonstrate one way which God can assist these hopeless romantics: First, Jane prays that Bob will take her back. Having prior knowledge of this, God arranges certain encouraging situations to take place. Bob, preparing to fly to his hometown during Christmas break, packs a travel bag given to him by Jane when they first met. Inside the front compartment is an old picture of Jane, which causes him to have a brief flashback. While driving to the airport, Bob turns on the radio only to hear Jane's favorite song playing. While listening to the song, he further reminisces about his happy memories with Jane. Once on the plan, Bob sits next to a young woman who wears the same perfume Jane always wore. Unable to get Jane out of his head the entire flight, he decides to call her when he lands. Through that conversation, they rekindle their love for one another and they go back out.

     Impossible? Not at all. Each situation I listed put a thought in Bob's head related to Jane. Thoughts can enter the mind's eye through involuntary means. Not many of us would think that 'random' thoughts compromise our free will anymore than the feeling of hunger forces me to eat food. Likewise, if God plants thoughts in our heads, either directly or indirectly, then he is not robbing us of our free will.

     Vacula, assuming his previous argument is valid, asks an important question that he feels reveals a second problem for the Christian:

[W]hy would God not intervene to stop deadly natural disasters, birth defects, etc — while maintaining that God intervenes in some areas in life but not in others. How could an all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing God intervene to help someone pass an examination but not intervene to stop hundreds dying because of a tsunami?
I generally find why-would-God questions to be weak. Regardless, I think that this question can be answered by breaking down the basics. First, this argument does not warrant disbelief in God; it only shows that God is indifferent, impotent, or ignorant. What would follow is some form of deism. Despite these niceties, Vacula must maintain that it is logically impossible for God (as so defined above) to have morally sufficient reasons for allowing some tragedy P. This is a heavy burden of proof. However, instead of playing defense, I'll treat his argument as a question, since it's technically how he phrased it.

     Imagine waking up in a concrete bunker with no memory of how you got there. Besides the bed that you're on and a dim light above you, there is nothing in the room besides two windows each connected to separate rooms ahead. It becomes apparent that you're a prisoner in the room as the only door out is barred from the outside. Weakly stepping off the bed, you make your way closer to the windows. A gut-wrenching feeling overtakes you as you observe what lies in the rooms before you. Looking through the left window, you see a cell similar to yours with someone chained up wearing a baggy robe and blindfolded with a sack over their head. You know they are alive because they are clearly trembling with fear. Despite your efforts to communicate, the prisoner doesn't know you're there. As you peer through the right window, fear runs up your spine. Before you are fifteen individuals chained and blindfolded. It's hard to make out age or gender. You also notice a small red button below each window, which is covered in a transparent plastic cap.

     As you process this grisly sight, you are startled by a loud echoing voice. Turning, you notice a loudspeaker in the corner of the room. You begin to listen to the calm and deliberate voice:

"Greetings. Today you will participate in a moral experiment. As you have noticed, there are two rooms beyond you. On your left there is a single individual. On the right, fifteen. You must choose who lives and who dies. The buttons below the windows will soon open, allowing you to press them. If you press the button on the left, then the individual before you will die. If you press the button on the right, then the fifteen die. If you fail to press a button then you all will die. You have 20 seconds to choose. Starting....now..."

     It's no doubt a difficult decision, but not because the correct choice isn't clear. It's obvious that saving the fifteen people is the best moral choice. It's difficult because most of us would have a hard time being responsible for the death of a person. However, if we are under the assumption that one human life is valuable, then surely fifteen people are more valuable than a single person. All we have to go by in this situation is quantity. There was no way to know gender, age, position, health, etc. No one would hold us accountable for letting that one person die.

     When it comes to God, however, we must adjust our thinking. Too often atheists fail to uphold God's properties throughout their arguments. Vacula's argument, or rather his passive-aggressive question, is guilty of this. So how would God choose in this situation? The honest answer is that we don't know. However, God could possess warrant for either decision. For example, let's say God decided to save the single individual while condemning the fifteen to death. From our standpoint we are appalled. However, God, being omniscient, knows all ends. Moreover, God, being omni-benevolent, seeks to bring about the greatest good*. God would look at the fifteen people and know how they would influence the world around them. Perhaps they, or their children, will set in motion greater amounts of evil in the future. There are thousands of ways this can be true. A theist only needs one possible scenario to refute the atheist's claim.

     Vacula must maintain, not that it's unlikely that killing the fifteen will lead to a greater good, but that it's impossible for that choice to lead to a greater good. Either way he phrases it, he would be doing so in ignorance. He would lack the necessary knowledge of future events, the necessary variables, to make that charge. This goes for the traditional problem of evil and also for the problem of natural evil. God allows a tsunami to kill thousands of people because, in his perfect knowledge of the future, he knows that doing so will lead to a greater good. This good may come the next day, or month, or year, or 100 years. Only God knows. The theist merely has faith in God's power.

    Does this mean that the Holocaust was a good thing because God allowed it to happen? Of course not. Theists are still right in calling it a horrible evil event. It certainly was evil. God, not violating human free will, allowed Hitler to initiate the order which led to the Holocaust because He knew that somewhere down the line a greater good would result. This is essentially a moral version of the butterfly effect.

    In conclusion, Vacula's arguments fall short. I've shown that answered prayer does not violate one's free will. Like random thoughts, or memory triggers, God can use subtle means to encourage another person to act a certain way without hijacking their will. Vacula fails to demonstrate why the contrary must be so. Moreover, I've shown that the problem of evil is impotent because it fails to uphold God's attribute in unison. Even if the problem of evil were true, it would only call into question one of God's attributes, thus leaving us with a form of deism and not atheism. Although my arguments are valid and sound, I don't think they do much for the emotional trauma one may go through as a result of profound loss. Here the atheist will always have a pulpit by which to preach. Yet the atheist's response to the problem of evil, if naturalism were true, boils down to "sh*t happens". That's unacceptable. With God before the mind's eye, the solution to the problem of evil is faith, hope, and love. I merely provided the starting point, but God will lead us, if we're willing, to the end.


Justin Vacula's blog: http://justinvacula.com/2014/10/17/prayers-incompatibility-with-free-will-and-selective-action/

*If God's goal is to bring about the greatest good at some point in the future, then it makes sense to not answer all prayers. Even if what we ask for is good and done in faith, God may know that eventually it will bring about a greater evil either against you or others. In the Gospel of Luke chapter 11 verses 11-13, Jesus says that a father, after his son asks for a fish, will not give the child a serpent (or an egg, a scorpion). Sometimes what we ask for takes on one form, but the motivations behind it are another form completely. I may ask for a Lamborghini, but what I really desire is a vehicle to fuel my personal hubris, greed, and materialism. In short, God is not a genie devoid of moral principle.









Monday, December 7, 2015

Against the Naturalists: A Response to Stefan Molynuex



     I think it's perfectly possible for one to admire another whom they strongly disagree with on a particular issue. Branching out of your comfort zones, intellectually speaking, is a virtue. There is no better way to do this than to listen to those who disagree, sometimes vehemently, with a position you hold. I know many people who begin to pick up the torch of philosophy only to settle down at the nearest comfortable bench, where the crowd of like-minded appeasers gather. However, those of us who aim for truth know that we must constantly be tested and refined, criticized and mocked, in order for true knowledge to come about.

     Stefan Molyneux , a successful internet radio intellectual, is a lover of wisdom. He admirably promotes the study of philosophy, and no doubt possesses a philosopher's heart. I find many of his videos, particularly about self-ownership and freedom, informative. He no doubt surpasses me in many fields of knowledge, even possessing an M.A. in History. However, despite these praises, I disagree with him strongly on the idea of God's existence.

     He wrote a short book entitled Against the Gods? where he explains reasons why theism is false and why agnosticism lacks a compelling foundation. Although short, the book is dense but also accessible to those unfamiliar with philosophical lingo. Molynuex takes a very rare approach not only in how he defines atheism, but also in how he argues against theism. While most so-called atheists beat around the bush and talk about irrelevant concepts (e.g. why miracles are silly), Molynuex grabs the bull by the horns and attempts a frontal assault.

     However, despite the philosophical merits present within his work, I think he ultimately fails in his endeavor.  The goal of this short work is to explain precisely why this is so. I'll do this by focusing primarily on the first three sections of his work. My conclusion is simple: arguments in favor of atheism are no better off now than they were several decades ago. Most beg the question and lack theological consistency.

I.

     Molynuex begins by critiquing the Oxford English Dictionary's definition of atheism. The OED defines atheism as a disbelief in, or a denial of, the existence of a god. According to Molynuex this is unsatisfactory because being in denial of something implies an emotional, or illogical, rejection of some reality:
"Denial" is a word associated with defensive rejections of reality, such as Holocaust
denier, climate change denier – or the generic avoidance of unpalatable emotional truths: "He’s in denial about her drinking."
 This is slightly overstretched, however. There's no reason to think that for any state of denial there is an emotional cause or reason for that denial. Moreover, he doesn't provide a definition of "denial" which supports his assertion. Although it's true that some people believe (or deny) things based on emotional premises, I don't think the OED was implying a specific motive for the denial in question.

     Continuing with his criticism of OED's definition of atheism, Molynuex argues that the phrase "a god" is problematic:
 [W]hy is the phrase "a god" used? If I say that supernatural beings such as leprechauns do not exist, why would anyone imagine that I only disbelieved in a single leprechaun named "Bob"?
Fair enough. However, he hasn't shown why this is the fault of the OED's definition. Although it isn't a practical definition, I don't think the OED is technically wrong. The problem isn't with definitions per say, but rather how the word is being applied. I think problems occur when we treat atheism as a worldview, rather than a byproduct of a worldview. For example, a Buddhist and an evolutionary biologist like Richard Dawkins are both atheists. However, they are atheists for very different reasons. The former rejects the existence of gods because Buddhism claims that 'the self' is an illusion along with any other distinctions, while the latter is a naturalist.

     I agree with Molynuex that the OED's definition of atheism is unsatisfactory, but only because it is impractical. With that definition alone, we all become atheists. As a Christian, I reject the existence of Allah, Krishna, Zeus, Thor, Athena, and any other god. Therefore, according to the OED's definition, I am an atheist several times over. This is clearly absurd. The definition fails because it attempts to define us negatively. Simply put, we don't define ourselves by what we aren't, but rather by what we are. This brings to light the basic properties of truth. For example, if I say I am a non-stamp collector, then I've essentially told you nothing about myself. I could be an indefinite number of things based on that weak utterance alone. However, if I say I am a Christian then I've told you a lot about myself and what I believe in practical terms.

     In a sense, Molynuex is correct in that claiming you disbelieve in the existence of leprechauns ought to rule out belief in a particular leprechaun named Bob. This is precisely how he will define atheism. Although not officially endorsing it, he provides the following definition in order to contrast it with the OED's:
Atheism: The acceptance of the non-existence of imaginary entities such as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and Bronze Age sky ghosts.
  Despite contrasting itself with the OED, this definition is too exaggerated. It brings into the picture nontheistic entities like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Atheism (a'-theos) literally means, "without god" or "no god", and not "without imaginary beings" like Molynuex supposes. It's clear that this definition he offers is a result of a governing worldview he assumes to be true, and which he doesn't directly state. In short, Molynuex is a naturalist.

     Naturalism is the belief that there is no god or anything like god. Metaphysically, it assumes a form of materialism such that existence, or reality, is that which is physical. Methodologically speaking, it claims that only material causes should be sought to explain phenomena. Obviously atheism follows from this given that monotheists assume God is essentially immaterial.

     Molynuex isn't content with leaving it at that, however. He has one more qualm with the word 'atheist':
The word "atheist" also indicates that belief in gods is the standard, and atheism is the
exception – just as "sane" is the standard, and "insane" is the exception. This is a mere scrap of sophistic propaganda, since all theists are almost complete atheists, in that they do not believe in the vast majority of man’s gods. The rejection of gods is the default position; the acceptance of a deity remains extremely rare, though not as rare as atheists would like.
It's interesting to note that 'sanity' assumes what is normal, which implies an appeal to majority. Likewise, belief in a god is the norm as any sociologist will tell you. This is true today and throughout all of history. Molynuex attempts to avoid this objection by claiming that theists are mostly atheistic in that they reject all the other hundreds of gods out there. As I stated above, this is a fallacious way of applying atheism. I think Molynuex assumes that all gods are qualitatively the same, such that believing in one but disbelieving in another makes you a hypocrite bathed in prejudice. However, there is a massive difference between Yahweh and Thor, for example. In fact, the two share almost nothing in common besides the fact that they are worshipped by men. It's perfectly possible, and logically consistent, to believe in one and not believe in the other.

     There doesn't seem to be any compelling reason to assign the word 'atheist' to a Christian as a result of this, since it's implied that the truth claim "Jesus is Lord" excludes the proposition "Allah exists." Furthermore, Molynuex is committing the fallacy of equivocation. He previously defined atheism as the rejection of imaginary beings, which includes gods. A theist, by definition, is one who believes in a god. Therefore, a theist can never be an atheist according to Molynuex's own definition. Attempting to apply 'degrees of atheism' to theists is therefore fallacious.

II.

     The following section, The Existence of Gods, Molynuex lays out some preliminary remarks we should consider when discussing the existence of gods. He notes that theists ignore the fact that gods cannot logically exist and that agnostics are too gentle by claiming they might exist. With regard to the former, it strikes me as a bit odd that he says theists 'ignore' the fact that gods cannot exist. Ignoring implies a deliberate attempt at blocking out information that might counter one's own position. How does he know theists are doing this? Perhaps a theist gives it their all, but fails to come up with a compelling argument. I'm sure Molynuex wouldn't appreciate the charge that he was ignoring facts about reality in order to defend his atheism (naturalism).

    Regardless, his path forward is pretty clear: gods cannot exist because they violate the laws of logic. It follows that agnosticism, with regard to the existence of gods, is erroneous. He states:
A being which does not contradict the properties of existence may exist – a proposed being which does, may not.
This is a valid foundation and no philosopher would disagree. However, this shifts forward Molynuex's fallacy of thinking that all gods are the same. When one groups Yahweh with gods like Thor and Zeus, then you know something went wrong. Without this clarification, he will attempt to apply a general criteria to all gods while declaring a single conclusion. Again, Yahweh and Thor share almost no properties together besides the fact that they are worshipped by men. Therefore, claiming that they all are contradictory, despite sharing nothing in common, is a heavy burden of proof.

III.

     The remainder of this work will deal with Molyneux's section entitled Why Are Gods Self-Contradictory? In this section, he lays out his case for why gods cannot exist. Again, it's admirable that he does this given the fact that most atheists would never dare attempt to disprove the existence of gods, instead relying on theists to prove that they do.

     Despite the admirable attempt, Molynuex commits a devastating blunder in the first paragraph. He states:
At the very minimum, a god is defined as an eternal being which exists independent of material form and detectable energy, and which usually possesses the rather enviable attributes of omniscience and omnipotence.
What I shall call "Molynuex's fallacy" has struck again. Remember, his case is about showing why gods (plural) do not exist. However, he seems to overlook that fact that not all gods are the same. Contrary to his minimalist definition, not all gods are eternal, not all exist independent of material form and detectable energy, and not all possess omniscience and omnipotence. Reading Hesiod's Theogony will confirm my position. What he is describing is monotheism, particularly a deistic conception of god. So why the shift? I believe it's because monotheism is really the only philosophically worthy form of theism taken seriously in academia. However, by lumping monotheists in with polytheists, he is able to poison the well in order to make it seem like God is really like a sky-daddy (a strawman that I will deal with later).

     Ignoring the initial blunder, his first argument deals with God's lack of biological complexity:
First of all, we know from biology that even if an eternal being could exist, it would be the simplest being conceivable. An eternal being could never have evolved, since it does not die and reproduce, and therefore biological evolution could never have layered levels of increasing complexity over its initial simplicity. We all understand that the human eye did not pop into existence without any prior development; and the human eye is infinitely less complex than an omniscient and omnipotent god. Since gods are portrayed as the most complex beings imaginable, they may well be many things, but eternal cannot be one of them. 
But why think that? First, he's made it abundantly clear that God is defined as an immaterial being. Biology is impossible without matter. Therefore, the standards of biology shouldn't apply to God. Moreover, it's questionable how being complex or simple has any bearing at all on whether something is eternal. Molynuex never attempts to explain it. Finally, he merely states that theists argue that God is complex without citing any specific examples (a pattern that will exist throughout his book).

     So is God complex or simple? I'm inclined to go with the latter. Complexity is contingent upon the number of parts something has as well as its being difficult to hold in a thought at a given time. The former clearly doesn't apply to God since he isn't composed of parts. God is remarkably simple in that he is made up of spirit or, if you prefer, mind. God is only complex in the sense that his thoughts, and attributes, possess an infinite intensity. We are unable to put ourselves in God's shoes, for we lack the mental capacity to experience his infinite attributes. I am unaware of many theologians who argue for God's complexity, especially in terms of parts/wholes. Therefore, Molynuex's point is exaggerated and fails to reveal a contradiction.

     The second argument he puts forth attempts to reveal that an immaterial mind, like God would have, is nonsensical and contradictory:
Secondly, we also know that consciousness is an effect of matter – specifically biological matter, in the form of a brain. Believing that consciousness can exist in the absence of matter is like believing that gravity can be present in the absence of mass, or that light can exist in the absence of a light source, or that electricity can exist in the absence of energy. Consciousness is an effect of matter, and thus to postulate the existence of consciousness without matter is to create an insurmountable paradox, which only proves the nonexistence of what is being proposed.
Do we know that consciousness is an effect of matter? Unsurprisingly, Molynuex doesn't cite any scientific findings. He merely declares it and then hopes we trust him. The truth is, science has only shown a correlation between consciousness and brain activity. As Molynuex knows, or ought to know, correlation does not equal causation.

     This topic is hotly debated between three camps: realists, dualists, and idealists. Realists would represent people like Molynuex who believe that material objects are real independent of conscious observation. For example, if all conscious beings were wiped out, then the physical universe would carry on like it always has. A dualist is one who believes that the mind is fundamentally immaterial but which interacts with the physical world (primarily through the brain). A dualist is more or less inclined to say that the absence of human consciousness has no bearing on the physical world. An idealist, however, believes that reality is fundamentally mind. If all minds were wiped out, then an idealist would say that the physical world would amount to nothing. Idealists and dualists tend to agree on most things, and what they differ on is technical, philosophical, jargon, as well as the scope of their claims. Practically speaking, dualists and idealists are on the same side.

     Are non-realist conceptions of reality nothing more than systems of sophistry? Unfortunately, Molynuex never bothers to bring them into the conversation. In terms of arguing for the existence of consciousness without matter, I need not promote one over the other (i.e dualism or idealism). Instead, I'll begin with recent scientific findings and then work my way to a philosophical case.

    Science, particularly in the field of quantum mechanics, has made some stellar findings in this area. Scientists have noted that particles, prior to observation, exist in what is called a wave function. In this state, the particle lacks any definite properties, instead existing as various possibilities (see Schrödinger's equation). Only upon observation does the wave function collapse into what we call a particle. This has been confirmed by the famous double slit experiment.

     Quantum mechanics is relevant to the consciousness debate because depending on how you view the nature of the mind (i.e. whether you think the mind is physical or not) determines whether you encounter a contradiction. If the mind is purely the physical interactions within the brain, and the brain is subject to quantum mechanics, then we would have to be constantly observed by another in order to possess any definite properties. If reality is nothing but physical interactions, then this creates an infinite loop of physical-conscious observers. This is known as the measurement problem. In short, who is observing me and who is observing the one observing me? Ad infinitum.

     Those who reject that the mind is the brain are able to escape this chain by claiming that our immaterial consciousness, by definition, isn't made up of particles. Therefore, consciousness would be a non-local aspect unaffected by the chain. Our minds actively participate in reality, even if we aren't the architects of reality (contra solipsism). The architect of reality, the One observing us observing the world, is God. But I will not delve into that at the present time.

     The point is, Molynuex has an inadequate foundation for making the claim that immaterial consciousness is a contradiction. This larger metaphysical problem will always knock on his door until he finally opens it, thus acknowledging the inadequacy of realism.

     Finally, even with all this quantum lingo aside, Molynuex severely over-exaggerates the strengths of materialistic-based neuroscience. Consider the observations of Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, a leading expert in the field of neuroplasticity:
Not even the most detailed fMRI give us more than the physical basis for perception or awareness; it doesn't come close to explaining what it feels like from the inside. (The Mind and the Brain, pg 27)
 To suggest that a series of neurons is anything at all like code is dubious. However, even if we assume that it was, we cannot derive semantics from syntax. This is precisely why neuroscientists must ask their patients what they are thinking about as they observe brain scans. The reason for this is that the subject has privileged, private, access to their own subjective life -- the semantical, qualitative, experience.

     In other words, Molynuex exaggerates the materialist's claim without citing any sources. He's dead wrong here. So far there is no contradiction between the properties of God.

     His third argument attempts to reveal a contradiction between God's omniscience and omnipotence:
[O]mniscience cannot coexist with omnipotence, since if a god knows what will happen
tomorrow, said god will be unable to change it without invalidating its knowledge. If this god retains the power to change what will happen tomorrow, then it cannot know with exact certainty what will happen tomorrow.

Molynuex's argument is based on a faulty understanding of omniscience and omnipotence. A being is omniscient if it knows all true propositions, including counter-factuals. Omnipotence is the ability to do any thing--- that is key. Omnipotence does not entail the ability to actualize a contradictory state of affairs. For example, a square-circle is not a thing. So the age old question "can God create a rock so large that He cannot lift it?" becomes nonsensical as if God is deficient for not being able to create contradictions (unless you think an infinitely extended rock is possible).

     In light of this, answering his third argument is rather easy. If God knows that X will occur at time t, then X will occur at time t. If God wills that X does not occur at time t, then he knows that X will not occur at time t (however, that is the same as saying that God knows that Y will happen at time t). God's knowing (and decisions) occurred prior to the creation of the universe. God's omnipotence doesn't override this, for if it did then a contradiction would occur. It would demand that what will be will not be. Since omnipotence doesn't entail the ability to actualize contradictions, then there is no difficulty.

     One might say this shows that God doesn't have any free will. However, free will is not determined by the number of choices available to a person. Imagine if I was presented with a red button and a green button. I must choose to press either one. However, if my brain was hooked up with electrodes such that my decision to press the red button would result in my deciding to press the green one, then if I originally decided to press the green button, despite the fact of only having that option available to me, I still chose to press the green button freely.

    Molynuex's third argument critiques an inadequate version of God that the majority of theists don't accept (with the exception of Martin Luther and Rene Descartes). It's like saying that God's omnipotence contradicts God's omnibenevolence because He lacks the power to do an evil deed. No, God lacks the ability to do an evil deed because it would contradict his good nature. Again, God can't actualize contradictions, which is what omnipotence presupposes. Thus far God has gone unscathed.

     His fourth argument is quite peculiar:
The fourth objection to the existence of deities is that an object can only rationally be defined as existing when it can be detected in some manner, either directly, in the form of matter and/or energy, or indirectly, based upon its effects on the objects around it, such as a black hole.
He continues:
Since "god" means "that which is undetectable, either directly or indirectly," then the
statement "gods exist" rationally breaks down to:  "That which does not exist, exists."
One can smell the naturalism emanating from his words. Regardless, it's actually not hard to conceive of something that is not detectable to others, either in the form of matter and/or energy, or based upon its effects on the objects around it. My intention to honor a particular agreement exists, yet is not detectable by anyone else. Appealing to brain chemistry won't help because a series of neurons {A,B,C} firing is not equivalent to my intention to honor an agreement. I'm assuming that my own self-perception counts under Molynuex's criteria. If it doesn't then he'd have to say his own thoughts and intentions don't exist because they (especially the content of the thought or intention) wouldn't be detectable by others.

     But even if self-perception counts, we still run into an issue. The proposition "the external world exists" becomes problematic. Not to get all solipsistic on Molynuex, but how would he be able to tell the difference between a virtually flawless simulation his brain is hooked up to versus the real world? He'd walk through the simulation declaring, "This apple before me exists because I can perceive it", all the while his body lies motionless on a medical bed hooked up to wires.

     Moreover, what about people who claim to experience God in their hearts? They are convinced that God is detectable. Obviously Molynuex would call such people deluded, but would he be justified in doing so despite being unable to tell the difference between a simulated apple and a 'real' apple? Furthermore, how would he explain the existence of goodness? Surely, I can detect someone giving a homeless person $5, but to say that somewhere in that physical data there exists 'goodness' is simply erroneous. Molynuex's criteria for existence simply fails to deal with all aspects of our experience. Therefore, it cannot effectively be applied to God.

IV.

    The rest of his book concerns agnosticism and his various criticisms of it, with a few sections dealing with ethics and the history of belief in gods. Since these particular sections are contingent upon the truth of his argument against the coherency of God, and given the fact that I have at least shown his arguments to be dubious, then I need not concern myself with these sections in any great detail. However, some brief remarks can be made about agnosticism as it appears to be wedded to atheism in most contemporary discussions.

     Agnosticism (a'- gnostikos) simply means, "without knowledge". What seems to go unnoticed in God-talks is the fact that one can be an agnostic with regard to any proposition. For example, if I have no idea about 19th century medical technology, and someone asks me to take a stance on some proposition related to the subject, then I would have to confess my ignorance by saying, "I'm sorry but I don't know enough to affirm or deny your proposition." As Molynuex would know, it's a philosophical virtue to confess your ignorance when appropriate.

     Both atheists and agnostics (with regard to the existence of gods) lack a belief in god(s). However, like the Buddhist I mentioned previously, they both come to that conclusion by different means. Again, the agnostic lacks adequate knowledge of some concept in order to affirm or deny the existence of god, while an atheist affirms that god does not exist based on deductive or inductive arguments. Those who claim to be agnostics, but dwell on denying the existence of god, will inevitably be asked to reveal the worldview responsible for their objections. There's a point beyond merely rejecting the form of a theist's argument that would require an agnostic to put forth their worldview (almost always some form of naturalism). Molynuex rightly criticizes agnostics who possess adequate knowledge of logic and science, yet flirt with the boundaries while refusing to commit to atheism.

     I think the appeal of agnosticism is its ability to grant the individual an advantage in debates. As an agnostic, you enter the discussion with no burden of proof. You can literally sit there with arms folded and demand that the theist present his case. Unfortunately this is often abused by atheists disguising themselves as agnostics. They'll criticize an aspect of a theistic argument, running out from the phalanx to deliver blows, only to retreat behind the wall of shields when the "going gets tough." This is passive-aggressive sophistry.

V.

     To conclude, Molynuex takes the correct path in his attempt to refute theism. However, as my case clearly lays out, his arguments fail to hold weight. He relies on naturalism, often assuming that it's self-evident, and then tries to force God (or gods) to conform to his hotly contested standards. He never bothers arguing why naturalism is true, and in fact never even uses the term. Moreover, he never cites a single source for his claims, thus requiring us to have faith in him. Finally, and most importantly, he attempts to refute all gods by using arguments designed to attack deism. This makes all of his bravado early in his work lose its force. Despite Molynuex's sophistication, God passes through his arguments unscathed. Atheism, then, appears no better now than before.

Friday, August 28, 2015

GoTopless and the Incoherence of Sexual Feminism

 
 
    Ignoring the fact that the GoTopless movement/organization is founded by a man who claims aliens talked to him in 1973, there are some thought-provoking tidbits to mention.

   The main point behind the movement is to fight for a woman's 'right' to walk around bare chested. They claim that it's hypocritical for men to walk around without shirts on and to do so without receiving scorn.

   Fair enough. However, their 'mission statement' cannot be understood inside a vacuum. This inevitably involves us in (extreme) feminist thought, the nature of sexuality, and the seemingly outdated concept of modesty.

   According to feminists, to 'objectify' a women is to view her as a sexual object. They claim that this objectification pervades our culture and has even caused women to objectify themselves. Due to the dominance of pornography in its various forms, men just can't help but to entertain sexual thoughts when confronted with the slightest sexual stimuli.

   So what, then, is man's natural sexual appetite? A straight man's sexual orientation, its proper object (pardon the pun), is aimed at the opposite sex, the female. I'll save you all a Discovery Channel- lesson and briefly say that women are equipped with certain assets that men recognize, and sexually so. There doesn't seem to be a point to a sexual orientation otherwise.

   I argue that one's sexual appetite has a biological foundation but is also heavily influenced by the environment. Those surroundings, however, are hyper-sexualized in this country. The USA is the #1 exporter of porn. The industry, and its coexisting ideology, permeates across our daily lives. Young teenagers are introduced to this perversion at an exponential rate and this has obvious consequences: young men have an abnormal appetite for sexual pleasure and develop what I call 'the porn lens', whereby they see women as a complicated puzzle game that rewards the victor with sex.

  Throwing a curveball at all of this is the fact that we aren't mere animals operating on instincts like a puppet guided by its strings. We can, and often do, suppress our appetites, instincts, and desires all the time. This is why men can observe an event such as GoTopless and not rape every half naked woman they find. This doesn't mean, however, that they don't get sexual thoughts by observing these bare-breasted activists. In fact, whether they desire it or not, men probably do have those thoughts due to their overly sexual upbringing acting upon their physiology. Those who can keep those thoughts at bay do so with great effort, looking away, fearing that their thoughts will violate the activist. How one suppresses these thoughts depends upon their level of self-control including their adherence to moral virtues. This leads me to a further point.

   Whether fully naked or scantily clothed, no man is justified in making sexual advances toward a woman, nor does he receive a single grain of justification for raping a woman who, according to rapist lingo, "was asking for it" due to her choice of clothing. However, women who possess knowledge of our perverted culture, but still choose to show off their sexual assets are making a mistake if they want to promote their feminist ideals. A woman's breasts are considered erogenous, that is, they promote sexual arousal in males because they promote sexual stimulation in females. Therefore, feminist ideals promoted in these strange protests are likely to have the opposite effect.

    In a town plagued by break-ins, one may leave their doors unlocked in order to send a message: "Don't tell me to lock my doors! Tell those burglars to stop breaking in homes!" Fair enough. However, despite the burglar not receiving an ounce of justification for his crime, the homeowner is increasing the chance that a break-in will take place. The anti-burglary message will fall on deaf ears and, in fact, will bring joy to the thief's ears knowing that this particular home is easier to rob.

    So it is with sexual feminism. Many promote this slogan while their breasts are exposed: "Don't tell me to cover up! Teach men not to rape!" Yes, men shouldn't rape regardless of a woman's choice of clothes or lack thereof. However, showing your breasts to men who have largely been indoctrinated by our porn culture will only help their sick fantasies grow. I recently asked some of my coworkers about this, and despite a serious conversation eventually occurring, it began with a typical response: "Women walking around showing off their tits? Hell yeah I'd like that!" I think this mentality represents the majority, even if those thoughts are kept to themselves.

   I argue that their method of activism is hypocritical and self-defeating. It can never just be about a woman's right to bare her breasts. Even if it was, they have to deal with the sexual aspects first. However, in the rare event they discuss the inherent sexual issues that breasts bring to the table, one receives a confused, circular explanation. On one hand they'll cite the freedom to sexually express themselves, but on the other hand maintain that sexual objectification by men (in particular) is wrong. If men are wrong to have sexual thoughts about half naked women, then what about a man's freedom to 'sexually express' himself in porn or by verbal communication? Some maintain that porn IS sexual expression and that feminists don't have a monopoly on the concept. So do feminists take the censorship route by banning or limiting porn? If so, then how do they get away from being charged with double standards? After all, if the majority of men want to see 'free tits' on the sidewalk, then why would feminists want to cave into that form of patriarchy? I thought you combated perversion with modesty.    

   My own opinion of the situation is mixed. On one hand, I agree with them. A man's chest (not necessarily his breasts/nipples) can be erogenic to women (broad shoulders, abs, etc). If we allow a man to walk around without a shirt on, despite the fact that it could cause sexual desires in women, then it seems odd that we demand a harsher standard for women. But my solution goes in the complete opposite direction. Perhaps men and women should cover themselves up more! Perhaps modesty is the solution. If I do not want sexual attention, then the last thing I want to do is expose the parts of my body that cause sexual desires in women. In that respect, I would expect feminists to think the same. For me, it's a matter of courtesy. Unfortunately, feminism has gotten so extreme that it isn't about equality anymore; it's about turning the tables on men so that women can have their dominance.
        
    Should a woman be fined for indecent exposure for showing her breasts? Perhaps not. There are ways to tolerate it. However, the slippery slope this topic possesses should warn us. Since Progressives are so keen on tearing down barriers for the sake of tearing them down, then what about public sex laws? What about full nudity and exposing the prime erogenous body parts? Some say this behavior is natural. But like those who use art as an excuse to do anything profane, these hippies lack a moral compass to put an end to their destruction of barriers. From a historical standpoint, humans are animals that clothe themselves. Even in societies that tolerated nudity, the natural, common behavior was to have some form of clothing on. Therefore, those who cite nature as a justification for their partial nudity are wrong. Is it any shock that the GoTopless leader must invoke aliens to promote his pseudo-spiritual worldview?

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Atheism Revisited

 
 
     This article is an in-depth examination of atheism and its affiliated worldviews. This particular subject is of great interest to me because, as a Christian, understanding atheism assists in understanding the foundations of my worldview. Obviously if God does not exist then my entire faith crumbles into a grand delusion. There can be no "Thus sayeth the Lord" if there is no 'Lord'. My goal is not only to give an adequate definition of atheism, but also to reveal some of its key presuppositions. By the end of this work I will conclude the following:

(1) Atheism is not just a mere lack of belief in God.
(2) Agnosticism is limited in argumentation.
(3) Atheistic arguments shouldn't be 'religion-centric'.
(4) Naturalism is dubious at best.

                                                           An Adequate Definition

     The prefix a- usually means not or without, as in 'atypical'. The word atheism, similarly, means without theism or not theism. However, this isn't particularly helpful unless we understand what theism is. There can be slight variations, but theism typically refers to any belief in a god of the universe. There is some debate as to how particular variations should be categorized. For example, should we consider pantheism (i.e. the belief that 'all is God') as a subclass of theism, or an entirely different class altogether? For the sake of brevity, I will not delve deeper into the classification of theism, as it is ultimately irrelevant when dealing with atheism. Consequently, I define atheism as a belief that there is no God or anything like God.

     There is no doubt that this definition will be controversial. There has been a strong push to define atheism as a 'lack of belief' in God. However, if we take this route then we enter tricky waters. Although atheism entails a lack of belief in God, it must be more than this in order to be presentable. For example, there are many groups of people that could say the following: "I have a lack of belief in Yahweh." Hindus, Buddhists, Deists, Sikhs, and Atheists would all agree. Excluding atheists for the moment, all have their specific reasons for rejecting Yahweh. Any statement that affirms X is at the same time denying its negation. If I say, "I am 27 years old" then I also have a lack of belief in the statement "I am 24 years old (i.e. not 27 years old)" Similarly, an obedient and knowledgeable Buddhist, believing in the central tenants of Buddhism, must lack a belief in Yahweh.

     An exception to this would be found in agnosticism. It is here that the confusion is most prominent. Again, as in atheism, agnosticism possesses the prefix a-, meaning not or without. It is followed by the Greek word gnōstikós, which means 'knowledge'. Quite literally, then, agnosticism means "without knowledge". Whereas a 'lack of belief' came about as a result of affirming some other proposition before, here it is derived from disinterest, ignorance, or any other reason that allows one to withhold judgment. For example, when I became a Christian, I was ignorant of the concept of baptism. If someone were to ask me at that time, "Do you believe in paedobaptism or credobaptism?" then I would have confessed my ignorance by saying, "I'm sorry, but I don't have an opinion because I lack the knowledge to affirm either one." In this example I lack a belief in both credobaptism and paedobaptism, but only as a result of my ignorance. Unlike atheism, agnosticism can be, and often is, unrelated to belief in God. One can be agnostic with regard to any proposition. Moreover, it is a personal statement and not a position about reality.

     Therefore, those who equate atheism with agnosticism are making a categorical error. Although both an agnostic (with regard to God's existence) and an atheist both have a lack of belief in God, they arrive at that lack of belief by very different means. The former arrives there by some sort of ignorance and the latter by means of affirming some metaphysical or methodological proposition. Agnosticism, moreover, is very limited in argumentation and ought to be an impermanent position in one's life. Besides pointing out formal fallacies in their opponent's arguments, an agnostic is very limited in what they can assume in their critiques and still walk under the 'without knowledge' banner. Those claiming to be mere agnostics, and yet mercilessly mocking those holding theistic beliefs, are either bullies or atheists in disguise.

                                                           What is Being Affirmed?

     What, then, is atheism affirming? To answer this we must delve into the difference between 'god' and 'God'. The former is referring to a substance whereas the latter is expressing a specific person. By substance, I mean the essential, nonpersonal, properties of God shared by both deists and theists alike. For example, God's omnipresence, omnipotence, omniscience, spacelessness, and eternality are all impersonal properties. God (in the Christian sense) possesses specific personal properties that a generic deistic god would lack. For example, God is all-loving, is perfectly good*, walked with Abraham, and forgives sin.

     I argue that atheism isn't merely a rejection of a person-specific god, like the God of Christianity. Instead, the rejection is against supernatural beings. If atheism was simply the rejection of Yahweh, for example, then it is grouped with all the various non-Yahweh worldviews and religions out there. This adds unnecessary confusion and turns atheism into a meaningless term. If an atheist claims that he has a lack of belief in Yahweh, then does this mean that he doesn't have a lack of belief with regard to Allah, or Krishna? Obviously this isn't what atheism means. Instead, if atheism is a rejection of supernatural entities, then the term is referring to a worldview that would exclude itself from Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. The term would tell us something very specific about its views on reality, just like a person claiming to be a Christian gives us a satisfactory idea of what they believe about reality in general.

     Studying popularized arguments in favor of atheism will reveal this. One doesn't have to go far on Youtube to witness how atheists typically argue. Most of their initial wave of arguments, the face of the attack, is against religious beliefs. However, I maintain that religious categories are irrelevant in terms of arguing for atheism. Obviously miracles are ridiculous, silly, and unrealistic if you don't believe in a God that can feed His power into the natural system. Atheists don't believe in God. Therefore, their attack on religion is uninteresting and irrelevant. A religion is merely a set of beliefs about what God has said and done in history, or any revelation about reality believed by a group of people that cannot be known by pure observation. An atheist has to admit that if God exists, then changing water into wine is possible in the broad logical sense. They might reject it historically, but to go on about how silly it is doesn't do much other than to spin their wheel of circularity.

   Consider the reality of those who believe in deism (generic monotheism). A typical Youtube atheist wouldn't fare well against one with said convictions. The atheist could go on and on about how silly miracles are, how petty it is for God to be concerned with sin, and so on. The entire time a deist might nod his head in agreement, but he nonetheless believes in a god of the universe. If an atheistic argument falls flat against a deist, then that argument ceases to be an atheistic argument and only becomes an irrelevant jab. Only by engaging with deism can atheism be a presentable worldview.

                                                                    Naturalism

     An atheist successfully deals with theism (specifically deism) by defending and arguing from the worldview behind their atheism. This worldview is almost always naturalism; a worldview which claims that only material causes should be sought (methodological naturalism) or the view that reality is ultimately, and objectively, physical. Arguing from this position allows the atheist to refute theism as a whole. Obviously God cannot exist if only material things exist, because God is essentially immaterial. A problem occurs, however, when one realizes that naturalism lacks a robust philosophical foundation.

     The arguments in favor of naturalism are few, because most of the popular ones prove to be question-begging. For example, a popular argument in favor of naturalism comes from the promotion of science. It is said that science is the most reliable way of knowing about reality and has consistently yielded material causes for phenomena once thought to have supernatural causes. However, science is merely a method of discovering truths about the natural world, and it takes a worldview to piece together the evidence it discovers. Naturalism just so happens to be one possible assumption behind science. Therefore, it doesn't help to suggest that science confirms naturalism when the one making the claim is assuming naturalism in their science from the start.

     The reason for assuming naturalism in science could come about through a rejection of 'God-of-the-Gaps' reasoning. Historically, it could be argued, primitive man has created supernatural explanations for phenomena he didn't fully understand. Perhaps this offered him reassurance and comfort in such a dark, dangerous, and confusing world. I say 'perhaps' because saying this is mere speculation from a historical standpoint. However, the argument goes that as we sought to look for causes within the material things themselves, we began to understand the world more accurately, which led to the development of better technology.

     Fair enough. However, I think this is too much of a cookie cutter argument and fails to understand what theists meant when they used God as an explanation. Aristotle, a primitive man by naturalist standards, recognized four types of causation in the world. A material cause concerns the 'stuff' that makes up something. A formal cause concerns the arrangement of a thing (often in a mathematical sense). An efficient cause concerns the interaction between two objects (i.e. a carpenter causes the table). Lastly, a final cause concerns the telos (or end goal) of a thing or what it's purpose was for. The point of all this is to suggest that the ancients (or 'primitive man') didn't merely see the world through supernatural eyes and claim "the gods did it." Even when they did say this, it most likely was referring to final and efficient causes.

     Think about it: If God exists, then he is the ultimate cause of things. With regard to the universe, God is its efficient cause and any purposes for it are its final causes. A scientist is mostly concerned with the local causes of a thing, like its material and formal causes. Therefore, one who accuses another of using God-of-the-Gaps reasoning is failing to understand what the theist is saying. The only groups of theists that might have a problem here are those who embed the divine into the world like pantheists. But generic monotheists, even the primitive ones, can maintain their view that God is behind all things while accepting, and even promoting, material and formal causes. Naturalists are erecting a false dichotomy by saying otherwise.

    At the end of the day their naturalism isn't justified by appealing to the success of science or by pointing to the ignorance of the past. There are scores of scientists who are theists and who have contributed a great deal to the discipline as a whole. I see no contradiction in saying "God created the universe and gravity causes this stone to fall to the earth." The latter is a local cause while the former is an ultimate and higher order cause. The only way to cite a contradiction in the aforementioned statement is to adhere to metaphysical naturalism, or the claim that only material things exist.

     Metaphysical naturalism, however, is extremely difficult to defend. Many seem to ride methodological naturalism as far as it can go and jump to the conclusion that metaphysical naturalism is true. This is unwarranted, however. There is no direct path from methodological naturalism to metaphysical naturalism. Instead, a metaphysical naturalist must rely on philosophical arguments. However, this is precisely where they run into problems.

                                                                Metaphysical Problems

     Naturalists, like everyone else, have two possibilities when it comes to classifying things. Either something is necessary or it's contingent. Something is necessary in its existence if it exists in all possible worlds (not to be confused with different dimensions)*. It follows that necessity entails that a particular thing has always existed and could not fail to exist. On the other hand, something is contingent if it does not exist in all possible worlds. It also follows that a contingent thing could fail to exist and consequently derives its existence from some prior state or event other than itself.

     Reality is all that is. The highest level of physical reality for a naturalist would be the universe*. Therefore, the question becomes, is the universe necessary or contingent? Another way of phrasing it: Has the universe always existed or did it come into existence? Most naturalists tend to support the former, but I argue that both are contradictory if you call yourself a naturalist.

     The latter explanation, that the universe is a created thing, runs into a serious problem. What preceded the universe such that it caused its existence? Was this thing physical as well? If so, then what caused that thing? Ad infinitum. The only other options a naturalist can take is to suggest that (A) the universe came from nothing or (B) that which created the universe isn't, or wasn't, physical. (A) Is patently contradictory because nothing (nonbeing) has no causal powers (otherwise it would be something). (B) is to concede that naturalism is false.

     Claiming that the universe has always existed runs into a deep metaphysical problem that tends to be downplayed or overlooked altogether. The typical defense against theists is to say something like the following: "You say that God has always existed and doesn't need a cause, but it's much simpler to say the universe has always existed and doesn't need a cause. There is no need for the God hypothesis." Carl Sagan made this argument often. What one should focus on, however, is whether the universe is compatible with being necessary, or being eternal for that matter.

     Did the totality of space, time, and matter exist eternally, that is, infinitely in the past? No. Not only do the latest models of cosmology contradict this, but it is inherently problematic even without scientific evidence. Briefly, the standard big bang model of the universe is the best supported model of the universe's first moments; it's even supported by the likes of Stephen Hawking. There is also evidence to suggest that the universe is speeding up, which counters oscillating models.

     Regardless, the idea of an actual infinite series of events in the universe's history betrays logic. Matter is in constant flux all the way down to electrons orbiting the nucleus (some argue even further down than this, which we'll get to later). This change is measured, and experienced, with what we call time. A series of events must have a non-arbitrary starting point, such that "1" or "A" designates the earliest in the series. All other units within that series are justified by either extreme in the series, and receive their identity in relation to these extremes. For example, "2" is logically understood as occurring directly after "1", while "5" is understood as coming before "6" and after "4". We typically exclude "0" from the series, since it's more of a redundancy. If "0" and negative numbers were included, it would still remain the same concept. However, even if one wanted to arbitrarily start the series at "34", for example, it wouldn't change anything. Either, "34" is used equivocatively to mean "1", or it's understood that 1-33 exist, but aren't under consideration for whatever reason.

     The problem with those who suggest that an actual infinite series can be traversed is when they arbitrarily pick a starting point to count forward from while ignoring those units prior and claim, "See? It can be done." It's like standing in an elevator that's moving up while saying, "See? I'm pulling myself up by my boot straps!" It doesn't work like that. Mathematically speaking, an actual infinite is logically incoherent when applied to nature. If I have an infinite series of green and red balls alternating one after the other and take away only the red balls, then I am left with an infinite amount of green balls. However, I took away an infinite amount of red balls. Therefore, in this case, infinity minus infinity equals infinity, which is absurd. Subtracting two like quantities ought to yield zero, and not itself. In fact, the only thing remotely close to the above contradiction is subtracting zero by zero. However, it's understood that zero isn't a quantity. It follows that an actual infinite cannot be traversed and, therefore, cannot be compatible with any physical system.

     Ignoring infinity for a moment, there is also a strong ontological objection to naturalism. As was mentioned before, something is either necessary or contingent. Each ontological horn, so to speak, limits what is and isn't compatible. I argue that if something is necessary then its essential properties are locked in place, for if those properties could change then so could the entire thing itself. If all the properties are gradually replaced over a specific time, then a very different thing comes about. This is contrary to what necessity entails.

     The universe is in constant flux and we know that it violently changed during its first moments. Properties emerged that were not present prior. So at T1 the universe displayed properties {ABC}, but at T2 it displayed {CDE}. From T1 to T2 there existed substantial change. However, saying "the universe is necessary" assumes a specific set of properties, or a 'thing' to be grasped. Consider something as small as an atom. If we were to freeze time, we would be able to make a list of properties that specific atom had. One particular property would be the location of its electron. If this atom were necessary in its existence then the property "located at X" would be necessarily true of it, such that the property "located at Y" would never come about and would not be true of it. If a lake is necessarily frozen, then saying it has the potentiality to melt into water is logically incoherent; it's akin to saying a married bachelor will get a divorce. Potentiality and change contradict necessity. The universe possesses potentiality and change. Therefore, the universe isn't necessary in its existence.

     Finally, another nail in the coffin against metaphysical naturalism comes from the discoveries in quantum physics. The primary conclusion: "There is no measurement prior to observation." In other words, consciousness is required for there to be physical objects. Particles exist in what is known as 'wave functions' prior to conscious observation. These 'waves' are but mere possibilities and lack any objective properties. However, upon observation these waves collapse into what we know as particles. How can the naturalist's premise "Reality is physical" be true or have been true if consciousness is required for collapsing waves? Consciousness must come prior to matter for any of it to make sense. However, here rests another problem: If my brain is merely a physical organ, and consciousness is a result of its assembly, then how is it that my mind exists within this system? How is my brain 'wave function' being collapsed if I'm not being observed? As the evidence for quantum physics increases, so does the truth of idealism and mind/body dualism. Realism, a metaphysical assumption behind naturalism, is incompatible with these findings.

     Naturalism fails because it does not provide an adequate account of origins. In response, it might be tempting to claim something like the following: "What you speak of preys on our scientific ignorance. Science continues to make discoveries about our world. The universe's origins will be known in the future." I call this response a "naturalism-of-the-gaps" argument. According to some, if something transcends our scientific knowledge then one merely makes the claim that science will one day know the answer. This line of reasoning fails to consider the fact that science has jurisdiction in the physical world only and doesn't have full range superiority over some disciplines. For example, how would the scientific method assist us in ethics? Scientists assume that falsifying data is wrong to do, but one couldn't prove this scientifically. With regard to metaphysics, science assumes the reality of the past, the reality of the external world, and presupposes mathematical truths (none of which can be proven by science). So why think science will be able to tell us anything about the universe's origins other than its physical first moments?

     None of what was said directly proves theism, nor was it meant to. It seeks to only show that naturalism is inadequate, dubious, and unsubstantiated. Since naturalism is a positive worldview used by many atheists to govern their thought process, I needn't prove theism true but only show that naturalism is false. With naturalism defeated, atheists lose the main thrust of their objections to God's existence, as well as justification for being an atheist. This, however, hasn't stopped them from taking another approach.

                                 Obscure Arguments Against Theism and Other Fallacies

     This section was almost omitted due to its being briefly dealt with in  'An Adequate Definition' section of this work. However, for the sake of providing a specific example, I wish to draw light to one particular argument that is said to be one of the most convincing arguments in favor of atheism. This argument is traditionally known as "The Problem of Evil". It also happens to be irrelevant in terms arguing for atheism, as it does nothing to refute deism or generic theism. However, by discussing this argument, attention will be drawn to an error atheist's make when they attack God's personal properties.

                                                            The Problem of Evil

     Neal Tyson DeGrasse once responded to a woman who asked about his views on the Christian God. He gave a lengthy response involving the problem of evil. This is a very strong and frequently used argument. I say it's strong in the sense that it carries an intense amount of emotion with it, which consequently carries a persuasive flavor. We all have been affected by evil and sometimes reflect on whether God cares at all. DeGrasse, to his credit, represents the argument accurately and even applies it's conclusion modestly. Too often this argument is abused and taken to the wrong conclusion, so it's nice to see a nonbeliever apply it correctly.

    Before explaining why the problem of evil is fallacious, it's important to hear DeGrasse's explanation. He focuses his case around the great earthquake of Lisbon in 1755. This event, despite being catastrophic, is filled with a sad irony. The earthquake/tsunami took place on All-Saints Day (November 1st), which is one of the holiest days in the Roman Catholic calendar. Most of the important churches were destroyed along with the local Christians attending mass. It was one of the most devastating earthquakes in human history. Atheists, and most certainly theists from time to time, ask the question, "How could an all-powerful, all-knowing, good and loving God allow this to happen?"

     It's a fair question, no doubt. However, look closely at what it's seeking to prove. Notice that the argument, even if true, wouldn't put a single dent in deism or generic monotheism. A deist might agree with the atheist's conclusion, that God is not all good. However, since DeGrasse was asked his view on the Christian God, his application is correct given that a central belief in Christianity is that God is all good.

     The argument claims that there is a contradiction between the following:

(1) God is all-powerful (omnipotent)
(2) God is all-knowing (omniscient)
(3) God is all-good (omnibenevolent)
(4) Evil exists.

Traditionally theists would offer the free will defense to rebut this argument. The free will defense states that God's primary purpose for humanity was to enter into a loving relationship with them, and since one cannot be forced to love, God created man with free will. Robbing people of their free will would contradict God's good nature. Therefore, God cannot stop evil and protect free will while being consistent with His own nature. Fair enough. Although it has some merit, the free will defense shouldn't be the primary argument theists use to counter the problem of evil. Instead, a much better theodicy can be given in response which simultaneously deals with natural evil. Let's use a moral dilemma as a starting point:

Imagine waking up in a concrete room without any recollection of moments prior. Before you are two glass windows, one on the left and on the right. Beyond each window is another room similar to yours. However, the room on the right has 15 blindfolded people of mixed races and genders all around 30 years of age. The room on the left only has one person blindfolded who also looks to be around 30 years old. In between these two windows, attached to the wall, are two buttons with arrows pointing to each window. Suddenly you hear a voice come on the loud speaker behind you: "I see that you've noticed your fellow captives beyond the windows. Good. It's time for a moral dilemma! You must pick who lives and who dies. It's a large responsibility, I know, but you really have no choice in the matter since failing to play my game will result in all your deaths. In front of you, as you see, are two buttons. Press the left button, and the person in the left room is saved. Pressing the right button will save the fifteen. Whoever you decide to save will be set free into the world. You also will be set free. Not choosing, however, is choosing death for all. You have 30 seconds to choose. Good luck."

A tough choice, no doubt. However, it is at the same time so obvious which is the best choice. Most would choose to save the 15 people. Those who claim otherwise and say they'd save the one person are deliberately trying to be controversial and/or trying to reason from variables they know nothing about. Those who choose not to press any buttons do so for similar reasons. The rational and moral choice is to save the greatest number of people. We all have the basic idea that human life is highly valuable and, to many, sacred. Therefore, quantifyingly speaking, it seems obvious that 15 people are more valuable than one person. Of course utilitarians might claim that it all depends on what that one person contributes to society. However, it's best to leave them with the repercussions of that philosophy and remind them that all the prisoners in the hypothetical story were unidentified.

     Regardless, we make this decision on the basis of the 'now', with variables hidden from us. We do the best we can with what we have available, and it's all anyone can really judge us on. We have no idea what will become of the fifteen people or how they will impact others in the future. Perhaps they will live their lives, have children, and contribute economically to our society. However, it's also possible that many of them will live terrible lives and negatively impact those around them. "Only God knows" the old saying goes. Yes, indeed, and that's precisely the point of the hypothetical excursion.

     The God of Christianity is all knowing and this includes knowing the truth value of every proposition. If God were placed in the moral dilemma above, He might choose very differently than we do. Why? Because He knows all the variables necessary to make the decision and knows precisely what will come about. Since it's God's desire to bring about the good, this involves working around free will and considering that a greater good might only come about through the presence of evil.  God desires to punish all evil, but at an appointed time in the future. Since God is all loving and merciful, He is working to save as many people that will freely accept the atoning death of His son, the Messiah, Christ Jesus. Christians may not know precisely why a particular evil event occurred, but they know, given God's properties, He works to bring about a greater good, which may not become evident until several hundred years from know.

     This idea is similar to the concept of the butterfly effect, which uses a butterfly as an example of how the seemingly inconsequential flapping of its wings can set into motion forces that create a hurricane. It has the ring of truth to it given the fact that effects eventually become causes in a complex interconnected web. Just imagine the wealth of information available to God who knows absolutely what is, was, and will be. Yes, the atrocities committed by the Nazis was a terrible evil, but it's possible that it brought about, or is still to bring about, a greater good. God knows this. We don't.

     Back to Lisbon, it appears as though we put God on trial for not adhering to our moral responsibilities. But why should we? An atheist would have to say that it is impossible for God to have morally sufficient reasons for allowing over 10,000 people to die. What argument can an atheist give to satisfy this heavy burden of proof that wouldn't also assume his own finitude and ignorance of the necessary variables in the process? A theist merely has to argue that it is possible for God to have morally sufficient reasons to allow a particular evil, and that is all that he needs to refute the problem of evil.

     "Why would God even make earthquakes to begin with?" This rendition of their argument is, likewise, based on faulty assumptions. An earthquake lacks the property of being evil. It's only when humans are in proximity to them, and are hurt or killed by them, that we consider them evil. However, the assumption here is that man was ever in any danger from the start. Perhaps after the Fall, when man sinned and focused their faith away from God, they went into the wilderness ignorant of the world around them. After all, we were designed to love God and also to watch over His creation, which would explain why nature fell with us (something quantum physics might assist us in understanding). Again, natural disasters are a means to secure a greater good, as cold and heartless as that sounds. God allows, not necessarily causes, a certain city to come to ruins via an earthquake because He knows that the results of the event will bring about a greater good. Attacking God's means for doing this rather than that distracts from the important question dealing with why God does what He does.

     Although this is a valid refutation, it may do very little to comfort one who has went through a devastating loss. The problem of evil fails logically, but it succeeds in its emotional force. Atheists who base their beliefs on this argument alone will find that their atheism is unjustified, no matter how much they hurt inside. Their anger and sadness is directed at a false representation of God. If God is to be put on trial by us mortals, we best represent Him accurately.


                                                        A Final Word on Epistemology

     Briefly, there is also a problem with naturalism concerning the role of truth, knowledge, and the relationship between beliefs and behavior. Evolution is the only game in town for understanding these issues for a naturalist. However, with evolution considered, it remains problematic why we should, on the whole, be equipped with cognitive faculties that provide mostly true beliefs about reality. Evolution only cares about an organism getting its body parts to the right locations at the proper time. There are false beliefs, even those that exist upstream, that can bring about adaptive behavior. Truth is ultimately irrelevant since there is no need for true beliefs to be selected over false beliefs. Nature is blind; it could care less whether a person believes that a 50 foot fall will kill him or  by falling it will make his wife disappear. Both beliefs will prevent that man from jumping even if one is true and the other is false. Truth is not synonymous with accuracy in the evolutionary scheme. Likewise, a belief in naturalism would be selected for it survivability, not its truth value. Therefore, to believe in evolution and naturalism presents a defeater for naturalism.

                                                                      Conclusion

     Although it is something most of us flirt with at some point in our life, atheism lacks a robust philosophical foundation. Cultural atheists seem to focus on attacking religious beliefs when it does very little to justify their atheism. Miracles are unrealistic to them because they already don't believe in a God that can perform them. Digging deeper, it was shown that atheism isn't a mere lack of belief, but must assume some positive position about the world in order to be a coherent and presentable wordlview. Naturalism is the most popular worldview to justify atheism. However, arguments in favor of naturalism are few and lack any potency. Therefore, despite its followers claiming to be the guardians of truth and reason, atheism
is a weak position to hold.

      


    

    
    


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Unworthy: A Letter to the Persecuted Christians in the Middle-East

 
To the persecuted Christians under ISIS's sword:

I greet you with all the love in my heart, a feeling which is sustained by our Lord Jesus Christ.

I write this blindfolded, as it were, because I have never met any of you in person, nor can I address any of you by name. However, I pray this doesn't distract from the sincerity I wish to convey to you.

I begin with a confession: I am unworthy. I am unworthy to call you my brothers and sisters in Christ. As is typical in my country, I sit here in a comfortable room, with my belly full, recollecting any experiences when I said, "I am suffering for Christ." Disregarding the occasional harmless mockery offered by critical unbelievers, I come up short. I confess, I have no idea what it's like to suffer for Christ. I, alas, am an American Christian with most, if not all, of the deficiencies attached to the name. My "cries" out to God are about trivial things that children in the faith babble in ignorance. I swear, I live in luxury, I lust, I let the sun go down on my anger, and I act superior due to my Western status. That, my venerable friends, is the reason why I am unworthy.

I say these things for your own edification. I am but a mere infant in the faith addressing giants.

But you, jewels of the faith, are a light to us all who watch in grief as ISIS demonstrates the cruelty of their religion upon you. But you must be aware that you had a choice! You could have easily denied Christ, praised ISIS, and swore allegiance to Muhammed's Allah. Doing so would have spared your lives. But that isn't what you did. The fact that you are in those dark cells, those cages, means that you have spoken these words in your heart: "I choose Truth. I choose Love. I choose Christ Jesus." But you are also, therefore, choosing pain and death.

However, because of this, it's you and your brethren who are the closest to the Apostles and the first Christians. They, like you, were brutally persecuted. However, remember this: Love won. Unlike Islam, the religion that is subjugating you, we didn't wage war to spread our message. We didn't loot caravans to fund our missionaries, nor did we behead those who said no or mocked our Lord. No, we persevered despite being mocked, stoned, tortured, beheaded, crucified, and imprisoned. So which is mightier? The Gospel converting the greatest empire at the time with charity and words, or Muhammed's kin who needed their swords to help people see their point of view?

Remember, when it came to their last words, Jesus forgave while Muhammed cursed. Which was more godly?

Finally, I wish I had the proper words to prepare you for what your captors will do to you. Again, I am but a mere infant in the faith. However, be consoled in this: I, along with thousands of brothers and sisters, are praying for you. I pray that you endure the godless anger and that you will find it in your hearts to pray for those who hate you. Pray that they see the light of Christ, who we know is more than a mere prophet; He is the eternal Son of God and our Savior.

Judgment will come upon them in this life or at the Resurrection, and they will stand accused if they don't turn from their wickedness. Find peace in this!

I don't have much more to say other than, "Your faith strengthens me."

Go with all the love of God and know that you are His prized sheep.

I hope to meet you all face to face.

An infant in the faith,

~Max~



Saturday, February 14, 2015

In Defense of Paedobaptism


 
In Defense of Paedobaptism

This brief work will cover reasons why I feel infant baptisms are valid. By valid, I mean they are Scriptually-based and actually do something to the recipient in the God’s eyes. This topic has been the cause of a great divide within the Body of Christ, even if it exists silently in the background away from the sensitivities of those who differ. Therefore, the goal of this endeavor is not only to show why infant baptisms are valid, but it also serves as an attempt at unifying the Church on this particular point. I pray that God opens the hearts and minds of those who are separated on this issue, and that we may continue to show love for one another despite these differences.

The framework of this essay is as follows: First, I will lay out, to the best of my ability, the anti-paedobaptist (credobaptist) view and their arguments against paedobaptisms. Second, I will offer some critiques and refutations of their arguments. Following this, I will offer arguments in favor of paedobaptism while anticipating objections to them.
 
Paedobaptism - The practice of baptizing infants and small children.

                                              Reasons Against Paedobaptism

Those who disagree with paedobaptism emphasize the fact the infants (including young children) cannot have faith in Jesus. They base this on what they claim is the pattern of conversion found in the New Testament: Person X hears the Good News, believes it, and then gets baptized. Since infants cannot fulfill that criteria, they shouldn’t be baptized. According to credobaptists, belief must come prior to baptism.  As a result of this, or perhaps existing presuppositionally, they interpret Mark 16:16 as a formula:

“Whoever believes and [then] is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

Furthermore, the Great Commission can only be fulfilled by adults, which is another reason why they claim that credobaptism is consistent with the New Testament. Does it really make sense to let little children, who possess no faith, into the New Covenant when they can do nothing to further the kingdom of God? Is there really a difference between baptizing an infant and baptizing someone who doesn’t believe in Christ? Credobaptists will often claim that this reveals the hypocrisy on the part of paedobaptists. If you wouldn’t forcibly baptized an unbelieving pagan, then why would you forcibly baptize an unbelieving child?

                                                 Objections to their Reasons

However, not all is what it seems. Although credobaptism is by no means a baseless doctrine, it remains fueled by presuppositions that exist prior to reading the text and which are fed into their interpretations. For example, in Mark 16:16 the credobaptist interprets this as a formula by inserting “then” into the verse (mentally, of course). Under this rendering it is clear that one should have belief prior to getting baptized. However, Mark 16:16 doesn’t say that at all. No English translation I can think of includes “then” in between believe and baptized. The reason for this is simply because the Greek doesn’t include it.

I submit that Mark 16:16 is a criteria rather than a formula. Although there are times that we can use phrases with identical wording to express either formulas or criteria, I think it isn’t so in this case. For example, I might say “I am going to the store and to the bank” and mean it as a criteria for a completed errand. Perhaps I was simply stating a goal that I wanted to complete, rather than expressing a specific order. Contrarily, I could also use that exact phrase and mean it to express a formula, as if the store took priority over the bank. However, absence of context or clarification, it’s hard to say which is more accurate. If anything, this shows that the credobaptist’s usage of this verse as proof is dubious at best. They must be assuming more than this if their case is to be valid.

What’s left for them to use is merely to point out the general pattern of conversion found in the New Testament. After Pentecost, when the disciples received the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the first time, it’s clear that adults who came to the faith believed first and then received baptism. There’s no disputing this. However, this alone is not enough to validate their position. First, it’s an appeal to ignorance to suggest that because no infant is explicitly mentioned by name as having received baptism, that therefore only adults should be baptized (i.e. it’s fallacious to say  ‘–p has not been proven true à p is true’). Another way of stating it is to say that the absence of explicit verses promoting paedobaptism is not evidence that credobaptism is de facto valid. Since paedobaptism doesn’t simply operate on a ‘faith with baptism’ model, then obviously their appeal to ignorance (which also begs the question) doesn’t work. Paedobaptism is concerned with God’s covenant dealings with His children, while credobaptism is concerned with the faith of the individual receiving it. These aren’t dichotomies. Therefore, it simply won’t work to point to adults receiving baptism as proof that infants shouldn’t receive it. There are no verses which explicitly state “Only baptize adults”, but it would be fallacious of me to claim that therefore infants can be baptized in light of this.

 The important thing to grasp here is that a context can be given which would explain why only adults are explicitly mentioned as receiving baptisms. Obviously only adults can utilize the gifts of the Holy Spirit and be used as instruments in bringing forth God’s Kingdom on Earth. Only adults can bear witness to the love and power of Jesus Christ, or at least communicate it effectively. Therefore, it’s no surprise why adults are preached to throughout the land and also why they are mentioned receiving baptism. Moreover, an infant’s identity is contingent upon their parents, and very rarely are infants mentioned by name in the Bible (unless it is a brief history of a Biblical character like Isaac). It’s obvious that the first fruits of the faith would be adults, since infants would be tucked away and kept hidden from the apostles by unbelieving parents.

                                        Arguments in Favor of Paedobaptism

So the credobaptist’s two main points are dubious at best and certainly don’t stand as explicit proof that only confessing adults should be baptized. But where does that leave infant baptism? Are there verses that support this practice? The following are reasons why I think paedobaptisms are valid:

First and foremost, baptism is directly compared with old covenant circumcision. As the Apostle Paul wrote in Colossians 2:11-12:

“In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”

This is significant because Abraham was circumcised along with his household (children). His children certainly didn’t believe in the tenants of Judaism, but they were circumcised regardless. This was the sign that one was in the covenant, and it most certainly extended to unbelieving infants (Gen. 17:12). This was the fabric of Jewish belief for nearly 2,000 years before the birth of Christ.

                The implications are powerful in light of this. If unbelieving children were circumcised in the Old Covenant, and baptism is directly compared to circumcision, then it seems reasonable to conclude that infants were also expected to be baptized. The burden of proof rests with the credobaptists. They need to show that the Old Covenant command to circumcise infants is now abrogated in baptism.

                Such a radical change from (Old Covenant) paedo-circumcision to (New Covenant) ‘only-those-capable-of-expressing-faith’ baptism requires explicit textual support. However, no explicit textual support is ever offered. Although there is no direct verse commanding paedobaptism, one must remember that it is credobaptists, not paedobaptists, that have the burden of proof. Therefore, the New Testament’s silence on the issue stands in favor of paedobaptists, for we assume (absent of evidence to the contrary) that the New Covenant sign of membership extends to infants like it did in the Old Covenant.

                To illustrate this point, which will also serves as the crux of my entire argument, I will offer a plausible scenario:

As a young Jewish man hearing the Gospel in Jerusalem, you become convinced that Jesus is Lord. Your pregnant wife also embraces Jesus as her Lord and Savior. However, before you can receive your baptism, your wife goes into labor. After a few tense hours, you become a father of a baby boy. Filled with joy, you proclaim the good news to your new Christian friends. A few days after the birth of your son, you head to the local Christian body to discuss your baptism and your son’s circumcision. Your wife, carrying your son, walks with you. Upon arriving, you are stunned to learn that circumcision is no longer a part of the New Covenant. The discussion between you and the Christian leader now turns to baptism…

                This brief illustration leaves off suddenly in order to prove a point. This scenario probably went on often in Jerusalem. Lifelong Jews had to get used to a New Covenant in Christ despite remaining fresh in their Judaism. Circumcision was the one of the most central practices in the Jewish community, as it symbolized their very identity. With that in mind, the point I wish to make is simple: If infant baptism was heretical then where is the early condemnation from the Apostles? Are paedobaptists expected to believe that this issue never came up once in the Jerusalem church? As central a practice that circumcision was to the Jews, especially its being applied to infant boys, it becomes historically certain that it would have been discussed. Are we to believe that rogue Christians (which would later become the majority) baptized infants of believing parents secretly for a hundred or so years away from the view of God-inspired Apostles? To think that this secrecy took place is to entertain a silly and unsubstantiated conspiracy theory. Therefore, without documented condemnation from the Apostles and the high historical probability that the topic would have come up in the Jerusalem church, paedobaptists can reasonably assume that the Old Covenant promise to infants has not been abrogated in the New Covenant.

                The paedobaptist view also makes sense of the various household baptisms found in the New Testament. I believe the usage of the word ‘household’ is not an accident, but rather referring to the Old Covenant promise of household circumcision. Why include these household references otherwise? For example, in Acts 16:15 it is interesting to notice that it is only Lydia’s faith that is mentioned. She is baptized along with her household. Similarly, Abraham believed and he, followed by his household, were circumcised. This is Old Covenant terminology at play in the New Testament. If paedobaptism (household baptism) was abrogated, then why mention households at all if it could be interpreted as Old Covenant terminology? Again, Scripture’s silence on the issue stands in favor of paedobaptism.

                How does one make sense of Jesus’ words in Mark 10:14, Luke 18:16, Matthew 19:14? Moreover, how does one make sense of Matthew 18:1-6? Isn’t Jesus using the faith of a little child as a model for adults? Jesus speaks highly of children in all passages in which they are mentioned --- “For to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” If children aren’t in the New Covenant, then none of Jesus’ words seem to make sense. If they are in the New Covenant, even if only some, then shouldn’t they receive the sign of the covenant? Much more could be said here, but it isn’t my aim to exhaust every example found in Scripture.

Objections

                There are various objections to my arguments that are offered by the opposing camp. One objection in particular comes from Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology:

“We should not be surprised that there was a change from the way the covenant community was entered in the Old Testament (physical birth) to the way the church is entered in the New Testament (spiritual birth). . . In all these contrasts we see the truth of the distinction that Paul emphasized between the old and the new covenant. The physical elements and activities of the old covenant were ‘only a shadow of things to come’, but the true reality, the ‘substance’, is found in the new covenant relationship which we have in Christ (Col. 2:17).”

He goes on:

“Therefore it is consistent with this change of systems that infant (male) children would automatically be circumcised in the old covenant, since their physical descent and physical presence in the community of Jewish people meant that they were members of that community in which faith was not an entrance requirement. But in the new covenant it is appropriate that infants not be baptized, and that baptism only be given to those who gave evidence of genuine saving faith, because membership in the church is based on an internal spiritual reality, not on physical descent.” (pg 977-78)

                Although it’s true than many things in the Old Testament receive their fulfilment in Christ (New Testament), and that there is a ‘physical/spiritual’ dichotomy present, ultimately it is irrelevant to my argument. First, it should be noted that all examples of this dichotomy are explained as being fulfilled in the New Testament. However, this is not the case with circumcision and baptism. No verse explains this drastic transition that credobaptists assume is in the text. Moreover, I find it interesting that the author prefers to use the terms ‘old testament’ and ‘new testament’, rather than ‘old covenant’ and ‘new covenant’. Although seemingly trivial, it helps point us back to the real issue: Circumcision and baptism are the ‘signs’ of the covenants. Therefore, as signs, they are much different than the ‘physical/spiritual’ dichotomies Grudem mentions.

                Following Grudem’s example, James White (a respectable and successful apologist) builds upon this objection when he debated Pastor Shisko. He states that circumcision was only for male members of the family whereas baptism included women.  Moreover, he claims that circumcision included land rights within the family while the same concept is abrogated in the New Covenant. White, like Grudem, expresses this idea that circumcision and baptism actually share more differences than they do similarities. Therefore, according to them, we shouldn’t be surprised if infants aren’t included under baptism.

                Nevertheless, White’s argument is structurally invalid. Again, all the differences between circumcision and baptism are either abrogated, continued, or expanded. Either way, all of them are clearly listed in Scripture. Yes, only men were circumcised in the Old Covenant. However, in Acts we see women receiving baptism. As for land rights existing alongside of circumcision, baptism comes with the promise of the entire world! It’s expanded and explained in Scripture. As was said before, no verse claims that infants are not to receive the sign of the covenant. Therefore, the paedobaptist assumption is more reasonable than a credobaptist interpretation. If infant baptism was never supposed to be a thing, then why not say so in Scripture? Why the silence?

                                                                                Final Remarks

                Excluding Roman Catholic doctrine, I believe that infants who are baptized are not automatically saved, as if baptism is enough for that end. As Mark 16:16 states, there must be baptism and belief. We differ from credobaptists in that we don’t make belief a prerequisite to baptism. We are merely claiming that after an infant baptism, parents must instruct their children in the Lord so that, by the grace of God, sincere faith in Christ will come.

                Although sincere belief is necessary for salvation, one cannot look into the heart of another with absolute certainty. Therefore, there are Christians who really do not believe in Christ when they walk up to receive their baptism. Yes, they might have happy feelings toward Christ and recite a simple creed for the pastor before baptism, but this doesn’t mean they are regenerate, sincerely-believing, Christians. What if these insincere Christians later repent and develop saving faith; shall they be re-baptized because their former baptism was done in weak faith? A paedobaptist will say no, since we claim that their original baptism is still valid. This leads me to my last point.

                Baptism is something that others do to the participant. The pastor (or priest) baptizes in the name of the Trinity and with water. More importantly, God counts that person into the Body as a member of the New Covenant. Contrarily, credobaptism is egocentric. It’s about ‘me’, ‘my faith’, and ‘my external show of faith to others’. This isn’t wrong per say, but it misses the mark and the entire point of baptism in the first place. It’s not my faulty faith that makes my baptism valid, it’s God. Unless man has authority over God, then it isn’t faith that makes baptism valid.

                Furthermore, paedobaptism is in keeping with the Gospel message. Christ died for us, and salvation is therefore something that we don’t earn ourselves. Baptism is also something that is done to us, and not something we do to ourselves. We should rely on the spoken Word and water, and not hold it hostage to our faith.

 Paedobaptism is also more harmonious than credobaptism. Paedobaptists still baptize adults and have no problem re-baptizing someone who is unsure of whether they were baptized as an infant. Credobaptists reject infant baptism and will require adults to be re-baptized regardless. I, as a paedobaptist, can disagree with ‘belief only’ baptisms, but still look at those who practice them as brothers and sisters in Christ. Credobaptists may not be as eager to return the favor because they might see those who received an infant baptism as existing outside the New Covenant.

                Finally, we cannot ignore the praise our Lord has for children and infants. Using a child’s faith as a model for adults isn’t a trivial thing. The Lord explicitly says, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:16). He isn’t saying, “Let the children who believe come to me” or “Let the children who have displayed adequate faith, and have recited the proper creed, come to me.” Therefore, we shouldn’t be like the disciples in that scene and try to get in between young children and Jesus.

                To conclude, I have shown why infant baptism is valid. It does justice to all of Scripture and makes sense of early church history. The opposing view, in arguing for their position, begs the question by assuming that faith is a prerequisite to baptism when it is nowhere taught in Scripture. I have shown that the burden of proof is on the credobaptist to show a verse abrogating the old covenant promise to children and infants. Without this verse, their case is impotent and circular. It is my sincere hope that we get this correct and allow the little ones among us to receive the sign of the New Covenant, “for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”