“78 Tough Questions for Christians”, part 2

I am continuing on with answering these questions. See my previous post for more details.  Here it goes:


If you have cancer, what would help you more: Certain drugs, or prayer? 

I’m not sure because I do not know counterfactuals.  🙂  However, I will play along.  I, again, don’t see this as an either/or option and so it’s a false dichotomy. So what question could this be asking that could possibly be “tough”? I’m not sure.


If you had an amputated limb, would prayer ever bring it back? 

Again, I don’t know counterfactuals. Nonetheless, I think it’s certainly possible that prayer would do so, but that doesn’t imply that it would work that way.


If you have an exam coming up, what would contribute more to a higher score: Prayer or more studying? 

This is another counterfactual and it’s weird asking these sorts of questions (although it does prove Plantinga’s point about how we think there actually are answers to such questions). Again, it isn’t an either/or. I mean, I doubt God would simply answer a prayer because we are lazy and don’t want to study simply because God gave us brains for a reason; however, I also don’t see why the two can’t work in concert with one another.


If you prayed for me over YouTube right now, do you think I would know it?

I doubt it. Why would you?


What matters to God more: The quantity of people praying or the quality of their prayers?

It’s a combination I would guess. The same tends to be true in our life so that’s the only sort of hypothesis I have.


If quantity matters, shouldn’t the most popular team always win the Super Bowl?

Nope. First, quantity isn’t the only thing that matters. Second, God doesn’t simply answer prayers just because.


If quality matters, why do people you love sometimes die no matter what you do? 

Ultimately the answer is because there is some greater good of sorts. What this is, I’m not sure.


Is it possible that your prayers have no supernatural effect and only serve to make you feel better?

How is this “possible” functioning here?  If metaphysical possibility, sure, but that’s of no consequence.  If epistemic possibility, sure, but, again, that’s of no consequence. In fact, I would say many prayers do not have a supernatural effect by the very fact that there are things called unanswered prayers! (Incidentally, Garth Brook said some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.) So how is this a tough question exactly?


Would you ever admit it if that were true?

I think this is answered by my above response.


Is there anything in your life that makes you doubt God’s existence?

I’ll take both sides on this one just to analyze the options. Suppose the answer is yes, so what? Suppose the answer is no, so what? I don’t see how this is a tough question. In fact, I would say all Christians have doubts about God’s existence because sinning is an act of unbelief (maybe that isn’t a doubt per se, but the point is still made). But what is supposed to follow from this that makes the question so tough?


How would your life change if you had serious doubts about God’s existence?

For one thing, any action I take that is predicated upon not having serious doubts about God’s existence wouldn’t be taken. Again, this seems like an easy enough question.


Was Jesus white?

I’ll go with “no” on this one.  And how is this a tough question exactly?


Why does God seem more likely to answer the prayers of a talented athlete than a starving child overseas?

Well “seem” is inherently perspective based so are you asking me why it seems like that to you? If so, that might be a tough question and all, but that’s only because I don’t know you at all.


Why does God Seem [sic] to hate Africa?

See my above response.


If a group of Africans swooped in to your community with the intention of converting you and your neighbors to their tribal faith, what would your reaction be?

First, I would wonder what all this swooping is about. If they are using military tactics, I might call the police. Other sorts of swooping are okay, but somewhat odd. Second, it would be dependent upon my mood at the time, but I would hope that I would be cordial to them and give them a fair hearing.


Does God speak to you? 

I’m not sure what you mean by this question. I haven’t heard God audibly say something to me, but I’ve felt God’s presence. No matter how a person answers this, how is this a tough question exactly?


If God spoke to you and told you to kill someone, would you do it?

Whether I would do it or not, I’m not sure since I’ve never been placed in any analogous situation that would give me any grounds on which to guess. The more interesting question is should I do it. Now, if a morally perfect and omniscient being told me to take some action, I think it would pretty obvious that if I wanted to be rational and/or moral, then I should follow the action proscribed. If you don’t, then you are being irrational and immoral. So why “shouldn’t” you do it then from simply a rational or moral standpoint (here I am bracketing pragmatics about how it would make one feel, etc.)? This simply seems to be a question that didn’t have much thought put into it.


Is God always watching you?

Not with eyes, but God knows all things.


How about when you’re on the toilet?

Yes, God knows when I am using the restroom. Again, is this supposed to be a tough question…?

 

Another 19 questions down which makes for a grand total of 30 “tough” questions answered. At this point, I have considered being snarky (and this might be evident in my post) simply due to the fact that these aren’t tough questions and they aren’t well thought out at all. Nonetheless, this video somehow has 25,000 views and the person starring in it seems to really believe that these are really tough questions! A more interesting thing to ponder is this: why do these questions seems so tough to some people when they aren’t tough at all?

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“78 Tough Questions for Christians”, part 1

I stumbled upon this video at this blog and I decided it might be interesting to go through the questions. I do not happen to think they are tough questions at all (although some of them are interesting), so it intrigues me that these are labeled “tough questions” as such. Anyway, I will italicize the questions and then respond in regular font.


Is Anne Frank burning in hell?

If she did not profess faith in Jesus before her death, then I think she is in hell.


How about Mahatma Gandhi?

Same answer as above.


Is Fred Phelps in Heaven since he believed in the divinity of Jesus? 

If Fred Phelps was a true believer, then he would be in heaven right now.  What I find more interesting about this question is that it ties going to heaven with simple belief in the divinity of Jesus, but clearly that isn’t right. Now, was Fred Phelps truly a Christian? I don’t pretend to be able to answer this questions, but one of the means for evaluation Christians are given is seeing a person’s fruit. From that yardstick, I suppose people can take a general stab at the answer to the question I posed, but, ultimately, we do not know one way or the other.


Should a killer who genuinely repents at the end of his life go to Heaven?

I’m not sure what is meant by “should” here.  Maybe it is a moral “should” in which case the question becomes interesting.  First, mere repentance is not the Christian idea of salvation, it is repentance and faith.  Second, this brings in questions about how morality is grounded. If morality is grounded in God and we take God to be the Christian God and repentance and faith as necessary for salvation, then the answer to the question is tautological. Put another way, if we take Christianity to be true, then this is an easy answer.

Perhaps this is a rational “should”.  But if that is the case, then it is a very ambiguous question as it could be asking many different things. It could be asking if it makes sense pragmatically or if it coheres with a certain system or if it improves our emotional health or whatever, but we need clarification to know which one is being asked.

Or maybe this is just asking about my psychological state, but if that is the case then the question is extraordinarily simple and a non sequitur (with respect to the purpose of the questions).


Should a kind-hearted atheist go to Hell for all eternity?

Again, I’m not sure what is up with this “should” and so I think the answer above suffices.


Do kind-hearted religious people who just aren’t Christian also deserve to burn?

Now the fact that this question uses “also” seems to indicate that it is in a similar vein to the above questions.  I think those “shoulds” are then moral shoulds and so the answer given above is simple and easy. Thus, my answer given above applies here too.


Would you be happy in heaven if someone you loved was in Hell?

The simple answer here is that I have no idea whether I would be happy for I know neither my future and how I will develop nor what exactly my dispositional state would be like in heaven nor other relevant facts. The obvious answer here, then, is I don’t know. However, a person could attempt to salvage this question, but it is very difficult to see how they would do so without coming again to another obvious answer.

Nonetheless, let’s suppose we get the gist of the question even if it doesn’t make much sense as is. Here is where I find a particularly interesting phenomenon. I can’t quite find the place, but Jonathan Edwards wrote about this exact question. Now, Edwards solution seems to be quite logical and rational, yet people react so violently when they hear it. Thus, this often seems to be more of an emotional question than a rational one.

As to answering it rationally, he proposes many answers, but one part is to say that we thereby rejoice in God’s justice and that as our love to neighbor is an outworking of our love for God, then the two cannot be played off against one another. Now, many find this answer to not be very emotionally satisfying. To that person, there can be no rational answer since it is no longer a rational question but a psychological state. That’s fine, but that doesn’t make it a tough question.


If your child were dying, and I hope that never happens, would just pray for them or would you take them to a doctor?

Both.


And if you’d do both, which one do you think has more of an impact?

This is another ambiguous question. It could be either (i) asking about one’s psychological state or (ii) asking which belief is rational. Let’s take them in turn.

As to one’s psychological state, that seems rather simple to answer and nothing really of interest follows from it except maybe that we harbor some unbelief. So let’s go through the options. Let’s say my psychological state is that prayer would have more of an impact. Question answered. Now let’s say that my psychological state is that medicine would have more of an impact. Question answered and I seem to harbor some unbelief about the efficacy of prayer. Finally, let’s say that my psychological state is that I don’t know the answer. Question answered.

Moving on to which belief is rational. I’m not sure this is a question that one knows the answer to. However, this doesn’t make it a tough question for Christians, it makes it a tough question for any person who is given this hypothetical! Answers to prayer do not just have to be miracles, but they can also be the way God has set up the world to work including the efficacy of medicine given a molinist view. Thus, nothing interesting follows from this question.


Whose prayers does God answer?

This is rather easy to answer: the people who have answer prayers. But maybe this is supposed to ask a different question, but then I’m not sure which question it is asking.


And if it’s ultimately His Will, why bother praying?

What is the referent of “it” here? I seriously do not know, but I will try to answer the question anyway. It seems that the question is that if the way the world is is ultimately a matter of God’s will, then why do we pray. If so, the answer is simple: we pray because that is part of what God accounts for in deciding the way the world is.

 

Anyway, I will continue on with these questions later, but I think it is becoming clear that they are not tough questions at all. Put another way, if these are tough questions for Christians, then Christians do not have much to worry about!

Modal Arguments and Divine Command Theory

Alexander Pruss recently posted an interesting modal argument against divine command theory.  First, I want to make some observations of modal arguments.  Then, I will discuss his specific argument.

I believe it was Inwagen in his article on modal skepticism that says he doesn’t know of a single person who has been convinced by a modal argument.  Part of the reason, I surmise, is that they often seem like a trick.  I think people often react to modal arguments in general as they do to the ontological argument, it’s simply a neat trick.  However, there are some good grounds for reacting in this way to modal arguments.  First, if you can construct a modal argument against the position the person is arguing for, then the arguments just cancel (assuming they have the same plausibility behind them, this is because it acts as a successful parody argument).  Second, it’s pretty well known that conceivability does not entail possibility.  Thus, if one is simply working from conceivability, then the argument faces more challenges.

However, Pruss is a modal skeptic himself and so his argument is all the more interesting.  The reason is this: certain modal arguments actually give an argument for the possibility premise.  As another example, Kripke gives his argument against physicalism by showing (i) that we can conceive of the situation in mind and (ii) that conceivability is the same as possibility in that case.  So if both of those portions are true, then Kripke’s argument for the possibility premise is air tight.  Pruss’ argument is in a similar vein in that he gives an argument for the possibility premise by saying, “[p]remise (3) seems to follow from divine freedom and the fact that God is under no obligation to command creatures.”

Nonetheless, this is no denial of divine freedom if God’s choice arises from His character.  To quote Pearce and Pruss (p.9) on an agreed upon point in free will studies, “a limitation on the will is not a constraint if that limitation arises from the agent’s character and/or choices in the right way.”  This seems easy enough as more recent divine command theorists like Adams have said that God’s commands flow from His loving nature.  If that is the case, this His commands flow from His character and thus they would be consistent throughout worlds without being a constraint on divine freedom.  We have now provided a premise that seems true on divine command theory, is consistent with the other premises in Pruss’ argument, and undercuts his support for the possibility premise.  Given that, divine command theory seems untouched by this argument.

Lewis Defends Penal Substitution–David Lewis, that is

I really have no reason to have any negative thoughts about David Lewis.  He is a great philosopher and seems rather level-headed, even if we might disagree on some major points.  Nonetheless, I must admit that when I was about to read his Do We Believe in Penal Substitution?, I expected the worst.  I thought he would caricature penal substitution and then utterly annihilate the strawman he had just erected and finally pronounce how illogical Christianity is.  David Lewis proved me wrong.

His article is a brief six pages, so if you have time I would recommend reading it.  Nonetheless, I will also summarize and discuss his article a bit.  But first, let me praise David Lewis a bit for he deserves it.  The article is very sensitive in its treatment.  By this, I do not mean that he worries about the feelings of Christians or not for I think people tend to be too sensitive today and are merely trying to get offended, but I instead mean that he makes sure he understands what he is critiquing instead of building strawmen.  Now that might not sound like anything amazing, and it certainly isn’t, but I think the fact that I am surprised by that shows the atmosphere that is current nowadays. Instead of trying to understand a position and then give an argument against it, we tend to misunderstand the position and utterly slaughter strawmen left and right. That might make us look alright and feel good, but it isn’t very productive. So I’m glad David Lewis understands what he is talking about when he chooses to talk about a subject. We should certainly emulate him on that matter.

On to the article itself, so his basic premise is summarized at the very end of the paper.  To quote:

If the rest of us were to make so bold [sic] as to rebuke the Christians for their two-mindedness, they would have a good tu quoque against us. A tu quoque is not a rejoinder on behalf of penal substitution.  Yet neither is it intellectually weightless.  It indicates that both sides agree that penal substitution sometimes makes sense after all, even if none can say how it makes sense.  And if both sides agree to that, that is some evidence that somehow they might both be right.

So Lewis’ paper argues that even non-Christians actually hold to penal substitution.  He attempts to do this discussing other people paying someone’s fines. He says that a person might try to say that penal substitution is still wrong and yet it is impractical to somehow get rid of this form of penal substitution and so that’s why we do it.  The problem with this, Lewis says, is that if we were so against penal substitution, then we would find this whole practice abominable and enforce some other form of punishment that could not have a use of penal substitution. Here I think Lewis is particularly on point since we see no moral outrage to other people paying a person’s fines. The only objection seems to come after we inform them that this is a form of penal substitution.  Their objection, then, seems to be grounded in the fact that they want to avoid affirming penal substitution instead of anything like applied ethics or consistency.  For if it were applied ethics, then the case is pretty clear cut and they should have realized it all along; if it were consistency, then Lewis’ conclusion follows just as naturally and so the matter cannot be decided.

I have read people object to Lewis’ example on the matter and they might be right on that front.  They tend to say that the law still says that the person who owes the fine is liable for it.  But Lewis never argues otherwise and that’s his whole point: the person ultimately paying isn’t actually guilty, but they are bearing the penalty.  However, we could always concede the point just for the sake of argument in that others have said that automobile insurance provides an even better example.  And that can be a topic for a different blog post.

Feel free to weigh in below and follow my blog.

Adam Contra Evil

Let’s look at the following argument I saw on a different website:

1. If Adam has [sic] chosen otherwise, there would be no evil.
2. It was possible for Adam to choose otherwise.
3. There is a possible world without evil.
C. All evil is unnecessary.

As to logical validity, (3) follows but (C) comes out of nowhere.  There is a hidden premise somewhere in here that needs to be brought out and so the argument holds no force as is since it’s not logically valid.  However, it will be an interesting exercise to look at the argument.

First, (1) is not obvious for it seems clear that it could be the case that Adam chose otherwise in his first sin and yet sinned latter. Or, if we see the serpent as sinning then that would be another example.  Moreover, Eve also sinned so there’s another counterexample.  So (1) is not correct as is, so it would need to be reformulated.

As to (2), that’s not as obvious either.  I suppose the argument wants to say something like the following:

(2.1) If Adam has libertarian free will, then it’s possible that he chooses otherwise.
(2.2) Adam has libertarian free will.
(2) Therefore, it’s possible that he chooses otherwise.

I personally do not find (2.1) very compelling myself.  I tend to think that the Frankfurt counterexamples to the principle of alternative possibilities are sound and so (2.1) is not obvious as is.

But let’s say the argument is reformulated so that (3) follows and the argument is sound.  So what?  The problem here is that it is missing still a further premise.  Namely:

(4) If a world is a possible world, then that world is a feasible world.

However, molinism denies (4) and so any problem is avoided.

All in all, therefore, it seems like a bit closer reading of Plantinga would clear up this argument right away.  The free will defense still stands, then.