Monthly Archives: April 2015

Queer

Homophobia and Closets

CN: mention of self harm, suicide, queerphobia/homophobia/cissexism/ableism

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Revisiting the Cosmological Euthyphro Dilemma

In a previous post, I launched what I called the Cosmological Euthyphro Dilemma (CED) as a response to the Argument from Contingency:

From whence did God’s reasons for creating the universe come?

There are two possibilities, both disastrous for the theist:

  1. If God’s reasons for creating the universe came from within Herself, then God did not create the universe of Her free-will. After all, God’s essence is necessarily the way that it is and is unalterable. Thus, any sort of reasons from within God are necessarily the case. God could not have chosen to do otherwise. Worse, not only would God not have free-will, but the universe would not be contingent after all (God exists in every possible world and, since God possesses the same reasons at every possible world, would create the same universe at every possible world — therefore, the universe is not contingent; this contradicts a premise in the argument from contingency).
  2. But now suppose that there were no reasons originating from within God for creating the universe. In this case, there is no where for such reasons to come from. God may have free-will to create the universe, but would be acting arbitrarily and capriciously.

I call this the Cosmological Euthyphro Dilemma, in analogy with the Euthyphro dilemma concerning theistic ethics (or piety, as in the original Socratic formulation). It’s my personal brainchild, but similar arguments appear throughout the history of philosophy and theology (and are discussed at length in, for example, Arthur Lovejoy’s Chain of Being).

There have been multiple theists who wanted to resist the CED. This is not surprising. Given (1), the Argument from Contingency is devastated because the universe is not contingent after all. Worse, both (1) and (2) lead classical theism into a contradiction.

Consider the following plausible principle:

The Existence of Counterfactuals (TEC): there are ways that our universe could have been other than how our universe is.

TEC is a sufficiently common assumption among philosophers that it does not require me to provide any additional justification here than what exists in the literature. TEC is what allows for a coherent notions of metaphysical possibility and contingency.

Yet, given (1), TEC is false. Thus, if we assume that TEC is true — which is a fairly non-controversial move among philosophers — but also choose the first fork in CED, we are led to conclude that TEC is both true and false. Unless the theist abandons either TEC or God’s necessary existence, (1) entails that God does not exist.

Yet theism fares no better on (2). Consider another plausible principle:

No Arbitrary Actions (NAA): a perfect God would always have reasons for their actions.

There is a contradiction between NAA and (2). Thus, unless the theist abandons NAA, (2) also leads to the conclusion that theism is false.

There seem to be no other options for the classical theist than (1) or (2). Thus, CED entails that God does not exist.

Let’s review some of the responses I have received to CED thus far.


 

Greg Lehr writes:

In the first possibility you are arguing that God does not have libertarian free will. With that I agree, God cannot act against his own character and nature. There does seem to be an unspoken assumption in this premise however. That being that God must always act upon every aspect of his intrinsic nature. (“what ever God is He must do”) I think for your premise to be sound you need to present arguments supporting that assumption.
In the second possibility you seem to be arguing that, if there is nothing in Gods intrinsic nature that demands the creation of the universe then it must be a capricious and arbitrary act. I would question the premise that an arbitrary act of God must, by necessity, also be capricious. So again I would like to see what your supporting arguments are.
I believe a third possibility is what is known as “contrary choice” This is the premise that while God cannot act against His intrinsic nature He can choose not to act upon it. If this is the case, then even if creating universes is part of His intrinsic nature the act of creation would be His voluntary choice. Meaning then that the universe is not contingent.

I responded:

In regards to your response to my first possibility: I never said that God must always act upon every aspect of Her intrinsic nature in every action that She performs. That would be absurd; surely, there are aspects of Her nature that are not relevant for many actions that She might perform. This does not mean that there is no aspect of Her nature that is relevant.

In regards to your response to my second possibility: you argue that just because there is nothing in God’s “intrinsic nature” that causes Her to create the universe, this does not mean that God’s creative act would be arbitrary. Note that, by “arbitrary”, I mean without reason. Apparently, you think that God might have some other reasons to act; I wonder what these might be, given that prior to Creation, nothing exists but God. Does God create God’s reasons? If so, then these must come of necessity from God’s nature or else they are arbitrary. The only other possibility is to say that God’s reasons arise independently of God, but this amounts to denying God’s aseity.

You bring up a third possibility that you call “contrary choice”, in which, while not acting against Her nature, God can choose not to act upon Her nature. I’m not sure what that means, but I wonder where God’s reasons for not acting upon Her nature come from. Apparently, they cannot come from Her nature. Does She create such reasons (in which case they are necessary), do they arise independently (denying God’s aseity), or does She arbitrarily abstain from acting on Her nature?


Robert AndAlicia-Lawrence BanahdeCristo worries that I have neglected Libertarian Free-Will (LFW):

since we do not know the source of what makes a being one that actually is a truly “freewill” being, or a being one that has free will, it is absurd to argue that if it is not “necessary” then it MUST BE arbitrary or capricious. The only way this follows is if one assumes a false dichotomy of pure determinism or pure carpricious. When one posits a world in which true LFW exists then it is completely consistent to argue that God has LFW and thus his choices are neither NECESSARY or CAPRICIOUS. Thus your argument, at best is as circular as you accuse Theism to be.

I responded:

A few things.

First, I never accused theism of being “circular”.

Second, part of the challenge is for the theist to explain how God could have libertarian free will. You state — rightly — that IF God has libertarian free will then Her actions are neither capricious nor necessary; but given what else is said about God’s actions and nature, it is difficult to make sense of this claim.

Either God has reasons for Her actions or not. If God does have reasons for Her actions, where else could these reasons originate than God’s essence? If they do originate somewhere other than God’s essence, then there is something other than God which was, apparently, not created by God (namely, the origins of God’s reasons). On the other hand, if God does not have reasons for Her actions, then God’s actions really are capricious. It seems that, on the theist’s view, the only possible origin for God’s reasons for action is God’s essence. But because God’s essence is necessary, God’s actions would also be necessary. Because God’s actions would be necessary, God would not have free-will. Moreover, God’s creation would not be contingent after all.

I’ve responded, at length, to theistic LFW elsewhere.

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Tell Kansas Medical Marijuana is Not a Crime; Raise $ For Shona Banda

Shona Banda, a mother living in Kansas, recently had her life turned upside down when her child discussed his mother’s medical marijuana use in school and, consequently, police officers raided their home. Like most of us, Banda is not able to afford legal counsel on her own for the struggle she is now undergoing. A gofundme.com page has been set up in order to accept donations; I encourage folks to either contribute or share the page. The page reads:

On March 24, cannabis oil activist Shona Banda‘s life was flipped upside-down after her son was taken from her by the State of Kansas. The ordeal started when police and counselors at her 11-year-old son’s school conducted a drug education class. Her son, who had previously lived in Colorado for a period of time, disagreed with some of the anti-pot points that were being made by school officials. “My son says different things like my ‘Mom calls it cannabis and not marijuana.’ He let them know how educated he was on the facts,” said Banda in an exclusive interview with BenSwann.com. Banda successfully treated her own Crohn’s disease with cannabis oil.

After her son spoke out about medical marijuana, police detained him and launched a raid on Shona Banda’s home. “Well, they had that drug education class at school that was just conducted by the counselors… They pulled my son out of school at about 1:40 in the afternoon and interrogated him. Police showed up at my house at 3… I let them know that they weren’t allowed in my home without a warrant… I didn’t believe you could get a warrant off of something a child says in school.” Banda continued, “We waited from 3 o’clock until 6 o’clock. They got a warrant at 6 o’clock at night and executed a warrant into my home. My husband and I are separated, and neither parent was contacted by authorities before [our son] was taken and questioned.”

“They subsequently conducted a raid and then called me when the raid was over letting me know that there was a list of items they took on my kitchen table, I was allowed to go home, and [an officer] gave me his word I would not be arrested in person or at work and that charges would be given to me in a postcard in the mail. I have not been charged with anything at this point, but I have a hard time believing that it’s OK for them to interrogate my child without parental consent for hours,” said Banda. A report by The Human Solution International notes that officers found 2 ounces of cannabis and an ounce of cannabis oil during the raid.

Banda then described the actions that the State of Kansas began to take in an effort to take her son from her, “On the 24th, he was taken into custody. That was on a Tuesday. He was taken out of town Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Friday we had a temporary hearing… and temporary custody was granted to my ex. Now the only reason why temporary custody was granted to my ex is because the judge said something to the effect that the amount of cannabis found in my home was going to possibly be felony charges and it was pointless letting the child return home to his mother.” She believes that the state is trying to take her son away and said, “The state is trying to deem it to where [Shona’s ex-husband] is not fit and I’m not fit and they’re trying to take custody of our child.”

“For him to have spoken up in class I can’t be upset about because he hears me daily on the phone talking with people, encouraging people to speak up and speak out. We did have the talk about how it’s not OK to bring this up in Kansas, because it’s a different state [than Colorado]. It’s very confusing for a child,” said Banda, noting how difficult it can be for children to understand how something could be considered legal medicine in one state and contraband in another.

Authorities have yet to charge Banda with a crime, and her next custody hearing is set to take place on April 20.

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Ancient Egyptians and Goofy Numbers

My friend Star asked me to explain an outmoded numerological interpretation of the Eye of Horus. This led into a discussion of some elementary number theory. Enjoy.

I’m not an Egyptologist, but I do know some aspects of the history of mathematics (at least as they were communicated to me throughout my undergraduate degree in physics). Let’s see what we can do. We can call this “Star Learns Elementary Number Theory”.
 
I know that a lot of ancient peoples thought there were only whole, positive numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, …); these are what 21st century mathematicians called ‘positive integers’. Instead of thinking of fractions as numbers between the integers (so that 0.5 is between 0 and 1), they thought of them as ratios of two integers (1:2). This avoids ever talking about a number existing between two numbers. At least this is how the Greeks thought of things.
 
It looks like the Egyptians thought something similar, but took this idea a step further. You can imagine writing all of the positive integers as the sum of two other numbers. For example, we can represent 2 as 1+1 and we can represent 3 as 1+2. You can do the same with fractions; 3/4 can be represented as 1/2+1/4. This is useful if your written language does not allow you to directly represent 3/4; apparently, ancient Egyptian was limited in that way.
 
The Eye of Horus stuff concerns an outmoded theory about how fractions were represented by the Egyptians. Apparently, Egyptologists used to think that each part of the eye represented a different base fraction and by adding together different parts of the eye you could get different numbers. It looks like Egyptologists have since abandoned that theory.
 
Unfortunately for the Egyptians, no matter how many base fractions one has, one can never represent all fractions. For one thing, there will always be fractions smaller than the base. The other problem is that there will be numbers one cannot represent using any fraction at all, let alone using the sum of two fractions. Let’s see why; this will take some algebra to work out, but bare with me. This is one of the most important discoveries of the ancient world.
 
Suppose that Harry, the Egyptian, is building a pyramid. He knows that the pyramid is going to be 1 foot tall and 2 feet wide. He wants to know the distance from the base of the pyramid to the top.
 
Imagine chopping the pyramid in half, so that we get a triangle 1 foot wide and 1 foot tall that looks like this.
 
So the question Harry wants to answer is what distance c is in the diagram. Luckily, Harry knows a Greek named Pythagoras who gives him a formula: multiply the width by itself, the height by itself, and then add the two numbers together; the result will equal the distance c multiplied by itself (c is the distance Harry wants).
 
Okay, so:
 
1*1=1
1*1=1
Add them together, we get 2.
 
What two numbers, when multiplied together, will equal 2?
 
Apparently, not 1, since 1 multiplied by itself is equal to 1. 2 won’t work either, since 2 multiplied by itself is equal to 4. Blowing Harry’s mind, you suggest that the number which, when multiplied by itself, gives 2 is somehow between 1 and 2. But which number between 1 and 2?
 
You decide to be clever (good things happen when you are clever) and you decide to represent the problem you are facing as an equation. You know that you want a fraction which, when multiplied by itself, produces 2. A fraction is one number divided by another; so let’s call those two numbers a and b. Furthermore, you know that this fraction, when multiplied by itself, produces 2:
 
2 = (a/b)*(a/b)
 
Lets stipulate that a/b has already been fully reduced. In other words, a and b are already as small as possible to represent that fraction.
 
You realize that you can re-write this as:
 
2 = (a*a)/(b*b)
 
Or, in other words:
 
2 = a^2 / b^2
 
But you want to know what a and b are. So let’s move the b^2 over to the left hand side:
 
2 * b^2 = a^2
 
This tells us that a^2 is divisible by 2 (do you see why?). But if a^2 is divisible by 2, then a^2 is even. But the only way for a^2 to be even is for a to be even; this is because your friend Gus has already proven that all integers are either even or odd and you know that the only way that a number, when multiplied by itself, can produce an even is if the original number was even. So a is even.
 
But if a is even, we can write a as 2k, where k is some new mystery number. So let’s do that:
 
2 * b^2 = (2k)^2
2 * b^2 = 4 * k^2
 
We can cancel out 2 on either side:
 
b^2 = 2 * k^2
 
But now we know that b^2 is divisible by 2. This implies, as before, that b is even.
 
So both a and b are even. Well, that can’t be right — we started off with a fraction consisting of two numbers that had no denominators in common. Yet we ended up with a fraction consisting of two numbers which were both multiples of 2, since they were both even. Did we mess up somewhere?
 
“WHAT THE HELL, STAR??” Both Harry and Pythagoras — our two new friends — are getting quite peeved with us. For one thing, we just threw doubt on the new religion Pythagoras has been developing, which declared as holy doctrine that all numbers were integers or ratios of two integers.
 
The problem is with the assumption we started with. There is no fraction consisting of two integers that will be equal to the square root of 2. Harry’s language is incapable of ever expressing the length he wants to calculate because it can only express fractions; but there is no fraction for that length. No matter how well he approximates it, using all sorts of tinier and tinier fractions, there will always be a little bit left over (or he will always go a little bit over). There is something his language leaves out, something which needs to be added in.
 
What’s missing is the set of irrational numbers, so-called because, when Pythagoras’s groupies discovered them, they were horrified. According to legend, Pythagoras drowned the individual (a fellow named Hippasus) who originally worked this out (though this story is likely apocryphal).
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Please help support Daniel Gullotta

Daniel Gullotta is a up and coming scholar of the historical Jesus and early Christianity. He’s secular and will be contributing to an anthology that I am compiling. He’s been accepted at Yale Divinity School, but — as with many folks — needs some help putting together funds. Please help him out if you can! You can also help to signal boost by sharing this page.

More information:

My name is Daniel N. Gullotta and earlier this year I was admitted to Yale Divinity School’s Master of Arts in Religion with concentration in Bibleprogram. I applied to this program and others to further prepare myself in graduate studies before I set off to hopefully achieve a PhD in the study of the New Testament and Christian origins. Being accepted into Yale’s program is like a dream come true and I was honestly blown away by their generous scholarship offer to me.

However this scholarship, while substantial, does not fully cover my tuition for this academic year (2015-2016), and it leaves my wife and me still with a considerable amount of debt. This is not to mention the expenses of moving, setting up our new home in New Haven, buying textbooks, and the cost of travelling to conferences like AAR/SBL and Westar. After the legal costs of bringing myself over from Australia to the United States just so my wife and I could be together, along with the wedding, and the months I was unable to work due to waiting for a Work Authorization Card, to say that we are going to be on a tight budget is an understatement.

While the scholarship is renewable and might be increased depending on funding opportunities and on my grades, we are still concerned over the debt. Not being religious puts me at a financial disadvantage in the field of Biblical studies. There are so many outside scholarships reserved for Christians of varying denominations or those of different theological persuasions, but hardly any for those who do not identify as a Christian. Moreover, while Yale’s program is one of the best in the nation (if not the world), it is certainly not one of the cheapest.

All of this leaves me in a difficult situation and it is for these reasons that I am asking for your help!

I am reaching out to you to help fight off the bondage of student debt and empower me to add my voice to the scholarly discourse on the Bible. Not only will your contributions assist in my current studies, but they will help enrich my future career as a New Testament scholar and Early Church historian. It has been my pleasure writing about the world of the New Testament on my blog, providing whatever service I can with articles, book reviews, and answers to questions I receive and it is my hope to keep this service ongoing.

If you have anything to offer, all donations will be more than welcome.Consider this an investment in my academic and professional development and I will return it in kind with hard work and outstanding results.

Pax,
Daniel N. Gullotta

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Is faith rational?

I was recently asked my opinion on an argument for the rationality of faith. Here is my response.

You quoted someone who wrote:

So we find that we are forced in almost every deductive argument to accept something in the premises which is either beyond proof (and simply accepted), or which relies on something which can only be offered as a statement anchored in finite (limited) observation. Which in turn, is a good argument for the foundational necessities of both faith and common sense.

As I understand it, the argument goes something like this.

  1. All arguments are either deductive or inductive.
  2. Deductive arguments depend upon at least some assumptions that cannot be proven.
  3. Inductive arguments are fallible and depend upon our limited observations.
  4. So, all human reasoning must assume something which cannot be proven.
  5. Reasoning which depends upon something which cannot be proven involves faith.
  6. Therefore, all human reasoning involves faith.

1-6 is meant to defend the rationality of faith by showing that reason, itself, requires faith. Thus, if faith is generally rational, there cannot be something irrational about Christian faith, or so the argument goes.

I think there are a few problems with 1-6.

First, it is unclear that the notion of faith appealed to is the same as what the Christian means by ‘faith’. For the Christian, the word ‘faith’ means trust. In the New Testament, the word that is translated into English as ‘faith’ is ‘pistis’, which is the Greek word for trust. In Latin — the language employed by Catholic intellectuals — the word for faith is ‘fides’, which is the root of the word ‘fidelity’ (this is why “semper fi” means “always faithful”; this is why Pope John Paul II wrote an encyclical entitled Fides et Ratio, or Faith and Reason).

What is it that the Christian is supposed to trust? Thomas Aquinas provided a decent explanation of what the Christian might mean by ‘faith’. For Thomas, the Christian trusts particular propositions as they are revealed by God. God is a perfect being and information revealed by God cannot be incorrect; God would not lie to us. Notice that this presumes one must first know that God exists in order to have faith and that the knowledge of God’s existence is not arrived at through faith. In order to know that God exists, Thomas says that we must first prove God’s existence as a preamble to the faith (the preambulae fidei); Thomas provides 5 arguments for God’s existence. The lay person, who does not have the ability to prove God’s existence, may trust that others (who are smarter than oneself) can prove God’s existence and in that way have faith that God exists. Either way, one must first know that God exists in order to trust (or have faith in) God’s revelations.

Some Christians interpret Romans 1 as stating that God’s existence is obvious to all humans from the appearance of nature. I doubt that God’s existence really is obvious to all humans — the geographic distribution of beliefs about God seems to be evidence to the contrary — but, even if God’s existence were obvious to all humans, the belief in God’s existence would not be held without evidence. Instead, there would be extremely strong evidence — undeniable evidence! — from the appearance of nature.

If, by ‘faith’, one means trust in God’s revelation, then clearly not all reasoning requires faith. Doubting Thomas (not to be confused with Thomas Aquinas) did not trust in all of God’s revelations because he doubted some of the things that Jesus said; yet Thomas was still able to reason.

Perhaps the word ‘faith’ is meant to refer to a more general kind of trust. After all, as I said, the lay person can have faith that intellectuals can prove God’s existence even if the lay person cannot. But trust does not necessarily involve believing propositions for which there is no evidence. Instead, faith involves trusting those who we have reason to trust (intellectuals have earned our trust by demonstrating themselves to be knowledgeable and that they are not the sort of people who would lie to us). This more general kind of faith — what we might call reasonable trust — cannot be what is referred to in 1-6 as faith, since 1-6 refers to faith as a kind of belief without evidence. One may wonder if ‘faith’, as used in 1-6, is a kind of unreasonable trust.

Perhaps 1-6 is meant to show us that it is not always unreasonable to believe without evidence and that, from this, we are supposed to accept that it is not unreasonable to believe Christianity to be true without evidence. Here, two things can be said in response.

First, suppose that it really is the case that some things should be believed without evidence. Even though it might be acceptable to believe some things without evidence, it does not follow that it is acceptable to believe all things without evidence. For example, we would not say that we should believe a murder suspect to be guilty without evidence nor should we accept a Nazi’s claim that the superiority of the Aryan race should be believed without evidence. Thus, it is left to the proponent of arguments like 1-6 to explain why Christianity is the sort of thing that should be accepted without evidence.

Second, I’m not actually convinced that there are any propositions that should be accepted without evidence. I need to be careful to draw out a subtle distinction here, so bear with me. Consider any belief b. You can ask whether we should accept b. If we should never accept any belief without evidence, we should only accept b if we have some evidence E. But in order to have E, we have to have the belief B2 that E is evidence for b. And in order to have B2, we need evidence E2 that B2 is true. But in order to have E2, we need to have the belief B3 and so on. This proceeds into an infinite regress, and, thus, the notion that we require evidence for all of our beliefs is destroyed. The problem is that some beliefs might be evidence for themselves (they are self-evident). If so, the regress stops at some point. But if some beliefs are self-evident, then it is not necessarily the case that we hold any beliefs without evidence. Perhaps all of our beliefs are either backed up by some external evidence or are evidence for themselves. I don’t know if that is the case, but it seems like a reasonable possibility. Of course, the dilemma for the Christian would become whether Christianity is backed up by some external evidence or is self-evident. If the former, then defending the notion that we should have some beliefs without external evidence is irrelevant to the Christian qua Christianity and the burden of proof is on the Christian to demonstrate that there is evidence for Christianity. If the latter, it becomes incumbent on the Christian to show that Christianity is self-evident.


 

Chris Hazel has brought another situation to my attention in which we might beliefs without evidence. There are some beliefs which we assume because they are useful to us and because they are indispensable for our successfully navigating the world. Beliefs of this sort might include my belief that other people have minds and my belief in the existence of the external world.

While I am sympathetic to Chris’s position, I’m not totally convinced that we cannot justify these beliefs. For example, it may be that beliefs of this sort have pragmatic justification. Perhaps pragmatic justification and evidence are distinct, but it would be false to say that beliefs of this sort are justificationless. I am not completely convinced that we cannot have evidence of other minds or of the external world. Arguments exist in the literature that our belief in other minds or in the external world may be justified as inferences to the best explanation (for example, John Mackie argues for the latter in his response to Berkeley’s idealism in The Miracle of Theism).