Today’s Really Recommended Posts were honestly really hard for me to select. There are so many good posts out there that I’ve had to prep posts for over a month out so far. Soon I’ll have these things set up for years. Oh well, I guess that will mean the blog will keep going! Anyway, pacifism, literary apologetics, magicians, creationism, Dawkins, and more are featured this week. Like ’em? Let me know!
Pacifism, Matthew 5, and “Turning the other cheek”– Glenn Andrew Peoples is, in my opinion, one of the most lucid and fun bloggers on the planet. I don’t always agree with him, but when I do…. I almost made a tired joke. Anyway, this post is lengthy, but it is worth a thorough read. I can’t wait for his podcast episode to come out on it… sometime.
HP Lovecraft and Christian Thought– Readers, if you have not followed Hieropraxis, let me tell you right now to just go ahead and do it. Holly Ordway’s site is just full of phenomenal posts on cultural apologetics, and the posts are always fascinating. This one discusses HP Lovecraft’s view of the universe and compares it to the theistic picture.
Shouldn’t a magician be a skeptic?– A very insightful post on the distinctions between illusion and the Creator. Can magicians be Christians?
The Toba Super Eruption and the Polar Ice Cores– Some very interesting scientific data which may bring into question a young earth.
Friedrich Nietzsche Was not a Nihilist– Max Andrews argues that Nietzche saw an “abyss” from which he could find no value and thus the development of the übermensch served his need for value and teleology.
Defecting from Darwinian Naturalism: A review of Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos– does Darwinian Naturalism have an adequate worldview? Nagel argues no, and this look at his fascinating book draws out several reasons why.
Atheist’s Reviews of Dawkins’ The God Delusion– Some fascinating insights into Dawkins’ book from atheists.
SEE UPDATE: It has become revealed that this fragment is almost certainly a fraud. But, if you’re still bothered by it, check out the links below.
UPDATE 2 (4/17/2014): The case has been reopened as some alleged new evidence has shown that the document might not be a forgery after all, which now makes the links below relevant again! I’ve also added a comedic video I found via Tim McGrew.
There has been a bit of an uproar about a 4th Century Coptic Manuscript which purportedly provides evidence that Jesus had a wife. Apart from the fact that it is 4th century and therefore a few hundred years after the events and during primetime for Gnostics making up facts about Jesus to undergird their own theological leanings, many seem to think this is somehow evidence against Christianity. Well, here are some great responses to the discovery.
Reality Check: The “Jesus’ Wife” Coptic Fragment– Daniel Wallace, an influential NT scholar, comments on the discovery. He really gets into some great textual-critical details here. I would say this is one of the more important responses. I highly recommend this response.
Durham University professor calls the “Jesus had a wife” manuscript fragment a forgery– Yep, folks, we might be cutting this one off pretty quickly. Some analyses are suggesting fragment is actually a hoax, and the arguments seem pretty decisive. See the next post:
The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: How a Fake Gospel-Fragment Was Composed– This is a very interesting post which you can find Francis Watson, a professor of religion and theology at Durham University making a concise argument in a PDF which argues that the fragment is a fake. It’s a fascinating article, and perhaps destroys the whole controversy at the start. (To be fair, the late purported date of the fragment does little for me, anyway.)
New Coptic Fragment Says Jesus Was Married– A summary of skeptics’ attitudes towards historicity.
The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife?– Glenn Andrew Peoples has a simply fantastic discussion of the implications of this discovery. One of my favorite lines: “Prepare yourself. Suddenly, people are going to read a sensational article about a tiny scrap of parchment and become experts on early church history.”
Did Jesus Have a Wife?– A post which focuses on the authenticity of the document and the implications if it is indeed authentic. Another great response.
SHOCKING New Evidence Reveals 4th-Century Coptic Christians WONDERED If Jesus Was MARRIED!– What is the historical significance of the discovery, assuming it is genuine? A few very good, concise points.
So What if Jesus did Have a Wife?– Definitely an alternative approach. John Byron notes that Christians could grant that Jesus was married without somehow undermining the core doctrines of Christianity. This one is really interesting and I’m sure will be controversial. While not a response to this article, Aggie Catholics has a very different view of the implications of the discovery, while denying that it has historical import other than as showing the beliefs of Gnosticism: Proof That Jesus Was Married?
The Wife of Christ and the Bride of Christ– This post looks at the discovery from a more presuppositional type approach. We know the Bible is reliable, so what should we make of this discovery?
Stop the presses! Jesus was married! Oh no!– Carl Olson at the Catholic World Report comments on a number of issues with jumping to conclusions about the text. I found this one particularly insightful about how the discovery is being portrayed in the media.
Quick Thoughts on the New Jesus Wife Text– Darrell Bock, a prominent NT scholar, shares his thoughts on the implications of the text. It’s highly informative and concise.
Was Jesus Married?– A reflection on the way the media portrays stories like this along with an examination of the importance of the document and apologetics.
Get Ready for A Wave of Gnostic Looniness Again– James White notes that the discovery was made by a woman who loves to sensationalize gnosticism.
Shock! Horror! Jesus’ Wife! (Video)– a satirical video about the discovery and its alleged implications for Christian faith.
My contention is that Stephen Law’s epistemological approach to his “evil god challenge” to Christianity entails radical skepticism. Because his challenge entails radical skepticism, Law has forced his cohorts to choose between the seeming irrationality of that position or a denial of the power of the “evil God challenge.”
Entailment of Skepticism
Stephen Law’s “evil God challenge” presents the following:
Suppose the universe has a creator. Suppose also that this being is omnipotent and omniscient. But suppose he is not maximally good. Rather, imagine that he is maximally evil. His depravity is without limit. His cruelty knows no bounds. There is no other god or gods – just this supremely wicked being. Call this the evil-god hypothesis. (Law, “The Evil God Challenge,” 4, cited below)
Now, the point of this challenge is:
the challenge of explaining why the good-god hypothesis should be considered significantly
more reasonable than the evil-god hypothesis.
Law argues in his paper that any theodicy used for the “good god” can be equally used for the “evil god.” Therefore, the theist has yet to show why one should favor the good god over the evil god, and so cannot rationally hold to belief in the good god over the evil god.
Law’s primary support for this supposition is his symmetry thesis:
I shall call the suggestion that, in terms of reasonableness, there is indeed such a rough symmetry between the good-god and evil-god hypotheses, the symmetry thesis.
Nowhere does Law explain what “rough symmetry” means or how balanced the evidence really is between the good god and evil god. Rather, he just uses the phrase “rough symmetry” and argues as though this is enough to discredit the good god hypothesis.
Now notice that the very heart of Law’s argument is something similar to this:
1) If one has no reason to believe that hypothesis a is “significantly more reasonable” than hypothesis b, one cannot rationally hold a over b
It is exactly at this point that Law’s entire epistemology must collapse into radical skepticism. Why? Simply because I can construct parallel but contradictory accounts for nearly any object of knowledge that is not a necessary truth. Just because Law is able to [unsuccessfully, in my opinion] construct a “parallel” system of explanation to that of the ‘good god’ hypothesis does not mean that his parallel is on the same level or even a challenge to that hypothesis.
To see why constructing parallel explanation of reality does not somehow undermine reality, consider two scenarios I constructed to outline this exact point.
The 5 minutes ago challenge
Scenario 1: Our universe was created 5 minutes ago with all our memories and experiences implanted into us.
Those who are familiar with epistemology and philosophy of mind will recognize this as a very pervasive scenario throughout the literature. But how does one go about solving a problem like this? Consider a defense of what seems to be everyday experience.
a) it does not seem to me as though the universe was created 5 minutes ago. I have vivid memories of ten years ago and can interact with others about some of those memories.
The problem with a), of course, is that it exactly lines up with the notion that the universe was created 5 minutes ago with our memories and experiences implanted inside our heads.
Unless I’m very much mistaken, I think I could construct a similarly parallel account for any possible defense of experience of more than 5 minutes ago.
Therefore, I conclude with Law that because the “5 minutes ago” hypothesis is has “rough symmetry” with the hypothesis that our universe is 16 billion years old and the like, it is unreasonable to embrace either proposition. After all, the 5 minutes ago thesis seems extremely improbable, and it is roughly symmetric to the ‘everyday experience’ hypothesis. Law’s symmetry principle applies and undermines all of our experience.
Scenario 2: A Cartesian Demon (again, those familiar with philosophical literature will likely recognize this one) has us all under some kind of magic Matrix-like spell where we live our whole lives in our minds even though in reality our bodies are being tortured. The demon delights in our blissful ignorance of the horrible state of our souls and so he continues to implant memories as our lives continue on.
Again, I can’t think of any defense of everyday experience I can’t parallel. Therefore, we should not believe that our everyday experience is correct, according to Law.
I could continue with examples. The problem of other minds is another that immediately jumps out: how do we know there are actually minds in those walking people we see around us. They could just as easily be [philosophical, not pop-fiction] zombies walking around mechanically acting as though they have minds inside them. Again, parallels=>skepticism about whether other minds exist.
Ultimately, Law’s “symmetry thesis” leads us into radical skepticism and even solipsism. That seems to me enough to reject it.
Challenge to Christianity?
So how exactly does Law’s evil god challenge present any difficulties for Christianity? Honestly, I’m not sure. Unless one is convinced of the solipsistic scenarios outlined above, one should not be convinced of Law’s evil god challenge. His symmetry thesis is the only way he can press this challenge, and that same thesis undermines all knowledge of experience and induction. It doesn’t seem like much of a challenge to me.
Law’s Odd Conclusion and My Conclusion all at once
Law’s conclusion states that:
The problem facing defenders of classical monotheism is this: until they can provide good grounds for supposing the symmetry thesis is false,
they lack good grounds for supposing that the good-god hypothesis is any more reasonable than the evil-god hypothesis – the latter hypothesis being something that surely even they will admit is very unreasonable indeed.
Now, one again must see exactly where this is leading. Suppose, as a theist, I find the evidence for the existence of a god to be very convincing. Suppose further that I find the theodicies Law parodies to be sound. Suppose that I think that Law’s evil god hypothesis meets these theodicies equally. Now, according to Law, I am in the state of “symmetry”; I have no reason to prefer the good god over the evil. Law maintains that this means not just that I can’t rationally hold to either, but rather that because the evil god hypothesis is “very unreasonable indeed” I should also reject the good god.
But of course the theist we are supposing to exist believes that the good good hypothesis is extraordinarily reasonable. And because Law’s thesis works, according to them, following Law, they have no reason to believe the evil god is any less probable than the good god. Thus, according to this theist, the evil god hypothesis is not improbable but rather extraordinarily probable.
What Law has done is pretty simple. He’s argued that the good and evil gods must be on the same level of rationality. Because he (apparently) and others reject the evil god out-of-hand, he argues that they are on equal footing and so one should reject the good god. But again, what if the theist agrees that these hypotheses must be on equal footing and that it’s not that both are improbable but rather that both are extraordinarily probable?
All Law has said in response to such a person is that the evil god is “very unreasonable indeed” but why? Law has just spent over 20 pages arguing that the evil god is actually reasonable. Suddenly, the evil god is worthy of rejecting a priori? How does that work out? Law hasn’t done anything to dissuade the convinced believer. The only way his argument works is if one thinks that the good god hypothesis is barely rational. If one follows his conclusion and thinks god’s existence is very likely, then they must follow it all the way through: the evil god’s existence is very likely too. Law just imports this unreasonableness from his own a priori denial of the existence of God.
So what, at this point, does the believer do? Well, it seems we’re back to my first point. One can either believe the symmetry thesis and thus devolve into radical skepticism, or one can reject it and thus throw Law’s argument out the window where it belongs.
Finally, it’s worth noting that there are other reasons to reject the “evil god challenge.” First, it doesn’t take into account the whole range of theistic argument. For example, the ontological argument is based upon the notion of God as maximally great. Law would have to argue that an evil being could be maximally great. Good luck.
William Lane Craig and Stephen Law debated some time back. I wrote a review summarizing and analyzing the arguments.
Glenn Andrew Peoples presents Law with a formidable challenge on the Unbelievable? Podcast.
Edward Feser weighs in on the evil God challenge.
Glenn Andrew Peoples’ podcast on the evil God challenge is phenomenal.
Max Andrews weighs in, arguing that even though Law’s argument is much like the Cartesian demon, we should take it seriously.
Luke Nix at Faithful Thinker comments on the same argument from a different angle.
[Cited as directed here:] STEPHEN LAW The evil god challenge. Religious Studies, Available on CJO doi:10.1017/S0034412509990369
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