Kenneth Samples

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Molinism and Aseity- A knock-down argument against middle knowledge?

stpeters2One of the most recent “Straight Thinking” podcasts–a podcast put on by Reasons to Believe–featured Travis Campbell discussing Middle Knowledge (which is an aspect of the philosophical theological position known as molinism). Middle Knowledge is, essentially, God’s knowledge of counterfactuals–that is, the knowledge of things like “If someone talks about molinism, J.W. Wartick will be interested.” That is a counterfactual because it states something which may be contrary to fact–that is, it depends on some condition to be fulfilled in order to be true (in the example above, it is the occasion of someone to talk about molinism).

On the second part of the interview, Campbell discussed some objections to molinism which he felt made the position intractable. One of the first objections he presented was an objection from “aseity” that is, God’s self-existence. According to the doctrine of divine aseity, God does not rely upon anything else for God’s existence. Now, molinism classically holds that God surveys the realm of possible worlds prior to the creative act and so sees all possibilities related to free creaturely choices. Then, God creates the world God desires. Campbell argued that this undermines God’s aseity because it makes God dependent upon creatures for omniscience–one of God’s essential attributes.

The argument, if sound, has great force. After all, if molinism means one must deny an essential attribute of God, there is a pretty serious difficulty with the doctrine. But does it? Campbell cited William Lane Craig, a leading proponent of molinism, as admitting that molinism entails that God’s knowledge, at least, is in some sense dependent upon creaturely choices. From what I have read of WLC,*  I have found it seems he frequently makes it appear as though molinism presents God as able to choose among any parts of possible worlds to construct whatever possible world God wants. Not correct… but possibly also not Craig’s actual view;* perhaps Craig is only making it seem thus when he discusses molinism in summary. What I’m getting at is that I’m not convinced Craig is as consistent a molinist as, well, Molina (or in modern times, Thomas P. Flint).

Now for the claim itself, I do not think it follows that God is actually dependent upon creaturely choices. And, if it follows from molinism that God is dependent in that way, then it must also be true of any view which holds to foreknowledge whatsoever. In fact, this is where I have a pretty serious bone to pick with any view which denies comprehensive foreknowledge. Unless I am much mistaken–which is quite possible–the realm of possible worlds is a set of necessary truths. That is, each possible world is a complete set of all true propositions for the entire history of that world.*** But if that is the case, then molinism is no different on God’s creative activity than any other view of creation, for God is simply selecting one from a set of possible worlds.

There is debate over how such a set of possible worlds might be populated–does the set of possible worlds come from God, or is it simply a set of necessary truths?** Whatever one’s answer for this, it remains clear to me that molinism is not defective in this area: the molinist simply holds that God selects a possible world from the set of possible worlds. The fact that the molinist emphasizes that these possible worlds include free choices is essentially a moot point so far as aseity is concerned. If there is such a set of possible worlds, then any view of God’s foreknowledge and creation has to acknowledge that God’s creative act is the bringing forth of one such possible world. If there is no such set, then it seems our universe is necessary, which would itself be problematic for the doctrine of creation.

So it seems to me that Campbell failed to make a compelling argument against molinism from aseity. In order for his argument to be successful, he would have to show that molinism’s view of possible worlds is somehow radically different from any other position and then also demonstrate that molinism’s view also necessarily makes God dependent upon creaturely freedom. But of course that would also involve him having to show that the set of possible worlds, on molinism, is itself independent of God. And it seems to me that although perhaps not all molinists hold that God does generate the set of possible worlds, it is entirely possible for a molinist to consistently hold that this is the case: the set of possible worlds is dependent upon God. And, if that is true, Campbell’s argument fails. I conclude that Campbell’s argument fails because it is both incomplete and unsound.

*I have his Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom but I am working through Molina’s work before I transition into it.

**Interestingly, Craig is working in this area for his next major academic work, according to his own discussion of related topics on his podcasts.

***One may hold that a possible world is merely the starting conditions of a world, but I do not see how that distinction could be made coherently. That is, I’m not convinced that a set of possible worlds would not include the entire history of the possible world. Moreover, any who would argue that God has comprehensive knowledge of the future would have to grant that God’s creative act would entail the history of the entire [possible] world.

Links

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SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts- Halloween Edition 2012

Halloween is this week. How are Christians to interact with this holiday? Some believe it is a purely evil celebration and caution other Christians against it; some believe it is harmless and enjoy participating. I have gone across the web and collected these links with discussions on the topic from various Christian perspectives.

Halloween and the Fascination with Fear– Stephen McAndrew, author of Why It Doesn’t Matter What You Belive If It’s Not True, comments on how our fascination with things whose existence we generally dismiss points to something beyond our everyday reality.

Sent into the Harvest: Halloween on Mission– Over at Desiring God, check out this post which points out Christians are sent to the world and comments on how that may relate to Halloween.

The Tricky Topic of Halloween– (You’ll need to scroll down to the heading of the same title.) RTB scholar Ken Samples, author of 7 Truths that Changed the World, discusses Halloween. He shares some history of Halloween as well as suggestions to Christians about the holiday. A very useful discussion.

Halloween- The Great Omission?– A phenomenal post on a mission-oriented view of Halloween. It’s also entertaining to read, so check it out!

Hallelujah, Harvest, and Halloween Alternatives– Discussion about how Christians have utilized Halloween and made an alternate celebration or holiday. It has a few suggestions for how to incorporate these alternatives.

A balanced perspective on the topic found at: As a Christian, Should I celebrate Halloween?

Redeeming Halloween– Discussion of the book, “Redeeming Halloween” by Kim Wier and Pam McCune.

Halloween: Fascinated by Spirituality?– Interesting discussion on the motivations of Halloween and Christianity.

Of Halloween and Rubber Tanks– An interesting post talking about whether Christians should be spending time debating Halloween’s “Satanic Origins.”

What is Halloween?–  Discusses the background of the holiday and some of the traditions that go with it.

A different perspective (with which I disagree, but respect) is given over at Christian Answers: Should Christians Celebrate Halloween? 

A respectful, middle-of-the-road answer to the question “Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?” is given over at Grace Communication International.

Image Credit

Anthony92931  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jack_O_Lanterns.jpg

Book Review: “7 Truths that Changed the World” by Kenneth Samples

Kenneth Samples’ latest book, 7 Truths That Changed the World (hereafter 7TC) provides an easy-to-read, fairly comprehensive apologetic for the Christian faith in a unique format.

Samples presents 7TC as a kind of investigation into the “dangerous ideas” that are central to Christianity. These dangerous ideas are:

  1. Not all men stay dead. In this section, Samples defends the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. Christians who are actively involved in reading apologetics will find that the argument is the fairly well-known “minimal facts” style, but Samples does manage to give some uniqueness to the argument in the next chapter, wherein he examines various objections to the argument for the resurrection. Particularly unique was the fact that Samples takes the time to offer critiques of some of the more outlandish objections, like the twin brother theory (38).
  2. God walked the earth- Here, Samples puts the “dangerous idea” squarely in the context of religious pluralism. Not all religions can be true (48ff) and if Jesus was God on earth, then Christianity is true. Interestingly, rather than simply presenting arguments for Jesus’ Godhood, Samples offers a few theories of the incarnation and only then moves towards Biblical evidence for Jesus’ deity (50-53; 53ff). Again, Samples engages with some little-known but often abused objections, including the notion that Jesus was a guru (69-70) or even an alien (70-71).
  3. A fine-tuned cosmos with a beginning- Samples then engages in an argument from cosmic fine-tuning. Again, Samples puts the argument into a context rather than simply throwing it out to be fielded. Throughout the book, Samples grounds the arguments he makes within the broad theological history that surrounds the ideas. For this argument, he points out the historical doctrine of creation out of nothing through the Bible and church history (78-80). He also points out the “weighty theological implications” of the fine-tuning argument (82-83). He then argues that Christian theology helped ground the emergence of science (91ff).
  4. Clear pointers to God- Explanatory power is one way to evaluate worldviews, and Samples weighs atheistic naturalism against Christian theism. Samples offers a method by which people can evaluate worldviews. Essentially, this is a summary of his excellent work, A World of Difference, which I comment on in my post “Can We Evaluate Worldviews? How to navigate the sea of ideas.” Throughout this section, Samples offers a number of arguments in favor of the notion that God exists and can best explain the universe we observe.
  5. Not by Works- One of the core tenets of Protestantism, and indeed of  evangelicalism (and in many ways, more modern Roman Catholicism) is salvation by grace. The fact that Christianity offers salvation as a gift provides another way to analyze it in light of other worldviews (134ff). All humans feel an urge to try to work for salvation, but this is mistaken. Ultimately, we cannot do it by ourselves (136ff). Sin is a predicament in which we find ourselves, it is a condition (137-138). Thus, Christianity offers a “way out” by salvation through grace in Christ.
  6. Humanity’s Value and Dignity- Humans have value. Most humans realize that it is wrong to cause harm or suffering and that certain virtues are good. However, without theism, there is no basis for human values (167ff). Some atheists have realized this and rejected meaning (163-166), but their worldviews dim in comparison to the light Christianity brings.
  7. The Good in Suffering- The problem of evil is the most oft-trumpeted argument for atheism, and Samples responds to it mostly by utilizing the “greater good” theodicy (theodicy means, basically, a defense from the problem of evil). First, he points out that it is not logically incoherent to suppose God is all powerful and all good while still believing evil exists (196-200). Then, he argues that God can have good purposes for evil and suffering (205ff). While we may not come up with a specific reason for every single evil that occurs, God’s sovereignty ensures that good will triumph and that all things work for His purposes (209ff).  I don’t tend to favor the “greater good” theodicy because I’m not sure I can swallow the notion that every evil has a greater good–but I think that when applied to evil generally it may be more powerful. Samples does a good job introducing the reader to the basics on the problem of evil and a theodicy here.

While much of the material in 7TC goes over things the avid reader of apologetics will have encountered, the novelty of some of the arguments as well as the answers to some infrequently-considered objections makes the book worthwhile even to “veterans.” It is also very helpful to have some of the background in historical theology that Samples gives to contextualize many of his points. These kinds of extra details with the overall argument give readers a level of background knowledge that not all introductory apologetics books can provide.

Moreover, the format makes it work well as the kind of book to hand to a skeptic or a believer with doubts. It presents the core doctrines of the Christian faith in their broad contexts and defends them admirably. While hardened skeptics may laugh a book like this off, for those with open minds the arguments will be compelling enough to start conversations. Due to the effort to make the book readable for a general audience, it is clear that Samples can’t touch on every objection, but it will get readers thinking.

Overall, 7 Truths That Changed the World is a superb effort by a fantastic scholar. It presents a reasoned defense of the whole of Christianity in a short, digestible form that makes it perfect for an introduction to apologetics or as a book to give friends to start conversations. Not only that, but Samples provides enough unique insight to make it worth a read by even “veterans” of apologetics literature. It comes recommended highly.

Disclosure: I received a copy of the book for review from the publisher. I was not asked to endorse it, nor was I in any way influenced in my opinion by the publisher. My thanks to the publisher for the book.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Can we evaluate worldviews? How to navigate the sea of ideas.

Think about it this way: worldviews are supposed to be reality. If a worldview does not match reality, how can it be reality?

I recently began a series on the truth claims of Mormonism. In that post, I asserted that there is positive evidence against the truth of the Book of Mormon. However, there is an important step to take before offering arguments against other religions. Namely, one must establish that evidence against the truth claims of a religion should rationally lead one to abandon that religion. (A related but similar point would be the positive evidence for religion leading to rational belief.)

Thus, before I continue to offer critiques of other religions, I offer some epistemic groundwork.

Truth Claims and Worldviews

First, it must be noted that worldviews are not mere matters of feeling, regardless of what the supporters of the varied views claim. For example, if one says “You can’t analyze what I believe, it’s just a matter of faith” they are making a claim about reality–that their faith cannot be analyzed. Similarly, if one claims “Israelites sailed to the Americas from the Middle East,” [Mormonism] or “There is no God” [atheism] they have made a claim about reality.

Such truth claims are capable of analysis, by definition. Statements are true or false. All worldviews make claims about reality, which are therefore true or false. Simply stating that one’s belief is “just faith” or “obvious” does not exclude it from making claims.


How Do We Evaluate The Claims of Worldviews?

One’s beliefs should conform to reality, if one seeks to be rational. Certainly, one could say “To heck with the evidence, I’m going to believe x, y, and z! I don’t care if I can’t support the belief and that there is strong evidence against x, y, and z.” But if one were to say this, one would abandon their reason. Their heart could believe, but their mind could not. Ultimately, all truth claims can and should be put to the test.

Testing the claims of varied worldviews is no easy task. There must be objective criteria, otherwise one view will be favored over another. One cannot simply make their own view the default and argue that only by filtering truth claims through their position can truth be attained. Atheism, by no means, provides a neutral basis for evaluating religions, as I’ve argued elsewhere. In fact, atheism must past the standards for truth claims, just as any religion must. If one remains an atheist despite positive evidence to the contrary (or despite reasons to disbelieve the claims of varied atheistic worldviews like materialism), one abandons reason just as if one clung to a false faith.

Testing Worldviews as Hypotheses

In his monumental work,Christian Apologetics, Douglas Groothuis argues that worldviews can be proposed as hypotheses. Worldviews present themselves as answers to explain the phenomena we experience (Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 49). Groothuis therefore presents criteria for evaluating worldviews as though they were hypotheses about the world. Kenneth Samples similarly draws out nine tests which can be used to determine whether the claims of a worldview are true in his book A World of Difference (page numbers from that text, citation below). From these proposed methods, we can derive tests to evaluate competing worldviews:

1) Coherence– if a religion is contradictory, it simply cannot be true. For example, if a religion claimed that “Person Z is god, and person Z is not god,” that religion would be incoherent (Samples, 33). Furthermore, “If a worldview’s essential propositions are coherent… it is more likely to be true than if its essential propositions are not related in this way” (Groothuis, 55).

2) Balance– “A valid worldview will be ‘neither too simple nor too complex.’ All things being equal, the simplest worldview that does justice to all aspects of reality deserves preference (Samples, 33-34).

3) Explanatory Power and Scope– Does the worldview explain what we experience in enough detail? If a worldview does not explain our world, or it cannot account for certain phenomena, then it is lacks explanatory power (Samples, 34). Worldviews which make propositions which they cannot account for lose credibility (Groothuis, 53).

4) Correspondence– Does the worldview match the facts we know about the world to our experience of the world? If we know that the worldview in question promotes claims we know are false, it does not match reality (Samples, 34-35). Think about it this way: worldviews are supposed to be reality. If a worldview does not match reality, how can it be reality? We are able to test factual claims through empirical and scientific methods, so if a worldview continually is able to establish its essential claims by means of these methods, it is more likely to be true (Groothuis, 55).

5) Verification– Can this worldview be falsified? Worldviews which cannot be found to be false cannot be found to be true either.

6) Pragmatic Test– Can we live by this worldview? This test is less important, but still has credibility–we must be able to live out the worldview in question (Samples, 35-36). But worldviews should also be fruitful in the development of greater intellectual and cultural discoveries (Groothuis, 57).

7) Existential Test– Like the pragmatic test, this one is not as important as whether the view is factual, but it is still helpful. If worldviews do not account for inherent human needs, it is possible the view is false (Samples, 36). Again, this is not necessary for a worldview, but it helps measure a view’s completeness.

8 ) Cumulative Test– Does the worldview gain support from all the previous criteria? If a worldview is able to satisfy all the criteria, it gains credibility (Samples, 36-37).

9) Competitive Competence Test– If the worldview satisfies the previous criteria with more evidential power than other worldviews, it gains credibility over and against them (Samples, 37).

10) Radical ad hoc readjustment– Groothuis presents this as a negative test for worldviews. “When a worldview is faced with potentially defeating counterevidence, an adherent may readjust its core claims to accommodate the evidence against it. Various theories and worldviews can legitimately refine their beliefs over time, but radical ad hoc readjustment reveals a deep problem…” (Groothuis, 57). There is, as Groothuis pointed out, a line between refining belief and simply readjusting belief in an ad hoc way. If, for example, it were discovered that Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Christianity would be false (more on that below). If, however, one simply adjusted Christianity to say “Jesus spiritually rose from the dead,” that would constitute a desperate, ad hoc measure to preserve the worldview and count as discrediting Christianity.

These tests present objective criteria for testing worldviews. If, for example, one wished to deny their worldview had to be coherent, they’d have to affirm that which they denied, for in denying that criterion, they were attempting to make their view more coherent. The testing of worldviews is a legitimate task, and indeed one in which people should engage. Some things, if falsely believed, are harmless (for example, if one believed it rained yesterday when it did not). Worldviews, however, if falsely believed, are damaging on any number of levels. If one believed God didn’t exist when, in fact, He did, then one would be doing a great evil by not acting upon the truth of God’s existence (and the contrary). Thus, the testing of worldviews is no task to be skimmed over, but one which should be approached with fear and trembling. The criteria outlined above allow people to engage in this task and evaluate the realm of ideas.

Christianity Encourages Exploration of Reality

What I find extremely interesting is that Christianity, unlike many world religions, doesn’t discourage the discovery of truth, nor does it evade evidence by claiming that it is merely a faith or feeling. Rather, the founders of Christianity explicitly stated that it is based upon certain truth claims, and that if those claims are false, then Christianity is worthless. Paul, for example, wrote “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). The truth of Christianity rests exactly upon a testable claim: Jesus rose from the dead. If He did not, Christianity is false. Christianity’s scope and explanatory power are superior- it can account for the existence of contingent objects, persons, consciousness, life, and the like. Christianity corresponds to reality, satisfies existential and pragmatic needs, is simpler than many other explanations, its coherent, and it matches all the criteria. Christianity expects its adherents–and outsiders–to test the faith and discover whether it is true. I have found, personally, that it pasts these tests over and over.

Conclusion

Whether one agrees or not, it is simply the case that religions make claims about reality. These claims are, in turn, true or false. Not only that, but they must match with reality in several important ways. Christianity not only adheres to these tests, but it encourages them. It also passes these tests. Does your worldview?

Sources

Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2011).

Kenneth Samples, A World of Difference (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007).

Image Credit

I took this picture at Waldo Canyon near Manitou Springs, Colorado on my honeymoon. Use of this image is subject to the terms stated at the bottom of this post. The other image is the book cover from Samples’ book.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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