Alexander Pruss is one of the smartest people I’ve encountered. Though I don’t always agree with his conclusions, the sharpness of his intellect and his wit is always fascinating. His blog is frequently a place to flex mental muscles, as he offers small, one-off arguments to spur discussion. Recently, he wrote a post entitled “Junia/Junias and the base rate fallacy” Pruss argued that application of Bayesian analysis to biblical scholarship would help solve the question of whether Junia/Junias was an apostle. Apologies in advance for possible lack of care with terms like “factor,” “probability,” and “odds”; I tried to be careful but I’m tired.
The preliminaries are explanations of Bayes’ Theorem and the meaning of the “base rate fallacy,” both of which are easily searched online, but I provided the links here (with all the caveats that a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing and Wikipedia articles don’t make anyone an expert). With that information in mind, we approach Pruss’s argument.
Pruss does fudge the numbers some, admitting he hasn’t explored the question on the actual numbers for some of these probabilities. So, for example, he begins by giving a 9:1 factor for Junia:Junias names in the early church. With that, and with the note that to avoid the base rate fallacy, we ought to assign a probability (he gives .9) to the question of whether this person was “among” the apostles, it yields a .19 rate of false positives for people who are not woman apostles to be assigned the notion of being a woman apostle. Moreover, if we say that there are 12 male apostles (the disciples) for every one female apostle (Junia), the probability of an apostle being a woman is now 1/13. Finally, because “not everyone Paul praises is an apostle” we have to assign a probability to whether Paul is praising an apostle here (Pruss gives it .3). This means that “the chance that a randomly chosen person that Paul praises is a female apostle even given the existence of female apostles is only about (1/13)×(1/3) or about three percent.”
Plugging in the .19 we got above for false positives and doing more math (read his post), we now discover that “even assuming that some apostles are female, the probability that Junia/s is a female apostle is at most about 14%, once one takes into account the low base rate of women among apostles and apostles among those mentioned by Paul.”
Pruss immediately notes the numbers are made up and could change the overall results.
There are some significant problems with Pruss’s argument here. First, the fact is that there is no extant name “Junias/Junianias” found anywhere in lexical evidence whatsoever. Thus, instead of .9 for Junia being a woman, it should be 1. One comment pointed this out and Pruss pressed the argument that even in this case, the math would still be “significantly less than 50%” for Junia to be a female apostle. Doing the math is too hard for my tired brain, but let’s just say he’s right. The question still remains of why the chances for Junia to be a female apostle would be so low.
Looking at his other percentages, it seems a large part of the argument, once we’ve established Junia is female, turns on whether it is the case that she may not be “among” the apostles. Pruss’s position here falls into the goalpost moving arguments that complementarians have engaged in since the lexical evidence turning her into a man came up dry. Typically, this is how it goes:
Junia was not a man => Okay, Junia was not an apostle => Okay, Junia was not the type of apostle that was authoritative
The third stage above is one that is essentially a theological fiction supported almost entirely by punting to the fallacious importation of the semantic range of a word into a foreign context. When Paul wrote to say that Junia was an apostle, according to this argument, but she was one only in the semantic meaning of the word apostle as witness/sent one/messenger. Never mind that the word is used for an office in the New Testament, including in the writings of Paul (1 Corinthians 12:28). No, because it does not serve the purpose of continuing to prevent women from holding pastoral office, the entire semantic range of meaning for the word “apostle” must be imported in order to reduce Junia in status once again. This fallacious importation of meaning is a demonstration of an ad hoc explanation. (Unfortunately, Pruss himself succumbs to this goalpost moving argument in the comments on this post when he questions whether Junia as an apostle would be an authoritative apostle or not.)
But it is the second stage that is at question initially, and here, once again, it seems that the importation of complementarian assumptions into the text has occurred, for this reading goes against the earlier known readings from church fathers (see here, for example) which saw Junia as an apostle and did not import the lexical range of the word into “among” either. So, again, the factor needs to be moved from .9 to 1.
The proportion of male:female apostles is made up, as Pruss acknowledges. It’s possible that the reality is 1:1 or 100:1. So it would be possible to move numbers around to make it either extraordinarily likely Junia was a woman apostle or unlikely. It also seems to me the 1/3 possibility that Paul is praising an apostle seems high. So again, this would potentially lower the probability for Junia as a woman apostle. It could raise it, though that seems unlikely given the biblical text. Nevertheless, significant gains were made with “Junia” being established as the name and being among the apostles. And, the question of just how likely something ought to be in order to be epistemically justified in believing it is itself a matter of very hot debate. If, say, the likelihood for Junia being a woman apostle were 33%, would someone be justified in holding that belief? The answer to that question is very messy indeed.
But the most relevant evidence, the most clear counter-point to Pruss wasn’t even considered. That is this: using prior probability to determine the likelihood of an event does not matter if the event has already occurred. That is, if it is the case that Paul does name a woman apostle, then whether or not this was likely or unlikely given any number of other prior probability considerations does not change what Paul does in Romans 16:7. And while Pruss tries to say that his use of Bayesian theorem ought to somehow guide biblical scholars in their reading of this text, what he doesn’t consider is that highly improbable events do occur and that if they do, whether or not the event is improbable does not impact the event’s actually having occurred. Indeed, it is unclear as to why a biblical scholar should take such prior probability into account to begin with (apart from, potentially, taking caution with offering interpretations that are particularly unlikely). Suppose that the name were not Junia but Rebecca and the Greek text were so clear as to make it impossible to take it as anything but “among the authoritative apostles” (despite their being no use of this term in the NT and it being a demand for evidence by complementarians that they cannot meet for people they themselves admit to being apostles). What then? Would a scholar be justified in dismissing the sentence written by Paul that “Rebecca was an authoritative office-holding apostle” simply because of prior probabilities? It seems obvious the answer is no. So then the question is why should the biblical scholar be beholden to prior probabilities in a supposedly less clear case (and again, I by no means grant that it is unclear)? Again, the answer seems to be that the scholar ought not to worry about that, given the relevant data is directly in front of them.
Bayesian reasoning is interesting. I’ve enjoyed reading about it and learning about it from time to time. Whether or not it is helpful to theological questions is a concern for a different time, though it is a fascinating question to ponder (related questions such as how can we fill in sometimes arbitrary probabilities for certain events/people/etc. and still think the theological reasoning is sound would be interesting to explore in depth). In this specific case, though, it seems clear that Pruss’s argument fails for several reasons. All of these center around the actual meaning of the text (the name Junia and the meaning of “among the apostles”) which no amount of external probabilities can alter. Pruss’s argument is a fun mental exercise that need not undermine confidence in the data of the text itself: Junia was a female apostle. Pruss’s claim that biblical theologians ought to use Bayesian reasoning in their exegesis does not seem to be sustained by this example.
A Brief Biblical Proof for Women Pastors– Read why 1 Corinthians 12:28 is an even bigger problem for complementarians, as it effectively guarantees women may hold the same or more authority than that of pastors.
On the Femnization of the Church– It is frequently alleged that the church is being “feminized” and that this is a bad thing. Check out this post, wherein I analyze this notion from a few different angles.
Women in the Ministry: The philosophy of equality and why complementarianism fails– I argue that the position in which women are excluded from church leadership entails inequality of being.
Why Max Lucado Broke His Political Silence for Trump– More Christian leaders need to follow the example of Max Lucado and point out the absurdity of his election cycle and the claims of Donald Trump. One quote from Lucado regarding Trump saying he hasn’t asked for forgiveness: “I can’t imagine that. I’m just shaking my head going ‘How does that work?’ Does a swimmer say ‘I’ve never gotten wet?’ …How does a person claim to be a Christian and never need to ask for forgiveness?”
Women, War, and Evangelicals– A post noting the fact that despite the appeals to “natural law” and the like by complementarians, most Americans–and even plenty of evangelicals–favor allowing women into combat roles. See also my post on the topic.
Debased Coynage– Thomistic philosopher Edward Feser points out the total misunderstanding atheist Jerry Coyne demonstrated regarding some theistic arguments.
Armadillos and Ken Ham’s Hyperevolution Model– Young earth creationist groups like Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis ironically put forward the most optimistic appraisals of evolutionary theory to be found. They just don’t like calling it that. Here’s another evaluation of Ken Ham’s model.
Planned Parenthood and Personhood Parables– A post featuring interesting thought experiments having to do with the rights (or lack thereof) of the unborn as well as discussion of some current events.
A question which we don’t often stop to think about in theological discussions is whether or not it is, in principle, possible to speak of the divine. Archie Spencer’s book, The Analogy of Faith, asks just this question and offers an in-depth analysis of various approaches alongside proposing a model for speaking about God.
The book is split, roughly, between analysis of various proposed models for speaking about God and a development of a Christocentric model for speaking of the divine.
The analysis of Aristotle’s analogy of being in the first chapter is particularly interesting. Spencer notes that because Aristotle’s analogy depends upon the interrelatedness of things through cause, and because God is the ultimate relation of causation as the unmoved mover, his concept of analogy is ultimately almost useless. The reason is because it becomes too broad: effectively anything can be related to anything else through an analogy of relation, and then this tells us nothing about the things being related themselves. Yet even here Spencer argues that Aristotle’s concept of analogy–itself reliant upon Plato in many relevant ways–can be useful in that it relates causality and the divine ideas, thus preparing the way for Neoplatonist thinking.
Following on the heals of this analysis are some fantastic insights into Augustinian and Thomistic thought about analogy as well. Thomas Aquinas is perhaps the most important thinker regarding the use of analogy in speaking about God of all time. As Spencer notes, it is impossible to adequately deal with the topic without spending significant time on Aquinas’s view of analogy. However, Spencer’s ultimate analysis is that Aquinas did not have a well-developed theory of analogy of his own. Instead, he asserts, it has been the followers and interpreters of Aquinas who made a “Thomistic” theory of analogy, based around the analogy of being. Because these theories ultimately depend on an Aristotelian foundation, they, too, are found to be ultimately inadequate. After all, if we are unable to reference God’s being in any direct way, then it is difficult to see how creatures totally unlike the divine can have an analogue of that divine. Spencer’s analysis in this section is thorough and fairly convincing.
Karl Barth and Eberhard Jungel are the next thinkers addressed, and they provide a basis for Spencer’s own theory of analogy, which is Christological. I’m summarizing an extraordinarily detailed theory here, so I’m sure I’m not adequately outlining it, but the basic thought is that because God has come to us, that allows us through divine revelation of Christ to refer to God. Thus, analogy is the analogy of faith rather than an analogy of being–one in which God has condescended to allow reference to the divine being in human language, rather than one in which we are able to, by our own thinking, come to language which speaks of God.
Upon reading Spencer’s analysis and arguments, I am fairly convinced that he is correct in his notion that the analogy of being is insufficient to capture the possibility of talk about God. What I do wonder, however, is whether Spencer (and most others) too quickly dismiss the possibility of univocal language about God. It seems to me that if we are to say “God is love” then we must have some sense in which that actually relates to God. To be fair, Spencer could respond by pointing to such a statement as exactly in concord with his theory, which would assert that it does relate to God because God has revealed the divine nature to us in Christ and God’s Word, thus allowing us to rightly say “God is love.” However, I think that a deeper treatment of the possibility of univocal language related to God talk would have been appreciated in a book like this. Though, admittedly, the book is already lengthy and is specifically focused on analogy, not the possibility of univocity or equivocal language.
One minor complaint I have is that in the thoroughness of the book, it seems that Spencer is sometimes repetitive. He hits the same point from several different angles in the same chapter, to the point that the book can become quite dry at times. However, the subject matter itself is deeply intriguing, and his full treatment of the topic makes it hard to fault him for stating a few things more than once.
Those interested in reading a dense book of philosophical theology should look no further than The Analogy of Faith by Archie Spencer. It is a deep work that demands much reflection and consideration. It is the kind of seminal writing to which one will constantly return as one thinks about the topic discussed. I can say that I learned a great deal from the book, and had my mind stretched as it hasn’t been stretched in some time. I recommend it highly.
+Deep analysis of key concepts related to analogy
+Many avenues for further research
+Workable theory which offers some resolution
-A bit too verbose at times
-Dismisses univocity a bit too quickly
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)
Archie Spencer, The Analogy of Faith(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015).
In the ancient world, rhetoric was a major field of study. Briefly, classical rhetoric is the practice of discourse as a means to motivate, inform, persuade. It is hard to pin down to an exact degree what rhetoric is, but here we will use the term as broadly defined above.
Ancient Rhetoric in Apologetics
Mark Edwards, in “The Flowering of Latin Apologetic: Lactantius and Arnobius,” (cited below) examines the way these ancient apologists used rhetoric in their defense of the Christian faith. This involved demonstrating that Christians were educated over and against the notion that Christians were all slaves and fools. It also involved showing that Christians were the paragons of (Roman) society rather than people who overthrew society. They presented Christianity as an alternative way of thinking–a whole system which was to overthrow the Pagan thought of the time.
These different aspects of rhetoric in apologetics were specifically aimed at the audience of the time of Lactantius and Arnobius. Perhaps we can learn from their example.
Rhetoric in Apologetics Today
There are a number of ways we may apply rhetoric to apologetics today. One may argue that the use of memes is one (lowbrow) way of utilizing rhetoric in apologetics–making brief points in a provocative manner that brings forth further thought. How might we best use memes in apologetics? Are they even appropriate? These are questions that I will not delve into, but I think they are worth trying to work out for those involved in apologetics or interested in doing the same.
Another aspect of rhetoric which may be integrated into today’s apologetic is the continued deflection of charges from non-Christians against the faith. Specifically, some allege that Christians are stupid. Like Lactantius and Arnobius, we may feel free to flourish the names of Christian scholars through time and into today. Christians cannot truly be classified as necessarily stupid or foolish when they continually work in the highest levels of academia.
Rhetoric in apologetics seems as though it may necessarily be focused on the “low hanging fruit” like the examples given above. I’m not convinced this is the case, nor am I convinced that this is a valid objection to its use. Regarding the latter point, surely if charges are made against Christians necessarily being foolish or lacking education, a valid response is to demonstrate how this is false. The use of memes is frequently effective, though we must be wary of their tendency to oversimplify.
Regarding the former point–that rhetoric is not necessarily focused on “low hanging fruit,” I would note that in many ways, a convincing case depends on how it is presented. Moreover, as Christians we are called to present our case in a way that will put us above reproach in character. If we’re able to eloquently present a case, then perhaps more will consider the case itself. I’m not suggesting we try to obfuscate, but we should try to work to present our case in a winsome manner that utilizes the best scholarship, the most current language, and integrates the fewest possible errors (and this includes typos and spelling errors–something of which I am guilty, I’m sure).
Moreover, Lactantius and Arnobius were both clearly concerned with the imminent attacks on Christianity. They weren’t seeking to anticipate and shoot down future problems so much as they were dealing with the current attacks on their faith. Perhaps we can take this as a call to focus on the issues which face Christianity today ourselves. Like them, we need to confront the most popular of our naysayers and utilize the best scholarship in order to refute criticisms of Christianity.
Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)
On the Shoulders of Giants: Rediscovering the lost defenses of Christianity– I have written on how we may discover the enormous resources historical apologists have left behind for us. Take and read!
Mark Edwards, “The Flowering of Latin Apologetic: Lactantius and Arnobius” in Mark Edwards, Martin Goodman, and Simon Price, eds., Apologetics in the Roman Empire (New York: Oxford, 1999).
Searching for an Adequate God (how’s that for a provocative title?) is a dialogue between process theists and open theists (aka free will theists). Process theism is most basically the notion that God is fully involved in and impacted by temporal processes like the free actions of creatures, the changing of nature, etc. (for a good summary of process thought, see here). Open theism (aka “free will theism” in this volume) is essentially classical theism, but with the notion that the future is “open”–that is, that some aspects of the future are yet undetermined and unknown (in that they are unknowable, because there are no facts about these open aspects of the future to be known).
Given the major divergence between these positions, this book provides a fascinating dialogue and real insights into points of division between two radically different concepts of God. Intriguingly, the two positions also share many basic premises (as is emphasized by every author) such as an emphasis on human free will as a way to handle theodicy, the notion that God is temporal and impacted in some way by creation, and so on. The essays herein revolve, therefore, around these dual notions–the radical differences between the groups and the shared insights they argue they provide for theology.
The essays by David Ray Griffin (process) and William Hasker (open), along with their rebuttals to each other, frame the debate in an extremely interesting fashion, as their essays truly show the great differences between the positions. In between, essays by the other contributors (and their responses to each other) offer frequently autobiographical reflections on the two positions.
Perhaps most enlightening is the way that both positions show their distance on various points from classical theism and Christianity. Each of the Process contributors (and David Ray Griffin in particular) blithely dismissed or redefined the Trinity as a tertiary (as Griffin described it) doctrine for Christianity. This astounding claim demonstrates how vast the chasm is between the process view and Christianity. The open position, particularly as represented by Hasker, is highly critical of views of providence which entail God being even a secondary cause of evil.
+Fascinating interaction between two radically different yet frequently similar non-standard theistic positions
+Solid lineup of major representatives on both sides of the debate
+Interesting insight into two positions which challenge classical theism
-Too frequently autobiographical rather than topical in the middle essays
The value of Searching for an Adequate God is found in its many areas of clarification and insight: distinctions between process thought and classical Christian thought, clarifications on the meaning and extent of open theism, areas of mutual engagement between these divergent views, and more. It is a wonderfully fascinating book, even if I as a reader am deeply critical of both positions. I found it quite excellent.
Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)
John B. Cobb, Jr. and Clark Pinnock, eds. Searching for an Adequate God (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000).
Kevin Diller’s Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response is a work that seeks to offer a unified approach from Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga to a major difficulty in Christian doctrine: reconciling the necessity of having theological knowledge with the notion that our cognitive capacities are somehow faulty due to sin. But the book is much more than that, for throughout the book Diller gives major, applicable insight into the thought of both Plantinga and Barth.
Diller first goes deeper into the epistemological problem, then analyzes Barth’s view of revelation and his theological epistemology, and wraps up the first part of the book with a deep look at Plantinga’s concept of warrant and how it may impact the question of theological epistemology. He puts forward a consistent interpretation that allows for a unified perspective of Barth’s and Plantinga’s thought. The second part focuses on this unified perspective and puts it forward in analysis of natural theology, human knowledge of God, and Scripture.
Such a brief summary of contents does not do justice to the broad scale of the book, which touches upon many different topics of importance, while always remaining centered on the question of knowledge in theology. Diller has thoughtfully brought forth key aspects of the thoughts of both Barth and Plantinga in such a way as to demand reflection from both philosophers and theologians.
Some of the most interesting insights come from Diller’s integration of Barth’s concept of revelation with Plantinga’s concept of warrant. By focusing on God as self-revealing and self-attesting (Barth), believers are able to maintain warrant in their knowledge of theology (Plantinga).
Another area of profound interest is the way that both Barth and Plantinga approach natural theology–they largely argue that it cannot succeed in its end goal–to demonstrate the existence of God. Barth’s thought reflects this because God will necessarily be hidden from unaided human reason, while Plantinga argues that the arguments of natural theology are part of but do not ground warrant for belief in God. This latter section has much to reflect upon for one who, like me, thinks natural theology can be largely successful.
Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma is a superb, worthwhile read for anyone with interest in the questions of how we may have knowledge within the worldview of Christianity. I highly commend it to my readers.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book through InterVarsity Press. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever.
Kevin Diller, Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014).
“Interstellar” is the latest from the acclaimed Christopher Nolan. A sprawling epic, it delves into some of the deepest questions we face. Here, I will reflect on the film from a worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS for the movie in what follows.
Humanity must face the slow creep of possible starvation and suffocation on the Earth of “Interstellar.” The “blight” is impacting crops and has caused the death of 6 billion people. It is unclear as to what this “blight” is but it clearly means that humans will not survive if it continues. The question is of our mortality, and although it never becomes explicit, it seems that “blight” could be some kind of analogy for climate change and the problems we may bring upon ourselves.
But humanity’s crisis is not merely mortal; it is also moral. A few hints are offered of this, but the most poignant is when Dr. Amelia Brand spoke to Cooper about how evil does not exist in the places humans are going (at times one-by-one) to explore. She argued that nature itself is not evil; morality is a transcendent concept. The way that it is transcendent is unexplained.
Another aspect of the crisis is epistemological–as the crisis continues, people have rewritten history in order to avoid glorifying space travel. Cooper struggles to form concepts of seemingly transcendent ideas in a universe that he strongly believes is entirely explicable based upon science. The questions these ideas bring up should be clear: how do we know anything?
We’re So Tiny
I watched “Interstellar” in IMAX, and one of the most beautiful scenes was when the Endurance was shown against the backdrop of Saturn. It was a mere speck–a speck of a speck. It poignantly drove home a point that was found throughout the movie: We are tiny. But this message was not found alone; instead, it was juxtaposed against the continued focus on humanity and our struggles to survive in the universe. In a way, though we’re tiny, in “Interstellar,” we’re what is important. Humanity is what it’s all about. Or is it? It seems that the question is ultimately left open; perhaps there is transcendence beyond us. Our (minuscule) place in the universe may point beyond it.
Who Helps Us?
The question is another which is found through the film. Where did the wormhole come from? Cooper assumes that it is from a future humanity–we save ourselves!–but reflection seems to show this cannot be the case. After all, if the wormhole were not there, humans would have had no way of surviving; no future. Perhaps Dr. Brand is closer to the truth, because she argues that love is a transcendent concept which goes beyond space and time. It cannot be fully explained by our calculations.
The film never goes beyond this kind of stirring question, and Cooper’s assumptions are offered as one possible explanation for many questions: perhaps humans do rule all, and perhaps they are the end-all. But realistically, the ultimate questions of morality, the origin and power of love, and some others remain unanswered. I think that’s certainly intentional–it allows viewers to form their own conclusions–but the reality of the situation is that Cooper’s purely scientistic worldview (his notion that science is ultimately the only possible explanation) find itself inadequate to explain reality.
Some have argued that “Interstellar” is merely a secular humanist manifesto, but it seems to me the story is much deeper than that. I have argued above it leaves open several questions about the nature of humanity, our crisis, and the transcendent. Whatever else is said about the film, it is one that will start conversations and one with which, I would argue, Christians need to be conversant. It’s a fabulous space epic that is a must-see.
What are your thoughts? Share your own perspectives in the comments.
The image used in this post is from an official movie poster. I claim no rights to it and use it under fair use.
Movies– Read other posts on this site about movies written from a worldview perspective. (Scroll down for more.)
Like sci-fi movies? Read about another one I really enjoyed in my look at “Edge of Tomorrow.”
The image used in this post was a movie poster and used under fair use. I make no claims to the rights for the image.
For some time, I’d been wanting to put some effort into studying Pascal’s Wager. I picked up Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God by Jeff Jordan in order to familiarize myself more with the philosophical grounding behind the argument. Jordan approaches the Wager through a lens of analytic philosophy and, I think, demonstrates that the argument has some force to it.
Jordan’s work has great scope. Several aspects of the Wager are brought to light. He analyzes several different formulations of the argument, while also noting where the argument has been changed or modernized. For example, the notion that Pascal’s Wager was infinite bad vs. infinite good is a more recent innovation than Pascal’s original argument.
He studies the argument contextually to determine whether the Wager was intended as a generalized theistic proof or an argument for Christianity. Numerous objections from leading critics of the Wager are put to the test. Ultimately, a version of the Wager developed by William James is put forward as an argument that passes the philosophical muster. Jordan analyzes this argument from many angles, ultimately demonstrating that it overcomes the challenge of the “many gods” objection and provides grounds for Christian faith.
The value of Pascal’s Wager may is increased by the fact that many aspects of Jordan’s work are applicable to other arguments or areas of interest for philosophers of religion and apologists. For example, Jordan raises significant challenges to the notion that philosopher’s fictional deities may actually be counted as evidence for a “many gods” objection (75-76; 80-81). Another example is a rather interesting argument he derives from the work of James Beattie (1735-1803- Jordan notes Beattie is at times rightly accused of misrepresenting Hume’s arguments) about whether attempts to deconvert might bring about pragmatic wrongs (190-194). These and other tantalizing topics command even more interest than the book might otherwise have had.
Simply put, Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God is a phenomenal, thought-provoking work that will have readers rethinking their evaluation not only of the (in)famous Wager but also of a number of related topics. Even at its steep price tag, the book is a bargain.
Pascal’s Wager: The Utility Argument Examined– I outline and defend one of the versions of Pascal’s Wager which Jordan brings up in this work. I find it to be a very interesting argument and a great addition to the apologist’s toolkit.
Jeff Jordan, Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God (New York: Oxford, 2006).
Open theism is, briefly, the notion that God does not comprehensively know the future [edit: strictly speaking, the view is that there is no settled “future” to know to begin with, so it is not a lack of knowledge but rather the absence of such a thing as a future that will occur; see next sentence and thanks for a clarifying comment below]. The future, it is held, is in some sense “open” because it is undetermined, even for God. Most frequently, this claim is put forth in terms of denial of knowledge of free creaturely action. Representative is the claim of John Sanders:
God cannot know as definite what we will do unless he destroys the very freedom he granted us… The future is not completely fixed, but open, to what both God and humans decide to do, so there are numerous possible futures (not just one). God knows as possibilities and probabilities those events which might happen in the future. (Sanders, 206, cited below)
Thus, it is fairly central to the open theistic perspective that God does not (and indeed cannot) know the future exhaustively, and the parts God does not know exhaustively are such because free will is involved. For the open theist, then, the proposition: ‘God does not know the future free actions of creatures with certainty’ is true. Gregory Boyd, another prominent open theist, puts it this way: “open theists hold that if God is omniscient… and if the future is in fact partly comprised of ontological possibilities, then God must know the future as partly comprised of such possibilities” (Boyd, 195, cited below).
Because of this, we may fairly state the open theistic perspective as holding the following proposition to be true: “God does not know [future] counterfactuals of creaturely freedom [CCF].”
I propose that open theism, because of its commitment to denial that God knows the future free actions of agents, raises an enormously difficult dilemma for those who hold to the position:
Either God possibly created knowing that it was possible no one would be saved or at least one counterfactual is true.
The dilemma draws its strength from propositions open theists, by their own writings, accept. Open theists, as demonstrated above, deny that God knows CCF. Thus, the following statement is unknown to God according to open theism:
If I (God) create the universe, at least one free creature will be saved.
Open theists must deny this statement as being known by God in order to maintain their stance that God cannot know the future free actions of creatures. But denying this counterfactual is theologically very problematic, because it means that the God who risks (to use John Sanders’ terminology) effectually risked so much that God decided to create a universe populated by moral agents without so much knowing that even one of these agents would be saved. Sure, one of the possibilities was probably that all such moral beings would be saved, but another possibility is that all moral beings would be damned. On open theism, God just didn’t know.
Now it could be that God was 99.999999999(repeating)% sure that at least one agent would be saved, but according to open theism, God could not know. I would suggest that any theological system which seriously puts forth the notion that God would create without knowing that at least one being would be saved is a theological system that cannot maintain the moral benevolence of deity.
The second part of the dilemma is also a serious problem for the open theist. Suppose the open theist embraces this part and counters “Very well, then God knew that at least one being would be saved.” But of course this would have been a CCF when God chose to create. Thus, the open theist would be forced to accept that at least one of these future counterfactuals is true. But if one is true, what possible grounds could there be for denying that others are true as well? It seems the open theist would either have to accept that CCF can be known without restraint (and therefore overthrow the philosophical framework of open theism) or simply engage in special pleading for those CCFs that must be maintained in order to not impugn the moral character of God.
Greg Boyd has argued that free agents may have settled characters such that free will may not be a consideration (for the sake of space I’ve greatly summarized here; see Boyd 193-194 for one example). Perhaps at least one creature could have a settled will such that they are saved and thus God could know their salvific status without threatening to know CCFs. My response to this would be to note the highly controversial nature of this argument on a number of levels: 1) it suggests that humans are capable of, by their own free will, coming to such a point that they change their will into a form that will, with certainly, act according to God’s will, which is objectionable on a number of Scriptural grounds; 2) it holds to a view of human nature that both affirms and denies compatibilism; 3) the possibility of a “settled will” is difficult to establish or define; etc.
CCFs not Denied
Perhaps the open theist could respond by arguing that open theism need not deny that God knows CCFs. I do not think this would be possible while still maintaining open theism because it would mean God knows comprehensively the future including my future free actions.
God’s Character not Impugned?
Perhaps the most fruitful counter for the open theist would be to deny that God’s moral character is impugned by creating without knowing that at least one person would be saved. Perhaps such an activity is merely morally neutral, or God’s other reasons for creating could overcome the difficulty.
I think this is, as I said, the best avenue for open theists to pursue, but on reflection I think that the real possibility that God would create in such a way as to not know that the moral agents God brought into being would be saved–that they all might be damned despite that not being God’s intent–is extremely problematic.
I believe that the dilemma offered above is, frankly, lethal to open theism. I have read several works by leading proponents of open theism and think that many arguments against the same are off the mark because they often do not hit on the points open theists actually hold. Here, however, I have presented an argument derived from the core of open theistic thought. Thus, I believe that open theism is untenable. It either impugns God’s character or is self-referentially incoherent.
The Consolation of Counterfactuals: The Molinism of Boethius– Boethius was an early Christian thinker who thought of a very insightful way to discuss counterfactuals of freedom.
Is God Just Lucky?: Possible Worlds and God’s Providence, a Defense of Molinism– I examine the set of possible worlds from a molinistic perspective.
The New Defenders of Molinism: Reconciling God’s Foreknowledge and Our Free Will– I present a general case for molinism, analyzing various positions and concluding that God does know what we will do without predetermining it.
John Sanders, The God Who Risks (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2007).
Gregory Boyd “God Limits His Control” in Four Views on Divine Providence edited Gundry and Jowers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011).
Yeah, I said it. The Kalam Cosmological Argument is in vogue, and for good reason. It’s an extremely powerful argument for the existence of God, the first Cause. Nothing I say here should be taken as a condemnation of the Kalam. However, I don’t think it is the most powerful argument for theism. In fact, I don’t think it’s even close. The Argument from Religious Experience wins that prize, and it is a landslide.
Is it so powerful?
The obvious question is this: what makes the Argument from Religious Experience (hereafter ARE) so powerful? Here are just a few reasons:
1. The ARE is malleable and may be used as an argument for a) merely the existence of the transcendent–anything beyond the physical world; b) theism specifically c) Christianity specifically.
2. The ARE does not rely upon anything more than things we already do in everyday life, such as trusting that people are reporting the truth.
3. The ARE has evidence backed from millions of persons across the world and time.
4. It is possible, though not at all certain, to have personal confirmation of the ARE.
Why Not ARE?
Okay, well if it’s so strong, why don’t more apologists use the argument? There are a number of reasons, and some are basic: they haven’t read about the argument in much popular apologetic literature and so are unfamiliar with the argument, they know of it but are unsure of how to formulate it in a helpful way, or they simply haven’t thought about how powerful the argument is. Another reason may be (as I suggested elsewhere) that apologists prefer arguments that are useful in debate formats.
To be honest, though, I think the primary reason is because the ARE has almost an inherent strangeness to it. There is a kind of spiritualism about the argument itself which might turn off apologists who would prefer a purely deductive argument. If one wants to talk about a religious “experience,” there is a kind of feeling to that phrase which an argument like the Kalam does not share. Just admitting that there is a category of religious experience itself admits to a kind of transcendence, and I think that apologists–I include myself in this category–are overly cautious about spirituality. So let’s get over it and start using this powerful argument, okay?
What is the ARE?
As I noted in point 1 in favor of the ARE’s strength above, the argument itself is malleable and may be formulated in different ways (for some examples, see my post on the usefulness of the argument). Here’s a way to formulate it to merely defend a transcendent reality:
1. Generally, when someone has an experience of something, they are within their rational limits to believe the experience is genuine.
2. Across all socio-historical contexts, people have had experiences they purport to be of a transcendent realm.*
3. Therefore, it is rational to believe there is a transcendent realm.
Just consider this for a second. The argument leaves a few spaces to fill in for the sake of making it deductively valid, but we’ll just look at how it stands now. Suppose that 2 is true. In that case, one who wants to deny the ARE’s strength would have to say that all of the experiences of these people have been in error. Frankly, when it comes down to it, that’s a pretty big claim, because reports of religious experience really do come from all times and places.
The argument, though, can be narrowed to defend theism specifically or even Christianity. For more on this, see my post talking about its strength as it narrows.
Now point 2 above suggested the ARE doesn’t rely on anything more than what we do in everyday life. I am speaking, of course, of the principle of credulity: the notion that when x appears to someone in way s, it is rational [barring some epistemic defeater]** to believe that x is s (or some other formulation). Moreover, we also trust the principle of testimony: when person x tells us that y occurred, it is prima facie rational to believe y. When you read a news story and someone says they saw a woman running from the scene of a crime, it is rational to believe them. Similarly, when millions say they have experienced a transcendent realm, prima facie it is rational to believe them.
The most common objection is the objection from competing religions. That is, if person x has an experience that purports to prove Christianity, and person y has an experience of the truth of Buddhism, what then? Often it is suggested that x and y’s testimony would just cancel each other out. But of course that’s not the case in any other area of experience. If I am a witness in court testifying about a murder, and I say I saw a tall dark male commit the crime, while another witness says they saw a short pale male, does each testimony cancel the other? Well, suppose the criminal was of average male height and fairly tan. To me, a short very pale man, he would appear tall and dark. To someone who is taller than I and of darker skin, the person would appear short and pale.
The point is that even with religious experience, different facets may be recognized even were the experience the same. Now much more nuance needs to go into this argument, but I think cogent answers have been provided in the relevant literature. The point is that even the most common and strongest objection to the ARE really isn’t that powerful in the end, particularly when weighed against the cumulative force of religious experience.
I readily admit this post has only very briefly touched on issues which could each take entire volumes to discuss. There is so much more to consider, and so many avenues to explore, but I think my overall point stands: The ARE is the strongest argument for theism. Fellow apologists, I suggest you research the argument (see the suggested reading list at the end of this post and also check out my other posts below) and use it! Let’s integrate it into our defense of the faith. Let me know your own thoughts below.
The Argument from Religious Experience: Some thoughts on method and usefulness– a post which puts forward an easy-to-use version of the ARE and discusses its importance in apologetic endeavors.
The Argument from Religious Experience: A look at its strength– I evaluate the different ways the ARE may be presented and discuss how strong the argument may be considered across different formulations.
The image above to the left was a photo taken by me and I claim all rights noted below. The image to the right is from Wiki Commons.
*[thanks to a commentator for correcting this error- see comments]
**In the interest of shortening this post, I glossed over tightening of the principle of credulity and have added this clause to make it more clear.