Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Chiggers and fingernail polish

I took my nephew, Jake, to his first 3D archery shoot this past Sunday. Although he was fine, I got eaten alive by chiggers. By Monday, I was seriously hating life. I went to CVS and got some Cortizone, but it didn't do anything, and I had a miserable time trying to sleep that night. I got up early on Tuesday morning, went to Walgreens, and got some "bite & Sting Relief Spray" with 5% Benzocaine in it, but that didn't help either. So last night I went to Target to get some Benadryl in hopes of at least being able to get some sleep, and the check out lady told me to use fingernail polish. I was skeptical but desperate, so I bought some.

And it worked!!! It wasn't an instant heal or anything, but the itching subsided substantially within minutes. That, combined with the Benadryl, gave me a beautiful night's sleep, and when I got up in the morning, I was at peace with the world.

I got on the internet to read about it, and all the medical professionals poohed poohed it. I think what they had a problem with was the popular theory about it. You see, a lot of people think the fingernail polish suffocates the chiggers, killing them, but that's a myth because chiggers don't stay on you. It's just the proteins in their spit your body has an allergic reaction to, and that's what causes you to itch. However, regardless of HOW the fingernail polish works, it does, in fact, work. It does a great job of relieving the itching. I don't know why.

So I wanted to share this find with any of you out there who are attached by chiggers. IT is Wednesday now, and although the redness and swelling hasn't gone away, the itching is very minimal, and from what I've read on the internet, I should expect the redness to go away within the next few days.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

God's right to take life

A long time ago, I read this article by Greg Koukl called "Does God Have to Obey the Ten Commandments?" where he argued that God has the right to take life on the basis that he created life and he can do what he wants with what is his. At the time, that made a lot of sense to me.

But then somebody raised the question of whether God would be morally justified in raping somebody on the basis that he can do whatever he wants with what is his. That seems to rub my moral intuitions in the wrong way more so than God killing the innocent. I wonder how Greg Koukl would respond to that.

I was just thinking about another justification God might have for taking life that is also based on the fact that God gives life. This is an argument from analogy. I just thought of it, so don't be all nasty and condescending if you disagree with it. I haven't given it that much thought. I just want to see what you think.

Let's suppose that the only way a doctor could do surgery on the brain, heart, lungs, or whatever, is to temporarily cause you to be clinically dead. But once the operation was over, he could revive you without causing you to have any brain damage. If that were the case, I doubt many of us would object to the doctor taking our lives. If the doctor had the ability and intention to bring us back, then none of us would object to him taking our lives. But if the doctor had no such ability, we would call it murder, and we'd all object to it.

Well, God is the only one who has the ability to raise the dead to life. In fact, according to Christian theology, everybody is raised from the dead, whether they are Christians or not. So the argument is that since God is the one who gives life, and since he is the only one who can give life back to those from whom he takes it, God is justified in taking life. He has the right.

I guess I should clarify. I didn't just now come up with the idea that God is justified in taking life on the basis that he can raise a person from the dead. What I just now came up with was the doctor analogy.

Of course you might object that when a doctor takes life, he does so to help the person have better health, whereas when God takes life, it doesn't necessarily serve that purpose. He doesn't take life for the purpose of fixing what's broken in the person. He could do that without taking life.

But suppose there was a medical procedure that made it very easy to temporarily cause a person to be clinically dead, then to bring them back. Did you ever see that movie, Flatliners, with Kevin Bacon? That's the sort of thing I'm talking about. They wanted to see what it was like on the other side, so they would put each other to sleep, so to speak, then wake each other up, so to speak. Suppose this procedure was so simple that anybody could do it in their own home without any difficulty. And suppose that it was such a common practice that there were shops around the world where you could go take one of these "death trips" just as easily as you could go see a 3D movie. Would that be immoral? After all, the purpose for doing it isn't to fix your organs. It's just entertainment.

It seems to me that if it's moral for entertainment purposes, then it's moral for no good reason at all. And if it's moral for no good reason at all, then God doesn't need any further justification other than the fact that he can and will bring the person back to life.

I suppose one final objection a person might have is that we wouldn't consider it moral to flatline a person without their consent. But even so, it's doubtful that we'd convict a person of murder if they flatlined somebody without their consent. It would at least be a lesser crime than straight up killing. Also, it doesn't seem like God would need our permission the same way somebody else might need our permission. After all, he's our heavenly father. When we were kids, our own parents had rights over us that adults don't have over each other. If God is the uber Parent, then perhaps he's justified in flatlining us without our consent.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Speech Jammer

I remember when I was going to UT Austin back in the 90's, I was walking to school from my apartment one morning thinking about how whenever I walk, I monologue or have conversations in my head, and the sentences flow freely, and my train of thought is unbreakable. But when I try to talk out loud to people, my words are jumbled, I'm inarticulate, and I frequently lose my train of thought. On this particular morning, I came up with a theory for why that was happening.

You see, whenever you say something, it begins as an idea in your head. Then you have to convert that idea into words. Then you have to say the words. Having said the words, the sound reaches your ear, a signal is sent to your brain, and your brain converts the signal into a meaning. Between the time you first begin to speak and when the words get back to your brain, there's a slight delay, so while you're mind has moved ahead, you're kind of hearing an echo.

So basically, I figured what was happening was that I was literally being distracted by the sound of my own voice. I thought that was a funny explanation, and I used to tell people that just to be funny, but I didn't actually believe it.

But then recently, I started seeing videos on youtube where people are using a "speech jammer." The speech jammer is an iphone app. You put on ear phones, and when you talk, the speech jammer creates a slightly delayed echo. You can adjust how much delay there is, but even with a very slight delay, it makes it really difficult to talk clearly. So the videos are kind of funny because people are struggling to speak clearly while using the speech jammer.

This struck me as interesting because the difficulty people were having in talking is the same sort of difficulty I have when talking out loud. It's not as bad with me, probably because I've been dealing with this for a long time. But since it's the same sort of thing, I wondered if maybe that explanation I came up with a long time ago was actually true. Maybe I really am distracted by the sound of my own voice.

People who know me may not think I'm inarticulate or that I stumble on my words a lot and lose my train of thought, but that's only because they have no way to compare my speech with what's going through my head. They only hear the speech. But talking is a struggle for me, and that includes just having normal conversations with people.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Life changing books

A friend asked me in an email conversation yesterday to list some books I've read that had a life-changing affect on me. I thought my response might make a good blog post.

The Case for Christ was a turning point for me because it was my first introduction to the subject of the historical Jesus, and it lead to me reading a lot more academic books on the subject and getting really interested in it as well as the history of Judaism from the exile to the bar Kochba rebellion. Also, it was the first time I had heard an historical argument for the resurrection of Jesus, and I remember putting the book down and thinking, "Holy cow! It actually happened!" I mean, I believed it before that, but believing it for a good reason was something completely different. It's like the difference between being told something is true by somebody you trust and seeing it for yourself. It became very real to me, so it had a big impact on my whole Christian life--how I lived, how I prayed, how I thought, etc. It also introduced me to a lot of good Christian thinkers like J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig. I read a lot of their stuff, and it opened my mind. The Case for Christ was the book that introduced me to the whole field of apologetics. I bought several copies of it to give away because at the time, I thought it was the best book I had ever read.

Another book that had a big impact on me was Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-air by Greg Koukl and Frank Beckwith. It was a critique of moral relativism and a defense of moral objectivism. I found the subject to be especially useful because it's directly related to the gospel. There can't be an atonement if there is no sin, and there can't be sin if there is no right or wrong in any objective sense. One of the chapters in there was on tactics in communicating with people, and that had a big impact on how I interact with non-believers and people in general who disagree with me. It introduced me to the whole concept of "self-refutation," and how a lot of the typical slogans people use to disparage Christianity are self-refuting and incoherent. This book got me interested in logic and critical thinking, which I went on to study from other sources. It also introduced me to Stand to Reason, and I read nearly every article on their web page and started listening to the radio show. I learned a ton from Greg Koukl. He was unique among apologists for a few reasons. First, because he didn't just focus on conveying information. He focused on the practical aspects of apologetics and evangelism, i.e. how to have productive conversations with people. Second, because he is extremely articulate and is able to convey very complicated ideas in a way that is easy for the average person to understand. I found his ability to do that very helpful because it does no good to have highly sophisticated arguments if nobody can understand them. Third, because his ministry focuses on all aspects of being a Christian ambassador--knowledge, wisdom, and character. I found this refreshing. A lot of my thinking was influenced by Greg Koukl.

Another book was The Potter's Freedom, by James White. This is the book that was most instrumental in my conversion to Calvinism. He gave an argument in there from John 6 that I found to be just about as air tight as it's possible for a theological argument to be. I didn't convert right away because I wanted to read around to see how non-Calvinists got around the arguments he made, and I soon came to realize there was no way to get around them. I was kind of forced to convert, even though I was very uncomfortable with it.

Another book was The Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards. This book has become one of my favorite of all time. It completely changed my view about the nature of the will, and it solved every philosophical problem I had with Calvinism since converting. It allowed me to be an intellectually and emotionally satisfied Calvinist.

So those are the books that have had the biggest influence on me. Here are a couple of honorable mentions:

The Forgotten Trinity by James White (the same guy who wrote The Potter's Freedom. There was a time when I denied the Trinity. Before reading The Forgotten Trinity, I read a book responding to Jehovah's Witnesses and was taken aback by some of the arguments for the deity of Christ. But reading The Forgotten Trinity sealed the deal for me, and it has also influenced the way I defend the Trinity when talking with Jehovah's Witnesses or other people who reject the Trinity. I even taught a three or four week Sunday school class on the Trinity, using the information in this book for the most part.

Scaling the Secular City by J.P. Moreland. The chapter that influenced me the most was chapter 3--"The Argument from Mind." I used to be a materialist. That is, I believed that we were purely physical beings, and that when we died, we stayed dead until the resurrection. There was no immaterial aspect to us that survived and went to be with God to await the resurrection. Moreland's chapter changed my mind and made me a substance dualist. It also had a big impact on my thinking in a way that's hard to explain. I guess it felt like the cobwebs in my head suddenly got swept away, and I could see clearly. That's the best way I know how to explain it. There are a couple of things Moreland has said in his talks and writings that struck me as being contradictory, and I had the chance in 2008 to finally ask him about them. He was a great guy to talk to. He has also had a big influence on my epistemology, which affects pretty much every other area of thinking. Scaling the Secular City is still the book I recommend to people who want a one-book comprehensive defense of Christianity.

I could probably talk all day about good books I've read and how they influenced me, but those are the biggies. And it's not necessarily because these books were the best of their kind. It has more to do with the fact that they each introduced me to something new and changed the direction of my life in some way.

Monday, March 03, 2014

What have I been up to?

A long time ago, I used to occasionally post stuff about my hobbies and interests outside of theology, philosophy, and apologetics. Then I got on facebook and stopped doing that. I deactivated my facebook account in November, so I thought I'd show the other sides of me here.

Back in 2011, I started doing triathlons, and I was loving life. I enjoyed it so much that when I wasn't racing, I was volunteering. Biking was my favourite part of it, followed by running. I never got very good at swimming, and that limited me on what I could do.

While training for a half marathon, my knees started giving me problems. I wasn't able to do the half marathon, and I ended up selling my bib and volunteering at a water station instead to cheer on my name's sake. The guy I sold it do averaged something like 9 minutes per mile for the whole run!

I did a little physical therapy for my knees and tried various things, and signed up to do another half marathon the following year (January 2013). Again, the knees said 'no.' Discouraged, I quit running, started drinking Dr. Pepper, and got fat. I may try again this year. The problem is that I work out of town a lot now. I have to stay in hotels most of the week, which makes it really hard to eat right.

A long time ago, I told you about how I make longbows, then about how I took up making arrows as well. I've picked up a few more hobbies since then, all of which entail making things. I guess I just like to make things.

I took up knitting in October of 2011. It wasn't until about a year later that I admitted it on facebook. I don't have a whole lot of knitting pictures on my photobucket account, so I can't show you much, but here's a sweater I knit for my cat, Aristotle, for Halloween. I patterned it after Freddy Kruger. I figured since he already has the claws, he could be Freddy Kruger for Halloween.

That white ring is a stitch marker I accidentally knit into the sweater. I decided to leave it there so I can use it to attach a tag if I want.

Here's a bow sock I knit to match a bow I made. I named the bow "Gryffindor," because of the colours, and I patterned the bow sock after the Harry Potter scarves in the movies.

I have taken up making knives. I tried blacksmithing because I wanted to make bodkin points for my medieval arrows, but blacksmithing turned out to be harder than I thought it would be. I still use my forge to heat treat my knives, though. Here's the first knife I made:

Notice that the handle matches the bow above. That's because it's cut from the same wood. That's Osage and padauk. The heat treating on my first couple of knives didn't go very well. I'm getting the hang of it, though. The most recently knife I made turned out really well. I'm giving this one to my brother. This is my fourth knife.

Before I make my knives, I make a prototype out of a piece of wood so I can see if I like the shape and everything. Maybe some day I'll make a sword. Here's a sword I made out of some scrap pieces of wood.

The blade is made out of maple and walnut. The bolster (or guard) is made out of Osage. The handle is made out of white oak. The pommel is made out of purple heart. It actually does a good job of balancing the sword. I wish I had a use for this thing.

I've been experimenting on dying the back of my bamboo backed bows. Most of my experiments have been failures, but here's a few I liked:

Speaking of bamboo, I've also taken up making arrows out of bamboo. Here's my first set of bamboo arrows:

I've started processing my own turkey feathers, too, which were donated to me by my brother (the same one who is getting the knife). Here's my second set of bamboo arrows with the turkey feathers:

Here's a crossbow I made for my brother-in-law:

Here's some cordage I made out of the leaves of a yucca plant.

Here's a replica of the One Ring I made out of Osage.

That was originally part of a wooden tankard I was making for a friend. That's another things I've taken up--making wooden drinking vessels. Here's some of my first ones:

Here's a turkey call I made out of some scrap pieces of cedar.

I've also taken up making nets, but I don't have any pictures of that.

And I've taken up paracording. Here's some dove loops I made out of paracord:

That's all I can think of right now. As you can tell, I'm still single.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

William Lane Craig against Calvinism, a response, Part 5 of 5

Part 4

5. Universal, divine determinism makes reality into a farce. On the deterministic view, the whole world becomes a vain and empty spectacle. There are no free agents in rebellion against God, whom God seeks to win through His love, and no one who freely responds to that love and freely gives his love and praise to God in return. The whole spectacle is a charade whose only real actor is God Himself. Far from glorifying God, the deterministic view, I’m convinced, denigrates God for engaging in a such a farcical charade. It is deeply insulting to God to think that He would create beings which are in every respect causally determined by Him and then treat them as though they were free agents, punishing them for the wrong actions He made them do or loving them as though they were freely responding agents. God would be like a child who sets up his toy soldiers and moves them about his play world, pretending that they are real persons whose every motion is not in fact of his own doing and pretending that they merit praise or blame. I’m certain that Reformed determinists, in contrast to classical Reformed divines, will bristle at such a comparison. But why it’s inapt for the doctrine of universal, divine, causal determinism is a mystery to me.

The reasons Craig gives for why divine determinism makes reality into a farce are points he raised earlier in this series that I’ve already responded to. I’ve already shown that divine determinism is consistent with us being moral agents responsible for our actions, so that doesn’t count as a reason for why reality is a farce. And God is not the only real actor, as I showed in the last post.

Craig’s reason for thinking divine determinism denigrates God and is insulting to him has also already been dealt with earlier in this series. Craig thinks it’s insulting to suggest that God would determine somebody’s action, then punish them for their action. But that is exactly what God did to Pharaoh, so Craig’s view is at odds with Scripture.

Craig’s analogy between humans whose actions are determined by God and toy soldiers that God plays with has also been dealt with except that in the previous post, Craig used the analogy of a stick moving a stone instead. In both cases, the analogy broke down because sticks and toy soldiers do not have minds. They do not act out of any motives, desires, inclinations, goals, habits, or anything. Their “actions” are not choices. Ours are.

I’m not totally sure what Craig means by saying reality is a farce under divine determinism. It is not true that under the reformed view that “the whole world becomes a vain and empty spectacle.” To be vain and empty is to serve no purpose. But, as Jonathan Edwards argued in The End For Which God Created the World, the ultimate purpose in creation and everything God ordains is for the praise of his glory, and God is glorified in the demonstration of all of his attributes. So God has a purpose in some people rebelling against him—to demonstrate his wrath (Proverbs 16:4, Romans 9:22), and he has a purpose in rescuing some people from his wrath—to demonstrate his mercy (Romans 9:23). I highly recommend reading Edward’s book on this subject. It shows demonstrably that God’s absolute sovereignty does not render reality a farce. Quite the opposite!

After all, it is under Craig’s view that so many events in reality serve no divine purpose and are only inconveniences that God must work around or live with. If reality can only have meaning if there are events in reality for which God has no purpose, then that seems to suggest that it's not really all about God. It's about us.

However, the scriptures reveal that God has a purpose in everything (Proverbs 16:4). All things exist for him and for his glory (Isaiah 43:6-7, Romans 11:36, 1 Corinthians 8:6, Colossians 1:16). Even the reason God saves people is for his name's sake (Psalm 106:8, Isaiah 43:25, Ezekiel 36:22). Since it's all about God, not us, everything has meaning even if we don't have libertarian freedom.

And that's about all I have to say about that.

The end.

Monday, February 24, 2014

William Lane Craig against Calvinism: a response, Part 4 of 5

Part 3B

4. Universal, divine, determinism nullifies human agency. Since our choices are not up to us but are caused by God, human beings cannot be said to be real agents. They are mere instruments by means of which God acts to produce some effect, much like a man using a stick to move a stone. Of course, secondary causes retain all their properties and powers as intermediate causes, as the Reformed divines remind us, just as a stick retains its properties and powers which make it suitable for the purposes of the one who uses it. Reformed thinkers need not be occasionalists like Nicholas Malebranche, who held that God is the only cause there is. But these intermediate causes are not agents themselves but mere instrumental causes, for they have no power to initiate action. Hence, it’s dubious that on divine determinism there really is more than one agent in the world, namely, God. This conclusion not only flies in the face of our knowledge of ourselves as agents but makes it inexplicable why God then treats us as agents, holding us responsible for what He caused us and used us to do.

Craig already raised this issue in part #3. He claimed there that if God determines our actions, then we are not responsible for them.

Craig apparently thinks you can be an agent, or you can be an instrument, but you cannot be both. The prophets disagree.

In Isaiah 10, it says that Assyria is the rod of God’s anger (v. 5) and that he sends it against a godless nation to capture booty, seize plunder, and trample them down (v. 6). So Assyria was God’s instrument, but does that mean Assyria was not an agent? No, because Isaiah goes on to say that although God sent Assyria to punish a godless nation, that was not Assyria’s intention. Rather, Assyria’s intention was to destroy and cut off many nations (v. 7). In spite of the fact that God sent Assyria to trample and plunder, he nevertheless treats them like moral agents. He goes on to say in verse 12 than when he is finished with all he sent Assyria to do, he is going to punish them.

We see the same thing in Jeremiah about Babylon. God calls Nebuchadnezzar “my servant,” and says he will bring him against Jerusalem and the surrounding nations and destroy them (Jeremiah 25:9). Then he says he will punish them (v.12). God sent the Babylonians to punish the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to destroy the Temple, but then he says he is going to arouse the spirit of the kings of the Medes to destroy Babylon for the sake of vengeance for the Temple (Jeremiah 51:7) and vengeance for the people of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 51:35-36).

So both Assyria and Babylon are used as instruments of God to punish Israel and other nations, and God still treats them as agents by punishing them for what they did. So Craig has made a false dichotomy between being an instrument in the hands of God and being an agent, responsible for their actions.

The difference between a stick used in the hand of an agent to move a stone and a human used in the hand of God to punish another nation is that the stick does not act out of any motive, intention, or desire. It is passive in the whole affair. Humans, however, are active, even when being used by God. We act out of desires and inclinations. We do things on purpose. God was able to use Nebuchadnezzar to do his will because “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he wishes” (Proverbs 21:1). When Babylon and Assyria acted, they acted out of their own motives. While God had his intentions for arousing Assyria against Israel, Assyria acted out of its own intentions (Isaiah 10:7), which is what makes Assyria an agent and distinguishes Assyria from a stick.

Craig is quite right in saying we know we are agents. When we act, we do so on purpose. When we do something on purpose, we know that we are doing it because we want to. We are acting out of our own inclinations. That is quite different than having a muscle spasm or an involuntary reflex. Acting out of our own inclinations is perfectly consistent with God determining our actions since God has influence over the heart.

God also has influence over all the numerous factors that go into us having the desires and inclinations that we have. To some degree, we even have some power over each other. I can cause somebody to choose to look at me just by saying, “Look at me.” That creates a motive in them to act, and they act on that motive.

Craig says, “But these intermediate causes are not agents themselves but mere instrumental causes, for they have no power to initiate action.” By the “power to initiate action,” Craig is referring to a libertarian free will act, which is an act that arises spontaneously without any cause, reason, or condition whatsoever being sufficient to determine that act. “Agents,” in Craig’s view are capable of being first causes, i.e. of initiating causal chains without themselves being caused to do so.

But it seems to me that it is on Craig’s view that people are not agents. To be an agent, one must be in control of one’s own actions and do them on purpose. But we have no more control over a spontaneous event than we do over an event that is causally determined by blind mechanistic causes. That is the problem with libertarian freedom. It is hard to distinguish a libertarian act from a random blip or an accident.

Suppose, for example, that your every desire is to turn to the right, and you have no desire whatsoever to turn to the left. But you turn to the left anyway because on libertarianism, no desire is sufficient to determine what you do, and in spite of your desires, you can still do otherwise. Would it make sense to ask why you turned to the left on libertarianism if you had no desire or reason to? No. The answer would be that there is no reason you turned to the left.

In fact, on libertarianism, even if you are influenced by some desire to act, the desire is never a sufficient reason for why you acted as you did. If somebody asks you why you did what you did, the correct answer isn’t, “Because I wanted to,” or “Because I was motivated by a sense of duty,” or anything like that. Rather, the correct answer would be, “Partly because I wanted to, and partly for no reason at all.”

Some libertarians have tried to get past the random blip problem with libertarianism by saying, “the agent is the cause of the free action.” This is what they call “agent causation.” But this just creates more problems.

Since it's the action that we say is free, that must be where the will is located since that is the volition. But the whole notion of free will (at least as Craig defines it) is that the will is not caused. If an action is caused, then it’s not free.

The strange thing about saying "the agent is the cause of the free action," is that it seems to imply that there is a distinction between the agent and the action such that one causes the other.

If the volition or act of will is the same thing as the free action, then what does it mean to say that the agent causes it? Is the agent causation itself an act of the will, or is it a "random blip"?

If it's an act of the will, then to say "the agent causes the free action" seems equivalent to saying, "The choice causes the choice," which doesn't solve any problems with random blips vs. control.

But if it's a random blip, then we're saying, "A random blip causes the choice," which doesn't solve any problems about control either.

It seems like, to be consistent, "free" should modify "the agent causing" instead of "action.” In that case, "The agent freely causes the action." That would be more consistent with libertarian freedom because that way you don't have anything that's free being causally determined.

But then you're still stuck with the random blip problem since there is no reason for why the agent freely causes the action.

I really think compatibilism is the only coherent way out of this quagmire. An action is ones own to the degree that a person's own desires and motives play a hand in bringing about that action. The less hand one's own desires and motives have in bringing about the action, the less those actions are one's own. The more hand our desires and motives have in bringing about our actions, the more those actions are our own. It follows that our actions are completely our own when our desires and motives have everything to do with our actions, i.e. when they determine our actions. That is possible under divine determinism, so divine determinism does not nullify human agency.

Part 5

Sunday, February 23, 2014

William Lane Craig against Calvinism: a response, Part 3B of 5

Part 3A

I'm continuing to response to Craig's third reason for thinking reformed theology is problematic. I'll post it again to remind you of what he said.

3. Universal, divine, determinism makes God the author of sin and precludes human responsibility. In contrast to the Molinist view, on the deterministic view even the movement of the human will is caused by God. God moves people to choose evil, and they cannot do otherwise. God determines their choices and makes them do wrong. If it is evil to make another person do wrong, then on this view God is not only the cause of sin and evil, but becomes evil Himself, which is absurd. By the same token, all human responsibility for sin has been removed. For our choices are not really up to us: God causes us to make them. We cannot be responsible for our actions, for nothing we think or do is up to us.

Whether divine determinism removes human responsibility

It is understandable that we would think God determining our actions would remove our responsibility for them. We have a strong intuition that ought implies can, and that if we are unable to do something, then we cannot be blamed for our failure to do it.

But I think that if we are unable to do the right thing, it matters what the reason is for our inability. If I would like to do my duty, but I can’t because I’m duct taped to a tree, then I can’t be blamed for failure to do my duty. But if I’m unencumbered by physical restraints, and the only thing keeping me from doing my duty is the fact that I just really don’t want to, then I can be blamed. We don’t let people off the hook just because they’re doing what they want. Quite the opposite.

Under libertarianism, which Craig subscribes to, our desires do not determine our actions. In fact, no antecedent conditions at all, neither inside of us nor outside of us, are sufficient to bring about our actions if our actions are free. However, Craig would readily admit that antecedent conditions can have some influence over our actions. Otherwise, commands would be superfluous. Why command us to do anything if we would behave exactly the same whether we received the command or not? Commands only serve a purpose if they have some influence over our behavior.

Influence comes in degrees. Some influences have more power over us than others. The stronger our desires are, the more likely we are to give in to them. If our desires are so strong that we can’t help but give in to them, then our desires determine our actions.

If Craig is right in thinking that divine determinism removes our responsibility and that libertarian freedom is necessary for moral responsibility, then it would follow that the stronger our desire to do good, the less praiseworthy we are for doing it, and the stronger our desire to do evil, the less blameworthy we are for doing it. The reason is because the stronger our desire to do good or evil, the closer those desires are to determining our actions, and Craig thinks we cannot be responsible for our actions if they are determined by any antecedent conditions, including our own desires and motives.

If a desire removes all moral responsibility in case it is so strong that we cannot help but give in to it, then it would follow that the less influence desire has over our actions, the more responsible we are for them because the less influence our desires have over our actions, the more free we are in the libertarian sense. It would follow that we are most free (and therefore most responsible) when our desires have no influence over our actions at all.

But think about how counter-intuitive that is. It would follow that you are most responsible for your actions when you didn’t mean to do them. You had no plan to do them, no desire to do them, no motive, etc. You are most responsible for your actions when they are accidents that happen for no reason at all.

Moreover, the deeper your desire to do evil, the less blameworthy you are for doing evil, and the deeper your desire to do good, the less praiseworthy you are for doing good. The more hand your own intentions, desires, motives, inclinations, etc. have in bringing about your actions, the less responsible you are for your actions. And the less hand your own intentions, desires, motives, inclinations, etc. have in bringing about your actions, the more responsible you are for your actions.

That is the absurd consequence of Craig’s point of view. That is the absurd consequence in believing that ought implies can, not only in the physical sense (i.e. the physical or natural ability to act), but also in the psychological sense (i.e. the psychological ability to act, willingness to act, etc.).

But reason dictates that the two senses of having an inability to do otherwise are exactly opposite. The more physically difficult it is for you to do your duty, the less you can be blamed for your failure to do it. But the more psychologically difficult it is for you to do your duty, then the more you can be blamed for your failure to do it.

After all, our psychological motives for acting are the basis upon which we are praised or blamed. If I shove an old lady because I hate old ladies, then I can be blamed, but if I shove an old lady to save her from being hit by a bus, then I can be praised. The more my actions are influenced by love, the more praiseworthy they are, and they more my actions are influenced by hate, the more blameworthy they are.

We cannot be praised and blamed for actions that we did not intend or plan. We can always excuse ourselves on the basis that it was an accident. To do something on purpose is to do it out of a prior disposition. The actions we take on purpose are actions we do for reasons and motives. The more hand our own desires and motives have in bringing about our actions, the more those actions are under our control. It follows that our actions are completely under our control when they are completely determined by our own desires, motives, inclinations, etc. And we can only be responsible for actions that we perform on purpose.

Not only is libertarian freedom unnecessary for moral responsibility, but it’s actually inconsistent with it. A person is only free, in the libertaraian sense, to the degree that antecedent conditions (including a person’s own psychology) do not determine their actions. Consider the following diagram.

Libertarian freedom is indirectly proportional to the strength of our desires as well as every other psychological influence. If our desires are strong enough to determine our actions, then we have no libertarian freedom. We have the most libertarian freedom when our actions are not so much as influenced by our desires.

As I said before, commands (e.g. moral imperatives) are superfluous unless they have some power to influence our actions. But that means commands carry with them the very thing that removes libertarian freedom (and moral responsibility if you follow Craig). The more influence from commands, the less freedom in the will. Libertarianism, on the other hand, carries with it the very thing that makes commands superfluous. The more freedom of the will, the less influence from command. If you follow Craig, indifference is the only way you can be completely responsible for your actions since that’s the only state under which nothing but your own libertarian choice has any influence over your actions.

So far, I have argued that we can be responsible for our actions if they are determined by our own antecedent psychological states, especially our own desires, motives, and inclinations. But what of the cause of those prior psychological states? Some people claim that we must choose them before we can be morally responsible. If they arise from some outside cause, then we cannot be responsible for acting on them.

But that leads to an infinite regress. If you must choose your desires before you can be responsible for acting on them, then the choice of your desires must be determined by an even earlier desire. And that desire must be preceded by an earlier choice which also must be preceded by an earlier desire, etc.

There’s only one of two ways to halt this infinite regress. You can either halt it by beginning with a desire you did not choose (the compatibilist position) or by beginning with a choice that arose spontaneously without any determining desire at all (the libertarian position). Since we can only be morally responsible for actions we did on purpose, and our actions are only on purpose to the degree that they are determined by our own desires and motives, it follows that we cannot take the libertarian position. Ultimately, all of our actions must originate from desires that we did not choose. Otherwise, morality would be impossible altogether.

If it turns out that we can be morally responsible for our actions even when they are based on desire that we did not choose, then it doesn’t matter what causes our desires—whether somebody outside of us using persuasion, whether we are born with a sinful inclination, or whether God directly influenced our hearts. Since all of these causes for our desires lie outside of the will, they cannot be the basis upon which we are excused or held responsible. So if God hardens your heart resulting in you having a desire to disobey him, and you act on that desire, then you are still morally responsible.

Consider the Voldemort thought experiment. Voldemort is an evil character in Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling made him up. He’s only evil in the book, though, because that’s how Rowling wrote him. He’s not evil in reality because he doesn’t exist in reality. But suppose Rowling was able to pull him out of the book and into reality, and suppose that if she did so, he would be just the same in reality as he is in the book. Would he not act the same as in the books? And if he did, would he not be responsible for his actions?

You might say no since Rowling determined that he would be the way he is. But let’s suppose there are two people named Voldemort who are alike in every way, including all of their beliefs, desires, memories, habits, inclinations, biases, abilities, etc. The only difference between them is that one was born into the world the usual way and for whatever reason became like he is today. The other was created ex nihilo by J.K. Rowling just yesterday, and she planted all those memories, beliefs, desires, etc. in him. Considering the fact that at this moment, they are exactly alike in every way, doesn’t it follow that if one is responsible for his actions, the other is as well? And doesn’t it follow that it doesn’t matter how they got to be that way? We would all agree that the Voldemort who came into the world the usual way is responsible for his actions, so it follows that the Voldemort created by J.K. Rowling is also responsible for his.

And it follows that if God brought us into existence and caused us to have sinful desires, that we are just as responsible for our actions as we would be if he had not caused us to have sinful desires.

That is not only agreeable to the philosophical arguments I just made, but it’s also consistent with the scriptures. In Romans 9:18, Paul says that God “has mercy on whom he desires, and he hardens whom he desires.” Then he says, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who resists his will?’”

Now, why would Paul raise this question? The thought behind the hypothetical question is that if it is God’s will that our hearts are hardened, then he shouldn’t find fault in us. If God is the one who hardens our hearts, and if God’s will cannot be resisted, then we can’t help but sin. That raises the question of why God would hold us accountable for our sins. So Paul’s hypothetical question makes no sense at all unless Paul really means to be saying that God hardens people’s hearts, resulting in sin.

Notice that the hypothetical objection Paul raises to what he just taught is exactly the same objection Craig raises against reformed theology. Craig thinks that if divine determinism is true that it removes personal responsibility for our actions just as Paul’s hypothetical objector thinks. And just as the hypothetical objector is taking issue with what Paul just taught about the sovereignty of God, so also is Craig taking issue with what Paul just taught about the sovereignty of God. So Craig is on the wrong side of this issue Biblically.

Part 4