Theistic Notebook

January 3, 2012

2011 in review

Filed under: Uncategorized — David P @ 8:58 am

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,000 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 33 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


September 13, 2011

Comment on Everist’s Well-Meant Offer

Filed under: Links,Reflection — David P @ 9:19 pm
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Here is a comment I posted on Randy Everist’s post, Calvinists and the Well-Meant Offer.  If you haven’t checked out his blog, there is much to recommend: particularly the rigorous and original thinking which informs his writing.  Everist argues that Calvinists cannot consistently hold that God genuinely desires all to be saved and thus cannot say that God extends a well-meant offer of salvation to all.  Commenting on his own post, he says, “If all things are done to the glory of God, and this glory is paramount, then it follows the number of saved and the number of the damned are the optimal glory-balance.”  This argument overlaps some discusions with Randal Rauser that took place during a flurry of posts following this one.

The basic idea is this: some believe that God created this world instead of another world because it brings him maximal glory (there are various ways to cash out glory and maximal of course).  For instance, Molinists maintain that God created this world with perfect knowledge of what his free creatures would do in various situations.  Randal Rauser is one of them, and he affirms that God’s choice to create this world is explained by the fact that this world has the biggest lifeboat: aka, the greatest number of creatures freely choose God’s offer of salvation.  Rauser agrees that there could be more than one possible world with an identically sized lifeboat.  I have problems with best possible worlds (some of them come up in Randal’s comment box), so I’m happy to see that Randy Everist has done work in this area.  As you’ll see, in my original comment, I imputed to Everist a view which he doesn’t actually hold.  Here it is:

But why not think there are different configurations of the same type using different tokens that accomplish the same optimal glory-balance?

For instance, for any possible world W there could be a nearby possible world W’ such that:

– [Saved] and [Damed] in W and W’ have the same number of members
– [Saved] includes agent X in W. [Damned] includes agent X in W’ (swaps with Agent Y)
– Agent X is type identical with Agent Y in whatever respect is necessary to accomplish optimal glory-balance.

This seems possible, but perhaps we wouldn’t be pleased with an outcome that renders us as mere tokens in a randomly chosen possible world. Exploring that intuition for a minute: if there are multiple possible worlds with the same optimal balance, and only the tokens differ…then the fact that I’m saved is no bragging matter. God would be just as pleased with a nearby possible world where I am not saved but some other type-identical agent is saved instead.

August 15, 2011

Nagel’s What is it like to be a bat? (in my own words)

Filed under: Summaries — David P @ 7:58 pm
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Current reductionist efforts to tackle the mind-body problem cannot succeed. Why? Consciousness. “[F]undamentally an organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something that it is to be that organism–something it is like for that organism.” Call this the subjective character of experience (SCE). Any successful analysis of the mental must capture this; and yet, reductionism leaves open the logical possibility of x having conscious states without having SCE.

Aside from operating with deficient concepts, the reductionist method itself is not apt to capture the real nature of consciousness. Physicalist reductions move from an observer relative point of view (eg., lightning as known by human perceptual apparatuses) to an observer independent point of view (physical descriptions of electrical discharge). But subjective phenomena are essentially connected with a single point of view (not a token but a type, perhaps species-dependent access to a single point of view). And this is precisely what an objective account is not. To illustrate: we cannot conceive of what it’s like to be a bat, though clearly there is such a fact. It seems that this fact could not be accessed by humans “simply because our structure does not permit us to operate with concepts of the requisite type.” Consciousness, with SCE, is problematic for reductionism because it differs fundamentally from other phenomenon like lightning, clouds, and rainbows. Unlike these other features, we actually get further away from the real nature of consciousness as we move from a particular point of view to an objective, observer independent point of view. Every successful reduction of human-observable phenomena leaves behind an unexplained, subjective feature. Any successful theory must tackle these features, but current reductionist theories look hopelessly unable to do so at the conceptual level.

What we need is a conceptual framework to help us make sense of the physicalist identity crisis, and we simply do not have it. Perhaps we should develop concepts that don’t rely on our imaginations to describe SCE. “Though presumably it would not capture everything, its goal would be to describe, at least in part, the subjective character of experiences in a form comprehensible to beings incapable of having those experiences.”

July 24, 2011

Wandering in the Darkness: Narrative and the Problem of Suffering

Filed under: Reviews — David P @ 1:42 pm

A much anticipated review of Eleonore Stump’s book (after which this post is titled) has finally arrived, thanks to the hard work of Paul Draper.

Wandering in Darkness: Narrative and the Problem of Suffering

July 23, 2011

Free Will, Moral Responsibility, and Reformed Theology: A Contemporary Introduction

Filed under: Links — David P @ 7:58 am
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Check out Paul Manata’s paper here.

July 16, 2011

A quick and dirty parity argument about moral freedom in hell

Filed under: Reflection — David P @ 5:04 pm
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Theists have developed a variety of free will theodicies in response to arguments from evil.  But some of them come with an interesting backlash, viz., that if we cannot sin in heaven then it looks like we don’t have morally significant freedom in heaven. I use moral freedom here to refer to the ability to choose between good or bad.  Now, many theists argue that this is a valuable thing; so valuable that it justifies God in permitting some evils which he might not otherwise have good reason for. But if moral freedom is valuable then why shouldn’t it continue to be valuable for an everlasting time in heaven (or the new earth for those who are eschatologically inclined)?  I am unconvinced by this type of criticism, but want to entertain it a bit to see if any other interesting conclusions follow.

First off, what does it mean to say ‘I can’t sin in heaven?’  Does this parallel my declaration that ‘I can’t run a mile in two minutes?’  In the latter case, we are talking about physical possibility: the general idea being that in the actual world (due to physical laws perhaps), it is not possible that I run a two-minute mile.  How does the former declaration compare?  Pretty well it seems, except that physical laws must be replaced with some other (new earthly or heavenly) constraints.  More interestingly, those who literally believe that angels ‘fell from heaven’ must reject this, or else explain why angels could choose to rebel but humans lack such capacities.  But not so fast!  Clearly there is a relevant difference between saying ‘I can’t sin in heaven’ and ‘I can’t choose to sin in heaven.’  If you don’t believe me: consider the obvious difference between saying ‘I can’t run a two-minute mile’ and ‘I can’t choose to run a two-minute mile.’  The former sentence records a fact about my ability; the latter about my freedom with respect to intentionally carrying out an act (of course, it would take a lot of confidence to intend such a thing).  Well, which is it?  I’m not sure, but let’s suppose the latter.

An important issue remains unturned here.  What about hell? Can people in hell make morally significant decisions towards good?  Some, like C.S. Lewis, have suggested that hell is locked from the inside; this assumes that persons in hell have a choice in the matter … and they choose to stay.  And a handful of theists might even see that as a good thing.  For instance, their stay in hell lends to the overall glorification of God’s justice while those in heaven lend to the overall glorification of his grace.  But why suppose moral freedom is possible in hell, if not in heaven?  And what are hell’s occupants receiving everlasting punishment for…earthly sin…rejection of salvation?  Here is one view: the damned are not receiving everlasting punishment for some finite number of sins committed during earthly life.  To the contrary, the damned continually sin and thus deserve continual punishment for an everlasting duration.  I call this the continual punishment thesis.  Sounds great, where do I sign up?  Queue: Al Pacino appears with a deal I can’t refuse.  But seriously, at first glance the continual punishment thesis might appeal to theists as a way out of the infinite punishment objection.   Roughly, this objection takes aim at the fact that punishment in hell is infinite (well, to be precise it is everlasting but the objections often specify it as ‘infinite’ and vaguely imply that it applies to duration or severity of punishment) and yet the sins which place one in hell are finite.  How can this be just deserts? And so we can see how the continual punishment thesis might run in response to the infinite punishment objection.

Obviously, free will theodicists should want to keep free will in heaven. After all, free will is valuable!  However, I haven’t run across any actual arguments to this effect.  But regardless, if they leverage moral freedom to justify certain evils in the world,  then surely they must find it odd that God achieves greater goods via morally significant freedom–on earth–and yet, in heaven (or new earth) we can simply dispense with this altogether.  Fair enough, the free will theodicist has some ‘splainin’ to do.  But now suppose they are tempted to accept the continual punishment thesis.  Can the free will theodicist remain consistent here?  I see a reason to think not.  If there is no moral freedom, then what does it mean to be punished or rewarded for an act?  And from this, we get a parity argument about hell: we can’t do good in hell, so we can’t receive punishment–for continual sins in hell–in the proper sense.  This has been a very rough, rambling and simplistic account.  There are many ways to carve up the conceptual terrain here, but it looks like there may be some problems with the continual punishment thesis, particularly for incompatibilist, free-will theodocists.

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