Category Archives: Philosophy

POOF! “Hi , I Am God. Nice To Meet You”

Many times when I ask the question, “What type of evidence would you need to believe in God?”, I get the response, “God would have to appear in front of me of some physical evidence of His existance” or something to that effect. In light of that statement, I would like to respond by talking about circumstantial evidence versus direct evidence, and the reason why that statement is not proof against the existence of God.

Jim Wallace, a cold case detective, was standing in for Greg Koukl on Stand To Reason recently. I always enjoy Jim Wallace because he comes from a perspective of a detective when speaking about religion, ethics, and the big questions. During that episode Jim Wallace spoke of a former prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s new book Divinity of Doubt: The God Question, in which he argues that agnosticism is the only sensible position to hold.

Bugliosi writes in his book, “By fact I mean a truth known by actual experience or observation. And something that cannot be logically explained in any other way” (p. 4). Bugliosi’s way of approaching Christianity, proof beyond any possible doubt, causes all of history to be off the table not just Christianity. Also many or most of Bugliosi’s trials I am sure were not won with proof beyond a possible doubt. He missed something the judicial system calls proof beyond a reasonable doubt. This is why I want to cover the the difference of direct and circumstantial evidence, and why both are reliable because Bugliosi is saying that we can only trust direct evidence.

Direct Versus Circumstantial Evidence

The definition for circumstantial evidence covers the definition for both direct and circumstantial evidence: Evidence in which an inference is required to connect it to a conclusion of fact. By contrast, direct evidence supports the truth of an assertion directly–i.e., without need for any additional evidence or the intervening inference.

Jim Wallace explains it well in an article from Please Convince Me called “The  Problem of Evidential Insufficiency”:

We might determine, for example, that a suspect committed a murder on the basis of an eyewitness who saw the murder directly or a suspect’s later confession (two pieces of  direct evidence), or we might determine this on the basis of the suspect’s prior threatening remarks, his bloody appearance minutes after the crime, and his efforts to flee the scene (all examples of circumstantial evidence). Our criminal justice system draws no distinction between these two forms of evidence; both are equally viable and powerful in making a case.

Even though direct evidence may give us a conclusion quicker or with less evidence, it isn’t more valid than circumstantial. With circumstantial evidence you may need more pieces to point to the same conclusion, but with enough pieces it makes it reliable, reasonable, and factual. Knowing this Bugliosi must be careful because when making such strong statements about direct and circumstantial evidence he is discrediting more than just Christianity. To his downfall, he is also discrediting his own work. Bugliosi would have to throw out much of the evidence he most likely used in the Charles Manson case he is most famous for. And many others who claim the same belief in the necessity of direct evidence would be discrediting many of their own beliefs or ideas that hinge on circumstantial evidence.

Must God Appear?

In Christianity there are both direct and circumstantial evidence, but a more robust and comprehensive amount of circumstantial. The difficult part for many is that none of the direct evidence is related to the existence of God. Many believe if God were real then he would show Himself, but He doesn’t therefore He is not real. There are three problems with that line of thought: (1) There is plenty of circumstantial evidence, (2) there is a lot of assumptions when making that claim, and (3) there is more than one way to prove something exists.

Since I have written in previous blog posts about the evidence for God, I will leave you to read those or others work on this weighty topic. However, I would like to touch a little on the second problem. The problem with making assumptions about God is that people do it without proper knowledge of God’s actions in the past, His character, or His overall purpose. All of these are important to understanding why God does what He does. Rather than taking these into consideration people draw quick conclusions based more on their own desires. So maybe the statement above should be written more like: If I were God, then I would show myself, and the Christian God doesn’t do what I would do, so He is not real. When the statement is put in it’s true light it sounds much more ridiculous and self-centered.

We must not forget there are different ways to prove thing’s exist. If a thing is physical, then some physical test should be able to reveal it, at least in principle. But if a thing is not physical, then a person has to infer its existence by different means. There are many nonphysical things in this world such as intent, a soul, or an idea. The God of Christianity is also not physical, so it seems that the use of circumstantial evidence to prove His existence would be more than sufficient (especially because there is a lot).

Conclusion

Bugliosi, and others like him, should know that that physical things are found by physical tests, but nonphysical things will need a different test, or inference. Even within Bugliosi’s sphere of work there are nonphysical things such as intent and contracts, so if he were to hold to his way of thinking then these things would be invalid too. Also we must remember that not only is circumstantial evidence a reasonable way of knowing God exists, but we must not be arrogant enough to believe that just because God doesn’t do something our way means He is not real.

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Filed under Christianity, Existence of God, Logic and Reason, Philosophy

That’s Just Your Interpretation

How many times in a religious (or worldview) conversation have you heard someone say, “That’s just your interpretation”?

When someone makes such a comment they are actually trying to say, “What you said is not true because it is just what you think it means.” Basically, your interpretation is just an opinion. I strongly believe that this is a poor argument and an incorrect way of looking at the word interpretation.

Often people like to come up with their own definitions, or society redefines a word, then makes the same argument. For example, how often do we hear someone say, “Christians are intolerant.” In most circumstances, the use of the word intolerant is supposed to communicate that the Christian is saying their beliefs are true, and someone else’s belief is wrong. Many see tolerance as accepting all people’s beliefs or views as equally true. However, if you know anything about logic that breaks the Law of Noncontradiction; two opposing things cannot be true at the same time. The true definition, as defined by the dictionary, is “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own.” Notice that the true definition requires that I disagree with someone to be tolerant toward them, and it does not require that I agree, rather that I have a certain attitude toward them.

The same issue of incorrect defining is occurring with the word interpretation. In a religious or worldview discussion, many tend to see an interpretation as an opinion or more like a way we see it, but for ourself alone. However, the dictionary defines “an interpretation as an explanation of the meaning of another’s artistic or creative work.” It is important to notice that an interpretation is not just what you think, but rather what you think the author intended in their writing. In that case, there has to be a correct or right interpretation of the text or idea. An interpretation will only hold or be a better interpretation than another’s if there are facts to back up the interpretation.

The next time someone says, “That’s just your interpretation”, then there are two ways to guide the discussion. First, you can use one of the Columbo Tactics by Greg Koukl, from his book Tactics, by asking, “What do you mean by interpretation?” Hopefully that will clear up the larger problem, and guide the conversation to clearer understanding for both people. Second, the person must give proof, or evidence, for why your interpretation is not the correct one. As we have seen there must be a correct interpretation based on the definition of what an interpretation is. Not all interpretations are valid, but we do know there is a correct one. For example, if I told someone I just met that I noticed they hated their wife, but had no reason, or evidence, to prove so, then they have good reason to say that my interpretation is wrong. However, that person could only say that I was wrong because there is a correct interpretation of how he feels for his wife.

I hope you can see now that there is a correct or right interpretation of ideas or text, and that they need proof to back it up whether someone is claiming or rejecting an interpretation. Again there are truths in this world, and two contradictory ideas cannot be true at the same time.

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Filed under Bible, Philosophy

Committing Suicide

Person A: “I am going to be moving to Thailand?”

Person B: “Why?”

Person A: “I am going to be a teacher, but the main purpose to do missions. I want to tell them about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Person B: “I don’t really like proselytizing.”

Person A: “Why don’t you like proselytizing?”

Person B: “I think it is wrong to push your beliefs on others.”

Person A: “So are you telling me it is wrong for me to push my beliefs on others?”

Person B: “Yes.”

Do you see the problem with this conversation? No, I do not mean that the conversation in itself should not be had, actually I strongly hope people are having rich conversations about important topics. However, I want to point out a common mistake people have in their logic when discussing world views, opinions, etc. The mistake many make is called Suicide. This is a wonderful tactic I gained from reading Tactics by Greg Koukl, so all credit goes out to him.

Let’s go back to the conversation above. Person A tells Person B that they will be heading overseas to share the Gospel with others. Many people find this offensive and wrong, so does Person B who responds with “I don’t really like proselytizing.” Person A does a great job at asking a question, so that Person B must defend their claim (burden of proof). The Suicide is committed when Person B gives their burden of proof, which is that they think it is wrong to push their beliefs on others. Isn’t Person B “pushing their beliefs” on Person A with their comment? So in that comment Person B has committed Suicide.

Many inaccurate views tend to easily self-destruct, or commit suicide. We know these commonly as self-refuting views. These views do not need expended energy to address because they destroy themselves. Greg Koukl gives a simple example of this through a statement: All English sentences are false. In this sentence it is easy to see the problem. If all English sentences are false, then obviously the sentence declaring it must be false too.

The Suicide tactic works well because of a rule of logic called the law of noncontradiction. The law follows the commonsense idea that contradictory statements cannot both be true at the same time. Basically, A is the case and A is not the case.

Koukl explains how to recognize the suicidal tendencies:

1. Pay attention to the basic idea, premise, conviction, or claim. Try to identify it.

2. Ask if the claim applies to itself. Then it commits suicide.

3. Finally, simply point out the contradiction.

Here are some examples of suicidal statements:

1. There is no truth. (Is this statement true?)

2. There are no absolutes. (Is this an absolute?)

3. No one can know any truth about religion. (And how, precisely, did you come to know that truth about religion?)

4. You can’t know anything for sure. (Are you sure about that?)

5. Talking about God is meaningless. (What does this statement about God mean?)

6. You can only know truth through experience. (What experience taught you that truth?)

7. Never take anyone’s advice on that issue. (Should I take your advice on that?)

Koukl makes a distinction between two types of Suicide tactic: Formal and Practical. The tactic still works the same, but one is committing suicide in the statement, and the other is committing suicide in real-life application.

In the end, everyone should be aware of their own and other’s claims because it can be easy to say something we think is logical, but contradicts itself. If we desire to pursue truth, then we must stay away from contradictions.

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Filed under Logic and Reason, Philosophy

Build It Up And Knock It Down

Many times in conversations about spiritual matters it can feels as though there is no answer to the argument given by the other person. Sometimes it can be from a lack of knowledge of that subject, possibly something we have never considered, or they are misrepresenting your view and giving arguments to defeat that view. Today, I would like to touch on the latter of the three problems someone might face in a discussion.

Not too long ago I had a conversation with someone about evil and sin. Basically, the questions was: How can the Bible say that everyone is evil or sinful? Then it became a battle of definitions of the words evil and sin. The problem was that the person wanted to define evil and sin, then have me answer it from my Christian worldview. They persisted that those who are evil or sinful were extremes such as Hitler. On the other hand, those who did other things like stealing or adultery were misinformed and considered wrong, definitely not evil or sinful. They proceeded to give more examples and prove that my view was wrong. However, the issue was they were redefining evil, sin, and God’s standard for holiness. This is committing the straw man fallacy.

The name straw man fallacy comes from a common practice of knights during the middle ages. A straw man would be mounted on a horse as an opponent for a knight to practice jousting. This gives a vibrant illustration of the straw man fallacy, which is the process of setting up a false argument (straw man) from the other side and then knocking it down. Unfortunately, this way of arguing does not address the actually view of the opponent, and then appropriate rebuttals to that view.

Typically the argument looks like this…

1. Todd affirms J.

2. Frank attributes K to Todd (K is not Todd’s view, but it sounds similar; it is misrepresented).

3. Frank offers rebuttals for K.

4. Frank concludes he has refuted J.

Someone can commit the straw man several ways:

1. Misrepresents the claim of Frank, then refutes it.

2. Cites Frank out of context, then refutes it.

3. Finding someone who defends Frank’s claim poorly, then suggest that is Frank’s claim and refute it.

4. Create a fake person or stereo-type, then presents that person as a representative for Frank’s claim and refutes it.

Another good example of this comes from the infamous question: Can God make a rock so big He can’t lift it? First, this is a pseudo-qeustions. Second, the idea of “stronger than” can only be used when there are two subjects, but in this case God is a single subject. Third, this commits the straw man fallacy because it miscasts the Biblical idea of omnipotence. Omnipotence has to do with power, not necessarily ability. God being omnipotent does not mean He can do anything. For example, He cannot create a square circle. This does not diminish His power, rather we must see it as He is not able to be contradictory.

In light of this, we need to be vigilant to the misrepresentations of our views and cautious in our arguments not to misrepresent other’s views. Committing the straw man fallacy leads to false conclusions, which are not based on true claims. If we desire to seek out the truth, then we must also argue truthful claims.

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