Author Archives: James

On Fairies and Gardeners

I’ve been revisiting Richard Dawkins’ best-seller The God Delusion in preparation for an apologetics class I’ll be teaching next week. On opening it up, I fell upon the dedication “In Memoriam” to Douglas Adams, accompanied by the following quotation (presumably from Adams):

Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?

I suppose Dawkins considered this a pithy critique of theistic beliefs and in keeping with the thrust of his book. It does at least give us some insight into how Dawkins and his ilk think about theism, i.e., that it’s epistemically on a par with belief in fairies at the bottom of the garden. But it also reflects just how shallow that thinking is.

Flower Garden

Of course it’s enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it, because the former doesn’t depend on the latter in any plausible way. Fairies have no explanatory role to play in one’s appreciation of a beautiful garden. But theists have long contended that God has a significant explanatory role to play in our understanding of the world and our place in it; indeed, a necessary explanatory role.

So a more fitting question would be:

Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there is a gardener who made it beautiful?

To which the answer isn’t obviously a self-congratulatory “Yes!” but rather (at a minimum) “Well, it depends on exactly what we see in the garden.” If the garden we see is an orderly, cultivated one then the answer is clearly, “No, it’s not enough; a rational person ought to believe both.”

In fact, an even more probing question would be:

Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without considering not only whether there is a gardener who made it beautiful, but also how it is that we came to possess reliable cognitive faculties which allow us to see gardens, to conceive of them as gardens, and to make meaningful objective aesthetic judgments about them?

But that doesn’t sound nearly so witty, which I guess goes to show that cleverness and profundity don’t always coincide.

Why Did God Allow the Fall?

Who would be so foolhardy as to accept an invitation to answer that question in only 1400 words?

Find out here.

To Err is Humorous (2017 Edition)

It’s that most wonderful time of the year: grading season. As I’ve noted before, there’s an occasional silver lining to this otherwise purgatorial duty, namely, occasionally encountering an amusing typo or other lapsus calami. Five years ago I posted a collection of these gaffes, and as an act of solidarity with my fellow professors, I now post a second batch. (All are genuine.)

First, however, let me repeat some important words of qualification from my earlier post:

I should emphasize that most of these are innocent mistakes and no reflection on the abilities of the students who wrote them. Some of them appeared in otherwise excellent papers. They’re the sort of errors any of us could make, and many of us have made, especially when under the pressure of a deadline or ambushed by the AutoCorrect feature of our word processors. So enjoy them, but don’t forget that these are human errors — and we’re all human.

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Tuggy’s Triad and the Death of God

God's Not DeadDale Tuggy has recently been discussing at some length what he takes to be an inconsistent triad of claims:

1. Jesus died.

2. Jesus was fully divine.

3. No fully divine being has ever died.

He thinks that 1 is beyond dispute for Bible-believing Christians, and that 3 also finds strong support from the biblical affirmations of God’s immortality (Rom. 1:23; 1 Tim. 1:17; 1 Tim. 6:16). He therefore concludes that 2 should be rejected for the sake of logical consistency. That would, of course, require one to reject one of the essential tenets of the doctrine of the Trinity.

I’ve listened to several of Dale’s podcasts on the issue, but not all of them, so I may well be overlooking something here. Still, it seems to me that there’s a fairly straightforward way for a Trinitarian to affirm all three claims without inconsistency. I agree with Tuggy that there’s solid biblical support for 1 and 3, but as I see it there’s an equivocation on the term ‘died’. (I know that Dale has denied any such equivocation, but hear me out.)

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T. S. Eliot on Reading for Amusement

Some insight from Eliot’s essay “Religion and Literature” (1935):

Now what we get, as we gradually grow up and read more and more, and read a greater diversity of authors, is a variety of views of life. But what people commonly assume, I suspect, is that we gain this experience of other men’s views of life only by “improving reading.” This, it is supposed, is a reward we get by applying ourselves to Shakespeare, and Dante, and Goethe, and Emerson, and Carlyle, and dozens of other respectable writers. The rest of our reading for amusement is merely killing time. But I incline to come to the alarming conclusion that it is just the literature that we read for “amusement,” or “purely for pleasure” that may have the greatest and least suspected influence upon us. It is the literature which we read with the least effort that can have the easiest and most insidious influence upon us. Hence it is that the influence of popular novelists, and of popular plays of contemporary life, requires to be scrutinized most closely. And it is chiefly contemporary literature that the majority of people ever read in this attitude of “purely for pleasure,” of pure passivity.

The relation to my subject of what I have been saying should now be a little more apparent. Though we may read literature merely for pleasure, of “entertainment” or of “aesthetic enjoyment,” this reading never affects simply a sort of special sense: it affects our moral and religious existence. And I say that while individual modern writers of eminence can be improving, contemporary literature as a whole tends to be degrading. And that even the effect of the better writers, in an age like ours, may be degrading to some readers; for we must remember that what a writer does to people is not necessarily what he intends to do. It may be only what people are capable of having done to them. People exercise an unconscious selection in being influenced. A writer like D. H. Lawrence may be in his effect either beneficial or pernicious. I am not sure that I have not had some pernicious influence myself.

One can only imagine what Eliot would have concluded about the influence of movies, TV shows, and YouTube videos on our “moral and religious existence.”

Some Thoughts on the Lowder-Turek Debate

I recently watched (or rather listened to) the debate last December between Jeffrey Jay Lowder and Frank Turek on whether naturalism or theism “better explains reality”:

Overall it was one of the better theist-atheist debates I’ve encountered, and I would recommend watching it. The two opponents were intelligent, well-spoken, respectful, experienced, and focused on the issues. I’m not going to evaluate all the arguments in the debate or make a judgment about who ‘won’ the debate (it depends which criteria you apply). I’m just going to make some very general comments about the strengths and weaknesses of the presentations.

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A Selection of Presuppositional Arguments

One criticism of presuppositional apologetics is that its advocates rarely if ever offer serious arguments for their distinctive claims (e.g., the claim that our ability to reason presupposes the existence of God). The criticism is overstated, but there is a measure of truth to it. I count myself a presuppositionalist, but I’ve been frustrated in the past by presuppositionalists who seem to imagine that declaring what Van Til’s “transcendental argument” purports to demonstrate is tantamount to actually making that demonstration. Simply asserting that “without God you can’t prove anything at all” or that “your very ability to reason presupposes the existence of God” does nothing whatsoever to explain why those weighty assertions should be believed. Likewise for the failure of non-Christians to answer questions asking them to account for their ability to reason, to know truths about the world, to make meaningful moral judgments, etc., in terms of their own worldviews. Questions cannot substitute for arguments, no matter how pointed those questions may be.

So it’s important for presuppositionalists to present arguments in support of their claims, and to ensure their critics are aware of those arguments so that they can be critically evaluated. In that spirit, I thought it would be useful to gather in one place my own presuppositional arguments, as well as my attempts to explain or reconstruct the arguments of other presuppositionalists:

In addition, my book Why Should I Believe Christianity? offers a broadly presuppositional (and evidential!) case for the biblical Christian worldview.

Yes, Molina, There Could Have Been a Santa Claus

Consider this post a sidebar to the ongoing series on Molinism. It draws on some recent comments by William Lane Craig, arguably the leading evangelical defender of Molinism, in response to a reader’s question (bold added):

First, I don’t claim that “universal salvation is impossible because of free will.” The point here is subtle and easily misunderstood. I think that there certainly are logically possible worlds in which everyone freely places his faith in Christ and so is saved. What I’ve said is that, for all we know, such worlds may not be feasible for God to actualize (or, if some are, they may have overriding deficiencies that make them less preferable). The point here is that God’s being omnipotent does not entail that He can actualize just any logically possible world. For the persons in those worlds, were God to try to actualize them, might freely choose to reject God. We can grasp this point by realizing that which world is actual isn’t up to God alone; free creatures are co-actualizers of the world along with God by means of their free choices, which God does not determine. So it may not be feasible for God to actualize a world of free, universal salvation (without overriding deficiencies).

Craig is exactly right that on the Molinist view, “which [possible] world is actual isn’t up to God alone.” God determines some contingent truths, while his creatures determine other contingent truths by their (libertarian) free choices. God only ‘weakly’ actualizes this world. He ‘strongly’ actualizes many aspects of the world, e.g., causally determining the circumstances in which free creatures will make their choices, but God doesn’t causally determine those choices. Rather, by way of his middle knowledge, God knows infallibly what free choices his creatures would make in those circumstances, and thus by ‘strongly’ actualizing those circumstances God ‘weakly’ actualizes the world in its entirety. Even so, as Craig puts it, we are “co-actualizers” of the world, because the actuality of this world depends both on God’s free choices and on ours.

This model of divine providence has proven attractive to many Christian thinkers, partly because of its prospects for theodicy. If the actualities of this world aren’t entirely “up to God” then perhaps God can’t be held morally responsible for the fact that some aspects of this world are less than ideal (e.g., not all creatures are saved).

However, I think the way Craig puts matters in the quotation above conceals some of the oddities of the Molinist’s position. Craig makes it sound as though which possible world is actualized is “up to” both God and us, based on the actual free choices that we all make. But this is misleading for two closely related reasons.

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The Internal Testimony of the Holy Spirit

The following article was published in the Christian Research Journal 39:5 (2016). Thanks to CRI for permission to post it here.


How Do You Know That the Bible Is God’s Word?

If you’re a regular reader of the Christian Research Journal, I suspect that question immediately prompts you to think of arguments and evidences for the divine inspiration of the Bible. Take, for example, the fulfilled biblical prophecies, the astonishing consistency and unity of the Bible’s message despite having many human authors over hundreds of years, and the testimony of Jesus, who confirmed His claim to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead.

Those would be good thoughts, but there’s a problem with answering the question in that way. If a Christian’s knowledge that the Bible is God’s Word depends on being able to marshal various arguments and evidences, then surely only a small minority of Christians actually know that the Bible is God’s Word. The majority of Christians may believe it, but they don’t know it, simply because they’re not familiar with these apologetic evidences. They’ve never been asked to justify their beliefs in that way, and they wouldn’t know how to do it if they were asked.

Obviously it would be very unfortunate if it turned out that most Christians don’t actually know that Christianity is true. It also seems quite implausible. Take my late grandmother, for example. Her Christian faith towered over mine. Should I conclude that I knew something she didn’t — namely, that the Bible she built her life on is indeed God’s Word — because she wasn’t able to marshal arguments and evidences in the way that I can?

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Can We Trust the Bible Over Evolutionary Science?

An epistemological exploration for RTS’s journal Reformed Faith & Practice.