Credible Testimony

This is a follow-up of sorts to my earlier post.

After the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings last week, I encountered many comments to the effect that either Ford or Kavanaugh gave a “credible testimony.” (Some claimed that both did.) Consider these two statements:

(1) It’s credible that S is telling the truth.

(2) It’s credible that S is not lying.

It seems to me that many commentators on this depressing debacle are failing to properly distinguish (1) and (2). When they say that so-and-so’s testimony was credible, it’s hard to tell whether they mean (1) or (2). Perhaps they think (1) and (2) are equivalent. But as I pointed out earlier, that’s not the case. It’s possible to speak falsely without lying. What (2) is really equivalent to is:

(1′) It’s credible that S believes he/she is telling the truth.

But of course, (1′) doesn’t entail (1). Furthermore, the evidential burden of (1) can be considerably higher than that of (1′). It doesn’t take much to justifiably conclude that someone believes what they’re saying is true; it often takes a lot more to justifiably conclude that what they’re saying is actually true.

Continue reading

A Singer-Songwriter You Should Know About

I’d never heard of Ginny Owens before this summer. That probably tells you more about me than her, because she’s been performing for two decades, she’s sold over a million records, she’s won three Dove awards, her music has been featured on television, and she’s notable enough to have a Wikipedia page.

If you’re not already familiar with her work, check it out. It’s really good, both musically and lyrically. I’m no critic, but I’d put her up there with any artist in the Billboard Hot 100. Her most recent album, Love Be the Loudest, is superb. Finding talented Christian artists with cross-generational appeal is rare, but for the last two weeks my daughters have been demanding I play that album every time we drive somewhere! (Even my 5-year-old son digs it, despite the fact it doesn’t feature Ninjago or dinosaurs.) Give it a listen and you’ll soon be hooked.

Continue reading

A Quick Note on the Kavanaugh Accusation

Liar Liar“Either he’s lying or she is.”

I’ve come across some version of this statement in several online articles this past week. It seems to be a common point of view among those who withhold judgment (for now) on whose story is correct. But it’s a false dichotomy as it stands.

If two people are making conflicting claims, it doesn’t follow that one of them is lying. It follows only that (at least) one of them is making a false claim. It’s entirely possible to make a false claim without lying. In fact, most of us do it unwittingly on a daily basis. For example, a person can be sincerely mistaken: they claim p because they believe p, even though it turns out that p is false. (There’s also the separate question of whether their mistake is a morally culpable one; a person can be sincerely mistaken yet still guilty of some kind of intellectual negligence.)

Unfortunately it has become commonplace today in public discourse to conflate lying and speaking falsely, especially in politics. Politician A makes a claim which turns out to be false; A is then immediately branded a ‘liar’ by Politician B and all his followers. Well, perhaps A did lie, but the fact that he spoke falsely doesn’t prove it. You have to show that A knowingly spoke falsely or intended to deceive.

I remember during the Iraq War the chant of the “Stop the War” protesters: “Blair lied, people died!” Catchy, but fallacious. It does appear now that the Blair government published and acted on the basis of intelligence claims that turned out to be erroneous, but of course it doesn’t follow for a moment that the Prime Minister lied. That’s a much harder charge to establish.

Either Kavanaugh or his accuser is making some false claims. That’s a logical truism. But it’s a leap to conclude that one of them has to be lying. That’s a far trickier claim to establish. There’s a burden of proof to discharge. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that whoever is making the false claims is more likely to be sincerely mistaken than lying — I don’t know nearly enough about the situation to draw that conclusion — but I do think a principle of charity needs to be applied, all else being equal. If you can explain the facts without having to impute evil intentions to someone, you should do so. That’s simply an application of the Golden Rule. (Of course, if you have positive evidence that someone is lying that’s another matter. I’d say that remains to be seen in this case.)

Wikiality

My students know that I have very mixed feelings about Wikipedia. On the one hand, it can be invaluable for quickly obtaining or checking uncontested facts about names, dates, locations, and sequences of events. It can also be a useful starting point for research; it often provides a serviceable orientation to a topic and can point you to some useful sources. Even so, Wikipedia can be desperately unreliable and biased when it comes to controversial issues and even some matters that shouldn’t be controversial. (I have a folder on my computer named ‘Wikidpedia’ where I collect particularly egregious examples.) It’s well known that the ‘community’ of Wikipedia editors is ideologically skewed compared to the general population, such that some topics simply cannot be represented in a balanced and responsible fashion (see here for one embarrassing example).

Anyway, I recently came across an almost laughable case of Bad Wikipedia. For reasons I don’t remember now, I found myself consulting the entry on ‘Reality’ (insert your own punchline here). Here’s how the article began:

Reality is all of physical existence, as opposed to that which is merely imaginary. It is the name for all of physical existence, but the word is also used in a declension to speak of parts of reality that include the cognitive idea of an individual “reality” (i.e. psychology), to a “situational reality,” or a “fictional reality.”

The term is also used to refer to the ontological status of things, indicating their existence, but this is simply the idea of giving names to smaller “realities,” and seems vague and academic without the idea of physical existence as the first “reality,” and the others being smaller parts.

Continue reading

Adventures in Branch-Cutting

Here’s a remarkable paragraph from Graham Oppy’s Atheism and Agnosticism, which appears in a discussion of whether theism or naturalism better explains our mental faculties:

Some – e.g. Plantinga (2012) and Reppert (2009) – argue that our reasoning capacities could not be a socially moulded mix of evolutionary adaptations and exaptations. But those arguments assume the reliability of our reasoning capacities in domains in which it is obvious that our reasoning capacities are highly unreliable: philosophy, religion, politics, and the like. When we make a more accurate assessment of the reliability of our reasoning capacities, we see that that assessment supports the claim that our reasoning capacities are a socially moulded mix of evolutionary adaptations and exaptations. (p. 42)

I had to read these sentences several times to confirm that Oppy really was saying what he seemed to be saying. Note two claims being made here:

  1. Plantinga and Reppert’s arguments assume that our reasoning capacities are reliable in the domain of philosophy (among other domains).
  2. That assumption is false.

In fact, Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN) does not make that assumption, except in the trivial sense that EAAN is a philosophical argument and thus we have to assume that our capacity for philosophical reasoning is generally reliable if we’re to understand and evaluate the argument (in the same way that we have to assume the general reliability of our sense faculties when reading Plantinga’s books and articles). Plantinga’s argument is this: if naturalism is true, there’s no reason to think that our reasoning capacities are reliably truth-directed in any domain. (Actually, that’s a crude summary of a much more subtle argument, but it will do for now.)

The same goes for Reppert’s various versions of the Argument from Reason. In none of Plantinga and Reppert’s arguments does this unavoidable assumption — that our capacity for philosophical reasoning is generally reliable — feature as an assumption distinctive to the arguments themselves (i.e., in a way that doesn’t apply to philosophical arguments in general).

But the real surprise is that Oppy apparently rejects the assumption. He says it’s obvious (!) that our reasoning capacities are “highly unreliable” in the domain of philosophy. Yet he makes this claim as part of a philosophical rebuttal of Plantinga and Reppert, in the course of a philosophical case for naturalism, in a philosophical book written by a professional philosopher. If our reasoning capacities are highly unreliable in the domain of philosophy, what on earth does Oppy think he’s doing? This isn’t so much cutting the branch you’re sitting on as felling the tree and grinding the stump.

It’s so odd that I feel I must be missing something important.

Still, Oppy’s right about one thing: if our cognitive faculties are the product of undirected naturalistic evolution — which is to say, if evolutionary naturalism is true — then it’s highly unlikely that those faculties are reliable when it comes to philosophical matters. That’s a big problem for philosophical naturalists like Oppy.

All that said, Atheism and Agnosticism is still a useful primer on the subject.

Scripture’s Self-Attestation

“Great Doctrines of the Reformed Faith” is the title of the 2018 Thornwell Lectures hosted by First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, SC.

2018 Thornwell Lectures

I was honored to be invited to contribute to this year’s lecture series and I spoke on the topic of Scripture’s Self-Attestation.

The entire series is available on sermonaudio.com. Previous speakers include my RTS colleagues Ligon Duncan, Guy Waters, and Kevin DeYoung. Lectures from earlier years, going back to 2012, are also available.

Exploring Islam Teaching Series

Exploring IslamLast year Ligonier Ministries invited me to work with them to produce a new teaching series on Islam. The final product, Exploring Islam, is now available.

Here’s the description from the DVD cover:

Speaking the Truth in Love

What do Muslims believe? With so much diversity in the Muslim world, it is common for people to hold uninformed opinions about Islam. In Exploring Islam, Dr. James Anderson prepares Christians to better witness to their Muslim neighbors with gentleness and respect, as he surveys the central tenets, history, and practices of the Islamic religion. This is a series to stir confidence in the gospel and equip you to speak the truth in love to the Muslims in your community.

The series consists of ten 23-minute presentations:

  1. Why Study Islam?
  2. The Basics of Islam
  3. The Prophet Muhammad
  4. An Introduction to the Qur’an
  5. The Teachings of the Qur’an
  6. Authority in Islam
  7. Diversity in Islam
  8. Christianity & Islam
  9. Contending for Christianity
  10. Sharing the Gospel with Muslims

The first in the series (“Why Study Islam?”) can be viewed for free on the product page.

Apparently the DVDs include Spanish dubbing and closed captioning.

The series should be useful for adult Sunday schools, small groups, campus ministries, church youth groups, and high-school classes. I’m convinced it’s more important than ever before that Christians understand the challenge of Islam and are equipped to engage with Muslims in a well-informed, gospel-centered way. I hope this series will be a helpful resource to that end.

On a personal note, it was a real pleasure to work with Ligonier on this series and to spend time with their team. Their hospitality and professionalism is second to none.

Why Is There Evil In The World (And So Much Of It)?

I’m delighted to report that the third volume in the Christian Focus series, The Big Ten: Critical Questions Answered, is now available: Why Is There Evil In The World (And So Much Of It)? by series co-editor Greg Welty.

Why Is There Evil In The World?Having been closely involved in the editing process, I’m thrilled to see this book finally in print. The title reflects what may be the most common reason people give for rejecting the Christian faith and doubting the existence of God. It is indeed a critical question that demands an answer.

But isn’t it one Christians have been answering for centuries? Yes, of course. There are many fine works already available on this issue, both ancient and modern, and Welty acknowledges his debt to them. But I think this book fills a particular niche at this time. So many contemporary books on the problem of evil fall down in one or more of the following areas:

  • They don’t pay close attention to what the Bible actually says about the nature and origin of evil and suffering in the world, and how they fit into God’s purposes for his creation.
  • They end up taking positions that aren’t theologically orthodox (e.g., denying God’s omnipotence or omniscience).
  • They engage in philosophical speculations that aren’t tethered to (and sometimes go against) the teachings of the Bible and the creeds of the Christian church.
  • They lack clarity and precision at the very points where clarity and precision are needed. They serve up a big fat waffle-burger instead of a lean filet.
  • They’re written by authors who lack theological and philosophical training, and who aren’t conversant with the vast scholarly literature on the problem of evil.
  • They’re preaching to the choir: helpful for those who already believe, but failing to grapple with real concerns of skeptics.
  • They’re either too long-winded to keep the reader’s attention or too cursory to satisfy the reader’s concerns.
  • They’re too dry and technical for the layperson.

Why Is There Evil In The World? avoids all these pitfalls. Moreover, Greg is ideally qualified to have written this book. He wasn’t raised in a Christian home, so he knows what it’s like to be a skeptical unbeliever. He earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of California, an MDiv degree from Westminster Seminary California, and MPhil and DPhil degrees in philosophical theology from the University of Oxford, and he has taught seminary courses in Christian apologetics and philosophy of religion for 15 years. He also serves as one of the pastors at Grace Baptist Church in Wake Forest, so he doesn’t live up in the ivory tower!

Here’s the table of contents for the book, which should give you a good idea of how Welty tackles the issue:

  • 1. What is the Problem of Evil?
  • 2. The Greater-Good Theodicy: A Threefold Argument for Three Biblical Themes
  • 3. Licensing the Greater-Good Theodicy: God’s Sovereignty over Evil
  • 4. Limiting the Greater-Good Theodicy: The Inscrutability of God’s Purposes
  • 5. Can Free Will or the Laws of Nature Solve the Problem of Evil?
  • 6. Objections
  • Appendix: Going Beyond Job, Joseph and Jesus for the Greater-Good Theodicy

The book has received endorsements from John Frame, Paul Helm, Scott Oliphint, David Robertson, and Mike Kruger, among others. So you don’t have to take it from me — it comes highly recommended! I really hope it will become the go-to book for ‘ordinary’ folk, both believers and skeptics, who are looking for a well-informed and well-argued response to this age-old question.

Bertrand Russell on Pragmatism

Pragmatism is the view that a belief or claim is ‘true’ not because it accurately represents the way things are, but because it has beneficial effects. Truth is what’s useful, what works, what gets results. Correspondingly, religious pragmatism is the view that religious beliefs should be deemed ‘true’ if and only if they have good effects. Obviously this is quite a departure from the commonsense view of religious beliefs and religious truth, according to which the statement “God exists” is true if and only if, as a matter of fact, God exists.

Bertrand Russell was no friend of orthodox religion, but his critique of William James’s religious pragmatism is both devastating (in my judgment) and a delight to read:

Bertrand RussellIn a chapter on pragmatism and religion he reaps the harvest. “We cannot reject any hypothesis if consequences useful to life flow from it.” “If the hypothesis of God works satisfactorily in the widest sense of the word, it is true.” “We may well believe, on the proofs that religious experience affords, that higher powers exist and are at work to save the world on ideal lines similar to our own.”

I find great intellectual difficulties in this doctrine. It assumes that a belief is “true” when its effects are good. If this definition is to be useful—and if not it is condemned by the pragmatist’s test—we must know (a) what is good, (b) what are the effects of this or that belief, and we must know these things before we can know that anything is “true,” since it is only after we have decided that the effects of a belief are good that we have a right to call it “true.” The result is an incredible complication. Suppose you want to know whether Columbus crossed the Atlantic in 1492. You must not, as other people do, look it up in a book. You must first inquire what are the effects of this belief, and how they differ from the effects of believing that he sailed in 1491 or 1493. This is difficult enough, but it is still more difficult to weigh the effects from an ethical point of view. You may say that obviously 1492 has the best effects, since it gives you higher grades in examinations. But your competitors, who would surpass you if you said 1491 or 1493, may consider your success instead of theirs ethically regrettable. Apart from examinations, I cannot think of any practical effects of the belief except in the case of a historian.

But this is not the end of the trouble. You must hold that your estimate of the consequences of a belief, both ethical and factual, is true, for if it is false your argument for the truth of your belief is mistaken. But to say that your belief as to consequences is true is, according to James, to say that it has good consequences, and this in turn is only true if it has good consequences, and so on ad infinitum. Obviously this won’t do.

There is another difficulty. Suppose I say there was such a person as Columbus, every one will agree that what I say is true. But why is it true? Because of a certain man of flesh and blood who lived 450 years ago—in short, because of the causes of my belief, not because of its effects. With James’s definition, it might happen that “A exists” is true although in fact A does not exist. I have always found that the hypothesis of Santa Claus “works satisfactorily in the widest sense of the word”; therefore “Santa Claus exists” is true, although Santa Claus does not exist. James says (I repeat): “If the hypothesis of God works satisfactorily in the widest sense of the word, it is true.” This simply omits as unimportant the question whether God really is in His heaven; if He is a useful hypothesis, that is enough. God the Architect of the Cosmos is forgotten; all that is remembered is belief in God, and its effects upon the creatures inhabiting our petty planet. No wonder the Pope condemned the pragmatic defence of religion.

We come here to a fundamental difference between James’s religious outlook and that of religious people in the past. James is interested in religion as a human phenomenon, but shows little interest in the objects which religion contemplates. He wants people to be happy, and if belief in God makes them happy let them believe in Him. This, so far, is only benevolence, not philosophy; it becomes philosophy when it is said that if the belief makes them happy it is “true.” To the man who desires an object of worship this is unsatisfactory. He is not concerned to say, “If I believed in God I should be happy”; he is concerned to say, “I believe in God and therefore I am happy.” And when he believes in God, he believes in Him as he believes in the existence of Roosevelt or Churchill or Hitler; God, for him, is an actual Being, not merely a human idea which has good effects. It is this genuine belief that has the good effects, not James’s emasculate substitute. It is obvious that if I say “Hitler exists” I do not mean “the effects of believing that Hitler exists are good.” And to the genuine believer the same is true of God.

James’s doctrine is an attempt to build a superstructure of belief upon a foundation of scepticism, and like all such attempts it is dependent on fallacies. In his case the fallacies spring from an attempt to ignore all extra-human facts. Berkeleian idealism combined with scepticism causes him to substitute belief in God for God, and to pretend that this will do just as well. But this is only a form of the subjectivistic madness which is characteristic of most modern philosophy.

Indeed.

(Source: A History of Western Philosophy, 2007 ed., pp. 817-18)

Brian Abasciano on John 3:16

Dr. Brian Abasciano recently posted an article on the Society of Evangelical Arminians website in response to an “untenable grammatical argument” offered by (so he claims) James White, Guillaume Bignon, James A. Gibson, and yours truly. Dr. Abasciano generously describes me as a “respectable Calvinist philosopher” (who are the disreputable ones, I wonder?) even though he thinks I committed an “embarrassing mistake” (if so, at least I’m in good company).

Drs. Bignon and Gibson have replied here. Dr. White made some excellent comments in response on The Dividing Line (April 24 episode). I don’t have much to add to these, but I’ll make a few observations of my own.

Continue reading