Category Archives: Epistemology

Keep calm and carry on

Suppose I’m trying to live a Christian life.

Jesus is the Word, and the Word clearly says that the most important rules in life are to love God and to love others.

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Then one of [the Pharisees], which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,

Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

This is the first and great commandment.

And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (KJV)

I’m an abject sinner. Nonetheless, I do try to do what’s right. In fact, I’ve mostly always tried to do what’s right. Even before I turned to Christ. You see, I have an inbuilt moral compass. A God-given moral compass. God is the font of morality.

Just as we all have an inbuilt knowledge of God, so, too, we all have an inbuilt moral compass. What is a moral compass, exactly? The term ‘moral compass’ is shorthand for a set of moral sentiments, certain basic moral beliefs and the ability to engage in moral deliberation. And empathy. Hence the Golden Rule.

Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them. (ESV)

Your moral compasss is kind of like a speedometer in a car. If you’re trying to keep to the speed limit (as, of course, you should) then respect what your speedometer tells you.

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We’re all supposed to have a God-given moral compass, one that points due moral north. Just in case it’s a bit broken and wavery, our parents are supposed to teach us right from wrong.

Not all parents are perfect, however. As a result of imperfect parenting, sometimes our children turn out to be gluttonous, stubborn, rebellious drunkards, who curse us.

Sometimes our children even commit heinous crimes and end up in jail.

I was in prison and you came to me. (ESV)

Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them. (ESV)

As parents, we stand by our children. We love them, no matter what. At least, that’s what most parents do or would do and it’s what my moral compass tells me is how parents should treat their prodigal offspring. (I’m lucky in that my own children are model citizens. 🙂 )

But certain passages in the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament, also known as the Pentateuch) tell an entirely different story.

For anyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother; his blood is upon him. (ESV)

If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear. (ESV)

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Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (ESV)

I wish that others wouldn’t batter me with rubble.

I was once a stubborn and rebellious son who didn’t obey the voice of his father. Had I been stoned to death with stones by all the men of the city I wouldn’t be writing this here today. Luckily all that happened was an interview with my school headmaster. Hang all the Law and the Prophets!

When my moral compass and the Torah collide, I follow Jesus.

diSsIMuLAtion

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Where are the moderate Muslim voices condemning the violence?

That’s what the likes of Fox News ask whenever masked terrorists shouting “Allahu Akbar” fire shots with automatic weapons killing swathes of innocent Westerners before departing the scene shouting, “We have avenged the Prophet Mohammed,” as happened in the recent Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris.

Fox’s own Monica Crowley, for example, said that Muslims “should be condemning” the attack and that she hadn’t “heard any condemnation… from any groups.” Fox News’ America’s Newsroom guest Steve Emerson complained, “you don’t see denunciations of radical Islam, by name, by mainstream Islamic groups.” Bob Beckel, a host of Fox News’ The Five host said Muslims were “being quiet” about the shooting and accused the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) of keeping “their mouth shut when things happen.”

Raw Story gives 46 examples of Muslim outrage about Paris shooting that Fox News can’t seem to find in an attempt to discredit Fox News.

Wait, what? Only 46 examples? A good many of the cited condemnations of the violence are tweets from individuals on Twitter. There are a handful from the foreign ministers of Muslim countries. Only a dozen or so statements are from representatives of large Islamic organisations. But there are between 1.5 and 2 billion Muslims in the world, depending on who’s counting. 46 out of billions isn’t very many. It’s near silence from the so-called moderate Muslim majority over this outrage!

Or so it might seem to someone predisposed to blame Islam, rather than Islamic extremism, for the all-too-frequent acts of Islam-related terrorism in today’s world. But the sad truth of the matter is that we simply don’t know how many moderate Muslims condemn durka durka Mohammed jihad. And we don’t know whether they’d be reported doing so by the MSM if they did.

I posted a couple of pictures of moderate Muslims demonstrating for peace before. Clearly one of them is photoshopped, but which one? (Perhaps they both are. I forget.)

Will the real Islam please stand up? Are the masked homicidal gunmen who stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo the true representatives of Islam? Or is the hard-working and law-abiding Muslim family who own and run your corner store the true faces of the religion of peace?

Seriously, folks. Can’t you see that there’s an epistemic problem here? Is Islam the root cause of the problem? Or something else? I don’t really know and, may I respectively suggest, neither do you.

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Credit where it’s due says blogger Brendan McNeill, upon whom I rely to keep tabs on what Mohammed’s followers are up to.

I have previously reflected that nothing short of a reformation of Islam will ever allow its followers to co-exist peacefully with other faith communities. It seems the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is himself a Muslim, agrees and is apparently unafraid to say so.

Speaking before Al-Azhar and the Awqaf Ministry on New Year’s Day, 2015, and in connection to Prophet Muhammad’s upcoming birthday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a vocal supporter for a renewed vision of Islam, made what must be his most forceful and impassioned plea to date on the subject.

McNeill then quotes from al-Sisi’s speech in which the Egyptian President declares that Islam “is in need of a religious revolution,” before concluding

President Sisi is a brave man. Normally, to utter these words would be an automatic death sentence. It may still prove to be.

Is al-Sisi’s speech a reason for optimism? Perhaps, but there’s a bigger problem than that which already makes al-Sisi’s future assassination a very real possibility. A further epistemic problem to exacerbate the one we already have.

I’ve previously blogged on tawriya which is the Muslim doctrine of double entendre.

Now here’s Wikipedia to say a few words about taqiyya, the Muslim doctrine that allows lying in certain circumstances—primarily when Muslim minorities live under infidel authority.

In Shi’a Islam, taqiyya (تقیة taqiyyah/taqīyah) is a form of religious dissimulation, or a legal dispensation whereby a believing individual can deny his faith or commit otherwise illegal or blasphemous acts while they are in fear or at risk of significant persecution. The corresponding concept in Sunni Islam is known as idtirar (إضطرار) “coercion”. A related concept is known as kitman “concealment; dissimulation by omission”. Also related is the concept of ḥiyal, legalistic deception practiced not necessarily in a religious context but to gain political or legalistic advantage.

Can we trust any of the moderate Muslims condemning violent jihad? Can we even trust al-Sisi? A friend on Facebook thinks we can’t. He says

be in no doubt it was a very brave thing for Sisi to say unless of course he is practicing Taquiyya which is the islamic doctrine of being able to lie or decieve to protect or further islam.

I don’t know if we can trust al-Sisi or not. How could I know? (He’s a politician, after all.)

Christianity does not permit lying. Not even white lies. We are called to worship God in spirit and in truth. The fact that Islam does permit lying in certain circumstances and even has a name for the practice is of the utmost concern.

Not least because it gives anti-Islamic factions in Western society a free pass to practise a modern-day form of medieval witch dunking, also known as ordeal by water.

Ordeal by water was associated with the witch hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries: an accused who sank was considered innocent, while floating indicated witchcraft.

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Innocent accused who sank drowned. Guilty accused who floated were executed for witchcraft. So the accused was damned if she did, damned if she didn’t. (See also the Biblical test for an unfaithful wife.)

Muslims who don’t protest the violence of their extremist co-religionists are accused of condoning terrorism by not speaking out. Muslims who do protest are accused of committing taqiyya. Thus, in the eyes of many, there are no moderate Muslims, just as there were none left living among those women of medieval times accused, rightly or wrongly, of witchcraft.

(Point illustrated. In fact, with respect to dunking, “the notion that the ordeal was flatly devised as a situation without any possibility of live acquittal, even if the outcome was ‘innocent’, is a modern elaboration.”)

Lying is wrong. And the fate of all habitual liars is that eventually no one believes them. That Muslims are so widely regarded with suspicion is a fate that Islam has wrought upon itself.

Slow down

Suppose I’m driving down the road.

It’s a built-up area and the road signage clearly indicates that the designated speed limit is 50 km/h.

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I’m late, I’m in a hurry, I’m supposed to be somewhere. Nonetheless, I try to keep to the speed limit. Glancing down at my speedometer, I see that the reading is steady on 50 km/h.

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I maintain my current speed. Well and good.

Then, looking up, I see I’m approaching one of those radar speed signs that displays the speed of the immediately oncoming vehicle, mine. It reads 80 km/h and flashes me to SLOW DOWN.

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How fast am I really going?

Should I slow down? Or should I keep calm and carry on?

I’m an agnostic. (Don’t ask me why.)

Last month I posted the following Facebook status.

I’m an agnostic. (Don’t ask me why.)

I meant it mainly as a joke.

Let me explain. An agnostic is someone who doesn’t know. So if you ask me why I’m an agnostic, I’m going to answer, “I don’t know!”

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I meant it mainly as a joke, but I also meant it partly as a statement of fact about me.

The term ‘agnostic’ was coined by 19th century English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley (who, incidentally, is best remembered as “Darwin’s Bulldog” for his advocacy of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution). He derived the term from the (Ancient) Greek ἀ- (a-), meaning “without”, and γνῶσις (gnōsis), meaning “knowledge”. Hence, the literal meaning of ‘agnostic’ is someone without knowledge. Huxley said

Agnosticism, in fact, is not a creed, but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle … Positively the principle may be expressed: In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And negatively: In matters of the intellect do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable.

Agnosticism is not a creed. Agnosticism says nothing about anything. That’s how it’s entirely possible (and, in my opinion, entirely desirable) to be both an agnostic and a Christian.

Agnosticism is not a creed. It’s a method(ology) only. And it’s about what conclusions are certain. (I’m not sure, but I think I’m not entirely certain about anything.)

I’ve studied more than enough philosophy to know not to put too much trust in the evidence of the senses or the deliverances of human reason. That’s one reason why the following is one of my favourite scriptures.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight. (NASB)

Do not lean on your own understanding. Seems pretty agnostic to me.

Sensus divinitatis

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For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (NIV)

A while ago I borrowed a friend’s copy of the New Scientist’s special edition, the God Issue. (Note to self: Return it!) Contrary to the tiresome claim of online atheist trolls, that everyone’s born an atheist, it turns out that

The vast majority of humans are “born believers”, naturally inclined to find religious claims and explanations attractive and easily acquired, and to attain fluency in using them.

Justin L. Barrett, the author of the article, then goes on to say

This attraction to religion is an evolutionary by-product of our ordinary cognitive equipment, and while it tells us nothing about the truth or otherwise of religious claims it does help us see religion in an interesting new light.

Of course, Barrett would say that. And, of course, that’s not the only explanation of human beings’ natural tendency to theism. Reformation theologian John Calvin wrote that

God himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with some idea of his Godhead, the memory of which he constantly renews and occasionally enlarges

Calvin explains, Barrett explains away. The distinction between explaining and explaining away is an important one. I think the consistent atheist/Naturalist incurs an unfeasibly costly explanatory overhead.

But that discussion’s for another day. Really, this somewhat shallow blog post of my own is just a protracted excuse to post some awesome Christian deathcore from awesome Christian deathcore band I Built The Cross.

For somewhat greater depth on the current topic, I recommend Glenn Peoples’s awesome blog post Born Atheists? Science and Natural belief in God.

See also Psalm 19:1 (for something a little more soothing).

In the jar

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Once upon a time I was a real philosopher. I wasn’t a very good philosopher then, and I’m certainly not now, but here’s an argument for the truth of Christianity. If you fancy yourself as a philosopher, feel free to shoot my argument down in flames. But if you fancy yourself as a real philosopher, do what a real philosopher would do. Improve my argument, so that it’s as good an argument as it can possibly be. And then shoot it down in flames!

Okay, so here goes. Lately, something called the multiverse theory has become popular in atheist circles. It purports to explain why the universe we live in appears to be fine-tuned for the existence of life, without the universe we live in actually being fine-tuned for the existence of life. Because what best explains the fact that the universe we live in is fine-tuned for the existence of life, if it’s the only universe, is the existence of a creator God. If, however, our universe is only one of trillions upon trillions of other actual parallel universes, each with different physical laws and constants, then we can find the explanation for the apparent fine-tuning of the universe we happen to inhabit in the so-called anthropic principle. Basically, we’re here because of sheer, dumb luck and the probabilistic resources of a multiverse.

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As far as I’m aware, there’s no empirical evidence for the multiverse theory, but it does at least explain why most atheists believe in pink unicorns. So there is that. Now, my argument appeals to the idea of multiple possible universes. The possible worlds heuristic has been a mainstay of academic philosophy for a very long time. Since I’ve been around, anyway. I think my argument only depends on the existence of a finite number of possible universes, and not on the existence of an infinite number of actual universes, but I’m not sure. But the question is, if there are multiple possible universes, but only one actual universe, which of the multiple possible universes is the actual universe we live in?

Well, it could be that the universe we live in is, in actual fact, contained in a tiny glass jar placed neatly on the shelf of an alien child’s room. It’s a logical possibility. The thing to note about this possibility is that it’s a possibility that our universe is contained within another universe. Thus, this possibility is a variant of what I have elsewhere called supernaturalism. Naturalism, as I define it, is the view that the world we know is a stand-alone affair. It’s not contained within anything else, or a product of anything else. It’s self-sufficient from go to whoa. It just is. Whereas, supernaturalism is the view that the world we live in—and all it contains, including us—is an artefact.

Now consider all the logically possible universes. Logically speaking, what is the likelihood that the one-and-only actual universe is a self-contained universe, as opposed to a universe contained within a greater reality? Bear in mind that the the universe inhabited by the alien child, in whose room our universe is contained in a jar on a shelf, could itself be contained in another jar on a shelf in some uber-alien child’s room. That’s right, for every possible self-contained universe, there are an infinite number of possible nested universes containing that universe. So it’s highly likely that we live in a nested universe.

God is eternal. The claim that God is eternal is often taken to mean (as I take it to mean) that God is “outside” time and space. God is outside the time and space fabric of our universe, which means that our universe is “inside” the outside reality in which God dwells. If Christianity is true, we live in a nested universe.

There are two types of possible nested universes. Those in which the creator in the containing universe has communicated with the inhabitants of the contained universe, and those in which the creator hasn’t. What would our world look like if we lived in a universe within a universe? Moreover, one in which the creator outside had communicated with us in the jar? It would look exactly like this one looks if Christianity were true. Therefore, Christianity is true.

Perhaps my argument, such as it is, is a variant of an argument that C. S. Lewis presents in Mere Christianity. According to Lewis, we should expect the unexpected.

Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have.

So, there it is. It’s not an argument I’m about to write up and submit to a peer-reviewed academic journal any time soon, but hey. I’m only a jar of clay.

What is real?

The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. (NIV)

In what sense is the world “real”? What are we asking, when we ask that question?

Anna Salamon doesn’t know. I don’t know. Perhaps Jordan Peterson knows.

I’m going to talk to you today about a different way of looking at what real is.

It’s not easy to figure out what real is because we don’t really have infinite knowledge and so we’re always making some sets of presuppositions about what’s most real.

It really matters what you assume is most real because you base the decisions that you make, that run the entire course of your life, on those assumptions, whether you recognise it or not. And if you get the assumptions wrong, or even if you leave them incomplete, you’re going to pay a big price for it.

See also The Naturalist and the Supernaturalist.

What is rationality? (Part 2)

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What is rationality? The truth is, it’s something that most of us don’t actually have.

But we sure like to kid ourselves.

Here’s a quote I saw on Facebook from someone called Deidra Mae Ryan.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately that a lot of homosexuals and their supporters consistently state that God made them this way and that it isn’t a biblical or church issue its a human rights issue.

I keep coming back to the fact that if God had intended homosexuality to be natural then he would’ve made it possible for us to procreate without the need of the opposite sex AND then why did God only create 1 woman and 1 man in the beginning. Then there is the fact that God destroyed 2 major cities in part due to homosexuality, Sodom and Gomorrah. If God had intended for homosexuality to be part of our natural being then why destroy those cities?

Personally I believe people get so steeped in their sin that they have blinders on and refuse to see the truth. I see it over and over, not just with sexual sins. They don’t want to see and admit that they are wrong. What’s more, is that it’s our human nature to justify all our wrong choices, even if that means we make up our own truth…case in point – Homosexuals and their supporters coming up with every excuse in the book to justify the choice of homosexuality.

We all do it with our own individual sins.

Please note that this is not a judgement on homosexuals and homosexuality. I’m also not convinced that Ryan’s logic is sound. I post this for her conclusion, “I believe people get so steeped in their sin that they have blinders on and refuse to see the truth …” This is so very true.

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. (KJV)

It’s also very true that people get so steeped in their own particular worldview and its presuppositions that they have blinders on and refuse to see the truth.

For a long time, I accepted the tenets of atheistic materialism. They seemed obviously true. And I rejected the tenets of Christianity. They seemed obviously false. And I had plenty of arguments with which to ably defend my worldview. But then I thought about what I was doing. Doing exactly that. Using rational argument to defend a worldview I already had. As opposed to putting all my presuppositions aside and taking all the arguments, both for and against theism, together and on their own merits, to see where they would lead (if, in fact, they lead anywhere).

[People] don’t want to see and admit that they are wrong. What’s more, is that it’s our human nature to justify all our wrong choices, even if that means we make up our own truth.

Man is not the rational animal. He’s the rationalising animal.

I acknowledge that I am generalising from my own intellectual habits to those of others, but I think that it’s legit to do so. I figure that other people have corrupt minds like mine.

I suggest that for the most part we all believe our own bullshit. Unashamedly.

I strive for intellectual honesty. I’ve recently reviewed many of the arguments for and against God’s existence, and tried to leave my ideological baggage at the door. I used to find the Design Argument unsatisfying inconclusive. Now I find it disconcertingly suggestive! I used to have serious doubts about God’s existence. Now I have serious doubts about his non-existence!

My Humean scepticism has stood me in good stead. I realise that man can truly know nothing based on reasoning from his limited sense data alone, unless he posits the existence of a guarantor, e.g., God. This was Descartes’ way out of radical scepticism. God’s existence is taken to be axiomatic. Yes, it’s a bootstrapping method of escape. But so are all the others, e.g., positing a uniform and self-sufficient Nature, which is one of the methodological axioms of science and a metaphysical axiom of scientism.

From the perspective of an atheistic materialistic worldview, the tenets of the atheistic materialistic worldview make sense. But from the perspective of a Christian worldview, the tenets of the Christian worldview make even more sense. But not, perhaps, until one has adopted that very perspective.

How’s that for a rationalisation of my religious conversion? 😉


See also What is rationality (Part 1)