The topic of Church unity has been an interest of mine for a long time, but lately it's been on my mind more than usual.  I've had several interesting discussions about the topic recently, and have read some articles which have motivated me to think about it in more depth.  I'd like to use this post (and a future one) as a sort of blitzkrieg way to get some of these thoughts down on "paper," and share them for the purpose of stimulating further discussion.  As is often the case on this site, I will caution you that I am by no means an expert on this subject, and could definitely benefit from much deeper study here.  For now, take these thoughts with a large handful of salt, and consider them carefully.  I welcome any and all responses, especially those which might enhance this dialogue, because I consider this a very important issue.

Why Should Christians Care About Church Unity?

My first point will be a way of sharing the perspective by which I am approaching this topic.  While Church history is an area of interest to me, my primary motivation for thinking about this is the inspired words of scripture.  In the Gospel of John, chapter 17, verses 20-23, Jesus prays to the Father that those who believe in him, on account of the testimony of his disciples, would be unifed:

“I am not praying only on their behalf, but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their testimony, that they will all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. I pray that they will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. The glory you gave to me I have given to them, that they may be one just as we are one – I in them and you in me – that they may be completely one, so that the world will know that you sent me, and you have loved them just as you have loved me. [1]
This seems to me to show the importance that Jesus placed on Church unity; he obviously finds it important enough to pray to the Father about, and pray for it out loud in front of his disciples at that. The reason he seems to give for desiring unity is that a unified Church would be a better witness to the world than a divided one.  And Jesus isn't the only one in scripture who is concerned with unity.  In Paul's first epistle to the Corinthian church, he pleads with the brothers and sisters there to become more unified:

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to agree together, to end your divisions, and to be united by the same mind and purpose. For members of Chloe’s household have made it clear to me, my brothers and sisters, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each of you is saying, “I am with Paul,” or “I am with Apollos,” or “I am with Cephas,” or “I am with Christ.” Is Christ divided? Paul wasn’t crucified for you, was he? Or were you in fact baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name! (I also baptized the household of Stephanus. Otherwise, I do not remember whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel – and not with clever speech, so that the cross of Christ would not become useless. [2]
You can see by his language that there is a sense of urgency.  Apparently he has learned through Chloe's household of the division that exists in Corinth, and has written, at least in part, to rebuke the church for such division.  

I care about Church unity because it is clear to me through scripture that God cares about Church unity.  Jesus prayed out loud to the Father that future believers would be unified, and Paul rebukes the church in Corinth for their lack of unity.  But what exactly is meant by unity?  What would a unified Church look like?

What Does Church Unity Not Look Like?

I have heard it argued that the Church is already unified in the sense meant in the scripture I have referenced above, and in a way consistent with other tangentially related scripture.  Christians are unified, they have told me, through our shared belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior.  There's truth in that point; but is that the only sort of unity that Jesus and Paul were talking about in the above referenced verses?  I don't think it is.  My reason is that it doesn't fit the context of Jesus' prayer; that definition of unity would make Jesus' prayer tautologous.  The subject of Jesus' prayer is "those who believe in [him] on account of [the disciples'] testimony."  But if being unified is simply a matter of having a shared belief in Jesus, then the prayer amounts to Jesus praying to the Father that those who believe in him, would believe in him.  Similarly, this concept of unity does not fit the context of Paul's words in Corinthians.  He is speaking to the church of believers in Corinth, urging them to be unified.  But if they are already believers, then unity must mean something more than sharing belief in Christ.[3]

So if Jesus and Paul meant unity to mean something beyond a simple shared belief in Jesus, what exactly would Church unity look like?  Before I attempt to answer that question (Spoiler Alert: I don't completely know. Although I do have some ideas.), let's look at two ways that the unified Church will probably not look like.

Regarding this topic, it seems that there is a spectrum upon which most opinions lie.  On one end of the spectrum is a very superficial unity.  Christians will be unified if they can just forget all about current denominations, ignore doctrinal differences, and sit around a campfire singing Kumbaya
(Side Note: Why do people that are getting along always have to sing Kumbaya? It's a terrible song. Can't we find a better song to sing together, like, oh, something by Taylor Swift? It could be very edifying if we were to encourage our brothers and sisters to shake it off.  The dust from their feet, that is.)

This sort of superficial "unity" fails to take two important things into account.  First, it fails to take into account that some theological differences are extremely important and have a significant potential to affect the life and health of the Church (of course, determining which doctrines fall in this category is a hard thing to do and something many disagree on).  Second, it fails to take into account Church history.  Over 500 years [4] of historical wounds have taken their toll on the Church. There have been wars, murders, massacres, slander and vitriol thrown around, and many more events that have left quite a bit more than a bad taste in many peoples' mouths.  To tell these different traditions to simply forget their differences and get along would be like telling a husband and wife who had separated because of serious issues (physical or verbal abuse, infidelity, etc) to reunite and live together like none of those issues had happened.  It's not realistic, and it's certainly not healthy.  If a husband and wife were to attempt to reunite under such circumstances, it would likely require years of counseling, if not much more extreme measures.  If we are to attempt to reunite different traditions in the Church, we must be prepared for a long hard road ahead.

On the other end of the spectrum are those who think that Church unity can only happen when every theological detail is reconciled. Of course, this is usually coupled with a belief that these Christians are the correct ones and Church unity will be achieved when everyone else believes exactly as they do.  Likewise, I think that this is unrealistic.  What two Christians (even in the same church) agree on everything?  Obviously agreement on absolutely everything is probably more extreme than most Christians consider necessary, but there are definitely many who come close.  It seems that these are the same Christians who cannot distinguish a difference in the priority of doctrine.[5]  All doctrines are equally important to them, and a difference of opinion on any of them is grounds for splitting and forming a new church (or perhaps excommunicating a minority from within a church).  Along with being unrealistic, this attitude is borderline sinful.  What other than pride would motivate a Christian to think that he or she has everything, even the most minor details, exactly correct?  This seems to be what Paul was rebuking the Corinthian church for in his epistle.  They were dividing on the minutia.

Summary Thus Far

Christians should care about Church unity because Jesus and Paul cared about Church unity. One of the reasons for desiring Church unity is that a unified Church is a better witness to the world than a fragmented one.  Once we accept this as a starting point, we are left asking what exactly Church unity looks like. I maintain that it is not a superficial assent to ignore all our differences and simply say we are united. On the other hand, Church unity will not come about through agreement on every minor theological detail. It will be somewhere in between these two extremes. Exactly where it lies in this spectrum will be discussed in my next post, as well as a brief overview of what strides are currently being made (and have been made) toward this end.

1. John 17:20-23 (NET)
2. 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 (NET)
3. I can see how some people, perhaps those who consider themselves Reformed, might happily accept this interpretation, vacuous as it seems at face value.  Jesus' words could be taken as an appeal to the Father to give to him those who the Father has already chosen.  In that sense, while future believers are already chosen by the Father, they have not yet been given to the Son (they do not yet consciously believe).  So Jesus could be seen as praying that this aspect of the Father's will be fulfilled.  While there are other verses that could lend credence to this concept, this seems like an unnecessary assumption to bring to this particular verse.  We would have no reason to come to this conclusion, unless we come to the text with an a priori assumption that the Church is currently unified in the sense that Jesus meant.  And if Paul and Jesus mean the same thing by unity in those verses that I referenced, unity cannot possibly be meant in this minimalist way.  This is because Paul's rebuke to the Corinthian believers takes place years after Jesus' prayer, years after his death and resurrection, and years after the Church is established at Pentacost!
4. We could go back much further if we include the schism between the Eastern and Western churches in the eleventh century AD.  I think this is an important and relevant event, even though many tend to think of this issue solely as one between Protestants and Catholics.
5.  Daniel Wallace has written a very good article about the doctrine of inerrancy which adequately discusses the need for a priority of doctrines:

I once had a mentor remark that we should, at some point in our spiritual development, form a theology of every part of life. A theology of thinking, a theology of work, a theology of eating, a theology of fellowship. You get the idea. If we are to give our lives fully to God, we are to base our thoughts and actions in every aspect of life on our Christian faith and our ideas about God. We are not to be compartmentalists, in which our faith occupies just one part of our lives. Rather, it should inform - nay, reform - every facet of our being.

To this end, one question we should ask ourselves is, "As Christians, what role do art, entertainment, and leisure have in our lives?" This has been an important question for those who fear God throughout history. But it seems especially significant today. I haven't done any great study on the free time of humanity throughout history, but I suspect we enjoy more of it now than in any other point in history. And because it occupies so much of our time and thought, we had better have a clear understanding of how it should be used to glorify God and edify his people.

I think you'll agree that in many ways our culture's obsession with leisure and entertainment has done some serious damage, and the church has not been spared. There are many instances in which some form of entertainment or way of life has entered into the church without much thought given to it, almost as if it entered through some form of osmosis. The walls of the church ought not be so permeable. Instead we should be vigilant about what makes its way into our lives, lest temptation and sin find yet another foothold. At the same time, we should not shut out all entertainment from our lives. I believe it can be beneficial, and that good entertainment can bring us towards God in a way that simply putting our nose to the grindstone every day can't.

Before we continue, I should mention two things. the first is that I won't spend any time discussing the definitions of art, entertainment, and leisure. The semantic issues don't interesting me, and I trust you have somewhat of an understanding of what the words "art," "entertainment," and "leisure" mean. There are some who may paint one of these in a positive light and another in a negative light in order to make a point, but I'm fine with lumping them all together for the sake of simplicity. Secondly - and this should be pretty obvious - this blog post certainly won't be the final answer on the subject. I'm sure many books could be written on the subject of our theology of entertainment. I only want to get us thinking about it, and to realize the importance of thinking about it.

Now, to answer the question "what role do art, entertainment, and leisure have in our lives?" we first have to answer a few other questions. What is the purpose of entertainment? Is it of any profit? Should we instead just work, study, and serve all day every day?

Entertainment in part gives us a break from the rigors of life. Long work days and many responsibilities are often draining. The right entertainment can also be immensely edifying. On more than one occasion, after a particularly amazing classical music concert, I have heard another Christian remark that such amazing music so wonderfully played in some hard-to-put-your-finger-on-it  way gives one a glimpse or vision of heaven, in a way that much of current worship music fails to.

As Christians, we can sometimes feel guilty about entertainment, and that need not be the case. We need rest. Even God took the time to rest after creation, and Jesus had times of rest as well. And entertainment can be a form of rest. Furthermore, entertainment has the ability to fill us with joy and laughter, and even bring us closer to God. Good entertainment doesn't avoid the deep questions. Instead it demands deep introspection. It should drive us towards greater godliness, to deeper relationships, to excellence in all that we do.

Entertainment is not a vacation from being a follower of Christ. I think that has been the downfall of many a Christian. The definite principles that guide how we live as Christians at work, in the marketplace of ideas, as friends and family, as the body of Christ, are all still in play. So what are those principles? Here are a few:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. [Philippians 4:8 ESV]
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. [I Corinthians 10:31 ESV]
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. [Romans 12:2 ESV]
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 
But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
    “Awake, O sleeper,        and arise from the dead,    and Christ will shine on you.”
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. [Ephesians 5:1-17 ESV]
No doubt you're familiar with these passages. And there are others that come to mind as well (the second half of 1 Peter 1, pretty much all of I Corinthians 10). I really like the list in Philippians 4:8. There is so much in art and entertainment that is lovely and excellent and commendable and noble. Even if it does not give praise to God in so many words, it nonetheless can give him praise through all those great qualities. I think it falls under common grace.

While it isn't my favorite series, I really enjoyed reading the Harry Potter books. In them, you find many noble characters with many kind qualities. You find sinister characters that may succeed in doing evil, but ultimately find a just end. There are many good lessons to be learned in the books. And there are a few gems like this: "Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy."[1] As Christianity Today put it, the books are a modern-day book of virtues with a per-pubescent funny bone.

And do any of us not love great music? There is so much music I find inspiring, encouraging, comforting, thrilling, intriguing...the list could go on seemingly forever. I am convinced that any great peace of music is in some way a reflection of our Creator. He came up with the whole idea of sound waves, after all.

Yes, I even think there are great movies. I think all of us have had the experience of leaving the movie theater wanting to be a better person because of the movie just saw. Now, often those movies will have a message of hope that falls short. Nonetheless, as Christians, we can still be inspired by such movies, for we know the real source of all hope and joy and love, and we are aware that those movies fall short but are pointing towards that which the movie cannot see yet we can.

Obviously most entertainment was not made with the motivation of glorifying God. It may still reflect some of his qualities, but that was not the reason it was made. But for us as Christians, our primary motive in creating and enjoying entertainment is to glorify God, as Paul explains in I Corinthians 10:31. Does it have to explicitly praise him? Of course not. That doesn't even make sense on the face of it. We're also to glorify God by the way we eat; but how do you say "praise God!" while chewing steak without spewing it everywhere? Similarly, our praise of God in entertainment comes by the way we go about it. But feel free to explicitly glorify God through entertainment as well! Bach was amazing at doing both. He set the gospels to some breathtaking music, and he wrote a prolific amount of instrumental music that remains among the best ever written. When listening through Robert Greenberg's Great Courses series on classical music, I was amazed to hear him say that Bach's faith and artistry were so intertwined as to be almost indistinguishable. This is coming from someone who is, as far as I know, not a believer. Talk about an amazing witness!

In short, there is a tremendous amount in entertainment that is worth pursuing. That being said, with the principles in Romans 12:2 and Ephesians 5 in mind, there is a lot we should avoid. And Paul puts those things in no uncertain terms. I don't think I need to elaborate. But it's not just what sort of things we do to entertainment ourselves that is important, it's the purpose of our seeking that entertainment and the amount of time we spend with that entertainment.

If we're seeking some form of entertainment in order to shirk a responsibility we have, even if that entertainment is entirely wholesome, we do disservice to our calling. Our motive in seeking entertainment is important. The amount of time we spend is also important. Netflix binge-ing is almost worn as a badge of honor these days. But sinking an entire weekend just to watch an entire season of a show isn't a terribly good use of time.

Now everything I have said up to this point is fairly clear. Avoid sinful entertainment, pursue praiseworthy entertainment. And for most situations, these principles clearly divide the beneficial from the harmful. But invariably we run into situations in which it isn't entirely clear whether some piece of entertainment is permissible. Say some film has a very solid central message about truth or loyalty, but is pretty heavy-handed with its depiction of violence. Should we subject ourselves to that violence for the sake of the central message of the movie or not? That is not an easy question. And this I think is where a lot of Christians trip up.

Thankfully, the Bible itself provides an example to follow. In it, there is adultery, incest, murder, torture, persecution, lying, thievery, slander, and a ton of other really awful stuff. It doesn't avoid these issues. But it also never, ever praises them. They are there as a warning. They are also there so we can see how God is sovereign over everything, and can work through even the most tragic events towards his good.

And there are yet more principles in the Bible we can turn to, when it comes to what we see as morally grey areas. Consider this passage:
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. [I Corinthians 6:12]
Paul here exposes a common mistake when a Christian finds freedom from the law through Christ. This freedom does not give us license to throw away prudence, discernment, and wisdom. We are still to obey, not as a means of attaining salvation, but because we are saved through Christ.

Here's a fairly all-encompassing passage:
For whatever does not proceed from faith is a sin. [Romans 14:23]
I suspect that deep down, with some entertainment we muzzle the Holy Spirit - perhaps not consciously - by justifying or rationalizing the entertainment. "Yes, this show does have a fair amount of sexual content. Well really there's a ton. But the plot is so good. And there are several characters that are very noble." I've noticed in such a situation, the Christian sometimes takes on a air of spiritual maturity. "Perhaps for these weaker Christians this may be harmful, or to the more simple-minded Christians it may be objectionable, but I in my maturity will certainly not be ensnared by whatever evil I find in this entertainment." That is a good clue that we've gotten off track. There comes a point where we need to realize that we are trying to justify something that isn't justifiable.

I hope you're not getting the idea we should avoid entertainment that has any negativity in it. To teach any moral lesson, we have to show the consequences of wrong-doing. For example, I think you could make a case that a torture scene in a movie is not inappropriate. As long as that scene doesn't glory in torture. If we see a character persevering in the face of such adversity, I think we can find real inspiration in that. One of my favorite films is The Scarlet and the Black. It depicts the life of Hugh O'Flaherty - and Irish-born Roman Catholic priest - during the Nazi occupation of Rome. He and others rescued thousands of Jews and POWs from the clutches of the Nazis, and they faced intimidation, assassination attempts, blackmail, and even torture and death as a result. It is a simply gripping film.

I have two more thoughts before finishing up. Invariably we will run into situations in which one Christian will be perfectly fine with a piece of entertainment, while another will object. Even after really thinking through all these issues in arriving at a theology of entertainment, we will have disagreement. My recommendation is to yield to the person who has an objection, even if you disagree. Better that than to cause a sister or brother to stumble, or to create unnecessary division.

One last piece of advice: when in doubt, flee. Better to embarrass yourself in front of friends - believers or unbelievers - or waste money on a ticket than to risk poisoning your soul.

Much of this is pretty difficult to think about. Memories that now bring regret have flitted through my mind while writing it. And I find all this as difficult to follow as anyone. This post has barely scratched the surface of the subject. Even now there are verses and words of great Christians that I'd like to write about, but this post is already immense. I hope nonetheless it provides you with a good start in forming a theology of entertainment.


1. Technically that quote is from the movie. The rendering in the book is a bit different, and was in a context I didn't feel like spending a lot of time explaining [spoiler: Cedric Diggory dies].
I was reflecting on the Interaction Problem today and had a few thoughts about it.  The problem is an objection against Cartesian Mind/Body Dualism, and goes roughly something like this: we can think of no possible mechanism for how an immaterial soul can interact with a material body.  If we can't come up with a mechanism, then it is likely that no such mechanism exists.  If no such mechanism exists, then an immaterial mind could not interact with a material body.  But the mind does interact with the body.  Therefore the mind must not be immaterial, and Cartesian Dualism is false.

Ignoring the potential issue with the Noseeum inference made in the argument (I don't see X, therefore X probably does not exist), another issue came to mind.  The whole argument revolves around the idea that it seems counter-intuitive that an immaterial substance (such as the Cartesian mind) could interact with a material substance (such as the body).  Perhaps even worse than counter-intuitive, it just seems strange. [1]

Let's also disregard the fact that counter-intuitiveness, and strangeness, are not good defeaters for an argument unrelated to those concepts (there are arguments from the Cartesian Dualist for why an immaterial soul must exist).  I still don't think the problem is as cutting as those who advance it would like to think.  Why? Well, when you think about it, it's really just as strange that material substances can interact with other material substances.  What is the mechanism for that type of interaction? Why think that such an interaction can take place?

But wait, you might say. We know that material substances interact with each other because we observe such interactions all the times in science (Or, you know, by just being aware of the world that we live in. But it's obviously more effective to shout "science" when objecting to something)!

Well, I might respond by saying that if Cartesian Dualism is true, then we regularly observe material and immaterial substances interacting together all the time, too.  Perhaps I'm just begging the question here, because we would have to assume that those type of interactions can take place in order to posit that Cartesian Dualism is true.  But if I am, then so are those who believe in material/material interactions.

This is because if we accept a broadly Humean metaphysics (a type of empiricism which most opponents of Cartesian Dualism seem to accept, implicitly or explicitly), then when we do science, we are not observing causal interactions at all.  Hume argued that we are really just observing the constant conjunction of events.  Humans have, Hume argued, a psychological tendency to infer from such constant conjunctions that a causal interaction has indeed taken place.  But let's be clear: if Hume is right, then we do not in fact observe the interaction of material substances.  Rather we infer such an interaction. So we have not directly observed such mechanisms for material/material interactions.  Given this lack of observation, these types of interactions appear just as strange as those being objected to!

Let's wind this up by summarizing what I am intending to show.  No, actually let's start by summarizing what I am not trying to show. I am not trying to show that Hume was right about causation, nor that Cartesian Dualism is true. I happen to dispute both of those theses personally (though I dispute the former much more strongly than the latter, and my view on the latter is closer to Cartesian Dualism than it is to modern Physicalism). What this post does show is that most people who put forth this objection prove too much and therefore have reason to discard it.


A possible objection to this post (brought to my attention by Steve) is that we do know the mechanisms for material/material interaction. These mechanisms are the fundamental forces, or the physical laws.  But I don't think this solves the problem. First, there is widespread disagreement over the actual nature of these concepts.  Are they prescriptive, or are they simply descriptive?  Do these laws or forces actually compel materials to interact with each other in certain ways (which seems, again, very strange), or are they simply names and descriptions we have given to certain behavior that we perceive. And that leads me to my second point: regardless of whether these fundamental laws or forces are descriptive or prescriptive, have we actually observed them? Or are we inferring them from the constant conjunction of events that we do observe? I submit that we have not observed them, and these concepts (though they sound more eloquent) fall to the same argument that Hume put forth from the start.

1.  The term I have most often seen in philosophical literature in this context is "queer."  Due to the charged nature with which this word has come to be perceived, I have chosen to use the word "strange" instead.

Some time ago I finished reading "Mind and Cosmos" by Thomas Nagel, philosopher at New York University.  I am not going to do a series on the book.  If you would like to check out a series on the book far superior to anything I could do (and from a much more scholastic perspective than our blog) check out Edward Feser's series here.

Thomas Nagel is one of the more influential philosophers right now. And though he is a committed atheist, he doesn't do a very good job of towing the line when it comes to secular orthodoxy that holds so much sway in universities today.

At any rate, I came across some vexing quotes I thought worth sharing.  Here is one that very much goes against the grain of scientific orthodoxy.
As I have said, doubts about the reductionist account of life go against the dominant scientific consensus, but that consensus faces problems of probability that I believe are not taken seriously enough, both with respect to the evolution of life forms through accidental mutation and natural selection and with respect to the formation from dead matter of physical systems capable of such evolution.  The more we learn about the intricacy of the genetic code and its control of the chemical processes of life, the harder those problems seem.[1]
Nagel certainly isn't the first to voice these ideas, but he is unique in that while serious Christian thinkers have voiced similar ideas, he is one of very few atheists who is willing to do so. One thing you shouldn't do, though, while reading quotes of his like this is to think that he is edging towards some sort of deism of theism. Rather, he merely suggests that the materialist reductionist oligarchy today is off-base. His contention is that non-material things also exist, and that there is some non-material explanation at the root of many of our vexing questions. He sketches some ideas in the book, but you'll have to read it to learn more. Another quote:
If we continue to assume that we are parts of the physical world and that the evolutionary process that brought us into existence is part of its history, then something must be added to the physical conception of the natural order that allows us to explain how it can give rise to organisms that are more than physical.  The resources of physical science are not adequate for this purpose, because those resources were developed to account for data of a completely different kind.[2]
He really drives the point home here:
The existence of consciousness is both one of the most familiar and one of the most astounding things about the world.  No conception of the natural order that does not reveal it as something to be expected can aspire even to the outline of completeness.  And if physical science, whatever it may have to say about the origin of life, leaves us necessarily in the dark about consciousness, that shows that it cannot provide the basic form of intelligibility for this world.  There must be a very different way in which things as they are make sense, and that includes the way the physical world is, since the problem cannot be quarantined in the mind.[3]
In noting the difference between basic "animal" consciousness and reason, he states:
Reason can take us beyond the appearances because it has completely general validity, rather than merely local utility.  If we have it, we recognize that it can be neither confirmed nor undermined by a theory of its evolutionary origins, nor by any other external view of itself.  We cannot distance ourselves from it.  That was Descartes' insight.[4]
And finally, in criticizing the Anthropic Principle as an explanation for our existence, Nagel makes this beautiful remark.  I actually laughed out loud when I read it.
If I ask for an explanation of the fact that the air pressure in the transcontinental jet is close to that at sea level, it is no answer to point out that if it weren't, I'd be dead.[5]

1.  Nagel, Mind and Cosmos, p. 9
2.  Ibid., p. 46
3.  Ibid., p. 53
4.  Ibid., p. 82
5.  Ibid., p. 95
Several years ago, while reading Chesterton's Orthodoxy, I was impressed by his ability to expose many of the great criticisms of Christianity for their inconsistency.  He noted that, prior to becoming a Christian, he would no sooner be swayed by some criticism of Christianity, than a contradictory one would grab his attention.  Consider this quote:
As I read and re-read all the non-Christian or anti-Christian accounts of the faith, from Huxley to Bradlaugh, a slow and awful impression grew gradually but graphically upon my mind -- the impression that Christianity must be a most extraordinary thing. For not only (as I understood) had Christianity the most flaming vices, but it had apparently a mystical talent for combining vices which seemed inconsistent with each other. It was attacked on all sides and for all contradictory reasons. No sooner had one rationalist demonstrated that it was too far to the east than another demonstrated with equal clearness that it was much too far to the west. No sooner had my indignation died down at its angular and aggressive squareness than I was called up again to notice and condemn its enervating and sensual roundness. [1]
Chesterton goes on to explain five examples of such contradictory sets of criticisms, noting that he could easily come up with fifty more.  I will not in this post discuss each of these examples, but I do encourage you to pick up this book as soon as there is a chance.  You will not regret it.  While pondering this idea though, I began to wonder about the separate criticisms that Christianity is both drearily pessimistic and foolishly optimistic.

Now the first criticism is that Christianity is far too pessimistic on its view of human nature.  It is, of course, an orthodox Christian view that man is in a state of sinfulness and rebellion against God.  Many Christian theologians will go, and historically have gone, to the extent of arguing that man is totally depraved.  In other words, no aspect of a human being's life can be considered wholly good apart from God's grace.  Our rottenness is so pervasive that we are unable to help ourselves in this respect.   Consider this post from a few months ago discussing this view.

The second criticism is that Christianity is foolishly optimistic in its understanding of future states of affairs.  The after-life is just an invention, they say, to make us feel better about two facts: first, that there is a great amount of suffering in this world, and second, that we will all eventually die and this life will end.  We have made-believe the idea of heaven in order to give ourselves hope where there is none.  Life sucks, and then you die.  Death and taxes.  Yada yada yada.  Of course Christians do not believe that the Church has made this idea up, but the idea itself is another orthodox belief.  Christians believe that because of Jesus Christ's death and resurrection, we will also be resurrected in the end, and God will make all things new.

If this set of criticisms fits Chesterton's template, then we can disregard them as insincere attempts to undermine the Christian faith.  But I don't think they do fit the template after all. I think that both claims are true, except insofar as they are said to be errors.  Christianity is dreadfully pessimistic and hopefully optimistic at the same time. The glass is both half empty and half full (of course you math types will recognize that this is always the case and that the analogy is stupid.  And then you engineering types will see that the entire question is framed wrong in the first place: the glass is actually just twice as tall as it needs to be).  The answer is that Christianity is pessimistic with respect to human nature, and optimistic with respect to God's love, grace, and power.  The Apostle Paul's letter to the Romans says that "God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  I think this highlights the seeming inconsistency between Christianity's optimism and pessimism.  We are rotten, but He is good.  We are unable to save ourselves, but He has already saved us.  We are doomed to a short life full of suffering, but He will raise us from the dead to live eternally on a redeemed and newly created earth.

It shouldn't really be a surprise that the atheist/agnostic/skeptic is critical of both sides of this coin.  On the Christian view, that's been the conflict from the beginning.  We want to lift ourselves up, and tear God out of His throne.  Humanism has always been the enemy of the Church because our pride wants to make us the focus, rather than God.  That is how Eve stumbled in the garden: the serpent promised that by eating the fruit she would become like God.  So as opposed to being valid criticisms, I think these simply bring to the forefront the main difference between a Christian worldview and a Humanistic one.

1. Chesterton, 1908

It's said that we are living in the Information Age. Similar to the Industrial Revolution that brought about the Industrial Age and changed society forever, the Digital Revolution has led us into the Information Age. But I see as much misinformation as I do information.

I remember growing up hearing about all the ills of society that technology and progress would solve, all the ways it would make life easier, more convenient, more connected, more exciting, safer, more secure; on and on the benefits went. I found this a bit baffling. Everyone seemed to assume that people would somehow change with technology.

But things certainly haven't turned out entirely positive. There have been some real advantages, but there have been serious problems that have been overlooked, both in the church and in society at large.

The church seemed to be caught up in the excitement, and largely failed to anticipate some of the dangers. Pornography has now ravaged the church, thanks to its easy access on the internet. And while I don't have any direct evidence, Christians probably spend significantly less time reading their bibles these days than fifty years ago. Or even twenty. This is due in large part to the truly ludicrous amount of entertainment that we have at our disposal.

Perhaps the simplest example of the church failing to see the dangers of technology is church websites. Church websites used to be fairly rare; they're now ubiquitous. No harm in that, right? Not necessarily, but consider this: a few years ago church websites overtook pornographic websites as being the most likely to contain malware. Now, obviously, these churches aren't planting malware to torment their congregation or any other visitors. The malware is coming from the outside, because the websites are insecure, and the coding is often fairly sloppy. (Does this remind anyone of Matthew 10:16? "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves."] Proper understanding has not been given to the design of these websites, and churches come off as rather naive.

This is not to say that the church has been sitting on its hands when it comes to technology. The growth of solid Christian websites and online resources, the availability of sermon audio, great Christian podcasts, and the fact that we can have the Bible in our pocket has been a huge blessing to me and to many other Christians. So, when the church has realized the potential for good in technology, the results are wonderful. But it often overlooks the potential for evil.

And it's not just the church, but society as a whole. Online shopping is all the rage. So is online scamming and the mass theft of financial information. Sure, Blue Shield made it more convenient to store everything electronically for me (without my say in the matter), but it was rather inconvenient for me when they then practically gift-wrapped my personal information for hackers by storing it all in PlainText.

There's also the massive invasion of privacy due in large part to social media and smartphones (and then there's the NSA, but that's simply too depressing for me to delve into). What I have found most amazing about social media and the use of smartphones is the we have willingly given away our privacy just for sake of entertainment and "connectedness." The amount of personal information we have made available to Facebook, Google, and thousands of apps is simply astounding. There are apps that have access to the contacts, texts, emails, camera, and microphone on our phones, and we just assumed the coders on the other end of the app will be completely ethical with that sort of power.

Then there's the ever-increasing rate at which news stories break. Except now the information is becoming more and more inaccurate, and no one is being held accountable. Frankly, hardly anyone even bothers to confirm whether a story is accurate or not. It just catches fire on Twitter and that's it-- too late to back out. The story is then stamped on our collective consciousness without a shred of reliable information. Wikipedia is one of the out-workings of the digital revolution that I have been more a fan of than not, but even it has its faults. Look up any contentious issue having to do with theology, ethics, philosophy, and politics, and you'll probably find the Wikipedia article is laced with bias. It's often rather distressing. It's also interesting to watch society's views on a subject change at the influence of relatively few. As long as society is bashed in the face with it enough times, opinion shifts.

So where does this all leave us? What are we to make of it?

I think the most obvious conclusion is that technology is in some ways dangerous. It has great benefits, but it can be abused. The root problem, though, is not technology itself. The problem is that we are all still people. We are still sinners. Technology has not changed that. It has simply put a megaphone to what was already obvious, and we somehow overlooked it. Sure, technology has made significant improvements to our lives. But somehow we all overlooked that fact that this same technology could be abused to steal information, ruin lives and reputations, invade privacy, cause physical harm, cause major threats to personal and national security, deceive, manipulate, and betray.

I once heard Ian Leitch, pastor and evangelist from Scotland, comment on technology, and our fascination with it. He claimed that technology is essentially amoral. It is neither good nor bad. It's what we do with it that makes a difference. As he put it, if anything technology only increases our potential for good and evil. I tend to agree with him.

Technology has further revealed our hearts, and it's a pretty ugly view. After all these great advancements, we're still sinners. Behold, there is nothing new under the sun. Let us hope and pray that the Christian church learns from these last few difficult decades, and proceeds forward with discernment and wisdom.
I thought I would take a step back in this post and give an overview of cosmological arguments in general.  As our regular reader (I'm not entirely sure how many "regular" readers we have, but I'd say the probability is in my favor if I use the singular rather than the plural here) knows, Steve has just completed a two-post series on the Kalam Cosmological Argument.  Those entries can be found here and here.  And if we look way back in the archives of the internet (you know, in the labyrinth of tubes which extends deep below the earth), we'll recall that I did a post on Thomas Aquinas' First Way, or Argument from Motion, when this blog was first started up. You can find that post here (wow, that was over two years ago. I wonder how many mistakes I made back then that would tempt me to deny the persistence of Self in order to be absolved).  I also plan to do a series of posts on the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument in the near future. Those are all examples of cosmological arguments, and anyone who even slightly follows Philosophy of Religion knows that there are a handful of others which are well known. 

So what is a cosmological argument?  What does is seek to do?  Why should we care?  "A cosmological argument takes some cosmic feature of the universe -- such as the existence of contingent things or the fact of motion -- that calls out for explanation and argues that this feature is to be explained in terms of the activity of a First Cause, which [...] is God." [1]  One strength of this type of argument, in my opinion, is that it is broad enough to withstand charges that it is simply a "God of the Gaps" objection.  Such an argument would seek to insert God into a gap in our knowledge of the world.  The problem is that many of these gaps end up being filled with the causes discovered by science (a common example/analogy is the explanation of lightning being caused by the god Zeus).  The gap might have a material or efficient cause found within the universe, and similar cases in the past have been determined to have such causes.  But a cosmological argument is much bigger than that.  It argues from some grand cosmological feature which could not even in principle have a material or efficient cause which could be discovered by science.

There are four problems, as outlined by Alexander Pruss, which every cosmological argument must face. Its success against these problems determines whether the argument is successful and convincing, and its methods for solving these problems determines what type of cosmological argument it is.  I will make reference to Steve's posts on the KCA to provide examples of how an argument will deal with those problems.
    1. The Glendower Problem
    2. The Regress Problem
    3. The Taxicab Problem
    4. The Gap Problem
The Glendower Problem is that just because a feature of the universe calls for an explanation, does not mean that such an explanation exists.  This name was coined by Pruss in honor of the exchange from Shakespeare's Henry IV:
Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man; but will they come when you do call for them? 
Usual solutions to this problem involve the defense of a causal or explanatory principle.  As we saw in Steve's post, the Kalam deals with this by defending the premise "Everything that begins to exist has a cause."

The Regress Problem has to do with how to deal with an infinite regress of causes or explanations.  Is it possible for such an infinite regress to exist?  And if so, is there no need for an ultimate cause or explanation?  Again, one of the premises of the KCA both takes this into account, and argues against a past infinity of causes. 

The Taxicab Problem has to do with what happens when the explanatory or causal principle invoked in response to the Glendower Problem gets applied to the First Cause. As Steve noted in his posts, the name of this problem comes from a quip made famous by Schopenhauer. Again, the Kalam deals with this in the first premise by defending the premise that only those things that begin to exist must have a cause-- therefore the causal principle invoked does not apply to the First Cause.

Lastly, the Gap Problem refers to the gap that we are left with once we have successfully argued for a First Cause. What of religious interest follows from a First Cause?  How do we identify this First Cause as the God of some particular religion?  Often, the cosmological argument can get us part way there by extrapolation of certain properties inherent in the First Cause. We saw this in Steve's second post on the KCA-- the First Cause must be incredibly powerful, immaterial, it must transcend space-time, and it must be personal.  Different arguments will leave us at different places, but often supplemental arguments are required to get us closer.

There are three main categories of cosmological arguments-- Kalam, Thomistic, and Leibnizian.  The Kalam and Thomistic arguments will utilize a type of causal principle. These two types of argument are then split on how they respond to the Regress Problem. The Kalam, as I mentioned above, argues against a past infinity of causes on either (or both) a priori or a posteriori grounds. The Thomistic argument does not rule out the possibility of an infinite past, but uses a variety of methods to argue against the hypothesis that there is an infinite regress of causes with no First Cause. Leibnizian variations usually invoke a very general explanatory principle, such as the Principle of Sufficient Reason which is then applied to some cosmic state of affairs. The Regress Problem is usually handled by arguing that even if an infinite chain of causes or explanations exists, without a First Cause, we are unable to explain how the whole chain of causes exists.

This post should give you a very basic understanding of cosmological arguments in general. Each argument has its own uniqueness, which comes with different difficulties that need to be overcome, and different merits upon succeeding. I'll end this post with a request-- that you at least take the cosmological arguments seriously.  Certainly, many people have researched these arguments charitably and come to the conclusion that they are false. But these arguments have been put forth by some of the brightest thinkers in human history (Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Maimodes, al-Ghazali, Duns Scotus, Leibniz, and the list goes on), and certainly deserve your earnest attempt to understand them before rejecting or dismissing them.

1.  Pruss, 2012.  Much of the content of this post is from the same source.

In the last post we took a look at the history of the Kalam Cosmological Argument and the form of the argument. Now we move on to look at the reasonableness of the premises, properties of the cause of the universe, and some objections to the argument.

Supporting the Premises

The Universe Began to Exist

As explained earlier, it seems that the evidence in current cosmology is that the universe had a beginning. Certainly, there are various cosmological theories that try to get around this: the multiverse hypothesis, various theories involving circular time, some sort of cyclical universe, etc.[1] But they all seem to have major shortcomings. For example, while the eternal inflation model has an ever-growing number of universes spawning eternally in the future, the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem claims that any universe that expands on average has to have a finite past boundary. There are cosmological theories that try to get around the BGV theorem, but they have problems of their own. One idea is that the universe has two halves, each spreading out infinitely in opposite directions on the timescale, so that you have infinite time in both directions. The shortcoming with this idea is that the other half of the universe is not our past. Obviously, there's much more to say on the subject of cosmology, but I'll stop here because 1) I'm not sure I understand it all (in fact I'm pretty sure I don't) and 2) it would take a really long time. If you're feeling brave, read through that section in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. Alternatively, you could stay up till 3am reading dozens of wikipedia articles on cosmology.

In addition to the cosmological evidence for the second premise, there are also philosophical arguments for a finite past. The easiest way to show this is through thought experiments. For example, if events in the universe stretched back into the infinite past, how would we get to today? If you started in the infinite past and tried to work your way towards a point in time, you would never actually reach it. It would be like trying to count all the negative numbers, ending at -1.

Further, an infinite past also brings about various paradoxes, much like Hilbert's Hotel. One good example is al-Ghalazi's thought experiment. Let's say, for the sake of illustration, that the solar system is infinitely old. Jupiter then orbits the sun roughly two and a half times for every one time Saturn orbits the sun. Now, which of the two planets has completed the most orbits? The answer is that they have completed the same number of orbits. This seems absurd, as just observing their orbits shows the disparity in the number of orbits must be increasing. Yet if we extend the timeline to the infinite past, the numbers are the same (infinity). To further confuse things: is the number of orbits they have taken even or odd? The answer, paradoxically, is both.

Now that you're thoroughly flummoxed, I hope you'll agree that the second premise of the Kalam Cosmological Argument has some pretty strong support.

Everything that Begins to Exist Has a Cause

This probably seems obvious to most people, but I think it is worthwhile delving into a little bit. There are three main reasons to think the premise is true.

The first is the obvious intuition that things do not just pop into existence without a cause. As the Blackwell Companion puts it, "Nobody sincerely believes that things, say a horse or an Eskimo village, can just pop into being without a cause. But if we make the universe an exception to [the premise], we have got to think that the whole universe just appeared at some point in the past for no reason whatsoever."[2] In other words, the sudden existence of the universe would just be a brute fact, which in my opinion is just about the worst cop-out ever. There are some who claim that the craziness of quantum physics (specifically virtual particles coming into being out of nothing) provides a way out of the first premise. But there is considerable debate in the scientific community as to whether virtual particles exist at all. Besides, the particles come out of a quantum vacuum, which is definitely something (rather than nothing), metaphysically.

Second, if the universe can come into existence out of nothing, what's to stop anything else? "Why do bicycles and Beethoven and root beer not pop into being from nothing? Why is it only universes that can come into being from nothing? What makes nothingness so discriminatory?"[3] Some argue that the premise only holds true in the universe, but is not the case for the universe itself. But the premise is not based on some physical law; it is based on a metaphysical principle - the Causal Principle, which applies to all of reality. And why should the universe be some special exception to this principle? In the words of philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, "The causal not so accommodating as to let itself be used like a hired cab, which we dismiss when we have reached our destination; rather it does resemble the broom brought to life by the sorcerer's apprentice in Goethe's poem, which, when once set in motion, does not leave off running and fetching water."[4]

Finally, it's worth just pondering our entire life experience. Everything in our entire collective experience has had a cause. Not to mention that the causal principle has been crucial for science. It would be silly for scientists to search for the causes of physical phenomena, if there was the possibility that some phenomena just have no cause at all.

So Where Does that Leave Us?

Glad you asked. It's often claimed that most of the arguments for the existence of God at best leave us with some remote, deistic God. Closer inspection shows us that isn't the case. Granted, the conclusions of the arguments don't lead directly to all the doctrines of Christian theology and the path from them to Christianity itself is pretty long, but they do give us some insight into what the creator of the universe must be like.

In the section on the Kalam Cosmological Argument, The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology gives several examples of properties of the First Cause. The first, and most obvious, is that the cause is itself uncaused. Second, the cause is also beginningless. This follows from the first premise. The First Cause had no cause, and therefore did not begin to exist.

Third, the First Cause is changeless, since an infinite regress of changes cannot exist. Based this changelessness, we know the cause must be immaterial, since anything that is material undergoes constant change. Since we already know the cause is changeless, it cannot be material. The cause must also be timeless, at least prior to creation, as time itself came into being with the beginning of the universe, and the First Cause existence before the beginning of the universe [5].

The First Cause must also be immensely powerful. Spend a night looking at the stars and studying the Hubble Deep Field and you will get a very strong impression that the First Cause must be staggeringly powerful.

Finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, the First Cause is - probably - personal. There are a few reasons to think this is the case. The first is that, when explaining causes, you can split them up into two categories (a la Richard Swinburne): scientific causes and personal causes [6]. Now we know the first cause cannot be scientific in nature, as scientific explanations rely on initial conditions and laws. The First Cause is the condition and created all laws that we observe. So it must be personal.

The second is that an immaterial, beginningless, timeless, etc. thing must either be an abstract object (like mathematical truths existing in some platonic heaven) or a disembodied mind. But we can eliminate the cause being an abstract object because abstract objects do not stand in causal relations with anything else. They don't cause stuff. They're just sort of...there.

To see the final reason it is likely that the First Cause is personal, we need to take a look at a puzzle. "The cause is in some sense eternal, and yet the effect which it produced is not eternal but began to exist a finite time ago. How can this be? If the necessary and sufficient conditions for the production of the effect are eternal, then why is not the effect eternal?...Why is the effect not co-eternal with its cause?"[7] It seems that we've hit a snag. And the only plausible explanation is that the First Cause is a free agent, who can choose to create. Such a free agent could exist eternally but choose to create the world in time. This doesn't mean that in choosing the creator changed his mind, but rather - to paraphrase the Blackwell Companion - he freely and eternally chose to create a world with a beginning.

With all these properties in mind: "This, as Thomas Aquinas was wont to remark, is what everybody means by 'God'."[8]

What Are Some of the Objections to the Argument?

The most common objections to the argument are also the most taudry. The first is that the argument equivocates with the word "cause." We usually use the word "cause" to denote something that transforms something that already existed in the material world, whereas the cause in the argument creates out of nothing. But notice that the argument itself only relies on the idea that a cause is something that brings about an effect. What sort of effect that may be is another question.

Another objection is that causality is compatible with a series of events stretching back infinitely back. But the problem with an infinite series of events stems not from causality but from the possibility (or, rather, the impossibility) of an actual infinite.

A somewhat more interesting objection is that creation out of nothing is incomprehensible, and therefore the argument as a whole is incomprehensible. But the statement that a finite time ago a transcendent cause brought the universe into being out of nothing is clearly a meaningful statement, not mere gibberish, as is evident from the very fact that we are debating it. We may not understand how the cause brought the universe into being out of nothing, but such efficient causation without material causation is not unprecedented, as we have seen, and it is even more incomprehensible, in this sense, how the universe could have popped into being out of nothing without any cause, material or efficient."[9]

I've saved what I consider to be the worst for last. The claim is that if everything has a cause of its existence, then the cause of the universe must also have a cause. But that isn't what the argument stated. It clearly states that whatever begins to exist has a cause. Something eternal needn't have a cause.

One more thing. It isn't an objection per se, but it's worth keeping in mind. The entire argument depends on the A-theory of time, as opposed to B-theory. What theories of time?! Let me explain (and I should point out that, no, philosophers are not always the most creative when it comes to naming things). Under A-theory, the present is the only thing to really exist, whereas under B-theory the passage of time is an illusion, and that past, present, and future all exist tenselessly. This is a whole new can of worms, and both the philosophical and scientific community debate about which is the correct theory of time. If B-theory is correct, then it seems the universe didn't really begin to exist, in a sense, as the entire timescale exists tenselessly. So, the A-theory of time must be correct for the kalam cosmological argument to succeed.

1. I should mention that these various theories have been put forward for many different reasons. The motivation is not simply to do away with the universe having a definite beginning, though that does seem to be one of the motivating factors with the theories.
2. The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, p182
3. Ibid., p186
4. On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, p42-3
5. This may be a point of confusion. How could something exist before the existence of time itself? Doesn't that imply some other time scale? It's not that the First Cause existed temporally before time, as that idea is nonsensical. Rather, the First Cause's existence comes logically prior to the creation of the universe.
6. I'm pretty sure you could do something similar with Aristotle's four causes, but I'll leave that exercise to Austin!
7. Blackwell, p193
8. Ibid., p194
9. Ibid., p196

Austin and I have decided to start a new series covering the historically significant arguments for the existence of God. We recently realized that we've been writing this blog for a while but haven't really covered the more famous arguments for God's existence. This is our attempt to rectify that situation.

Cosmological arguments are those that seek to establish the existence of a First Cause of the universe - the cosmos - based on some cosmic feature of the universe. The Kalam Cosmological Argument is one such argument, and has had a rather interesting history. It has also seen somewhat of a resurgence in philosophy of religion and apologetics, largely due to the discoveries in cosmology of the last century or so. This is my attempt to briefly explain the argument. Of course, a fully fleshed out version of the Kalam Cosmological Argument would take pages upon pages to elucidate. The hope of this post is to give you a general overview of the argument itself and why it remains a compelling argument for God's existence after so many centuries.

The What Cosmological Argument?

Kalam! It is a term that was used by Muslim thinkers to mark out a theological statement; it gradually morphed into a term to refer to Islamic scholarship at large. This brings up the rather obvious question of why an argument for the existence of God by Christians has an Islamic term attached to it. Let's rewind the clock a bit to find our answer.

The kalam cosmological argument was first advanced by theologians in the early Christian church as a response to the Aristotelian doctrine that the universe has always existed. They used the argument to defend the idea of creatio ex nihilo - creation out of nothing. In the Bible we find that the universe was created, and not that it has always existed. The early theologians used this argument to defend the Biblical position.

As Muslims barreled their way through much of the largely Christian Mediterranean starting in the 7th century, they ran across this argument. Over time, both Muslim and Jewish scholars developed the argument further. Then, the argument made its way back into Christian circles (This is all horribly oversimplified; the idea that Christian, Muslim, and Jewish scholars might exchange ideas during a supposedly barbaric and anti-intellectual period of history may come as somewhat of a shock. As usual, history itself is far more intricate and subtle than our caricatural understanding of it. The early middle ages is a fascinating period of history, but I have neither the knowledge nor room to write about it at length).

So why is the argument popular now? Two reasons. 1) modern cosmology and 2) William Lane Craig. The latter is largely due to his well respected books on the subject, the first two published in 1979 and 1980. The atheist philosopher and professor Peter Millican described The Cosmological Argument: From Plato to Leibniz as "landmark in the discussion of the cosmological argument."[1] It was William Lane Craig who named it the kalam cosmological argument, to recognize the influence that Islamic scholarship has had on its development. The former because, if you've been paying attention, the scientific evidence of the last few decades strongly suggests the universe has a beginning.

Up until 1929, the scientific consensus had been that the universe did not have a beginning. However, during the 1920s the Russian mathematician Alexander Friedmann and the Belgian astronomer Georges Lemaitre independently formulated solutions to Einstein's theory of general relativity (yes, there are multiple solutions to GR) in which the universe had a beginning. Then, in 1929, Edwin Hubble discovered the redshift of distant galaxies (due to the Dopplar effect), which meant that these galaxies were once closer together. And that meant that all the matter and energy in the universe was once packed into an infinitesimally fine point at the beginning of the universe. That point expanded rapidly to form the universe - the Big Bang. It's like if you were to graph the distances of the galaxies from each other over time, you would see that right now they're far apart, but based on redshift observations you'd see that they were once closer together. Plot a line going back in time based on the distances of the galaxies and you find the line ends with distances between everything being essentially zero.

So What's the Argument Itself?

If you've been tracking with me so far, you already know one of the premises of the argument: the universe had a beginning. But here's the whole argument in its simplest form:
  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause
  2. The universe began to exist
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause
So is the argument any good? Well, clearly, it is a valid argument. It's a simple case of modus ponens - the conclusion follows directly from the premises. The real debate is over the two premises. Do things that begin to exist have a cause? Did the universe really begin to exist?

This is where things get more complex. As William Lane Craig explains, "The supporting arguments and responses to defeaters of the argument's two basic premises can proliferate in an almost fractal-like fashion."[2] Like any philosophical argument worth its salt, the rubber really meets the road with the premises (unless it's a really complex argument where the form of the argument itself is a matter of debate; but in this case, the form of the argument is very simple).

In the next post, we'll take a look at the premises in reverse order to see if they hold up. We'll then discuss the attributes of the cause of the universe that follow from the argument itself, and finish up with some of the common objections to the argument, and the responses to those objections.

1. From Millican's comments as moderator for one of Craig's presentations. Here's a link.
2. The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, p102.
In a previous post, I introduced the so-called "Is/Ought Problem," first made famous by David Hume.  Hume argued that you cannot get from an "is" to an "ought"-- that is, you cannot argue from the way that things currently are, to the way that things ought to be.  Or more generally, you cannot get from factual statements to evaluative statements.  But this is exactly how many people argue in a moral context-- "punching someone causes them pain, therefore you should not punch someone," for example. Or "James is fast and strong. He should play football." But is this true?  Is it always uncalled for to argue from premises involving the way things are, to conclusions involving the way things ought to be?

In After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre gives several counter-examples for why this is not the case.  Consider first:
There are several types of valid argument in which some element may appear in a conclusion which is not present in the premises. A.N. Prior's counter-example to this alleged principle illustrates its breakdown adequately; from the premise 'He is a sea-captain', the conclusion may be validly inferred that 'He ought to do whatever a sea-captain ought to do'. This counter-example not only shows that there is no general principle of the type alleged; but it itself shows what is at least a grammatical truth - an 'is' premise can on occasion entail an 'ought' conclusion. [1]
You can see here that the reason this example succeeds is because there is a concept of "Sea Captain" which entails certain responsibilities.  Those responsibilities are built into what it means to be a sea captain.  Thus the counter-example adequately shows why Hume's contention is wrong, at least in some cases.  Consider further:
From such factual premises as 'This watch is grossly inaccurate and irregular in time-keeping' and 'This watch is too heavy to carry about comfortably', the evaluative conclusion validly follows that 'This is a bad watch'. From such factual premises as 'He gets a better yield for this crop per acre than any farmer in the district', 'He has the most effective programme of soil renewal yet known' and 'His dairy herd wins all the first prizes at the agricultural shows', the evaluative conclusion validly follows that 'He is a good farmer'.  
Both of these arguments are valid because of the special character of the concepts of a watch and of a farmer. Such concepts are functional concepts; that is to say, we define both 'watch' and 'farmer' in terms of the purpose or function which a watch or a farmer are characteristically expected to serve. It follows that the concept of a watch cannot be defined independently of the concept of a good watch nor the concept of a farmer independently of that of a good farmer; and that the criterion of something's being a watch and the criterion of something's being a good watch-- and so also for 'farmer' and for all other functional concepts-- are not independent of each other. [...]  
Now clearly both sets of criteria-- as is evidenced by the examples given in the last paragraph-- are factual. Hence any argument which moves from premises which assert that the appropriate criteria are satisfied to a conclusion which asserts that 'That is a good such-and-such', where 'such-and-such' picks out an item specified by a functional concept, will be a valid argument which moves from factual premises to an evaluative conclusion. Thus we may safely assert that, if some amended version of the 'No "ought" conclusion from "is" premises' principle is to hold good, it must exclude arguments involving functional concepts from its scope. But this suggests strongly that those who have insisted that all moral arguments fall within the scope of such a principle may have been doing so, because they took it for granted that no moral arguments involve functional concepts. [2]
So we have two examples of arguments which start from premises stating only the way things are, to a conclusion that entails some evaluative judgement.  MacIntyre rightly points out that at this point Hume's defenders can only proceed by modifying their principle.  Perhaps it is the case that evaluative conclusion can (in some cases) proceed from factual premises.  Perhaps instead, the principle is only true from those arguments which do not involve functional concepts.  But this shift identifies and magnifies the breakdown of the Enlightenment attempt to justify morality rationally, a major thesis of MacIntyre's book:

Yet moral arguments within the classical, Aristotelian tradition-- whether in its Greek or its medieval versions-- involve at least one central functional concept, the concept of man understood as having an essential nature and an essential purpose or function; and it is when and only when the classical tradition in its integrity has been substantially rejected that moral arguments change their character so that they fall within the scope of some version of the 'No "ought" conclusion from "is" premises' principle. That is to say, 'man' stands to 'good man' as 'watch' stands to 'good watch' or 'farmer' to 'good farmer' within the classical tradition. Aristotle takes it as a starting-point for ethical enquiry that the relationship of 'man' to 'living well' is analogous to that of 'harpist' to 'playing the harp well' (Nicomachean Ethics, 1095a 16). But the use of 'man' as a functional concept is far older than Aristotle and it does not initially derive from Aristotle's metaphysical biology. It is rooted in the forms of social life to which the theorists of the classical tradition give expression. For according to that tradition to be a man is to fill a set of roles each of which has its own point and purpose: member of a family , citizen, soldier, philosopher, servant of God. It is only when man is thought of as an individual prior to and apart from all roles that 'man' ceases to be a functional concept. [3]
Thus the failure involves not a simple disagreement with classical thinkers (the predecessor culture, as MacIntyre calls it), but a wholesale rejection of the classical worldview, whereby "man" was understood to have an essential nature.  And this essential nature involves functional concepts.  To say a man is a "good man" is no different from saying a watch is a "good watch," a farmer is a "good farmer," or a sea-captain is a "good sea-captain" on the classical view.  Each of these is true in virtue of the role that they play, and the functionality which they essentially exhibit. 

So given Hume's presuppositions (a complete rejection of the classical worldview, especially the idea of man's essential nature and telos), he may have been right that morally evaluative conclusions could not be derived from factual premises.  However, these presuppositions (shared by many Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thinkers) are not obviously true.

1. MacIntyre, 1981, p.57
2. Ibid. pp.57-58
3. Ibid. pp.58-59
We haven't really argued for it in the blog - rather, assumed it - but I think most readers would agree that one's beliefs should be rational. There should be some reason for believing them. To put it another way, there seems to be unspoken agreement that there is an imperative to form beliefs at least in part on the basis of rationality. And that if one's beliefs are shown to be irrational, they should be discarded.[1]

If you have read any of Descartes' work, you have to recognize that he was a genius, and largely responsible for kick-starting modern philosophy. He had some great insights. But there is one matter in which he was completely wrong. He thought our rational faculties never failed us - it is always something else that fails us. And of course this simply isn't the case. Our rational faculties do fail us. On the whole, they are fairly reliable, but they are not infallible.

One of the chief dangers to our beliefs is that our cognitive faculties are subject to error. In theology, sin's negative effects on the mind and intellect are known as the noetic effects of sin. It is a fascinating subject, if you'd like to pick it up.

At any rate, I'd like to focus on one way in which our intellect can fail us: cognitive bias. This is a danger to anyone currently breathing. It isn't that only atheists are in danger of it, or only Christians, or only agnostics, or Buddhists, or humanists, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers. You get the point.

Cognitive bias is a tendency or predisposition towards certain lines of thinking that do not align with rationality. Rationality draws a straight line, which cognitive biases fly off to the four corners of the earth. The real difficulty is that one might not be aware of cognitive bias. It seems like one is thinking rationally, when in fact one is in error.

I mentioned one cognitive bias in passing in a previous post on Alvin Plantinga's work. The basic idea is that if one has a strongly held belief, and someone provides a powerful argument against that belief, rather than accepting that belief is false, one may in fact further entrench that belief in the face of the evidence (apparently this is known as the backfire effect). In fact, one may abandon something else to hold on to the belief that has come under attack.

I don't really have any specific way of guarding against cognitive bias myself, other than trying to think carefully and spend time in honest introspection. But it may at least be useful to know what some common cognitive biases are. That may make it a bit easier to guard against them. Here are just a few that are relevant to discussions of philosophy, apologetics, and argumentation.

The one bandied about the most these days is confirmation bias. One falls prey to confirmation bias by selecting evidence that confirms one's preconceived notions, and rejecting all other evidence. For example, have you ever heard someone complain that it is always they who are stopped the red light and everyone else makes it through the intersection in the nick of time? Obviously, over the course of one's driving career that is almost certainly not true. That person is just ignoring all the times they made it through the light (probably because one's mind isn't on the light when able to simply cruise through the intersection). In the case of a belief system, one may look for evidence for one's own beliefs while subconsciously rejecting any opposing evidence.

Here's a biggie: the belief bias. With belief bias, one is predisposed against an argument not on the basis of it's logic but on the basis of the believability of the conclusion. Think of the Pevensie siblings in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - especially Peter and Susan. Lucy is incredibly excited to tell them that she has found another world in the wardrobe. This announcement is met with utter skepticism. However, the professor calls them on their skepticism: Lucy's excitement seems genuine, and she is the most honest of the siblings. So, logically, she is probably telling the truth. But what she is claiming is plainly ridiculous! And yet it was true.[2]

Another is the focusing effect. Ever seen some sports pundit chalk up the success or failure of a recently completed season on just one factor? Happens all the time. And they are wrong all the time. The success of a team over the course of a season - or even one game - is dependent on a myriad of factors. But these pundits are so certain it was all due to this one thing they identified.

One more. In general, we have a tendency to reject information or an argument from an adversary simply because it is coming from our adversary. It's sort of a psychological ad hominem- that argument is bad because it came from my adversary. Someone who falls for this is suffering from the scourge of reactive devaluation.

In closing, it might go without saying but I am no psychologist. And I'm not a philosopher (many biases have actually been identified first by philosophers). Yet I think it is important that we think carefully and honestly about important issues, so having at least some idea of how we may be biased may help guard against these tendencies. That and wisdom.

1. This of course can be taken too far. There are some beliefs that are not based on rationality but nonetheless seem completely reasonable. If you see a tree, you believe a tree is there not by some deductive argument but because your perception of the tree's existence is basic. The belief the tree is there is what Plantinga would call a properly basic belief.
2. Granted, this is an example from a fictional work. A more pressing example might be the arguments for the resurrection. Many are rejected outright, simply on the grounds that the idea of a man rising from the dead is ridiculous.
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