Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A problem with middle knowledge

I'm inclined to accept middle knowledge. This is the view that God doesn't merely know what we will (freely choose to) do, he knows what we would (freely choose to) do under circumstances that are never actualized or never come to pass. In fact, God knows what a person whom he never creates would do under any possible circumstances. So God has this store of knowledge about what every possible person would (freely choose to) do under any possible circumstances, and he uses this knowledge to actualize -- that is, create -- the world. I think this answers a lot of the issues people have with the problem of evil, with the compatibility of divine foreknowledge and creaturely freedom, etc.

There are numerous objections to middle knowledge of course so it's not all sunshine and roses. But here I want to raise another potential objection. Perhaps that's too strong a term, actually, it's more like a potential problem. It's this: middle knowledge could explain virtually any scenario. But then you can't falsify it. This means you can't give any evidence that would rebut it. I say this is just a problem and not really an objection because you have to define "evidence" pretty narrowly to make it work -- as mentioned, there are plenty of objections to middle knowledge that have to be dealt with, and these objections could potentially refute it.

Anyway, my objection -- sorry, my problem -- can perhaps be illustrated by looking at some essays defending middle knowledge by William Lane Craig that specifically use it to explain Christian doctrines. The two essays I'm thinking of are:

"Lest Anyone Should Fall": A Middle Knowledge Perspective on Perseverance and Apostolic Warnings


"Men Moved By The Holy Spirit Spoke From God": A Middle Knowledge Perspective on Biblical Inspiration

So in these two cases, Craig is showing how middle knowledge uniquely explains the doctrines of a) the perseverance of the saints and b) the inspiration of the Bible (which could easily be a gateway to another essay giving a middle knowledge perspective on biblical inerrancy). Well and good. But then, it seems to me, you could write similar essays on other topics. For example:

"Upon This Rock I Will Build My Church": A Middle Knowledge Perspective on Papal Infallibility

which I presume Craig would not approve of as he is a Protestant (as am I). But such an essay could certainly be written. Of course Catholics could accept such a view, as long as they accept middle knowledge in the first place. But then what if I wrote an essay like this:

"The Governing Authorities that Exist Have Been Established by God": A Middle Knowledge Perspective on the Divine Right of Kings

Again, such an essay could be written, such a position could be defended by appealing to middle knowledge. My point is that it's difficult to see what restrictions we can put on this type of explanation. Presumably, someone could say the restriction would be biblical doctrines, but both of these positions have been defended by, I presume, honest and well-meaning Christians as biblical. Once you open the door, you're going to have people come in that you didn't invite.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Down syndrome children

This video was banned in France. The reasoning the court gave is that women who had aborted fetuses with Down Syndrome might be traumatized by it. That could certainly be the case: a woman who had agonized over having an abortion, and finally decided to have one because she thought the child would lead an empty, miserable life could be horrified to discover that she had actually stolen a beautiful, joyous life from her own child -- a life that would not only be blessed, but one that would bless the lives of many others, including hers. Nevertheless, in such circumstances, the proper attitude is to try to prevent future tragedies like this from happening. You don't avoid warning people about a crime wave because those who had been victimized by it already don't want to have to be reminded about it.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Two pieces

I recently heard two music pieces for the first time -- despite their being well-known -- and was very moved by them. The first is Vivaldi's variations on La Folia. When I heard this piece on the radio, I was stunned by the overwhelming sense of life pouring out from the music. Yes, Vivaldi always overuses the same chord progression, but I love that chord progression so kudos to him. And at any rate, these are, again, variations on an already-existing tune. It's the 12th sonata in his opus 1, Twelve Trio Sonatas for two violins and basso continuo.

The second piece is The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughn Williams. I took two years of music history, and I don't think Vaughn Williams was ever mentioned (nor was Tchaikovsky for that matter). I suspect this is because when you deal with 20th century music, the focus is on atonal, or at least not classically tonal, music. I remember we spent some time in class going over the ten most important 20th century composers, and had to write a 10-page essay on who we thought was number 11 (I wrote mine on Béla Bartók) (Update, 01/04/17: No I didn't. Bartok would undoubtedly have been one of the top ten. I don't remember who I wrote my paper on, but I'm thinking it might have been Olivier Messiaen). And while I've heard the name Vaughn Williams before, I can't recall ever listening to his music, which is incredible considering how important a composer he is. At any rate, this particular piece is not classically tonal but is very pentatonic, making it Asian sounding -- my kids said it sounds like Kung Fu Panda. After hearing this piece we all started listening to Vaughn Williams' music, and both my kids love it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Holy crap!

The Cubs won! That's the first time in over a century. Everyone I've ever known was born after the last time they won the World Series in 1908. Ironically, while the game was being played last night, I was in a classroom teaching my Intro Philosophy class about Hume's argument against miracles. It looks like God cleared his throat.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Negative votes: A proposal

In the coming election, I feel like I'm being asked to vote for either Stalin or Honey Boo Boo. I thought I was firmly in the "anyone but Stalin" camp until the other side nominated one of probably only five people in the world who I couldn't vote for. Perhaps it's fortunate that I'm not a member of a political party and don't embrace a particular political philosophy (my politics are somewhat eclectic), so I don't have any sense of obligation to vote for the candidate "my party" has nominated.

I've never really voted for anyone, I've only voted against them. That is, I've voted for the person I loathed least. I didn't want the person I voted for to get the job, but I really didn't want the other person to, and so I've always voted for the lesser evil. And, in fact, I think in the coming election one side is a greater evil than the other. But lesser evils are still evils, and this time around, I'm afraid the lesser evil is much too great an evil for me to cast my vote for them. Perhaps this is a failing on my part, but I can't bring myself to vote for the lesser evil this time.

Now I've never appreciated having to vote for lesser evils. What I want to do is cast a vote against the greater evil, and the only way to do this is to cast a vote for the lesser evil. The reason I haven't appreciated this is because it forces me to only indirectly vote against the greater evil by directly voting for the lesser evil. But why can't we reverse this? Why don't we make it possible to cast a negative vote? If you cast a negative vote for a candidate then one vote is subtracted from that candidate's overall total. The candidate with the highest total vote count wins.

You get one vote: you can either cast it for Stalin, for Honey Boo Boo, against Stalin, or against Honey Boo Boo. You don't get to vote for one candidate and then also vote against the other: you get one and only one vote. Certainly, by casting a vote against Stalin someone could object that you are essentially casting a vote for Honey Boo Boo -- but note that the order has now been switched. You are directly voting against Stalin, and only indirectly voting for Honey Boo Boo. Those of us who are, like me, too fragile to sully ourselves with lesser evils would be able to live with ourselves.

One possible negative (heh) consequence of this is that there could potentially be an election where the number of negative votes for both candidates is greater than their number of positive votes. So both sides would have total vote counts below zero. In this case, the candidate with the number of votes closer to zero -- that is, the smallest negative number -- would win. However, if there were write-in candidates (which is what I'm going to do this time), then the person with the most write-ins would win. I guess it would always be possible to cast a negative vote for a write-in candidate, although it would be odd since write-in candidates are usually not officially running. To cast your vote against someone who's not even running would seem to indicate a deep-seated hatred of them worthy of extended counseling: "I hate this person so much that I'm going to spend my one vote writing them in and then casting a negative vote against them." But even so, there probably wouldn't be many negative votes against write-in candidates, so one of them would still probably have more total votes than the main candidates. And that, in my opinion, would certainly be the lesser evil.