Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Analysis of "Walden Two" by B.F. Skinner

Thesis: An analysis of and Christian response to Walden Two by B.F. Skinner, especially regarding his radical behaviorism.

  1. Introduction
    1. Of Communes and Utopias
    2. The Heritage of Skinners Thought in Walden Two
  2. Body
    1. Summary of Walden Two
    2. Analysis of Walden Two
  3. Conclusion


People have unquenchable desires to attain the “good life,” and this hunger explains the popularity of Utopian literature and of Fantasy literature in general. From Thomas More’s “Utopia” (canon in the liberal arts) to Bellamy’s “Looking Backward” (The bestselling book of all time at the point of publication, behind only “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “Ben Hur” (Morgan, 252) and finally to B.F. Skinner, who’s fictional novel about a community in the country inspired a host of real-life experimental communities in the 1960’s and 70’s, people have been thinking and writing idealistic portraits of the future. 
People like to imagine what the world would be like, both negatively (Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World) and positively (The before-mentioned More, Bellamy, Bacon, and Skinner), and they are incredibly poor at predicting the future and imagining possible results into the world. We are only slightly better at predicting the coming of negative aspects of society. People like to imagine what life would be like without sin, misery, or envy. In a kind of “rosy retrospection” inversion, people always imagine the future to be better than it will actually be. In the ’60s and ’70s, this angst against the status quo flowered into a rejection of western society and its capitalistic and war-mongering ways. Hopeful communards (a term referring to those involved in living in communes) sought to establish life sealed off from the problems of society. Some communes were more free-wheeling, rejecting structure in general as part of their philosophy. Others, especially ones inspired by Skinners Utopian novel, were more interested in replacing capitalistic and western culture with another, but perhaps as equally structured community centered around a philosophy of scientific experimentation and eradication of society’s problems. As we shall discover, escaping from reality and human nature, and eschewing institutions, turns out to be exactly that: escapism.
This paper will attempt to analyze Skinner’s thought and how his thought was implemented by the “intentional communities” he inspired. 
Before we begin, we will quickly trace the heritage of Skinner’s thought, Behaviorism, and of the name which his book bears. The title comes to us from the 18th-century poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson (1803-1882) was a romantic and transcendentalist poet and philosopher. For our purposes, all we need to know is his influence on Henry David Thoreau. Emerson believed that all people are basically good and that in order to improve himself, he must free himself from modern society and reconnect with nature. Doing so helps one to be truly self-reliant and independent. Thoreau (1817-1862) carried this philosophy forward but attempted to experiment with it on himself. He lived on some land owned by Emerson, called “Lake Walden,” and sought to implement his transcendentalist philosophy by living simply, in nature, without much contact with outside society. He published his year-long experiment in a book titled “Walden.” B.F. Skinner took the name and spirit and sought to take it further but in a more practical and collective manner. Thus he named his book “Walden Two.”
Skinner, like Emerson and Thoreau,  believed that mankind was basically good and that part of the solution to man’s ills was natural. Indeed, throughout “Walden Two” (hereafter ‘W2’) Skinner compares societal problems to health problems, and health to nature itself. But Skinner pushed forward in his belief that mankind is utterly determined by his environment. This radical determinism postulated that man’s environment (as perceived through his senses) influenced his actions and even thoughts. His prior actions and thoughts then determined his future actions and thoughts. Man was not essentially free, then, but determined by his environment, and ultimately, by nature itself. In order to change man’s lot then, one must change his environment. This philosophy became extraordinarily popular in the latter half of the 20th century and influenced both the fields of Psychology and education enormously. The American Psychological Association considers Skinner to be the #1 most popular and influential Psychologist of the 20th century, ahead of luminaries like Freud and Jung (American Psychological Association, apa.org).

Summary of Walden Two

Walden Two is about a group of people led by a washed-out professor named Burris. He is approached by some of his former students who have found out about an experimental community in the country founded by a former graduate student of Burris’ named Frazier. Frazier turns out to be a key character in the book and ultimately the book’s downfall, as we shall see. The group visits this community and is given a tour by Frazier, who explains all of the experimental and behavioristic traits of the economy, culture, and housing. The community is around a thousand strong, nestled in 400 acres somewhere in the American northeast. Everyone lives together, eats together, works together, etc. The economy is completely communal and cashless. Work is done in exchange for “credits” of which someone must accrue a certain amount of each week. Easier jobs earn someone fewer credits than harder jobs. Everyone is basically happy and the character traits of sadness, envy, strife, and overall evil are strangely absent. Frazier accomplishes this through “behavioral engineering”. Members are conditioned to be happy through careful training and weeding out of negative emotions from birth (in highly controlled environments) up through adulthood. Through positive and negative enforcement, members have supposedly “weeded out” negative emotions. 
The problems with Walden Two can all be summarized under the rejection of human nature, not only from a Biblical point of view but also a historical point of view. This is altogether even more shocking given that Skinner wrote this novel in 1948, right after World War II and the disasters and atrocities perpetrated by communistic and fascistic governments. However, the premise of the book rests on the idea that mankind is basically good, and that all issues are outside of him. Man can be cured by changing his environment (such as retreating into a community in the wilderness) and by working to change his behavior. Nothing is innate, and everything can be changed. From marriage to education, things can and should be tweaked if experimentation warrants it. 

Analysis of Walden Two
Some concrete ways in which we see a rejection of human nature as it is described Biblically are as follows:
Firstly, W2 rejects the usefulness of negative punishment, and advocates the eventual exclusive use of positive reinforcement. People are never punished in W2, only praised. Ironically, an early description of experimental behavior illustrates the failure of this philosophy. When Frazier has just begun showing his group around Walden, he shows them a flock of sheep that he has taught to stay within certain perimeters without the use of an electric fence. One used to employed, but now the sheep respond equally well to sticks and string that form a fence. However, Frazier points out a sheepdog: “‘I should have told you,’ said Frazier soberly, ‘that no small part of the force of tradition is due to the quiet creature you see yonder.’ He pointed…to a sheepdog…’ We call him Bishop.” (Skinner, 21) Even while apparently showing the proof that positive conditioning can work on animals, Frazier, (and through him, Skinner), seems to admit that some external threat of punishment is necessary. For animals,  a sheepdog named Bishop, for humans, society would indicate through a human titled the same. Professor Hilke Kuhlman, who wrote his doctoral thesis on the communities founded out of a desire to implement the philosophy of W2, agreed that in all instances, requirements to work were met by increasing disobedience unless some sort of incentive was implemented. He quotes Roger Ulrich, founder of the Lake Village Commune: “We had study after study where people had effectively gotten other people to act in certain ways. Now, here I am, living in this commune and I can’t get my kids to put away their socks. We couldn’t engineer getting the dishes done…Walden II is simply not realistic.” (Kuhlman, 66.)  This held true even when one considers that these communes were self-selected, in other words, only those who would be predisposed to behave well in a commune, and who wanted to join, and who was on board with the principles, STILL wouldn’t act in certain ways absence of incentives and punishments. 
Biblically, this is no surprise at all. Scripture says that man’s heart is wicked (Jeremiah 17:9) and that nobody seeks after good (Psalm 14). Everyone is a rebel (Romans 1). Because Skinner ignores this, he gets into trouble. When this philosophy is implemented in real life, it doesn’t work out. The turnover at many of these communities is high (Kuhlman, 122) and people leave because they resent working without being able to build capital or any other kind of wealth. (Kuhlman, 129). 
Secondly, The philosophy of W2 is inherently antithetical to the family, yet the ways this is seen only work in concept. In Scripture and in fact, they fail. In W2, The childcare from infancy to adulthood is communal–that is, all the children are kept in one large nursery and the parent-child relationship is severed.  Women are encouraged to marry early so they can have their children when healthy, and then get on with their lives without having worry about caring for them. Children are discouraged from bonding with their biological parents, and vice versa. Castle,  the skeptical visitor to W2, asks: “What about the children?’ I said. ‘the group care we saw this morning must weaken the relation between parent and child.”
Frazier replies: 
It does. By design. We have to attenuate the child-parent relationship for several reasons. Group care is better than parental care. In the old pre-scientific days the early education of the child could be left to the parents…but with the rise of a science of behavior all is changed…Home is not the place to raise children. (Skinner, 142)

Basically, all affection towards the community’s children should be directed at the children in general. Anything else is favoritism. In this way, the community, or less favorably, the state, becomes the parent. Time doesn’t permit the study of parallels with the communist and nazi states that Skinner’s home country had just vanquished! This collectivist child care is done for the purpose of engineering every part of the child’s life, discouraging negative emotions and encouraging positive ones using various techniques. Since the behaviorist denies original sin, then one can isolate the child from evil and gradually acclimate them to it. In addition to this, any and all married couples sleep and live in separate rooms to allow for privacy.  Skinner makes clear his destruction of the family is intentional: 

The family is and ancient form of community, and the customs and habits which have been set up to perpetuate it are out of place in a society which isn’t based on blood ties. Walden Two replaces the family, not only as an economic unit, but to some extent as a social and psychological unit as well. What survives is an experimental question. (Skinner, 138)

In W2, everyone is totally fine with this system. But how does this system work out when it is implemented in real life? Kuhlman summarizes: “The Twin Oaks [one of the communities] communal child-care system is perhaps the area in which Skinner’s ideas failed most obviously to live up to the expectations of the communards.” (Kuhlman, 102.) She continues: “Skinner vastly underestimated…the emotional impact it would have on parents and children.” (ibid.) One of the biggest reasons people left these places was the communal child care. People wanted to raise their own children: “In an interview with former Twin Oakers, several ex-members report that it was their strong attachment to their children that made them leave Twin Oaks.” (ibid.)
While Skinner takes a nonchalant attitude to monogamy, noting that the only issue with divorce is the deserted mate (Skinner, 140), many of the communes inspired by W2 took explicitly lawless stances towards love and sexuality, encouraging polyamory. Many times, the sexual illicitness was a draw to the communities in the first place. Kat Kinkade, the founder of the most successful (and still running, as of 2018) of these Skinnerian Communes, Twin Oaks, said in an interview with Kuhlman: “Everybody who comes here is looking for love.” Kuhlman fills in: “She [Kinkade] thinks that it was the community’s anything-goes attitude towards sexuality–which was, of course, in stark contrast to Skinners early-marriages solution…that helped the community gain in strength and recognition.”
In contrast, the most successful commune was Los Horcones, which is “strikingly different” from all of the other communities. (Kuhlman, 135). One of the ways it was different (and more successful) was in its sexual and family ethic. Marriage is encouraged, monogamy is the stated norm, and although they don’t dissuade homosexual activity, it is looked down upon. Visitors feel the community is “conservative” and “Catholic” in its understanding of the family. In fact, the entire makeup of the community resembles a large, extended family, (Kuhlman, 141) with the grandfather (Juan Robinson) the founder and leader. It is not a mistake the most successful commune is run like a large, Catholic family! There is no communal childcare; each family cares for their own children. Kuhlman writes: “Los Horcornes is the only Walden Two community in which Skinner’s proposals appear to function quite smoothly.” (Kuhlman, 150.)

While Skinners focus on self-meditation, introspection and connectedness with nature can be lauded (similarly to Emerson and Thoreau) his rejection of objective moral values and the innate goodness of man is untenable both Biblically and in fact. While we can all agree that we should use techniques to better ourselves scientifically, we need to be careful that “science” doesn’t steer the ship of our lives. Science can only tell us about our world, it cannot tell us how to live in it. 
Skinner’s sexual and familial ethic clearly cuts against Biblical injunctions and doesn’t work in the real world, even when implemented in the mold of the novel. It turns out that people were made to be monogamous, and to have and raise their own children. An overly collective view of society and a delegitimizing of the family is simply not practical or Biblical. 

Works Cited:

Arthur E. Morgan, Edward Bellamy. New York: Columbia University Press, 1944. Print.

“Eminent Psychologists of the 20th Century.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, 2002, www.apa.org/monitor/julaug02/ eminent.aspx.

Skinner, B.F. Walden Two. New York: Macmillan, 1948. Print. 

Kuhlman, Hilke. Living Walden Two: B.F. Skinner’s Behaviorist Utopia and Experimental Communities. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2005. Print. 

Sunday, November 24, 2019

More Broken Eggs

Testing out a feature where I actually blog. I enjoy writing, and I enjoy the informal medium of blogging, though I recognize that the current technological spirit of the age is social media.  

To increase the irony, I don’t read, follow, or keep up in general with blogs, whereas I do keep up on twitter and youtube. Huh. I think I write on this internet nest because I enjoy it, not because I am trying to reach the biggest audience. If I wanted to do that, I would promulgate my ideas on twitter. 

Here is what I will propose to do. I need to write more, especially since I am not blazing through my undergraduate degree program anymore and churching out 12-page research papers every month. Writing is nothing more than the practice of thinking in a disciplined fashion, and I definitely need to do this as much as possible, especially since I don’t have any peers in my field to parlay with regularly. 

I realized that even if I’m not writing papers as often, I am reading a few books each week, and could easily write reviews on them. 

So, I will write more, even if it isn’t polished. Previously (before right now), I hesitated to write and publish on my twitter or blog platforms because, as the proverb says, when words are not lacking, transgression is abundant. The more you write, the more stupid stuff you say. Though the making of omelets indeed leads to breaking eggs, nobody seems to focus on the fact that you have a freakin omelet when you are finished. 

Here’s to breaking lots of eggs, in the hope of making better omelets, and maybe belaboring my metaphors less often. 

Friday, April 5, 2019

The What and Why of Logic

Classical education can be thought of as unique both in how it teaches things but also in what it teaches. The subject of Logic is one of those subjects that is unfortunately not found in most schools today, but it is one of the most foundational subjects to a classical education. Given everything else there is to study, why should we spend time on logic? Why not just take more time to study chemistry or literature? 

Logic is the science of good reasoning. It can be thought of as the language of truth. It is the study of proper inference. When someone reasons from a proposition (for example, that ‘God has commanded all men everywhere to repent) to the further proposition that they, indeed, are a man, and therefore should repent, they are being logical. When someone, however, reasons that because an unborn baby is composed of a bunch of cells, it is, therefore, nothing more than a bunch of cells, that person commits the fallacy of composition and reasons illogically. The term logic may sound grey, lifeless, or cold, but it undergirds the arguments of the colorful, the lively, and the emotional human beings made in God’s image. 

Formal logic, such as categorical logic, helps us sort things into proper categories and examine their relationships, such as the syllogism:

All men are mortal
Socrates is a man
Socrates is a mortal

Informal logic helps us see the issues of relevance or ambiguity in everyday arguments, such as the Ad Hominem, or attack on the irrelevant character of the person, rather than the soundness of the argument:

“Ben’s argument about taxes sounds reasonable, but he often yells at his wife, so we shouldn’t take it seriously."

We should study logic because in doing so we can be more human. Part of what it means to be human is to be logical. God created man with the ability to reason. When we reason, we apprehend the truth. This ability allows us to understand rational statements made by others, and to form rational statements ourselves and communicate them. 

The laws of logic actually undergird all communication, and without them, communication becomes impossible. Try making a statement without using the first law of logic, which is that A cannot equal non-A at the same time. Whatever you said, I could easily assert that you said the opposite, unless we both assume the first law of logic. A line can be either curved or straight, but the straight part cannot also be curved. When we make a statement like “the first twelve feet of this line is straight, and the last seven are curved,” we are in fact putting different propositions into categories, and because of the first law of logic mentioned above, when two categories are non-exclusive, they cannot have multiple meanings. We recognize this, and sort things into categories all of the time. When we get up in the morning, we decide to put on our snow boots rather than our flip-flops, and we understand that “snow boot” and “flip-flop” are exclusive items that cannot be the same thing. We then walk into the kitchen and make a distinction between a bowl and a counter, and conclude that based on the construction of those items, we should pour our milk into the bowl instead of next to it. Toddlers sometimes have trouble making these categorical distinctions. 

Perhaps the biggest reason to study logic is to obey the commands of Christ. Jesus Christ is described for us in John 1 as the Truth. In him is perfect and consistent reasoning. He does not think illogically, because He is perfectly truthful. Reasoning improperly is basically lying about reality. When you assert that because both Hitler and your political opponent love dogs, and that this means that they share political views, you are not merely reasoning illogically, but are in fact lying. Jesus does not lie, He commands His followers not to lie; instead He commands them to become like himself. We are commanded to conform to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). We are also commanded to tear down every argument raised against the knowledge of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:5) and discern between (sort!) good and evil (Hebrews 5:14). 

In a classical school, logic is treated as a distinct discipline because it is of foundational importance, like reading. We teach people how to read because doing so allows them to interpret their world, obey God by reading his Word, and learn any other subject that requires reading. In the same way, we teach logic as a distinct discipline so that the student can interpret their world better, sorting between good and evil, true and false, helpful and unhelpful. By learning logic they will also be able to rightly interpret/exposit God's word after reading it. Lastly, by learning logic, the student will be able to interpret everything else they study! If you want a better math, science, literature, and rhetoric student, teach them how to interpret and sort between propositions in all of those subjects. 

Monday, April 1, 2019

Ontological Argument Paper

This is a reposting of a research paper I wrote for Reformation Bible College in 2013. It was posted on my Tumblr blog (now abandoned) but I don't believe it was ever posted here. It probably isn't my best paper, but it was my first and therefore is special to me. The formatting is going to be wonky as it has been copied and pasted so many times. Enjoy!

The Ontological Argument is one of the most highly debated theistic proofs in Apologetics today. Some philosophers have dismissed it as nothing more than a & charming joke, yet philosophical giants throughout history such as Scotus, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, and Plantinga have risen to defend it. Popular Apologists seem to be sharply divided over how useful this argument really is, however. For example, one of the most prominent Apologists today, William Lane Craig, devotes less than a single page to it out of the 415 that comprise his signature work Reasonable faith, and the well known Catholic Apologist Peter Kreeft takes 3 pages to outline the ontological argument and writes; “We include [the ontological argument] not because we think it conclusive or irrefutable, but for the sake of completeness.”
Yet, on the other hand, Alvin Plantinga, one of the most well-respected Christian philosophers alive today has written an entire book on this argument and has even formulated a version of it that has gained wide acceptance among the philosophical community at large. Douglas Groothuis, another prominent apologist who writes and speaks frequently of the ontological argument, gives us an idea of why the argument is so captivating: 

Imagine a philosophical argument that has been engaged by some of the most stellar minds in the history of thought about the greatest controversy ever engaged: the existence and nature of God. This line of reasoning requires no empirical premises; it works from sheer rational concepts. Now imagine that the conclusion of this argument announces that a Perfect Being exists–a superlative entity in who rests all possible perfections and in whom no defect can be found. Is this an apologetical fantasy? No, it is the ontological argument.

This paper will seek to analyze the versions of the ontological argument that Anselm developed, in order to determine whether or not it is a useful argument to employ in the Christian Apologetical discipline. Anselm developed two arguments, and both will be assessed. Special attention will be paid to the logical structure of the arguments, and to the truth of the premises. An emphasis will be given to represent and interact with the primary sources, both in the positive arguments and the critiques by those such as Gaunilo. 
The originator of the ontological argument was St. Anselm of Canterbury, though he derived his inspiration of the argument from Augustine of Hippo. Anselm, (1033-1109), was a Benedictine monk, the second Bishop of Canterbury, and philosophical theologian known as the ‘Father of Scholasticism’. His ontological argument is found in his book Proslogion, which he formulates not to further convince himself or others that God exists, but to come from the viewpoint of one who already believes that he exists yet wants to know more about God (i.e. “Faith seeking understanding”). Anselm’s express purpose: 

But when I reflected on [The Monologion] and saw that it was put together as a long chain of arguments, I began to ask myself whether one argument might possibly be found, resting on no other argument for its proof, but sufficient in itself to prove that God truly exists, and that he is the supreme good, needing nothing outside himself, but needful for the being and well–being of all things.

It is in this context that we will look at Anselm’s two similar arguments, both of which are based on the same idea. The contemporary philosopher Richard Taylor suggests in his introduction to The Ontological Argument: From St. Anselm to contemporary philosophers that embedded within Anselm’s Proslogion are two similar arguments, though Anselm might not have realized this himself. The first one argues that God can be proven to exist simply from the concept of God; the second makes the stronger claim that God is the only being that exists necessarily. We will look at what Anselm says about both arguments in his own words: 

Now we believe that thou art a being than which none greater can be thought…But when [a fool] hears what I am saying–”A being than which none greater can be thought”–he understands what he hears, and what he understands is in his understanding, even if he does not understand that it exists…Even the fool, then, must be convinced that a being than which none greater can be thought exists at least in the understanding, since when he hears this he understands it, and whatever is understood is in the understanding. But clearly that than which a greater cannot be thought cannot exist in the understanding alone. For if it is actually in the understanding alone, it can be thought of as existing also in reality, and this is greater. Therefore, if that than which a greater cannot be thought is in the understanding alone, this same thing than which a greater cannot be thought is that than which a greater can be thought. But obviously this is impossible. Without doubt, therefore, there exists, both in the understanding and in reality, something than which a greater cannot be thought.

So to break Anselm’s first argument down: Anselm is positing that”
 1. God is defined as a being than which nothing greater can be conceived, and of which everyone has an idea of, even if only in their understanding.
2. A thing exists either in the understanding only, or in both the understanding and in reality. 
3. It is greater to exist in reality than to exist merely in the understanding. 
4. If God only existed in the understanding, then he would lack a perfection, and then he would not be the greatest possible being. 
5. But the definition of God is that he is the greatest possible being (from 1). 
6. Therefore, God exists not only in the understanding but in reality as well. 
What Anselm means by a being “than which nothing greater can be thought” in premise 1 may be summed up in this definition: “A Perfect Being is a being who possesses every property it is better to have than to lack and who possesses this array of compossible excellent properties to the utmost degree (or to their intrinsic maximum value)”. Another part of this argument that needs further explaining is the assumption within premise 3 that existence is a perfection; in other words, it is assumed by Anselm (and by Descartes later) that it is plainly better to exist than to not exist. But think of it this way. Any god who didn’t exist would actually be less worthy of worship than anything that did exist, because of all the things needed for something to be in any sense powerful, glorious, and worthy of worship, actual existence is the first! As Taylor writes, “God, whatever else he may be, must be a reality as the very minimum condition of being thought of as God.” Or so it would seem…Though for some it is common sense that existence is an attribute of perfection, Immanuel Kant disagreed, as we will shortly see. Anselm’s first argument is logically valid, so in order to refute it the truth of the premises must be undermined (and there are no shortage of those who try!). Two men in particular have critiqued this argument of Anselm’s, and their concerns will be looked at in turn. The first was a contemporary of Anselm, a monk named Gaunilo, who though affirming the existence of God as strongly as Anselm did, he nevertheless thought that the major flaw with Anselm’s argument was that if you followed the same logic, but substituted “God” with any other object, you could come to the same conclusion that based on that objects definition, it must exist. Basically, Gaunilo accused Anselm of defining God into existence. He used an example to demonstrate this: “…it is said that somewhere in the ocean is an island…and they say that this island has an inestimable wealth of all manner of riches and delicacies…it is more excellent than all other countries…Now if someone should tell me that there is such an island, I should easily understand his words, in which there is no difficulty. But suppose that he went on to say, as if by logical inference: ‘You can no longer doubt that this island which is more excellent than all lands exists somewhere, since you have no doubt that it is your understanding. And since it is more excellent not to be in the understanding alone, but to exist both in the understanding and in reality, for this reason it must exist.
His obvious purpose in illustrating his island example was to draw a similar argument following the same logical lines, and then by showing how absurd his argument was, to also show how absurd Anselm’s was. The Oxford Illustrated History of Western Philosophy sees an exact correspondence between the two examples: “The arguments are exactly parallel…Gaunilo’s argument is formally exactly like Anselm’s.” The authors clearly agree with Gaunilo as well: “Since Gaunilo’s [argument] plainly does not [work], neither does Anselm’s.” But not so fast. What drives Anselms’s argument in the first place is that there can be thought a being who is the greatest possible being in every way possible. There cannot be two perfect beings, only one, which means that contrary to the Oxford Illustrated History of Philosophy, Anselm and Gaunilo were talking about two different types of beings; Anselm was talking about the greatest possible being while Gaunilo was merely describing the greatest possible island. He was taking an object (an island); predicating all of its desirable attributes to infinity, and then positing that he could do this with any object. But there is only one being that is the perfect being, logically speaking. Which means that if this island Gaunilo is talking about is really the epitome of perfection in the same way Anselm’s is, and not just perfect as to its own properties, then the island would in fact be the greatest possible being–proving Anselm’s argument! Gaunilo takes a contingent being and tries to make it into a necessary being. The second critique of Anselm’s first version of the Ontological argument is by the philosopher Immanuel Kant, who charged Anselm with assuming that existence is a predicate of perfection. He is right, as we see in premise 3: “It is greater to exist in reality than to exist merely in the understanding”. Douglas Groothuis summarizes Kant’s concern in his chapter on the Ontological argument in Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case of Biblical Faith

“For Kant, existence is merely a logical predicate, not a genuine predicate. A genuine predicate adds significant information regarding the subject, as in ‘The tree’s leaves were dark green.’ but contrariwise, a logical predicate adds nothing significant to the subject, as in, ‘The trees leaves are leaves.’…A real predicate ‘enlarges’ a thing in Kant’s terminology.” 

Groothuis also notes that “If existence does not function as a genuine predicate, this is fatal to Anselm’s argument, since he is arguing from the very concept of God (plus logical principles) to the existence of God…If Kant is right, Anselm is wrong…” Philosophers have debated Kant’s question quite independently of the ontological argument, but the short answer is that it is quite legitimate to predicate existence to something, if that something demands existence to complete its definition. in other words, if it is really better to exist than not to exist, then to predicate this attribute to ones definition of anything is rationally justifiable. In conclusion, this first argument of Anselm’s is the most popular overall, though mostly because of its criticisms. The two major criticisms are 1. It defines God into existence, which leaves open the absurd idea that one can do so with any object of their choice (I am thinking of the worlds greatest blonde girl. This blonde girl is the best possible blonde girl ever; i.e., the most beautiful, greatest personality, best character, and madly in love with me. Thus she must exist in real life, because it is better for her to exist in real life than merely in my imagination.) The refutation to this refutation of Gaunilo’s is that to properly conceive of the definition of a perfect being means that there is only one being suitable to posit in this argument, and this is the best, most perfect being, not the most perfect version of any being you please. However, this is where Kant’s criticism comes in, because in order to soundly refute Gaunilo it must be true that it is rationally justified to 1. Attribute existence to something, and 2. That it is better to exist than to not exist. This idea of a “necessary being” is what will be assessed next, because if it is possible that this being not exist, then the first argument falls. This argument, though formulated by Anselm in the 11th century, was significantly developed by Charles Hartshorne and Norman Malcolm in the 1960’s. Here is Anselm’s second argument in his own words, which, though similar to the first, is subtly different: And certainly it exists so truly that it cannot be thought of as nonexistent. For something can be thought of as existing, which cannot be thought of as not existing, and this is greater than that which can be thought of as not existing. Thus, if that than which a greater cannot be thought can be thought of as not existing, this very thing than which a greater cannot be thought is not that than which a greater cannot be thought. But this is contradictory. So, then, there truly is a being than which a greater cannot be thought–so truly that it cannot even be thought of as not existing.
As was intimated earlier, the difference between Anselm's first argument and this one is with the idea of "necessary existence", as Groothuis writes: "The difference with this argument is the employment of the concept of what later philosophers call 'necessary existence.' God does not simply happen to exist as 'a being than which nothing greater can be conceived to exist.' Rather, God exists as a matter of logical necessity." The premises, taken from Groothuis, are as follows:
1. God defined as a maximally great or Perfect Being. 2. The existence of a Perfect Being is either impossible or necessary (since it cannot be contingent). 3. The concept of a Perfect Being is not impossible since it is neither non–sensical nor self–contradictory. 4. Therefore (a) a Perfect Being is necessary. 5. Therefore (b) a Perfect Being exists. The argument basically goes that there is a being that possesses a necessary existence, and then it makes the jump that because this being is necessary, it must also of course exist. According to Richard Taylor, the key to understanding Anselm’s second argument is to understand first a distinction between two senses of existence. The first kind of existence is that which exists in the understanding only, and the second is that which exists in reality. Again, as with the prior argument, the downfall of this one is that it is not clearly demonstrable that existence in reality is necessary for a Perfect Being.
The logic surrounding the ontological arguments is very complex, in part because the arguments themselves are a priori and purely conceptual. No side has a clear victory on whether or not existence is a predicate or whether actual existence is “greater” than nonexistence, and one of the downsides of this argument is that this logic is very confusing. Groothuis notes: “The rather abstruse reasoning of the ontological argument may make it intellectually inaccessible to many.” The overall goal of this paper is not to see if the Ontological argument is logically sound (though that plays a large part), but instead whether it should be used in Apologetics. My contention is that the complex nature of the argument severely hinders its recommendation for use even if it is logically sound. When I use this argument in apologetical dialogue, it is so confusing both to explain to the audience that many can’t refute it simply because they are so baffled and confused by it! Even if we restrict ourselves to the realm of natural theology and all of the theistic arguments within, there are so many other arguments that one could use. When Anselm was developing his first argument, after he had gone through most of his argument, he said this: “And thou art this being, oh lord our God.” Anselm made the huge leap of the being that resulted from his argument and the trinitarian God of the Bible. The ontological argument is usually considered a “theistic” proof, but when the word “theistic” is taken in its accepted definition, that is, a personal deity, then the ontological argument is actually a “deistic proof”, because the being that results from a successful inference of the argument is an abstract concept that is Perfect in every way. Yes, this is what God is, but that is only part of what God is. He is much more than that. I would argue that using the ontological argument in apologetical dialogue helps little in trying to win people to Christ, because even if they understand what you are trying to argue, they are far from the redeeming God of scripture, in whom they must place their faith in for salvation through Christ.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Go to Church!

      I recently had a conversation with someone, which inspired a facebook post, which inspired lots of people to say stuff, which led to more stuff being said in a long-winded way over the internet. I spent a lot of time trying to winsomely argue for my side in that little messenger box, and I thought since my mind was still fresh I might dump some of those thoughts here and make an article of it.

Over the weekend I had a conversation with a woman who it turns out had gotten a degree from seminary (in counseling),  but didn't regularly attend church until awhile ago when she found a church that "fit" and since then she has been a member of said church. I nodded and smiled and we went our ways, but I was shocked by the fact that someone could go to seminary and yet not go to church. It ate at me, so decided to post my thoughts about the issue of the church on my facebook page. The post read:

"Just talked with someone who said she was A Christian (and had a degree from seminary!) but only started going to church awhile ago.
Folks, people claiming to be Christians who don’t believe in church are like people claiming to be Christians but don’t believe in Christ. It’s that simple."

...It engendered some reaction. You know a post is controversial when it has 3 times more comments than likes, and that even after some have been deleted. In the rest of this post, I am going to draw from the comments made in reaction to this post (mostly arguing against it) and my arguments for it, but in a more organized, logical fashion. This is not directed at any person or group of people.

The structure of the basic argument is this:

Premise 1: Belief in Christ is of foundational importance to being a Christian.

Premise 2: Belief in and participation in the Church (weekly assembly of believers to worship) is of foundational importance to being a Christian.

Conclusion: To disbelieve in/not participate in the local church while still claiming to believe in Christ and call oneself a Christian is inconsistent and hypocritical.

Application: Those who claim to accept what it means to be a Christian should accept all such beliefs, not only ones such as belief in Christ, the resurrection, the Trinity, etc. but also the assembly of the saints...the local church.

It's really, really, simple. Before I attempt to establish these premises, let me list what I've been accused of saying that I didn't actually say and also don't mean, because the majority of the comments were directed against statements I didn't make and didn't mean, thus much effort was wasted attacking straw men.

–I am NOT saying that believing in church makes you saved, or that going to church makes you saved. People literally repeated this straw man multiple times at me. Read the actual post people, and don't assume what someone believes. Respond to what is written.

–I am also NOT saying that those who don't go to church AREN'T saved.

–I am NOT saying that the church is a building. I was referring to the church as the gathered assembly (bit of an oxymoron, but I still have to say it that way for people) which is how the greek word ecclesia is translated.

Now, to establish our premises:

Premise 1 isn't controversial at all, and that is why I used it in my facebook post. Nobody would question that it would be inconsistent for someone to claim to be a Christian but not believe in Christ.  That would make you an achristchristian, which is confusing and weird. :-)

Premise 2 is the most controversial, and the one I will spend most of my effort on. The argument will go thus: I will list some imperatives in scripture that don't make sense UNLESS it is normative for a believer to participate in the assembly (church):

1. Communion makes no sense unless you participate in the gathered church.

Firstly, taking communion is a command for believers from Christ. He issues this command in Matthew  26 (to name one gospel) and is quoted by Paul saying "Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." In Acts 2 we see the infant church taking communion along with praying and singing and listening to the apostles teaching. We see communion as a function of the gathered assembly in worship again in Acts 20:7.

When Paul addresses some issues surrounding communion in 1st Corinthians 11, he assumes that they should and do come together as a church.

If you don't go to church, how can you rightfully take this sacrament? How can you obey Christ? There are exceptions of course if a church member is sick or otherwise shut-in, but then they still take communion with and from the elders of their church. This brings me to my next argument:

2. Elders and our command to submit to them makes no sense without the gathered church.

Scripture plainly demands the creation of elders in the local church to oversee and care for the church and it's members. See Acts 6, Titus 1:5, and James 5:14 for a few examples.

We are supposed to submit to, honor, and encourage these elders, as seen in 1 Timothy 5:17,  Hebrews 13:17 and 1 Peter 5:1.

If you don't go to church then Elders and Deacons aren't necessary. If you don't go to church, you can't submit to them, honor them, and encourage them.

3. Paul's conversation about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14 makes no sense without the gathered church.

Paul writes to the church in Corinth on how to exercise their gifts, and he does so in the context of the gathered assemby as a part of the overall body of Christ. He recognizes that the Holy Spirit gives gifts to each Christian individually (12:11) but that these are integrated into the whole body. The individual members make up the body (12:12-13.)

Later on, Paul talks about the gift of tongues. Your position on cessationism is irrelevant here, because the point I am making is that in order to properly exercise the gift of prophesy, you must do it  in the gathered assembly. This is because the very point of tongues was to edify the body of Christ. This is why Paul says that he wishes that everyone could speak in toungues and prophesy so that they could edify one another (14:5).

Paul writes: "Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at most three, and each in turn, one must interpret...for you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted." (12:26-31).

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Philomath Episode 16 Show Notes: Books Read in 2018, Part 1

Here are links to (some) of the books mentioned in episode 16. I mentioned in excess of 15 books I believe, so I will only link to the best ones. The list below will represent the best books I have read in 2018, part 1:

1. The Absurdity of Unbelief by Jeffrey Johnson

2. Make it Stick by Peter C. Brown

3. Galatians for You by Timothy Keller

4. The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

5. All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes by Jeff Myers

Come back next Sunday for part 2!