Craig’s moral argument for the existence of God

For a while now I’ve been dissatisfied with William Lane Craig’s moral argument for the existence of God. Or more to the point, (seeing as I suspect that the argument is actually sound), I’m dissatisfied with how he normally defends the argument. I want to use this space to explain what I see as his method’s shortcomings. However, a caveat I give is that I’ll be critiquing Craig’s defence as I’ve come across it in his debates and online material. Craig is no fool and charity requires acknowledging the possibility that he does things differently in his scholarly published works, or that I’ve simply misunderstood the argument. At any rate, for what they’re worth, here are my thoughts on the matter.

The form of the argument he typically gives is this:

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.

The first premise is the one I want to concentrate on. As a material conditional, it is false if and only if the antecedent is true and the consequent is false. That is, the premise is false if God does not exist and moral values and duties do exist.

Presumably there are a number of atheists who think that is precisely how things are. They think that atheism is true and that this fact does not affect the existence of moral duties and values whatsoever. Not every atheist is a “subjectivist” about moral values and duties. So how does Craig aim to convince these atheists, or other folk who think this atheist position is not absurd?

From what I’ve seen, Craig defends the first premise by examining various naturalistic accounts of ethics (naturalistic as in non-supernatural, not naturalistic in the more technical sense used in metaethics) showing that they fail to account for, or “ground”, objective moral values and duties. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Craig’s critiques of these accounts are on the money. We’ll ignore any problems we might have with his criticisms or any quibbles we might have with his understanding of “objective” etc. If we’ve successfully put such worries aside then, we’ll be willing to explore the thought that, as Craig claims, there are no plausible naturalistic accounts of how it is that objective moral values and duties can exist.

The question that springs to my mind at this moment is “so what?” Perhaps there is no successful naturalistic account of these important ethical features to hand. Are we to think that a plausible naturalistic account could never be formulated? What stops the atheist from saying, “that’s right I don’t have a plausible naturalistic metaethical account, but I know intuitively that there are objective moral values and duties. I don’t need to explain how something is so to know that it is so. Perhaps we will know how it all fits together in the future.” As far as I can tell an atheist would be perfectly within their rights to say that. Showing that there is no adequate naturalistic account of values and duties available is not the same as showing that objective values and duties can’t exist given naturalism.

As such it seems to me that Craig either needs to do more to defend the first premise, or argue for a weaker conclusion, such as “theism is the best explanation of objective moral values and duties.” To adequately defend the first premise he needs to, by my understanding, give an analysis of the necessary conditions for the existence of objective moral values and duties, and demonstrate that, necessarily, atheism cannot meet those conditions.


argument against materialism from moral accountability

[Rough sketch]

Imagine that Sally (S) robs a bank (call this event R) in 1975 (t1) and is caught. However, due to various complications with the prosecution, she is not put on trial until 2011 (t2). During this time, via natural processes the atoms that compose her body have been completely replaced with other ones. Now for the argument.

1. S is morally accountable for R’s occurrence at t1, even at t2.
2. Substances are the only things that can cause events.
3. Only the thing that caused an event can be morally accountable for that event.
4. If materialism is true then S at t1 is not an identical substance to S at t2.
5. From (2), (3) and (4), if materialism is true then Sally is not morally accountable for R at t2.
6. From (1) and (5), materialism is false.

the free will debate – a broad outline of positions

I recently did some research on free will and so thought I’d outline the (very) broad, basic positions held in the debate. I will make little comment on the strengths and criticisms of each view in this post.

Much of the fuss over free will is because of the concept’s importance for our traditional understanding of our own influence in the universe, and, more commonly focussed upon, its apparent undergirding of our belief that people can (and should) be held morally accountable for their actions. It seems arbitrary to hold people morally accountable for the events they cause, and not dogs, or hurricanes, if people aren’t free, or responsible, in a more robust sense than those other things.

Although free will is an important concept, there are challenges to believing in its reality. One such challenge comes from understanding how free will relates to determinism.

Determinism is the belief that all events are casually determined by antecedent conditions, typically, prior events (which were themselves caused). If determinism is true it seems hard, at least on first glance, to see how agents could be self-determining, or free, or responsible in any robust sense. Therein lies the challenge for free will from determinism.

Although the above understanding of determinism implies an infinite regress, this is not usually considered an important observation in the free will debate. One could conceive of a deterministic reality as causally infinite, but one could also conceive of a deterministic universe that comes to exist non-deterministically (the rationality of believing such a view is not at issue here). What matters is the assertion that things are deterministic at least local to human affairs.

Note that determinism is not exclusively (or, arguably, even necessarily) tied to materialism. One could believe that there are more than physical entities, and still believe in determinism. Indeed, one of the reasons why the problem of determinism looms over the free will debate is because determinism seems like the consequence of taking metaphysical intuitions about causality seriously. Surely, we think, the laws of causality apply, no matter what kind of substances are involved.

It is tempting to think that the micro-world of quantum mechanics, with its inherent uncertainties, might shatter the scientific plausibility of determinism, but things aren’t that simple. First, quantum physics is still open to interpretation, and one might think that the uncertainties involved are purely epistemic, not actual. Secondly, even granting that there is real uncertainty at the quantum level, it is questionable how much difference that makes at the macro level, let alone whether the difference can account for any robust exercise of free will. Besides the uncertainties are within certain ranges – they are not completely boundless. As such, quantum events still happen “mechanistically”, even if not with absolute precision.

So is determinism the massive problem for free will that it seems to be?

Naturally there are those that think it is. This view is called incompatibilism. Proponents of this view believe that there are necessary conditions for the existence of free will which cannot obtain on determinism. The proposed conditions typically centre on the principles of alternative possibility and ultimate responsibility.

The principle of ultimate responsibility is the view that for an agent to be responsible for an action, that action must have had its ultimate causal origin in the agent.

The principle of alternative possibility (often shortened to PAP) is the view that for an agent do be responsible for an action, an agent must have been able to do otherwise than what she did.

PAP is the condition most focussed upon in the literature, but not all incompatibilists think it is the most important condition, or even a necessary condition, of free will. While an incompatibilist thinks that there is at least one condition that is incompatible with determinism, he/she might think others are compatible with determinism, or think that other proposed conditions are not actually truly necessary conditions for free will at all.

Note also that an incompatibilist need not think that free will actually exists. An incompatibilist qua incompatibilist is committed to the claim that free will is incompatible with determinism, not to the truth or falsehood of determinism itself. As such an incompatibilist can be a determinist, thinking that free will does not exist. This position is called hard determinism.

Another approach to the relation between determinism and free will is the belief that the two are in harmony. This position is called compatibilism. Proponents of this view argue (obviously) that free will is compatible with determinism, or at least, that the kind of free will that is compatible with determinism is robust enough to allow for the moral responsibility of agents, or anything else that we generally consider valuable about free will.

Compatibilists might deny that PAP and other such principles are truly necessary conditions for a robust notion of free will, or might argue that the intuitions driving these principles are still satisfied even given determinism. Accounts of how this is so differ among compatibilists, but often (at least in regard to PAP), centre around counterfactual considerations.

As with incompatibilism, compatibilism itself is neutral as regards to whether determinism is true or not. One could be a compatibilist and think that determinism is false, or be agnostic toward it. As it happens, most compatibilists think that determinism is true, and thus hold the position of soft determinism.

If one thinks that determinism is false and is an incompatibilist, one probably thinks that agents possess libertarian free will (LFW for short). LFW can be understood as any conception of free will that is not compatible with determinism. There are generally two strands: event-causal libertarianism and agent-causal libertarianism.

Event-causal libertarians believe that agents are free when events pertaining to the actions and relevant mental states of the agent, occur indeterministically. Agent-causal libertarians believe that agents are free when they cause their actions and relevant mental states fundamentally as a substance. They propose that agent-causation is a different type of causation to event-causation. That is, agents qua agents possess some property or power to directly cause events in a controlled manner, and this property is defended as being more than just the explanatorily useless property of having ‘whatever it takes to satisfy free will’. If this is hard to grasp it is because this position (at least as typically offered) is hard to outline, and has been subject to the criticism of metaphysical obscurity and conceptual emptiness – that it is unintelligible.

In addition to these views, another is that free will is incompatible with indeterminism (or more clumsily, incompatible with incompatibilism). Indeed, the compatibility of free will with indeterminism is just as much an issue as the compatibility of free will and determinism. Such ‘double incompatibilists’ think that if indeterminism is true then an agent’s actions boil down to luck, and as such, are not within the agent’s free control. Or, a proponent of this view might argue in some other way that LFW is logically incoherent. Peter Van Inwagen, a prominent defender of LFW agrees that it is just as hard to see how LFW fits with indeterminism as determinism, and that proponents of LFW have a hard time (as an understatement) making a positive case for LFW, rather than merely arguing for the insufficiency of soft and hard determinism.

And there you have it, a very broad outline, with much subtlety missed. To show my hand, I am (currently) an agent-causation libertarian.

does the new testament disagree about whether James was faithful?

Still reading The Empty Tomb

The post originally entitled ‘was James always a good guy? (part 1)’ has been deleted – its contents are distributed among this post and the previous one, with material that reflects a corrected understanding of the relevant arguments.

We’re looking now at whether Price can provide any evidence that, even in the NT, there is a growing legendary tradition that venerated James. If there isn’t, his theory won’t be able to ease the pressure against it from the lack of manuscript evidence.

What does he offer us? Only two passages.

“Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it [Luke 8:19-21].”

“All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers [Acts 1:14].”

Now perhaps he didn’t intend this to be an exhaustive case, but still, if these are the best two he can find, I wonder how weak the other examples must be.

Price is possibly reading Jesus’ words in Luke 8:19-20 as an affirmation like “you see my mother and my brothers over there? They hear the word of God and do it!” …but is that really Jesus’ intent in this passage? I think obviously not. Jesus is saying something more to the effect of “my real mother and my real brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

This meaning is explicitly conveyed in the extended parallel accounts in the other synoptics (Mark 3:31-5, Matthew 12:46-50) which are frank enough to make Jesus appear even disrespectful to his family. Since it’s generally believed that Luke used Mark as a source for his gospel, it is unlikely that Luke would be unaware of this. It certainly wouldn’t have been on his mind to use the very material which, if anything, puts James in a bad light, to vindicate him.

What of the Acts passage? The passage occurs in the post-resurrection narrative. So it is not at all useful for showing that there was a competing ‘pro-James’ tradition in the gospels that posited him as ever faithful.

His case looks very weak. There is no reason at all to suppose that James’ resurrection encounter was merely invented, and the lack of manuscript evidence is as pressing as ever. Next we’ll look at his argument for why the Corinthians tradition is a composite of rival traditions, one backing Peter, the other James.

More to come…

was James’ resurrection experience invented for credentials?

Still reading The Empty Tomb

The post originally entitled ‘was James always a good guy? (part 1)’ has been deleted – its contents are distributed among the next couple posts, with material that reflects a corrected understanding of the relevant arguments.

After Price’s argument that 1 Corinthians 15ff contradicts Galatians 1:11-12, his next major argument that the Corinthians tradition is an interpolation is a complicated one involving the claim that verse 7 – James’ encounter with the risen Christ – must be a late fictitious tradition, later than Paul’s writings. Because Price sees the 3-11 tradition as itself a composite tradition of two earlier traditions, one backing James, one backing Peter, Price thus sees the whole of 3-11 as a late post-Pauline work (oh and he thinks the 500 witnesses are an even later add-on!) In my opinion the more convoluted his theory becomes the more speculative it sounds, but let’s see why he thinks verse 7 must be a late fiction.

His case seems to rest on arguments that throw doubt on the historicity of James having a resurrection experience that prompted his conversion. He thinks if he can cast doubt on this then his own alternative theory for James’ conversion (discussed below) becomes plausible, and in turn, the resurrection encounter attributed to James is best understood as an invention created to bolster James’ credentials as a leader among some late pro-James movement.

The logic of his argument, from what he makes explicit, isn’t valid as it stands. After all, even if there is good reason to doubt that a resurrection encounter prompted James’ conversion, that isn’t itself good reason to doubt that James had a resurrection encounter at all, which is only what verse 7 claims anyway. It is (logically) possible that James converted prior to a resurrection encounter.

Presumably then, Price thinks that there are only two possible reasons for James’ conversion, the traditional answer, or his own theory, which excludes the possibility of a resurrection encounter. What is his own theory?

“If James was not “turned around” by an appearance of the Risen Jesus, how else can we account for his assumption of an early leadership role in the church? The answer is not far to seek. He was the eldest brother of King Messiah. Once honored for this accident of birth, he did not see fit to decline it. One might well remain aloof to a movement in which one’s brother was the leader yet soon warm to it once the leadership role was offered to oneself (page 83).”

There you have it – James was lured in by the prospect of leadership. I agree that probably there had to be a strong motivation for James to convert. But before we look at Price’s reasons to doubt the traditional explanation, we should think about whether this alternative is viable.

Implicit in his suggestion is the view that being a leader in the early Christian movement would have been a cushy vocation that James would have motivation to pursue. But this is utterly false. The movement was intrinsically linked to a man who died a shameful criminal’s death – leadership in the movement wouldn’t have earned admiration, but scorn. James would have endured great social pressure to deny Jesus, and be at risk of physical violence. He also would have been knowingly blaspheming Yahweh by preaching a false messiah. These are the same obstacles that make “the disciples lied” a poor explanation for Christianity’s survival post-Jesus’ crucifixion. Price’s explanation is most unrealistic.

But what about his reasons to doubt the traditional answer? He doesn’t give much by way of argument. He observes that nowhere in the NT is it explicitly stated that James converted through a resurrection appearance. This is true, but by Price’s own logic, James’ conversion required some cause (especially since the crucifixion would have cemented any doubt James had about Jesus’ ministry.) The resurrection experience mentioned in verse 7 is a powerful explanation for his conversion (and bear in mind we are not arguing here that James’ experience really was of the risen Jesus, only that he thought it was – for the sake of argument, one could assume the hallucination hypothesis here.)

Price wonders why the NT never describes James’ resurrection appearance as a conversion story like Paul’s. But where should we expect to find such detail? We know about Paul’s experience in detail through his own letters and from Acts, the author of which travelled with Paul and had access to his story. By contrast we have one letter from James (none if one wants to questions its authorship), and no pastoral need expressed in the letter that would warrant talking about his conversion. Price also can’t complain about the lack of detail in verse 7 compared to Paul’s resurrection encounter without begging the question against Pauline authorship. For if Paul authored that segment it is quite likely he expanded upon the raw tradition material with his own personal thoughts about the experience.

Why don’t the Gospels’ resurrection narratives include James’ conversion? The burden is on Price to argue why they should have, which he doesn’t do, but we can make some general comments like the authors perhaps not having access to the conversion traditions (even while still knowing the basic fact that James had converted, as implied by Acts 1:14), or their focussing on the disciple’s experiences, in regard to which James’ may have been a tangent. While I don’t think there’s any reason to doubt the historicity of the event from this observation, I will note it down for further enquiry.

So far then, we have no strong reasons to doubt the historicity of the traditionally understood cause of James’ conversion, and strong reasons to doubt the plausibility of Price’s own theory. Now we must see how this links to why Price thinks the resurrection appearance in verse 7 is the fabrication of a late pro-James faction used to boost his credentials.

Price muses, “the sheer fact of James’ blood relation to Jesus is by itself so powerful, so sufficient a credential that when we find another, a resurrection appearance, placed alongside it in the tradition, we must immediately expect a secondary layer of tradition (page 83).” Must we? Why? Price doesn’t give us any reason except what is essentially his gut feeling toward the matter. Moreover it isn’t like, if Jesus actually had been raised from the dead, his family would be the last people he’d want to appear to. Family would be a natural choice. There’s nothing odd about this.

Price goes on to show an example from the history of Islam where after the death of the movement’s great leader, a blood relation is turned to, and as time passes, legend venerates them further and further. But this example is useless; as already discussed, Price’s explanation for James’ conversion fails. It is unlikely he would have converted unless he had come to honestly believe that Jesus had been vindicated from his shameful death. So even if one accepts that later traditions became excessively gracious toward James (as they seem to have done), one still must account for James’ conversion, and a resurrection experience is still the best candidate seeing as Price’s own explanation is implausible. So one cannot merely suggest that a resurrection appearance was granted to James as the result of a growing legendary tradition that favoured him, as Price wants to do.

As an aside, it is interesting that N.T. Wright notes that in actual fact there is something curiously anomalous about how James was regarded in the early church:

“Again, even a small amount of disciplined historical imagination will paint the scene. Jesus of Nazareth had been a great leader. Most considered him a prophet, many the Messiah. But the Romans caught him and killed him, the way they did with so many would-be prophets and Messiahs. Just as John the Baptist’s movement faded into comparative obscurity with John’s imprisonment and death, with the speculation about John’s role within various eschatological scenarios being transferred to his slightly younger cousin, so one can easily imagine Jesus’ movement fading into comparative obscurity after his execution, with the spotlight now turning on his somewhat younger brother. The younger brother turns out to be a great leader: devout, a fine teacher, well respected by other devout Jews. What more could one want? But nobody ever dreamed of saying that James was the Messiah. He was simply known as the brother of ‘Jesus the Messiah’. At this point the argument runs in parallel with the famous Sherlock Holmes story that hinges on the dog doing something remarkable in the night – or rather on the fact that the dog did not do anything in the night, though it had every reason to do so, thus revealing the fact that the dog must have recognised the intruder. If we suppose that Jesus of Nazareth had simply been executed as a messianic pretender, and that his younger brother had become a strong and powerful leader among his former followers over the next thirty years, someone would have been bound, given the climate of the times, to suggest that James himself was the Messiah. But nobody ever did (The Resurrection of the Son of God, pg.561-2).”

It seems that Price’s theory doesn’t seem to have a leg a stand on. But it gets worse for him. As he is quite aware, there is no manuscript evidence that suggests that the 1 Corinthians 15 tradition is an interpolation. This alone is a blow, but it becomes more and more of a problem for him the later he has to posit the interpolation, seeing as the later the interpolation, the more chance we’d have of possessing an unaltered manuscript tradition. Price tries to ease the strain by suggesting that there is already evidence of pro-James polemic in the NT tradition. It’s to these arguments we’ll turn next time.

More to come…

clarifying end-relative meta-ethics

One meta-ethical theory (or cluster of theories) claims that “ought-conditions” are fundamentally related to ends, or goals. I think these approaches are on to something, however there is a need for clarity. While I think the truth values of normative propositions might be conditional on end-relative facts, I don’t think that normative propositions necessarily refer to ends as part of their semantic content.

If normative propositions necessarily referred to ends as part of their semantic content, then all normative propositions would look like the following:

“In order to get to the other side of town, one ought to take the tube.”
“In order to cherish life, one ought to not destroy it.”
“In order to respect the elderly, one ought to give up their seat on the bus for them.”

Or to make it agent-specific,

“In order for Sally to get to the other side of town, she ought to take the tube.”

If all normative propositions necessarily look like this, there are no coherent normative propositions that are simply:

“One ought to X.”
“Sally ought to X.”

There are two problems with this. For one, these propositions sure look coherent. There might be mystery surrounding why any propositions of this kind are true, but that’s not a semantic issue. You’d know, at least roughly, what I meant if I said it. We talk in this manner all the time. Plainly, these propositions are coherent.

The second problem is that the first kind of normative propositions given above do not actually tell us what we ought to do. Imagine approaching a wise moral teacher to ask what you ought do to with your life, and receiving a response like “well, in order to X this, you must Y, and in order to S, you must T. And in order to do…” You’d reply “well yes, there are lots of goals I could pursue. But what should I actually do?” These kinds of propositions just aren’t that instructive morally. A moral theory limited to only those propositions will be rather inadequate.

Therefore while normative propositions might have truth-values that hinge on certain end-relative facts, normative propositions do not refer to such facts out of semantic necessity.

were there really 500 witnesses to the risen Christ?

Still reading The Empty Tomb…

Price pops in an argument against the authenticity of the reference to the 500 witnesses in the original material of the 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 tradition. That is, he not only questions its place in the original source material, but also its historicity. He wonders why, if this were early tradition, do the gospel accounts not mention such a large scale appearance of the risen Christ?

It seems to me that the gospel writers had authorial intentions beyond merely recording any event of importance, but I grant that it is a priori plausible that this would be the kind of event that one of the evangelists would record. I confess that I do not know whether any of the gospel’s appearance accounts can be taken as identical to this appearance event, or why the gospel authors would fail to mention it. Of course there is also a problem with taking this event to be fictitious – the passage openly declares that most these witnesses are still living, with the implicit assumption that they can be approached to testify about this appearance. A bold move if in fact, no such witnesses exist.

Price thinks he avoids this problem because his whole theory is that the entire tradition was inserted into the epistle at a much later, post-Pauline stage. So whether he can confidently affirm that the 500 reference is fictitious will depend on the success of his overall case. I’m happy to remain agnostic on the matter until my reading swings me one way of the other. At any rate, from the perspective of building an apologetic for the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection, the 500 witnesses are the icing on the cake and not much more.

More to come…

did Paul preach a gospel from man or God?

Still reading The Empty Tomb

Robert Price’s argument that 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 is an interpolation begins with the claim that in context it contradicts Galatians 1:12.

Here are the relevant texts:

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. [1 Corinthians 15:1-14]”

“For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. [Galatians 1:11-12]”

Price’s question is, did Paul preach a gospel he got from man, or God?

I think these passages are easily harmonised. By my lights the relevant claims of the passages are as follows:

1 Corinthians 15ff

1. Paul received the same tradition that he passed to the Corinthians.
2. The tradition contains the content of the gospel.

Galatians 1:11-12

1. The content of the gospel was not made up by man.

Is there any contradiction here? Not that I can see. It would be contradictory if there could be no distinction between the content/substance of the gospel and the form of its delivery. But I find it eminently plausible that Paul is able to make such a distinction.

Price is aware of this harmonisation and doesn’t think much to it. In response to the claim that Paul makes such a distinction between form and content, Price says the following,

“…are we justified in reading such a distinction into the text in the first place? Certainly the author of this passage does not draw it. Rather, for him, these are the very logia that will save if adhered to. 1 Corinthians 15:ff means to offer a formulaic ‘faith once for all delivered to the saints.’ And we seem to be in the presence of a post-Pauline Paulinism, not too dissimilar to that of the Pastorals (pg75).”

That is his only comment on this particular harmonisation. From what I gather then, Price thinks the author of verses 3-11 clearly intends the following creed to be the necessary gospel package – in form and content. He thinks the idea that this could be just one possible mode of expressing the gospel is foreign to the text.

Well, clearly the author considers the creed to be massively important. But why think this importance boils down to the necessity of the structure for personal salvation? The text certainly doesn’t say that. Are we to believe the author considers the tradition to be a magic formula without which one cannot be saved? That would be a particularly uncharitable reading of the author’s intentions. Why not think instead that the importance of the creed is in its preservation of the historical knowledge that can grant salvation? That is, not that the formula-form is itself salvific, but that it is important for preserving that which is salvific – the propositional content. Given that oral transmission placed a higher emphasis on substance over exact form anyway, this seems far more likely.

So this harmonisation remains the best reading of the texts. At the very least it isn’t implausible enough to warrant digging around for an interpolation theory instead.

More to come…

EDIT: Updated 12/08/2011 to reflect an increased understanding of the argument.

no preference to harmonisations over interpolations?

I’m currently reading The Empty Tomb which seems to be one of the most popular anti-apologetics books on the topic of Jesus’ resurrection. I’ll be using the ‘pad as and when to write about the arguments and help me process my thoughts on them.

Right now I’m just dissecting a chapter by Robert Price where he argues that 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 is an interpolation. If true this would significantly affect debates about the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection; this passage is generally seen as an important insight into very early Christian belief. I’m reading from the Kindle version but I presume page references transfer to the physical copy as well.

Price starts off with a methodological discussion on whether there is any reason to prefer a harmonisation hypothesis to an interpolation hypothesis for a textual problem. He sees no reason to make such a preference and seems to suggest that one only does through apologetic agenda rather than epistemological rigour.

I think he’s mistaken. Occam’s Razor favours the simpler theory and, all other things beings equal, a harmonisation hypothesis is simpler than an interpolation hypothesis. A harmonisation hypothesis allows the problem texts to be authored by the author of the works in which the texts appear. An interpolation hypothesis posits not only the author of the surrounding work, but also a later author or scribe who inserted or modified a text for some motive. Interpolation hypotheses can become increasingly complicated when you analyse what that motive would have been and how the author/scribe thought they could get away with it.

It seems to me then that all things being equal one should prefer a harmonisation hypothesis to an interpolation hypothesis. And one cannot merely scoff at a harmonisation assuming a priori that it is some piece of apologetic sophistry, one must show why it is suspect on exegetical/logical grounds.

More to come…

moral accountability argument (extended and reworked)

1. X is any instance of an agent (A) being animated that is morally relevant.*
2. X is either caused or uncaused.
3. If X is uncaused then A didn’t cause X.
4. If A didn’t cause X then A is not responsible for X.
5. If A is not responsible for X then A is not morally accountable for X.
6. From (3), (4) and (5), if X is uncaused then A is not morally accountable for X.

7. If X is caused then X is preceded by a causal chain.**
8. All causal chains are either infinite, finite, or circular.
9. From (7) and (8), if X is caused then X is preceded by either an infinite, finite, or circular causal chain.

10. If X was preceded by an infinite causal chain then the causal chain either occurred entirely within A’s agency, or extends outside of it.
11. It is impossible for there to be an infinite causal chain within A’s agency.
12. From (10) and (11), if X was preceded by an infinite causal chain then it extends outside A’s agency.
13. If X was ultimately caused by things outside of A’s agency then A is not ultimately responsible for X.
14. If A is not ultimately responsible for X then A is not morally accountable for X.
15. From (12), (13) and (14), if X was preceded by an infinite causal chain, then A is not morally accountable for X.

16. If X was preceded by a circular causal chain then X is ultimately the cause of itself.
17. It is impossible for X to be the cause of itself.
18. From (16) and (17), it is impossible for X to be preceded by a circular causal chain.

19. If X is preceded by a finite causal chain then the causal chain had a beginning.
20. All causal chains that have a beginning have a first cause.
21. From (19) and (20), if X’s preceding causal chain is finite it has a first cause.
22. If X’s preceding causal chain has a first cause, that cause is either A or not A.
23. If the first cause in X’s preceding causal chain is not A then A is not ultimately responsible for X.
24. From (14) and (23), if A is not the first cause of X then A is not morally accountable for X.
25. From (2), (6), (9), (15), (18), (21) and (24), if A is not the first cause in a causal chain preceding X, then A cannot be morally accountable for X.

26. Necessarily, the first cause in a causal chain cannot itself have a cause.
27. All contingent causes are themselves caused.
28. From (26) and (27), if A contingently causes X then A is not the first cause in the causal chain preceding X.
29. From (25) and (28), if A is not necessarily the first cause in a causal chain preceding X then A cannot be morally accountable for X.

*The language of being “animated” in “morally relevant” ways is used to refer to an agent’s action without using language that already presupposes that the agent is the responsible party. Look at the difference in language, say, between “an agent moving his hand” and “an agent’s hand moving”. The first implies that the agent is responsible, the latter leaves that open. In the same way being animated in morally relevant ways refers to an occurrence that is morally significant (say murder, or rape), without suggesting an a priori commitment to what the responsible party is, i.e. it could be an alien tapping into the agent’s brain, or indeed the agent herself.

**To some people “causal chain” might suggest that there is definitely more than one preceding cause. I don’t take that phrase to have any quantitative input in this argument (there could just be one preceding cause – it would still quality as a causal chain here).