William on Ransom Theory

Another concise argument from William, this time theological, criticizing the ransom theory of atonement while preserving the truth in it:

Dominus redemit nos a diabolo; ergo per pretium datum diabolo, et dedit se pretium; ergo dedit se diabolo.

[The ‘Ransom’ argument.] “God redeemed us from the Devil. Therefore, [He redeemed us] at a cost paid to the Devil. And He gave Himself as the cost. Therefore, He gave Himself to the Devil.”

Hec argumentatio non valet: ‘Dominus redemit nos per pretium datum diabolo; ergo dedit pretium diabolo’. Et est ibi fallacia secundum consequens, quia fit ibi processus a superiori ad inferius affirmando, quia redimere pretio dato superius est ad dare pretium diabolo, quoniam diabolus detinuit homines in carcere tanquam custos. Custodi autem carceris non solvitur pretium, sed domino carceris. Deus enim est dominus inferni; et ita pretium illud erat dandum et reddendum Deo Patri.

[William’s reply.] “This argument is invalid…It commits the fallacy of [affirming] the consequent, since it proceeds by affirmation from the higher to the lower [i.e., from the general to the specific]. For redeeming at a given cost is higher [i.e. more general] than giving the price to the Devil, since the Devil detained men in prison as a jailkeeper. But you don’t pay bail to the jailkeeper, but to the master of the prison. For God is Master of Hell, and so the price was to be given and repaid to God the Father.”

First, William disputes the validity of the argument. I think the fallacy William is identifying is assuming that “redeemed from the Devil” must mean “redeemed by paying the Devil,” when that’s only one possible interpretation. So “affirmation from the higher to the lower” means “inferring a specific claim from a more general claim,” which is fallacious. He calls it an instance of  “the fallacy of the consequent,” and I think he has in mind reasoning like this:

  1. If God redeemed us by paying the Devil (specific claim), He redeemed us from the Devil (general claim).
  2. God redeemed us from the Devil.
  3. Therefore, God redeemed us by paying the Devil.

Which is obviously fallacious. So given that God redeemed humanity from the Devil, it doesn’t follow that God ransomed humanity from the Devil.

(I don’t think the part of the argument William quotes commits this fallacy, though. Maybe he just put it there as a placeholder.)

Second, William gives us a reason to doubt that the “ransom” interpretation is the correct one: we’re only under the devil’s power because God put us there as a punishment for our sins. Christ did redeem us from the Devil; but He did so by paying God, not the Devil. We really did give ourselves over to the Devil, but as our jailkeeper, not our owner. The fact that Christ’s death redeemed us from the Devil is not sufficient reason to think that Christ’s death was an atonement paid to the Devil, and not to God. On the other hand, the fact that the atonement was a debt paid to God doesn’t mean that Christ’s death didn’t free us from the dominion of the Devil.


Liar, Lunatic… Philosopher?

C.S. Lewis’ “Trilemma” (or “Liar, Lunatic, Lord” argument) is a familiar argument in Christian apologetics. Lewis didn’t actually originate it, but here’s how he puts it:

“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice.” (Mere Christianity)

The argument is basically this:

1. Jesus claimed to be God.
2. Someone who claimed to be God is either a liar, insane, or actually God.
3. If Jesus is a liar or insane, he can’t be a great moral teacher.
4. If Jesus is God, he is not merely a great moral teacher.
5. Therefore, either Jesus is God, or he is not a great moral teacher.

Sometimes this gets expanded into an outright argument for Christ’s divinity (I think G.K. Chesterton made this argument in The Everlasting Man):

6. Jesus displays profound moral integrity, so he’s not a liar.
7. Jesus seems to be mentally stable, so he’s not insane.
8. Therefore, Jesus is God.

It’s not a decisive argument, but it’s a pretty good one. But what interests me today is that a similar argument could be applied to Scorates’ claim to have a daimonion (not a demon, but a benevolent spirit) that spoke to him whenever he was about to do something he shouldn’t do:

1. Socrates claimed that a spirit regularly spoke to him.
2. Someone who claims that a spirit regularly speaks to him is either a liar, insane, or telling the truth.
3. Socrates displays profound moral integrity, so he’s not a liar.
4. Socrates seems to be mentally stable, so he’s not insane.
5. Therefore, Socrates was telling the truth about a spirit speaking to him.

Like Jesus, Socrates was certainly a very odd person- but he doesn’t seem mentally ill. And like Jesus, he wasn’t above using figurative language when he felt people were intellectually beneath him or not willing to follow his argument. But also like Jesus, it’s usually very clear when he’s using metaphors and when he’s being gravely serious, and what he says about the daimonion appears to fall into the latter category (especially since, unlike Jesus’ claim to divinity, his claim to have a guardian spirit probably wasn’t too unbelievable in his time). On the other hand, an isolated delusion of a spirit speaking to you in an otherwise stable personality is a little more believable than an isolated delusion that you’re, you know, the Lord God, in an otherwise stable personality. So I think our best conclusion is either that Socrates had a very specific, recurring delusion but was otherwise fine (seems unlikely to me, but possible), or that he actually had some kind of contact with a spirit.

You could make a further argument for the latter conclusion based on the fact that the daimonion seems to have actually guided him pretty well (until the very end… and there’s your counterargument).

How to process this as a Christian, I don’t know. The daimon could have been a demon, sweet-talking Socrates until it found a way to lead him to his death. Or it could have been an angel (who knows what an angel was doing in ancient Greece, but it’s not impossible). Or maybe there are other kinds of spirits. I don’t know! I’m just following the argument where it leads.


Against Extreme Divine Command Theory

William of Auxerre gives this brief but effective argument against the theory that actions are evil merely because God prohibits them:

Cum prohibitio sit ipse Deus prohibens, Deus ipse esset causa malitie in actione; quod absit.

“Since God’s prohibition [of an action] is just God himself prohibiting [the action], God Himself would be the cause of the evil in an action; which can’t be allowed.”

(Summa Aurea Book 2, Treatise 11, Chapter 3, Question 3)


A Set of Impossible Worlds?

Is it true to say (A) “Aragorn was at one point king of Gondor and Arnor” and false to say (-A) “Aragorn was at no point king of Gondor and Arnor?” My instinct is to say Yes, but if these are statements about the real world, the opposite is true, since Aragorn never existed.

We could say: For a culturally competent English speaker, the question assumes that we’re asking about some definite possible world w. In w, A is true and -A is false, while in the actual world -A is true and A is false.

But is there some possible world in which Aragorn is king of Gondor and Arnor? My first instinct is to say Yes, the world portrayed in the Lord of the Rings. Call it Middle-Earth.

But is Middle Earth a single world? Tolkien is famous for his many, many versions of Middle-Earth, in many of which Aragorn becomes King of Gondor and Arnor. So maybe Middle-Earth is a set of possible worlds.

But are those possible worlds even possible? For one thing, some (or all?) versions of Tolkien’s mythology have internal inconsistencies, so they are not possible worlds. And even the ones that don’t (if any) might be impossible for some logical or metaphysical reason that we don’t now understand: they might only appear possible to us.

Let’s bite the bullet and say that none of the possible worlds in the set “Middle Earth” could ever have existed- they’re just not logically possible. Suppose further that any possible world in which A is true, if there is one, would be contained in the set “Middle Earth.” It follows that there are no possible worlds in which A is true.

And yet…

-The statement “Aragorn was at one point king of Gondor and Arnor” is still true, but it’s true of an impossible world.

-When I say, “Aragorn was at one point king of Gondor and Arnor,” I’m not just saying that it’s possible for someone named Aragorn to be king of two kingdoms called Gondor and Arnor. That’s either true but boring or false for reasons I can’t understand. I’m successfully referring to an impossible individual (and when I say, “Frodo was never king of Gondor and Arnor,” I’m referring to another impossible individual and distinguishing him from the first).

-The set “Middle Earth” seems to be a set of impossible worlds, but not therefore an empty set of worlds, because I can state true facts about those worlds (“Aragorn was at one point king of Gondor and Arnor”), and I can distinguish between them (for example, I can distinguish the possible world in which the Ringbearer is named Frodo and the one in which he is named Bingo).

-All of this only works if the principle of explosion is false.


Star Trek and Religion

I realized recently that out of the five Star Trek series, the majority have religious first officers.

Original Series – Spock doesn’t talk about religion and probably wasn’t meant to have a religion at the time of writing. But later on Vulcans are definitely portrayed as religious, albeit in a very un-Judeo-Christian way (e.g., Tuvok). Seeing as Spock is pretty keen on being as Vulcan as possible, we can safely assume that he was religious.

Next Generation – To my knowledge Will Riker had no religion, but I could be wrong.

Deep Space Nine – Entire episodes revolve around Kira Nerys’ religious beliefs.

Voyager – Chakotay’s generic but genuine Native American spirituality is sympathetically portrayed, though the writer’s seem to have completely forgotten about it halfway through the show.

Enterprise – T’Pol is Vulcan, and is portrayed as engaging in spiritual practices to a greater degree than Spock.

So that’s four out of five, or three out of five if we don’t count Spock; in any case a majority. If we do count Spock, Riker is the lone secular exception. If we cheat and count Spock twice because of the Animated Series, that’s five out of six.

There’s also an interesting mix of beliefs- polytheism, ancestor veneration, nontheistic philosophical mysticism. The lack of monotheism is notable, though Bajoran religion is obviously imitative of the Abrahamic faiths.

Of course, other than Ben Sisko (sort of), we have zero religious captains. Kirk expresses belief in God, but he might have been rhetorical or sarcastic.


Lewis and Burroughs on Mars

“There was one God, according to them, Maleldil the Young; nor was it possible to imagine Hyoi or Hnohra worshipping a bloodstained idol. Unless, of course, the hrossa were after all under the thumb of the sorns, superior to their masters in all the qualities that human beings value, but intellectually inferior to them and dependent on them. It would be a strange but not an inconceivable world; heroism and poetry at the bottom, cold scientific intellect above it, and overtopping all some dark superstition which scientific intellect, helpless against the revenge of the emotional depths it had ignored, had neither will nor power to remove.”
(C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet, Chapter 14)

Isn’t that last sentence exactly the situation in E.R. Burroughs’ Barsoom, especially in The Gods of Mars? You have strong, heroic red and green Martians on the bottom; advanced white Martians fooling them with a false religion that makes the White Martians Gods; on the top, black Martians who are themselves captive to an even sillier religion. I don’t know if Lewis ever read Burroughs, and maybe this is a generic enough sci-fi trope that he didn’t have to. But the similarity certainly struck me when I read it, and especially the fact that Ransom’s hypothesis couldn’t be more wrong when it comes to Lewis’ Mars.


Philosophy and the Dead

speakerReverence for the dead is something essentially human and Christian– not a cultish attempt to communicate with the dead or better their lot in some practical way, but the recognition, however dim, that personality survives the death of the body, and so can be honored and dishonored after death (whether or not the dead are conscious of it isn’t really the issue).

Historical philosophy (the kind of work I do) can be seen as a way of showing reverence for the dead. If Socrates or Descartes showed up at Loyola with something to say, I would be disrespectful not to listen to them, whether or not I agreed. Likewise even for, say, Democritus or William of Auxerre. They are our intellectual fathers and older brothers and deserve a fair hearing. But they can’t request that hearing for themselves, because they’re dead. So they need people to speak up for them.

An objection: Philosophy is about the truth, not honoring people.  The errors of deceased philosophers shouldn’t be promulgated merely because they’re deceased.

Reply: Of course not. If Socrates (for example) wanted to know the truth but taught something false, it would be dishonoring to Socrates to continue to teach his own, false beliefs. But first we have to study dead philosophers and see which of their teachings are true and which are false, a job which is by no means finished.

And before we decide which of their teachings are true, we have to understand those teachings on their own terms. That’s where the job of a historical philosopher is important.

And finally, while judging their teachings, we may find ourselves being judged by them, and our own convictions and conclusions questioned; and we may finally discover that the dead can still speak for themselves.