The Logic of the Trilemma

Here is the logic of Josh McDowell’s version of the Trilemma argument found in Chapter 7 of Evidence that Demands a Verdict and Chapter 2 of More Than a Carpenter:

1. Jesus claimed to be God.

2. If Jesus claimed to be God, and Jesus was not God, and Jesus knew that he was not God, then Jesus was a liar.

3. If Jesus claimed to be God, and Jesus was not God, and Jesus did not know that he was not God, then Jesus was mentally ill.

Therefore:

4. Either Jesus was a liar, or Jesus was mentally ill, or Jesus was God.

5. It is not the case that Jesus was a liar.

6. It is not the case that Jesus was mentally ill.

Therefore:

7. Jesus was God.

As formulated here, this is a deductively valid argument (both inferences are valid).

About Bradley Bowen
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00565212411446092552 smijer

    True the inferences are valid… Normally when the inferences are valid, it’s time to inspect the premises -and often you will find a difficulty with one of them. In this case every premise is so flawed, one has to wonder why anyone thought to string together an argument out of them.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03034292023591747601 PersonalFailure

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03034292023591747601 PersonalFailure

    Read that wrong. Sorry, meds haven’t kicked in yet.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16920403080764780317 thePuck

    False Trichotomy (there are more than three possibilities and the argument is formulated to exclude them) thus fallacious. Such as:

    1. Jesus never existed and is an amalgamated myth (most likely, considering the lack of real historical evidence).

    2. Jesus was mistaken and believed he was (or could be) god.

    3. The story of Jesus’s claims has been changed and he did not, in fact, claim to be god (arguable even from the Biblical text).

    4. Jesus was an invader from another planet or level of dimensionality (unlikely, but at least as likely as god and only requires us to believe that there might be natives of some other place than our own with different characteristics rather than supernaturalism).

    5. Jesus was a tool of canny political agendas, either Roman or Jewish, and using the “God Gambit” to do his work.

    6. Jesus was a member of a mystical group that taught that they were or became gods (very possible, gnostic sects abounded and mystery cults taught exactly this; Jesus may have been a “Justified Osiris” or a magus).

    7. Jesus was a time traveler (again, unlikely, but more likely than him being the supreme being in all existence) and used superior technology to accomplish his miracles.

    8. Jesus was a carpenter who got involved in politics and religion in his youth, had an extensive period of organizing and quiet rebellion against both the Romans and the Synod, and then at the age of 30-31 became thoroughly radicalized. Because of the incredible force of politics wed to religion, things spun out of control, forcing him into a situation where he had to accept the title of being god (or the messiah) to avoid more dangerous consequences. As things progressed he finally found himself having to betray his movement or die for it, and chose to die in order to supply a martyr for the cause and make a statement. It was successful, and the rest is history.

    9. Jesus may have been a poorly understood adherent of Hinduism or Buddhism, both of which have correlations in both teachings and symbol-sets with Christianity.

    The point is I can come up with other possibilities all day long, making the premise that there are three possibilities false. It doesn’t matter if false premises parse deductively.

    Also, there is the undefined term “lord” or “god”. Without a real definition that both sides will agree with, the introduction of the notion is as acceptable as introducing glabaoblatts to explain gravitation…if you don’t define the term adequately, it’s just nonsense, and I disagree that the term god or lord is one that is defined; people use the term all the time but upon examination agreement is scarce.

    The final premises, that Jesus was neither a liar nor lunatic, to be questionable. How does one establish such a claim when one cannot establish that Jesus even existed or the details of that existence?

    There…a firmer rebuttal than simply saying the premises are flawed. Indeed they are flawed, but that is not a rebuttal, it is a claim.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04617048306060094977 Lew

    McDowell’s argument assumes that God exists, which is one problem. Let’s give him that for arguent’s sake. He also assumes that there are only three possible explanations, and two of those are dangerous. This biases consideration of only one conclusion.

    Two years ago many financial professionals were saying that both the economy and the stock market “are strong”. As it turns out, they were not. Are all these people “therefore” only liars or insane?

    Jesus, too, could also have been simply mistaken. There is no need for aspersions of severe moral or mental capacity.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12963476276106907984 Sabio

    I love when a Christian uses this argument with me (being an ex-Christian). I give my reply here on my blog .
    Thanx for the post !

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    thePuck said…

    False Trichotomy (there are more than three possibilities and the argument is formulated to exclude them) thus fallacious. Such as:

    1. Jesus never existed and is an amalgamated myth (most likely, considering the lack of real historical evidence).

    Brad comments:

    This possibility is excluded by premise (1), which asserts that Jesus claimed to be God. If Jesus was a myth and not an historical person, then obviously he did not claim to be God, or make any other claims.
    Your objection here is not to the logic of the Trilemma argument, but to the truth of premise (1).

    ================

    2. Jesus was mistaken and believed he was (or could be) god.

    Brad comments:

    This alternative is covered by premise (3), which asserts that If Jesus claimed to be God, and Jesus was not God, and Jesus did not know that he was not God, then Jesus was mentally ill. So, to make an objection out of this case, you need to argue that Jesus could have been mistaken without being mentally ill. Until you make that case, this is not a counterexample to the argument.

    =====================

    3. The story of Jesus’s claims has been changed and he did not, in fact, claim to be god (arguable even from the Biblical text).

    Brad comments:

    As with your first example, this possibility is ruled out by premise (1). This is not an objection to the logic of the argument, but to the truth of premise (1). So, to make this example work as an objection, you need to argue that premise (1) is false or questionable, and that requires dealing with the evidence that McDowell provides in support of premise (1) (as I have recently done on my blog: http://crossexamination.blogspot.com/search/label/Jesus ).

    ===============
    4. Jesus was an invader from another planet or level of dimensionality (unlikely, but at least as likely as god and only requires us to believe that there might be natives of some other place than our own with different characteristics rather than supernaturalism).

    Brad comments:

    Your description of this example fails to engage with the logic of the Trilemma argument. So, as it stands, this example is irrelevant to the Trilemma, unless and until you add to the description to make the logical connections to the key concepts (i.e. Does this Jesus claim to be God? Is this Jesus God? Does this Jesus know he is not God?).

    ===================

    5. Jesus was a tool of canny political agendas, either Roman or Jewish, and using the “God Gambit” to do his work.

    Brad comments:

    Your description of this example fails to engage the logic of the Trilemma argument. So, as it stands, this example is irrelevant to the Trilemma, unless and until you add to the descriptions to make the logical connections to the key concepts (i.e. Does this Jesus claim to be God? Is this Jesus God? Does this Jesus know he is not God?). If your intention is that such a Jesus claimed to be God, was not God, and knew he was not God, then you only have the beginnings of a counterexample here. You would then need to argue either that such a Jesus would not be a liar (sounds implausible to me), or else that the historical Jesus was a liar, which is ruled out by premise(4). Once again this would be an objection to the truth of a premise, not to the logic of the Trilemma argument.

    ===============

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    The URL reference to my blog got cutoff in my reply, so I will try again:

    So, to make this example work as an objection, you need to argue that premise (1) is false or questionable, and that requires dealing with the evidence that McDowell provides in support of premise (1) as I have recently done on my blog: http://crossexamination.blogspot.com/search/
    label/Jesus.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16920403080764780317 thePuck

    Bradley:

    Good try, but you don’t get the point…the trilemma itself is an attempt to trick logic into giving it a win, when the logic wouldn’t care what elements were put in it. It is valid not because of what it says but the form. If we are trying to actually ascertain the truth of something, the deductive form of the argument is not going to get us there. Otherwise we could say we learn something about the world from:

    “All bleeps are blaps, all blaps are bloops, therefore all bleeps are bloops.”

    Valid, but not true because meaningless. That was why I said I could make other possibilities all day…the whole notion of such a trichotomy is fallacious…so long as other possibilities can be conceived then they are admissible, and thus the deductive faculty of the argument is lost. The only point of a syllogism like this is that it allows you to remove all but one option, and in this case this is not possible…there are more than the three options given.

    And no, to be mistaken is not to be mad. The argument doesn’t get to make unargued propositions and just claim them true. Such as…why was Jesus not a liar or madman? No one tells us, they just use the strength of the Bible myth. Why should I accept the claims? Because they masquerade as philosophy by using certain language? Real philosophy argues for its claims, it doesn’t just assert them in an attempt to co-opt deductive truth.

    A valid deductive argument with true premises always yields a true result. This is not one of those, for all of the reasons I named. No attempt to make me play by your rules will work, I only care about the rules of real philosophy and logic, which state that “Questionable Premise”, “Poisoning the Well”, and Equivocation are all fallacies, just not deductive fallacies…they are fallacies of meaning, not form, and the problem with this argument is the meaning. The form is fine…if it didn’t contain any claims and only symbols. Since it contains claims we have to examine the claims, and they are questionable. There are more than three possibilities, the term god is undefined, and the last premises are unargued and unevidenced claims…thus the argument does not convince, for all its deductive form.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    The validity of an argument says very little about its worth. In this case premise #2 is clearly wrong, because Jesus may have claimed to be God in a metaphorical sense. After all Jesus also claimed to be “the way” (which Jesus being a person clearly was not), but this does not make him a liar.

    And speaking about alternatives, one should also consider this one: That Jesus was God[1] but did not know it.

    [1] Or, more exactly, that Jesus was the incarnation of the second hypostasis of God.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Response to The Puck…

    Your objections to the Trilemma might be good ones. My point is not that the Trilemma is a solid argument. My point is that your objections to it are unclear and confused, and that you are failing to take advantage of the intellectual work I have provided to you (and anyone else who is interested in the Trilemma argument).

    Your objections are basically counterexamples. But they are poorly thought out counterexamples, or poorly expressed counterexamples, and I was trying to help you to be clearer in your thinking.

    I was not trying to prove that the Trilemma argument can withstand your objections.

    Here are some basic bits of advice for giving counterexamples.

    1. Be clear as to the target of the counterexample.

    Is the counterexample an objection to a logical inference or is it an objection to a premise of an argument?

    If it is a counterexample to an inference in an argument, which inference? Clearly state the inference.

    If it is a counterexample to a premise in an argument, which premise? Clearly state the premise.

    2. Make sure that the alleged counterexample is relevant, and explain the relevance.

    If you want to give a counterexample to “All swans are white”, then you need to come up with an example of a swan. Pointing to a yellow banana won’t work as a counterexample here, because the topic is the color of swans not the color of fruit.

    In the case of the Trilemma, you need to connect your counterexamples up to the categories in the argument, namely: “claimed to be God” “was not God” and “knew he was not God”. If your examples don’t line up with these categories, then they are irrelevant to this argument.

    If you fail to explain how your example lines up to these categories, then you have failed to show the relevance of your counterexample.

    3. Make sure that the alleged counterexample really counters or contradicts the target inference or premise, and explain how this is so (if neccessary).

    In the case of “All swans are white” producing an example of a black swan obviously contradicts the claim, because a black swan is obviously not a white swan.

    But when dealing in abstractions like “he knew he was not God”, an alleged counterexample is likely to need some explaining to show that it is in fact contrary to the inference or premise to which you are objecting.

    A fourth point of advice is not as essential, but is worth mentioning in relation to your objections to the Trilemma.

    4. It is better to give a counterexample to a premise or an inference of an argument than to the conclusion of an argument.

    I think your counterexmaples were intended as objections to the intermediate conclusion “Either Jesus was a liar, or Jesus was mentally ill, or Jesus was God.” That is OK, but your objections would be better if they were aimed at the argument for that conclusion.

    For example, your example about Jesus being a mythical person would be better if presented as an objection to premise (1), rather than to the intermediate conclusion that this premise supports.

    Why is it better to attack an argument as opposed to its conclusion? There are a couple of reasons for prefering this. First, you are then responding to the argument. If you just attack the conclusion of an argument, then you are basically ignoring the argument, and failing to critique the argument that was given in support of the conclusion.

    Second, if you can point your objection to a specific inference or premise of an arugment this provides some additional clarity to the objection. If you give a counterexample to the conclusion of an argument, the best you can hope to show is that there is a problem somewhere in the argument.

    But if you give a counterexample to a specific inference or premise, then your objection shows not only that the argument is bad, but also where the argument goes wrong.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Dianelos Georgoudis said…

    The validity of an argument says very little about its worth. In this case premise #2 is clearly wrong, because Jesus may have claimed to be God in a metaphorical sense.

    Brad comments:

    On the contrary, the validity of an argument tells us a great deal about its worth. An invalid argument is WORTHLESS(for the purpose of proving the conclusion), while a valid argument is worthwhile (for the purpose of proving the conclusion) if the premises are known to be true (or if we have good reason to believe the premises are true).

    Furthermore, a valid argument also has worth in terms of gaining clarity of thought about the question at issue. If I have accurately captured McDowell’s reasoning in a valid deductive argument, then we can set aside questions of logic, and focus on the question of whether the premises are true.

    In other words, putting an argument into the form of a valid deductive argument (when appropriate) provides an analysis of the relevant thinking; it breaks the question at issue down into smaller bite-sized pieces, making the intellectual task of understanding and evaluation easier.

    Your objection to premise (2) is weak. It can be escaped easily by clarifying the meaning of “claimed to be God” in a way that excludes your scenario. So, premise (2) is NOT “clearly wrong”.

    However, you raise a worthwhile issue, but your objection would be better targeted at premise (1): What exactly does it mean for a person to “claim to be God”? Does this require that the person claims or implies that he/she is all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good? If not, then what is required for a person to “claim to be God”?

    This does not show that any premise is false, but is a question of clarification that needs to be answered before the argument can be properly evaluated.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Bradley Bowen said: “On the contrary, the validity of an argument tells us a great deal about its worth.

    What I meant is that logically valid arguments are easy to construct and come a dime a dozen. What as a practical matter is difficult to argue convincingly, and where an argument’s real worth often resides, is the truth of the premises. Premises themselves can be the conclusion of other arguments, but at some point we arrive at a rock-bottom level of premises which are basic beliefs and which cannot be argued logically anymore, but only appealing on human experience or on generally accepted norms of reason (which themselves I submit are part of the human experience).

    In the case at hand I assign quite a high probability on premise 1. Jesus appears to have made extraordinary claims, including the power to override scripture (and 1st century Palestine was probably a nation of fundamentalists). Mystics often experience something they describe as unity with God and it’s plausible that Jesus too had such experiences and spoke about them. Finally Jesus often spoke metaphorically and in ways that were clearly not meant as literal truths such as “I am the way” or “I am the bread of life”. So from the point of view of an agnostic I think it is quite plausible to believe that Jesus did say something that could be interpreted as the claim of being God.

    Bradley Bowen said: “Your objection to premise (2) is weak. It can be escaped easily by clarifying the meaning of “claimed to be God” in a way that excludes your scenario.

    It is clear that one can speak metaphorically without being either a liar or insane, so I think premise 2 does not work at all. Now, as you say, one could revise the argument changing premise 1 to read “Jesus claimed to be God and meant it literally, i.e. claimed to experience life as God possessing all the power and knowledge that God has”. But now from the agnostic point of view premise 1 immediately becomes suspect. After all it does not comport with much of the rest of the Gospels, such as when Jesus prays to God to remove the cup of poison, or when Jesus cries my God my God why have you forsaken me.

    My two cents on this issue are as follows: It seems to me clear that to say that Jesus experienced life both as a human and as God at the same time is to claim a logical impossibility, for human experience and divine experience are very different things. Even experiencing life as a human and as a bat at the same time is an impossible thing. Jesus was a very sophisticated person, so I think it very implausible that He would claim something that was so obviously wrong. Not to mention that if it were somehow the case that Jesus experienced life as God then the meaning and worth of His sacrifice would immediately become a charade, as would the idea that Jesus is a model for us. So whatever the meaning of the Christian claim that Jesus was God incarnate must lie elsewhere.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    ================================

    the Puck said…

    6. Jesus was a member of a mystical group that taught that they were or became gods (very possible, gnostic sects abounded and mystery cults taught exactly this; Jesus may have been a “Justified Osiris” or a magus).

    Brad comments:

    This appears to be an attempt at a counterexample to premise (3), which states that “If Jesus claimed to be God, and Jesus was not God, and Jesus did not know that he was not God, then Jesus was mentally ill.” To make this objection stick you would need to argue that the sort of Jesus described here would NOT be mentally ill. That seems plausible in this example. However, this example appears to be irrelevant to the Trilemma argument, because claiming to be “a god” is not the same as claiming to be “God”.

    =======================

    7. Jesus was a time traveler (again, unlikely, but more likely than him being the supreme being in all existence) and used superior technology to accomplish his miracles.

    Brad comments:

    This fails as a counterexample due to irrelevance. To make this example work as an objection to the Trilemma, you need to connect it with the key categories in the Trilemma argument. Does the Jesus in this example claim to be God? If not, then the example is irrelevant. Does this Jesus know that he is not God? Until you specify what this Jesus knows about himself, the example is irrelevant.

    If this time-traveler Jesus claimed to be God, and was not God, and if he knew that he was not God, then it seems correct to put this Jesus into the “liar” bucket, in which case this example would fail to be contrary to any premise of the Trilemma. How Jesus performed miracles is beside the point.

    =======================

    8. Jesus was a carpenter who got involved in politics and religion in his youth, had an extensive period of organizing and quiet rebellion against both the Romans and the Synod, and then at the age of 30-31 became thoroughly radicalized. Because of the incredible force of politics wed to religion, things spun out of control, forcing him into a situation where he had to accept the title of being god (or the messiah) to avoid more dangerous consequences. As things progressed he finally found himself having to betray his movement or die for it, and chose to die in order to supply a martyr for the cause and make a statement. It was successful, and the rest is history.

    Brad comments:

    This example also has a problem of relevance. It is unclear whether “accepting the title of being god” counts as “claiming to be God”. The phrase “accepting the title” seems like a weasel expression. More important is the fact that you use “god” rather than “God”. These two terms are not logically equivalent, so your example fails to be relevant on this basis alone, not to mention the additional weasel in your parenthetical comment “or the messiah”. You must remove that qualification from the example to make it relevant, because “messiah” does not mean “God”, it is not even close in meaning.

    If you cleaned up the description of this example to make it relevant to the Trilemma argument, there would still be the question of whether this really contradicts anything in the Trilemma.

    Presumably, this example is an attempt at a counterexample to premise (2). You are trying to give an example of a Jesus who claims to be God, and who is not God, and who knows that he is not God. As with your time-traveler Jesus, it seems to me that such a Jesus might well be considered a liar, in which case your example would fail to contradict premise (2). To make this example work as an objection, you need to make a case that this Jesus would not be a liar even though he has knowingly falsely claimed to be God.

    =========================

    9. Jesus may have been a poorly understood adherent of Hinduism or Buddhism, both of which have correlations in both teachings and symbol-sets with Christianity.

    Brad comments:

    This example suffers from the similar problems as your time-traveler Jesus example. It is completely unclear whether this example has any relevance to the Trilemma argument. Does this Jesus claim to be God? Does this Jesus know that he is not God? Because this example has no clear connection to the basic categories of the Trilemma argument, it appears to be irrelevant to the argument, and thus fails to be a counterexample to any premise or inference in the argument.

    ========================

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16731690779682393927 Philip

    I agree with others here that false dichotomies are built into the conditional premises. It’s not the case that someone who isn’t God, who still says he’s God while knowing he’s not, is a liar. There are various purposes we have when communicating to different people, in different contexts. For example, when a parent tells her child that a tooth fairy exists, while knowing the fairy doesn’t exist, the parent isn’t thereby a liar. Instead, the parent humours the child, suspending her disbelief with the intention to play. Lying requires the intention to mislead or otherwise to harm the listener. Not all false statements need be harmful, and a false statement can be put forward without the intention to harm anyone.

    Likewise, it’s not the case that if someone says he’s God, and he isn’t even though he doesn’t know he’s not, the person is mentally ill. This depends on what is meant by “mentally ill”–a weaker term than “insane” or “lunatic.” But someone who isn’t God can entertain the notion that he is in some mystical sense God even though the person is just fooling himself, and this needn’t be due to mental illness. The person could simply have a wild imagination or wish to explore a mystical possibility. From a mystical, pantheistic viewpoint, everything is God, including each person. Assuming this pantheistic statement comes to nothing in the end, so no one is God in any meaningful sense, someone could still entertain the possibility, proclaim to be God in some sense, without knowing for certain that pantheism is false, and no mental illness need be involved.

    So even though this formulation doesn’t begin with a blatant false trichotomy, false dichotomies are built into the conditional premises. What’s wrong with the argument isn’t the logic, it’s the false premises.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Response to Philip…

    Nicely done. I think your brief critique of the Trilemma is the clearest and best of the lot so far.

    However, both of your objections are defective. The point of your first example is that one can assert a false claim without being a liar. I will grant your point, but this is not sufficient to refute or even cast significant doubt on premise (2).

    Premise (2) does not require the assumption that every assertion of a false claim amounts to a lie. So, your counterexample is attacking an assumption that is stronger than is required by premise (2). Your first objection thus appears to commit the straw man fallacy.

    There is an obvious disanalogy between claiming to be God, on the one hand, and telling a child that the tooth fairy will come in the night to gather a lost tooth. People kill and die for their religion, for the God they believe exists. People make very basic and important decisions based on belief in God and beliefs about God. None of this applies to belief in the tooth fairy.

    Your counterexample to premise (3) also fails, because of the problem of irrelevance. The pantheistic conception of “God” is a different concept of “God” than is intended by Josh McDowell and C.S. Lewis. When they conclude that “Jesus was God.” they do NOT mean that “Jesus was a part of the divine essence that pervades and constitutes everything that exists.” Since the word “God” in the conclusion of the argument is clearly intended to refer to the God of western monotheism, the word “God” in the premises must be interpreted the same way.

    Because your second counterexample relates to “God” in a different sense of the word than occurs in the Trilemma argument, your counterexample fails to be relevant to the Trilemma.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16731690779682393927 Philip

    No, my first point was not about whether simply asserting a false claim counts as a lie. Instead, my point was that there needn’t be a lie even when the following conditions are met: someone asserts a false claim and this person knows the claim is false. Those are the conditions given in premise (2), and that’s why my counterexample is about a piece of fiction. In the case of fiction, we often think or speak about things we know don’t exist, and yet in doing this we’re lying neither to ourselves nor to others. As I said, lying, I take it, requires an intention to harm someone. (A white lie differs from a lie in precisely this respect.) There are other possible intentions behind asserting a false claim that is known to be false. Thus, asserting a false claim that is known to be false isn’t a sufficient condition of lying. Thus, premise (2) is false.

    Of course, “lying” can be defined in a different way. If lying can include knowingly asserting a false claim and having the intention not to mislead or to harm but to playfully suspend disbelief, say, for entertainment purposes, then a mother would be lying when she entertains her child’s naïve notions. In this case, it would be much more likely that Jesus would have been lying when he said he was God. This is because the notion of lying at issue would be a broad one, covering harmless as well as harmful intentions knowingly to put forward a false claim. The reason it’s supposed to be unlikely that Jesus lied when he claimed to be God–assuming Jesus existed and made this claim–is that lying would have gone against Jesus’s apparent ethical teachings. But this would be so only if the notion of lying at issue were one of having a certain harmful intention. It’s the having of a harmful intention that would conflict with Jesus’s ethics. But if lying can include having a harmless intention, such as something similar to a mother’s intention to play with her child, we lose the reason to doubt that Jesus was lying.

    So there’s no strawman here. Perhaps you were thinking of the last sentence in my first paragraph, in which I stop talking about the condition of knowing that the assertion is false. I did that simply because I took it to be understood and I didn’t want to make my response more tedious than it had to be. My counterexample itself, though, meets all of the stated conditions in premise (2). In the pejorative sense of “lie,” we don’t lie when we tell fictions, but we do assert false statements that we know are false. Premise (2), therefore, is indeed false.

    As for the disanalogy between religion and fiction, I don’t see the relevance of this since I wasn’t putting forward an argument by analogy. I was putting forward, rather, a counterexample to the generalization in (2). In any case, even when we have the strongest possible analogy between two things, there is always still some dissimilarity between them. That’s what it means for two things to be similar but not identical to each other: there are some commonalities and some differences between them. Here’s a commonality between fictions and the myths that are fundamental to religions: they’re both narratives that can have a profound psychological impact on people. Some myths are scary, others are comforting. The tale of the tooth fairy is a scary but relatively harmless fiction, at least when told in modern contexts; it likely originated as a myth among superstitious folks. Other fictional narratives are comforting, uplifting, inspiring, and so on.

    Has anyone killed or died as a result of having read a novel? I should think so. Murderers are often inspired by novels, songs, movies, or other entertainments. Are these killings caused solely by the consuming of these entertainments? Probably not. But then, neither are religious killings caused solely by the having of religious beliefs. There are likely economic, political, psychological, and evolutionary factors also at work. (The question of what actually causes religious violence is different from that of whether religious doctrines imply that violence should be committed.)

    You say my second argument is irrelevant, because the Christian concept of God at issue isn’t pantheistic. Actually, the Gospel of Thomas does indeed have pantheistic implications. (“Lift up a stone, and you’ll find me [God] there,” etc.) Jews and Christians may believe that some aspect of God transcends the natural world, but they also believe God is omnipresent and imminent in nature. The Holy Spirit is everywhere. God is, in part, a force that sustains everything that happens. Thus, any Jew or Christian can claim to be God in a mystical sense. If pantheism implies that God doesn’t transcend nature, then fine, this isn’t specifically pantheism. But the idea that God is omnipresent is a mystical idea, and western monotheisms do indeed have mystical traditions. Perhaps Jesus was a mystic whose beliefs about God were comparable to Hindu beliefs about the identity of Brahman and Atman, the fundamental objective and subjective substances.

    Anyway, the concept of God at issue in the argument’s conclusion isn’t as important as the concept at issue in premise (1). What matters is what Jesus could have meant when he called himself God. The argument doesn’t rest or fall on the idea of God in the minds of McDowell or Lewis; it doesn’t matter what they think of God. What matters to the argument is what Jesus would have thought of God. As long as there’s a good chance that Jesus had some mystical notion of God, it wouldn’t have been crazy for him to identify himself with God, even were mysticism nonsense and Jesus ignorant or uncertain of this fact. Thus, premise (3) is false. Mysticism is a counterexample, since mysticism may be wrong but not crazy. A mystic may be misguided but not mentally ill. Jesus could have been a mystic, and indeed the suppressed Gnostic Christian tradition indicates that Jesus may well have been a mystic (assuming he existed at all). (3), then, is another false choice.

    But suppose Jesus had no such mystical view of God. Suppose Jesus meant that he was God in a personal sense, that the physical person of Jesus was the divine person who created the natural world. In this case, I think Dianelos’s 7:19pm comments above are pertinent. The idea that a human person can be the divine person, that is, the person who created the universe, has a number of contradictory implications. It’s because of these implications that the Catholic Church came to embrace such a convoluted theology of the Incarnation and of the triune nature of God. If the divine person created mortal people, and Jesus was a mortal person, then Jesus could not have been the divine person. (The creator can’t be identical to the created.) If Jesus said he was God in this personal sense, his claim would have been contradictory and thus meaningless. The trilemma argument would inherit this meaninglessness.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Response to Dianelos Georgoudis…

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments on the Trilemma argument. I see your comments as a mixture of insight and error, and I will try to take advantage of your insights and to challenge what appear to me to be errors.

    Dianelos Georgoudis said…

    What I meant is that logically valid arguments are easy to construct and come a dime a dozen. What as a practical matter is difficult to argue convincingly, and where an argument’s real worth often resides, is the truth of the premises.

    Bradley responds…

    Agreed.
    ==========================
    Dianelos Georgoudis said…

    … premise #2 is clearly wrong, because Jesus may have claimed to be God in a metaphorical sense.

    Dianelos Georgoudis said…

    In the case at hand I assign quite a high probability on premise 1. Jesus appears to have made extraordinary claims, including the power to override scripture (and 1st century Palestine was probably a nation of fundamentalists). Mystics often experience something they describe as unity with God and it’s plausible that Jesus too had such experiences and spoke about them. Finally Jesus often spoke metaphorically and in ways that were clearly not meant as literal truths such as “I am the way” or “I am the bread of life”. So from the point of view of an agnostic I think it is quite plausible to believe that Jesus did say something that could be interpreted as the claim of being God.

    Bradley responds…

    My view is the reverse of yours. I think premise (2) is probably true or defensible, and premise (1) is probably false, and certainly not supported by the available evidence. However, as I think we are both aware, this disagreement between us arises out of differing interpretations that we have given to premise (1), and thus also to premise (2), since the concepts in premise (1) are also used in premise (2). (Philip also disagrees with my interpretation of premise (1), so I have both of you to contend with on this point).

    It looks to me like you reject my interpretation of premise (1) because on that interpretation, premise (1) is highly dubious, in your estimation. You prefer a different interpretation of premise (1) because the alternative interpretation makes premise (1) at least “quite plausible”. If I understand your thinking, then you are attempting to practice the principle of charity, which is a very important principle of argument analysis and of rational thinking in general. You are giving preference to an interpretation of premise (1) that gives the argument a fighting chance of actually proving or supporting the conclusion.

    The principle of charity is great because it keeps one from entering into a state of dogmatism and invincible ignorance in which arguments for conclusions that one dislikes are quickly dismissed by uncharitable interpretations that distort the meaning of an argument allowing one to create a straw man that is easy to knock down. The principle of charity is thus key to maintaining an open mind.

    But one can also go to an extreme level of charity and distort the meaning of an argument and thus turn what is actually a bad argument into a good one, or one that is merely mediocre. The principle of charity must be balanced by other important principles of interpretation, such as trying to discern authorial intent, and making sure that the point or purpose of the argument is not lost.

    When Josh McDowell or C.S. Lewis draw the conclusion that “Jesus was God.” They do NOT mean that “Jesus obtained mystical union with the one absolute which is identical with the whole of reality”. Nor do they mean that “Jesus was God in a metaphorical sense, but not literally God.” Lewis was a fairly orthodox Christian, and McDowell is a conservative Evangelical Christian. When they say “God” they mean the personal deity of western monotheism (i.e. X is God if and only if X is an all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly good person.).

    You may not like this conclusion. Philip may not like this conclusion. You both may violently disagree with this conclusion, but that is of no matter. That is the conclusion that Lewis and McDowell seek to prove, whether you like it or not, whether you think that is plausible or implausible. This is not your argument. This is an argument that was given by Josh McDowell, which he borrowed from Lewis and improved.

    So, if we want to be true to the purpose of the argument and to the intentions of the author of the argument, we must interpret the conclusion to mean something like this:

    Jesus was literally the God of Western theism.

    If you grant my interpretation of the conclusion of McDowell’s Trilemma, then I hope that you can see that your proposed interpretation of premise (1) will not fly. Since the point of the argument is to show that Jesus was literally the God of Western theism, premise (1) has to be interpreted similarly:

    Jesus claimed to literally be the God of Western theism.

    You make some good criticisms of premise (1) so interpreted, and I’m inclined to agree that on this interpretation, premise (1) is probably false. But the principle of charity is not sufficient to justify altering the meaning of premise (1) to change it from an improbable claim to a plausible claim. The purpose of the argument and the intention of the author was to prove that Jesus was literally the God of Western theism, and this places a firm constraint on how we should interpret premise (1).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    One more point on the interpretation of premise (1).

    It is not just the meaning of the conclusion that constrains how we should interpret premise (1). Another constraint is how McDowell argues for or supports premise (1). He devotes an entire chapter of Evidence that Demands a Verdict to defending premise (1), and there is nothing in that supporting evidence about Jesus thinking he had obtained mystical union with the absolute.

    The way that McDowell argues for premise (1) indicates that this premise should be interpreted to mean something like: Jesus claimed to literally be the God of Western theism.

    So, both the meaning of the conclusion of the Trilemma and also the way that premise (1) is supported constrain how we should interpret the meaning of premise (1).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Before I do any more responses, I want to thank all of you for your contributions to this discussion of the Trilemma argument.

    This has been an interesting and thought-provoking discussion, and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your comments, objections, and responses.

    I miss the days when I was a graduate student in philosophy and could engage in this kind of discussion on a regular basis. The quality of this discussion approaches that of discussions I enjoyed as a graduate student.

    Thank you for your participation and insights.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Response to Philip…

    Your response to my criticisms of your objections to the Trilemma confirms my previous observation about your initial brief critique: the clarity of your thinking and writing is admirable. It is a pleasure to read your comments and to discuss the Trilemma argument with you.

    I hope my response comes close to achieving the high standard of clarity and thoughtfulness that you set. The second paragraph of your most recent comments is suitable for framing.

    Before I get into our disagreements, let me mention a couple of points of agreement. Although I’m not ready to accept your analysis of the concept of “lying”, your second paragraph is very insightful and makes an important point about the need for the concept of “lying” (actually “liar”) in premise (2) to be understood in such a way that premise (4) would be plausible, namely that being a “liar” needs to be unethical or somehow beneath the alleged honesty and integrity of Jesus. I fully agree with you on this point.

    I also am in agreement with most of what you say in the final paragraph. If Jesus claimed that “he was God in a personal sense” such a claim would be very problematic, appearing to have “a number of contradictory implications.” (although I would not go so far as to say such a claim was “meaningless”).

    Philip said…

    No, my first point was not about whether simply asserting a false claim counts as a lie. Instead, my point was that there needn’t be a lie even when the following conditions are met: someone asserts a false claim and this person knows the claim is false. Those are the conditions given in premise (2) … asserting a false claim that is known to be false isn’t a sufficient condition of lying. Thus, premise (2) is false.

    Bradley responds…

    I see that my statement of the point of your counterexample was inaccurate and accept your clarification.

    Nevertheless, your counterexample still fails to show premise (2) to be false.

    Let me describe what you need to do to produce a successful counterexample to premise (2). Describe a situation (it can be fictional or hypothetical) in which the following would be true:

    •Jesus claims to be God (in the sense of the word “God” intended in the Trilemma argument).
    •Jesus is not God (in the sense of the word “God” intended in the Trilemma argument).
    •Jesus knows that he is not God (in the sense of the word “God” intended in the Trilemma argument).
    •Jesus is, nevertheless, not a liar

    Since you have not yet even attempted to give such an example, you have not yet given a counterexample to premise (2).

    What you have done is to give a counterexample to the following generalization:

    (A) Anyone who asserts a false claim that he/she knows to be false is a liar.

    Let me grant the point that you have refuted (A). Refuting (A) does not show that (2) is false. At any rate, you will need to do some more arguing and explaining to show me and others how it is that refuting (A) shows (2) to be false. I don’t see how to logically get from the one point to the other.

    I agree with you that “liar” needs to be understood as implying an ethical or normative judgment in addition to the more strictly descriptive aspects of “making a false claim” and “knowing the claim is false”. It is precisely the ethical or normative implications of claiming to be God (in the sense of literally being the personal God of Western theism) that makes Jesus’ (alleged) claim to be God something more than just asserting a false claim that he knew to be false (assuming it was false and he knew it to be so). So, the hypothetical case that premise (2) considers clearly involves more than just someone asserting a false claim that he/she knows to be false.

    I have to sign off for now, but will try to respond to your points about your other counterexample later (tonight?).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Philip said…

    As long as there’s a good chance that Jesus had some mystical notion of God, it wouldn’t have been crazy for him to identify himself with God, even were mysticism nonsense and Jesus ignorant or uncertain of this fact. Thus, premise (3) is false. Mysticism is a counterexample, since mysticism may be wrong but not crazy. A mystic may be misguided but not mentally ill.

    Bradley responds…

    Clearly you are attempting to give a counterexample to premise (3). For this purpose, it does not matter whether “there’s a good chance” that Jesus was actually a mystic. A completely imaginary or fictional example will do the trick, because the issue here is conceptual or logical, not factual.

    Premise (1) makes a factual claim, namely an historical claim about Jesus of Nazareth. But premise (3) is a conditional or hypothetical claim:

    IF
    Jesus claimed to be God,
    and
    Jesus was not God,
    and
    Jesus did not know that he was not God,

    THEN
    Jesus was mentally ill.

    It doesn’t matter whether any of the individual statements in the conditional are true; what matters is the logical or conceptual relationship between the statements in the first part of the conditional claim (“Jesus claimed to be God” , “Jesus was not God”, and “Jesus did not know that he was not God.”) and the statement at the end of the conditional claim (“Jesus was mentally ill”).

    Premise (3) has a logical structure that is the same as premise (2), so a successful counterexample to (3) must meet requirements that are similar in structure to the requirements for a successful counterexample to (2).

    Describe an example (it can be fictional) in which the following statements are all true:
    • Jesus claims to be God (in the sense of “God” intended in the Trilemma argument).
    • Jesus was not God (in the sense of “God” intended in the Trilemma argument).
    • Jesus did not know that he was not God (in the sense of “God” intended in the Trilemma argument).
    • Jesus was NOT mentally ill.

    In your example, Jesus does NOT claim to be God, in the sense of the word “God” intended in the Trilemma argument, and thus your example fails to satisfy the first requirement for a successful counterexample to premise (3).

    I have run out of time, so I will have to continue my response to your “mystical Jesus” example tomorrow.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Philip said…

    …any Jew or Christian can claim to be God in a mystical sense.

    … Perhaps Jesus was a mystic whose beliefs about God were comparable to Hindu beliefs about the identity of Brahman and Atman…

    [...]

    But suppose Jesus had no such mystical view of God. Suppose Jesus meant that he was God in a personal sense, that the physical person of Jesus was the divine person who created the natural world.

    Bradley responds…

    You have drawn a distinction here between claiming “to be God in a mystical sense” and claiming to be “God in a personal sense”. This is somewhat like Dianelos’ distinction between claiming metaphorically to be God, and claiming literally to be God. I agree that claiming to be God in a mystical sense is different than claiming to be God in a personal sense.

    My criticism of your second counterexample (the mystical Jesus example) is based on my interpretation of the meaning of the word “God” in premise (3). Our disagreement about whether your mystical Jesus example fails or succeeds as an objection to the Trilemma is based on our disagreement over the meaning of premise (3).

    As with my disagreement with Dianelos over the meaning of premise (2), our disagreement ultimately focuses on the question of how to interpret premise (1), since the problematic notion in premise (3) derives from premise (1), namely the concept “claimed to be God”.

    I believe that premise (1) should be understood as meaning something like the following:

    (1a) Jesus claimed to literally be the God of Western theism.

    If this interpretation of premise (1) is correct, then premise (3) should be interpreted in a similar fashion:

    (3a) If Jesus claimed to literally be the God of Western theism, and Jesus was not literally the God of Western theism, and Jesus did not know that he was not literally the God of Western theism, then Jesus was mentally ill.

    We need to interpret premise (3) in keeping with premise (1) in order for the logic of the argument to work, in order for the argument to avoid the fallacy of equivocation.

    I have already argued for my interpretation of premise (1)…see my responses to Dianelos, but I will review two key points here.

    First, we need to be clear about the point or purpose of the argument. The Trilemma was popularized by C.S. Lewis in the 1940s/50s, and was slightly modified (improved I believe) by Josh McDowell in the 1970s, again popularizing the argument in his book Evidence that Demands a Verdict. When Lewis and McDowell conclude that “Jesus was God” they mean something like “Jesus was literally the God of Western theism”.

    Since Lewis and McDowell are the authors of this argument, we need to interpret the meaning of the conclusion in keeping with their intentions. The meaning of the conclusion creates a firm constraint on how we should interpret premise (1). If my understanding of the meaning of the conclusion is correct, then this creates a strong reason for accepting my interpretation of premise (1), and for rejecting your interpretation of premise (1).

    Second, in order to clarify the meaning of premise (1), one can look at the evidence that McDowell provides in support of premise (1). McDowell devoted most of Chapter 6 in EDV to making a case for premise (1), and if you read Chapter 6, I think you will see that the evidence presented there is intended to support the view that Jesus claimed to literally be the God of Western theism, and you will not see evidence for the view that Jesus claimed to metaphorically be God, or to be God in some mystical or pantheistic sense.

    Now, you might be able to come up with a good historical case for your idea of a mystical Jesus, but that is beside the point. The question here is not about the truth of premise (1), but about the meaning of premise (1), and the meaning is determined primarily by looking for the intentions of the author(s) of the argument, namely Lewis and McDowell.

    Because your example of a mystical Jesus does not connect up with the concept of “God” that is operative in the Trilemma argument, your example is irrelevant to the Trilemma argument, and fails as a counterexample to premise (3).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16731690779682393927 Philip

    Bradley,

    Dianelos and I have said Jesus might have been a mystic. You’ve replied that the trilemma argument’s intended meaning is that Jesus did not claim to be God in a mystical sense. As you say, McDowell provides some evidence that Jesus claimed to be God. As Robert Price shows, though, in his Secular Web response, McDowell’s evidence is weak. In fact, strictly speaking, the evidence shows, at best, that Jesus believed he was God, and that he made some claims that, when interpreted properly, imply that he was God. But Jesus did not simply claim he was God. The Bible nowhere says, “Jesus claimed, ‘I am God.’ ” Thus, strictly speaking, premise (1) of the Trilemma is false on its face. And as for what Jesus is biblically said to have said, there are many interpretations, so not even the following reworded premise (1) is beyond dispute: “Jesus believed he was God, as some of his statements in the Bible indicate.”

    But again, the issue isn’t what is intended by the authors of the Trilemma, but what they can prove, that is, what Jesus probably would have believed or said about himself. You backtrack from your initial claim that what matters is the definition of “God” intended by the authors of the argument. Thus, you add that what matters also is “the way that premise (1) is supported.” Actually, that’s all that matters. It doesn’t matter *at all* what McDowell or Lewis think or thought about God. All that matters is whether their view of God matches Jesus’s, and whether they can prove such a match. Were there no such match, and were their own definition of “God” the one to apply to the Trilemma, premise (1) would once again be false on its face. This is because Jesus wouldn’t have claimed to be God in the sense intended by McDowell or Lewis. Thus, with respect to whether the Trilemma succeeds when it says Jesus claimed to be God, all that matters is the empirical issue of what Jesus would have meant.

    There are many interpretations of what Jesus did mean when he seemed to speak of himself as having a special status. For example, many people actually thought differently about Jesus, and were deemed heretics for doing so. For the counterexample to (3) to work, it’s enough to show that it’s reasonable that Jesus had a mystical view of God (more on this below). No one knows what Jesus actually said or which is the best interpretation of what he said. McDowell and Lewis have their interpretations, and a critic of the argument is free to interpret the evidence in a different way. Whether the Trilemma succeeds or not depends not on what McDowell or Lewis think about the evidence, and thus on their intended meaning of “God,” but on which is in fact the best available interpretation of the evidence.

    And saying that Jesus claimed to be “the God of Western theism” hardly narrows it down, since Western theism includes mystical and heretical traditions. Given that this is the meaning intended by the Trilemma’s authors, the question remains as to how we should understand this God. This returns us to the question of what Jesus would have meant when he spoke of God. Again, it doesn’t matter that McDowell and Lewis have an orthodox or evangelical view of Jesus’s identity. What matters to the truth of premise (1), and thus to the success of the Trilemma, is whether their view is correct, or well supported by the evidence, and thus whether Jesus would likely have shared this view.

    I’ll just make one more point about this issue. The orthodox Christian view is not that Jesus claimed to be the divine person who created the universe. Indeed, the view that Jesus is identical to the Father is heretical. This is why the Father is distinguished from the Son. But it’s not enough to say simply that Jesus was God’s son, since all humans are supposed to be children of God. Thus, what’s special about Jesus is supposed to be the way he was born: he was “begotten” directly from God rather than from a human father. And this direct connection to God would suggest that while Jesus and the Father aren’t identical, they share the same nature; that is, they’re members of the same divine species, as it were. Likewise, although a human parent and child aren’t identical, they have the same human nature.

    But what is it to have the same nature as someone else? Surely the biological theory of species doesn’t apply to divine individuals. Humans share a nature because of our genetic lineage. So what gives Jesus and the Father the same nature? Who knows? And here is where Jesus might have had a mystical view of his connection to God, a view that might have been false without Jesus having to have been mentally ill for espousing it. For example, as Price says, Jesus might agreed with the Monothelite heresy that Jesus’s oneness with God meant that he and the Father had the same will and moral purpose. Price points out that John 17:22-23 supports this interpretation, since Jesus adds that his followers can be one in the same way that Jesus and the Father are one. So everyone can be one with the Father! That’s mysticism, and it can be false or meaningless without being crazy. It’s a reasonable interpretation of what Jesus is said to have said about himself. Thus, premise (3) is false.

    Moving on, you’ve said I’ve refuted not premise (2) but what you call statement (A), which is “Anyone who asserts a false claim that he/she knows to be false is a liar.” Indeed, you say I haven’t even intended to refute (2) and that you can’t see how to get logically from (A) to (2). I assume the only reason you say this is that you think I haven’t shown that Jesus might have believed he wasn’t God even when he claimed he was. What I’ve said is that Jesus might have treated his claims to be God as though they were fictional with nevertheless profound subjective, metaphorical, or some other kind of non-literal truth to them. He might have claimed to be God even though he wasn’t, and he might also have believed he wasn’t God, because he might have taken himself to be speaking of a useful fiction. Since fictions needn’t be harmful, Jesus needn’t have been a liar in speaking about what he took to be a fictional union between himself and God. This seems to me to connect (A) with (2).

    Here’s another argument that connects them. A mystic typically has a personal experience of union with something transcendent, but is then at a loss to linguistically express this union. Buddhists, for example, prize direct experience more than descriptions of this experience. Thus, Buddhists are taught to think negatively even of the Buddha’s own teachings. So perhaps Jesus experienced some mystical union with God, but misinterpreted the experience. For example, Jesus might have taken a psychoactive substance, had a psychedelic experience, and misinterpreted the malfunctioning of his brain as an experience of a transcendent reality. Jesus might then have claimed to be God, to tantalize others, hoping they’d follow his spiritual path. Being a good mystic, however, he might have appreciated the difference between direct experience and linguistic representations of the experience. After all, Jews are quite wary of idols. So Jesus might have claimed to be God, but believed that that claim is false, because the claim doesn’t capture the truth of the transcendent union. And his intention wouldn’t have been to harmfully mislead his followers, but to tantalize and play with them, much as we entertain fictions that can have a profound psychological impact on us. I take it this counterexample refutes premise (2).

    Thus, premises (2) and (3) are false. Assuming Jesus was a mystic, either he trusted his linguistic representations about God or he didn’t. He might even have gone back and forth on this, as mystics are wont to do. When he didn’t trust his representations, he might have made them anyway and believed they were false, or too limited, but this wouldn’t have made him a liar. When he did trust his representations, they might have been false or meaningless, and yet he needn’t have been mentally ill for misunderstanding his mystical or psychedelic experience.

    If premise (1) is taken strictly, it’s false too: Jesus is never quoted as having claimed he is God. He said many evasive things about his connection to God. He was called the Son of Man, the only begotten Son of God, the Messiah, someone who is one with the Father, and so on, but he never says simply that he’s God. I think I’ll leave it here, Bradley.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Response to Philip…

    I plan to write a long response (or a few medium length responses) to your most recent comment in the next day or two, but for now, I would like to thank you for participating in this discussion of the Trilemma, and for the thoughtful, insightful, and admirably clear expression of your views about this argument.

    If you have any interest in writing posts of a skeptical nature about Christianity, I would be delighted to have you as a contributor on my blog:

    http://crossexamination.blogspot.com/

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Some concluding thoughts…

    I will respond later about the merits of Philip’s proposed counterexamples to premises (2) and (3).

    The following reflections are in response to the comments in general, and are not specifically targeted at Philip’s comments.

    Observation (1):

    I see a need for more intellectual humility. There seems to be a general attitude that refuting the Trilemma is easy, like shooting fish in a barrel. As far as I can see, after the gunsmoke has cleared away, all the fish are still alive and well.

    The problem is not that you folks are unintelligent or ignorant, but rather that it is not as easy to refute this argument as many of you appear to think. This is presumably not because the Trilemma is a good or solid argument; it is just that it can be challenging to do argument criticism well, more like throwing an aspirin tablet into the air and trying to nail it with a single shot fired from a pistol – and not so much like shooting fish in a barrel.

    Observation (2):

    There seems to be a general tendency towards “TVO” (Truth Value Obsession). Many of you seem overly anxious to evaluate the truth or falsity (or probability) or claims and premises. To use another gun analogy: You shoot first and ask questions later. This won’t do for good argument analysis and evaluation.

    Logical criticism, conceptual analysis, and interpretation of the meaning of claims are at least as important as evaluating the truth of claims and assumptions.

    More importantly, you shouldn’t criticize what you don’t first understand. Interpretation and clarification are logically prior to evaluation of truth and the weighing of evidence. Until there is clarity about the meaning of a premise, there is no point in trying to figure out whether the premise is true. That is putting the cart before the horse.

    Clarifying and interpreting meaning is the first task of argument analysis; the weighing of evidence and determining the truth or probability of premises comes later.

    Observation (3):

    When it comes to interpretation of the meaning of a claim or premise, there appears to be an excessive tendency towards interpretation that is loose, liberal, and flexible. There is a time and a place for loose, liberal, and flexible interpretation, but when you are doing argument analysis, the initial interpretation of an argument should be tight, conservative, and literal. At the start, one should focus in on the literal meanings of the words and phrases in ordinary English usage. In parallel or shortly thereafter, consideration should be given to determination of the intentions of the author or speaker. A plain, straightforward, or literal interpretation should be considered first, and more complex, sophisticated, and metaphorical interpretations should be considered only if the plain, straightforward and literal interpretation is problematic or questionable for some reason.

    There is nothing wrong with loose and creative interpretation per se. Some writings can only be properly interpreted in terms of loose, creative, and even playful interpretation. But in argument analysis, tight, conservative, and literal interpretation should be given first priority and should be given preference over loose, creative, and liberal interpretation. This is in part a matter of good rational procedure (simplicity is a criterion for evaluation of theories) and partly a matter of fairness: I don’t want others to mess around with the meanings of my words and statements, distorting the meanings to suit their fancies, and I expect or at least hope that others will make an effort to figure out my intended meaning (even if I fail to use perfectly clear and correct wording or phrasing), so I should treat the words and statements of others with similar respect.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Speaking of intellectual humility…

    I think I will serve myself a slice of humble pie.

    I had assumed that my requirements for a successful counterexample to premises (2) and (3) were self-evidently correct, but I’m not so sure now. They might be a good first cut at requirements for a successful counterexample, but on reflection I no longer see them as self-evidently correct.

    My requirements might need some tweaking, and they definitely need some explanation and justification.

    Since counterexamples are a fundamental and very important tool of argument criticism, I should probably serve myself a couple of generous hunks of humble pie.

    I will explain my thinking on this later (maybe Sunday).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16731690779682393927 Philip

    Bradley,

    Thanks for the kind words. I appreciate your insistence on having the best possible objections to a theistic argument. Again, I think the problem with the Trilemma is its premises, not its logic.

    I’ll check out your blog. I might want to set up my own at some point.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    The topic under discussion was:
    • Josh McDowell’s Trilemma argument from Chapter 7 of Evidence That Demands a Verdict.

    The general questions at issue are:
    • Is McDowell’s Trilemma argument a good argument?
    • If not, what are the problems and weaknesses of his argument?

    We have disagreed over whether certain alleged counterexamples to premises (2) and (3) successfully refute those premises of the Trilemma, and that disagreement appears to be based, in part, on a disagreement about the meaning of premises (2) and (3). So, some more specific questions at issue are:
    • Are the proposed counterexamples to (2) and (3) successful?
    • Do the proposed counterexamples show (2) and/or (3) to be false?
    • What do premises (2) and (3) mean?
    • How should we interpret these two premises?

    It is my contention that how we interpret (2) and (3), depends on how we interpret the first premise:

    (1) Jesus claimed to be God.

    How we interpret (1), depends on how we interpret the conclusion of the argument:

    (6) Jesus was God.

    My proposed interpretation of the conclusion goes like this:

    (6a) Jesus was literally the God of Western theism.

    If this interpretation of the conclusion is correct, then this provides a strong reason for interpreting the first premise in a similar manner:

    (1a) Jesus claimed to literally be the God of Western theism.

    If this is the correct interpretation of the first premise, then this provides a strong reason for interpreting premises (2) and (3) in a similar manner:

    (2a) If Jesus claimed to literally be the God of Western theism, and Jesus knew he was not literally the God of Western theism, then Jesus was a liar.

    (3a) If Jesus claimed to literally be the God of Western theism, and Jesus did not know he was not literally the God of Western theism, then Jesus was mentally ill.

    If my interpretations of premises (2) and (3) are correct, then the proposed counterexamples fail, because they do not address the circumstance in which Jesus claims to literally be the God of Western theism. In other words, the proposed counterexamples are irrelevant to the Trilemma, if my interpretation of premises (2) and (3) are correct.

    Alternative interpretations of premises (2) and (3) have not been clearly specified, but they have to do with “metaphorical” claims to be God, and with Eastern or “mystical” or pantheistic conceptions of God. If we look at the alternative interpretations of the conclusion of the Trilemma, I think they would be something like the following:

    (6a) Jesus was literally the God of Western theism.

    (6b) Jesus was metaphorically (not literally) the God of Western theism.

    (6c) Jesus was literally the God of Eastern mysticism/pantheism.

    (6d) Jesus was metaphorically (not literally) the God of Eastern mysticism/pantheism.

    I contend that my proposed interpretation, (6a), is clearly to be preferred over the alternatives as capturing the meaning of the conclusion of Josh McDowell’s Trilemma argument.

    In order to determine which, if any, of the above interpretations of the conclusion of McDowell’s Trilemma argument are plausible or correct, we need to understand the purpose of the argument and McDowell’s intentions in presenting the argument.

    McDowell was not arguing in support of Hinduism or Pantheism or Eastern mysticism. Rather, he was arguing in support of Christianity. The subtitle of Evidence that Demands a Verdict is: “historical evidences for the Christian faith”.

    Furthermore, although Christianity encompasses a wide diversity of theological viewpoints, including forms of mysticism, Josh McDowell is a conservative Evangelical Christian, as can be seen by his educational background (Wheaton college and Talbot seminary) and also by the endorsement by Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, in the forward of EDV. So McDowell’s particular version of Christianity is a fairly traditional one.

    Interpretation (6c) can immediately be tossed out, because the argument would then support the existence of “the God of Eastern mysticism/pantheism”, and thus would serve as an argument against Christianity, at least against traditional versions of Christianity. Interpretation (6d) looks dubious for a similar reason. Although (6d) might not serve as an argument against Christianity, it is hard to see how it would help to make a case for Christianity.

    What about interpretation (6b)? This stands in need of further clarification, but I’m fairly certain it means something like “Jesus achieved a close spiritual connection or relationship with the God of Western theism.” Like (6d) this might not work as an argument against Christianity, but it is too weak to be used as a key claim in support of Christianity, particularly orthodox or traditional versions of Christianity.

    Interpretation (6a), unlike the alternative interpretations, makes the Trilemma argument relevant as part of a case for traditional Christianity. So, (6a) is the best of the above alternative interpretations.

    If (6a) is a correct interpretation of the conclusion of McDowell’s Trilemma, then (1a) is a correct interpretation of the first premise, and (2a) and (3a) are correct interpretations of the second and third premises.

    =======================

    I believe that Philip would object that even granting, for the sake of argument, that (2a) is the best interpretation of the second premise, it still makes the following assumption:

    (A) Anyone who makes a false claim and who knows the claim to be false, is a liar.

    Philip has given some examples that he thinks show (A) to be false, and he would say this in turn shows the second premise, even if interpreted as (2a), to be false as well.

    I disagree on both points. First, it is unclear to me that (A) is in fact an assumption upon which (2a) is based. Second, refuting an assumption upon which a premise is based does not thereby refute the premise. If Philip is correct in saying that (A) is an assumption behind (2a), then (A) is like a reason or argument in support of (2a), and refuting a reason or argument for a conclusion does not show the conclusion to be false. Some other reason or argument might be available to support the conclusion.

    In this case, there is an alternative assumption that is weaker than (A), but which could be used in support of (2a):

    (B) Anyone who claims to literally be the God of Western theism, and who knows he/she is not literally the God of Western theism, is a liar.

    Philip has not yet provided a counterexample to (B), so his refutation of (A) does not remove all possible grounds for accepting (2a) as true.

    Furthermore, if Philip or someone else does come up with a solid counterexample to (B), this will still not prove (2a) to be false. It will, at best, show that we don’t currently know of a good reason for accepting (2a), but that is not the same as having a good reason for believing (2a) to be false.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00565212411446092552 smijer

    (1a) Jesus claimed to literally be the God of Western theism.

    This further weakens this premise. There are enough early traditions found in the Gospels and Paul that suggest Jesus claimed some type of divine status to make the more general premise (1) defensible. However, there are not enough early traditions found in the Gospels and Paul that suggest Jesus specifically claimed to literally be the God of western theism to make this premise secure.

    Josh McDowell might wish to conflate premise (1) as you and he express it with (1a) as you express it, but such conflation invalidates the logical validity of the argument. The argument can be formulated either way – with 1 and 6, with 1a and 6a. I believe it was actually formulated with 1 being paired with 6a and thus was an invalid argument.

    Off topic, I think that Jesus identified with the Son of Man figure prominent in 2nd Temple Judaism, and thus considered himself as a literal divine agent of God, but not necessarily as God himself.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    The worth of an analytic argument lies in its power to convince an agnostic of the truth of its conclusion, which, assuming the argument is logically valid, is the same as convincing an agnostic of the truth of its premises. In this sense I think that Josh McDowell’s argument is not a good one, because an agnostic may reasonably reject your suggested premise 1a which appears to contradict both the story as well as fundamentals of the Christian understanding of the Gospels, not to mention appears to be a logical impossibility because a person’s experiential reality cannot be both divine (which is characterized by unboundedness) and human (which is characterized by boundedness).

    Further let’s not forget that to be exact the Christian claim is that “Jesus was the incarnation of the second hypostasis of God” – a sophisticated claim twice removed from the simplistic “Jesus was literally God”. And the second hypostasis of God may be identified with God’s will, an understanding that nicely comports with the meaning of the Gospels as a whole as well as with the Christological text found at the beginning of John’s Gospel.

    Thinking about these issues I find there may be a deep misunderstanding about what the Gospels are (or, if you prefer, about what the meaning of Jesus’s life and sacrifice are). The Gospels are not primary an ontological claim or argument; rather they are an invitation to follow a particular way in our lives. It is by seeing that we should follow Christ’s way that one is moved into realizing the existence of God (and understanding Christ’s relationship with God) – not the other way around. Indeed in the Gospels we find Jesus saying over and over again “do this, do that” and hardly ever “that’s how reality is”. There is a popular song in Spanish the refrain of which is kind of relevant here: “God is a verb not a noun” (I understand this phrase comes from a poem by Richard Buckminster Fuller).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Now to eat that humble pie…

    =======================
    Philip thought that a counterexample to the following universal generalization would show that premise (2) was false:

    (A) Anyone who makes a false claim and who knows the claim to be false is a liar.

    I disagreed, but was thinking something similar. I thought that a counterexample to the following universal generalization would show premise (2) was false:

    (B) Anyone who claims to literally be the God of Western theism and who knows that he/she is not literally the God of Western theism is a liar.

    Both Philip and I were wrong. (A) and (B) are both possible assumptions that could be used to support premise (2), but neither assumption is absolutely necessary in order for (2) to be true.

    Premise (2) could be true for some reason other than (A), and it could be true for some reason other than (B). Refuting a reason in support of (2) does not thereby refute (2).

    Another point of confusion on my part is my use of the example of the universal generalization “All swans are white”. There are a couple of important disanalogies between this example and premise (2).

    First, premise (2) is a conditional statement, not a universal generalization. Premise (2) has the general form “IF P THEN Q”, while the generalization about swans has the form “ALL Xs are Ys”.

    Second, I have stated that a fictional or imaginary counterexample would work against
    (2), but it is clear that a counterexample to “All swans are white” must be an actual example of a non-white swan. An imaginary or fictional black swan won’t work against this universal generalization.

    What gives?

    In the case of conditional claims, we assume that some sort of principle or generalization is being assumed in order for the conditional claim to be rational. Without an underlying principle or generalization, the conditional claim would be arbitrary or ad hoc.

    Suppose someone said the following:

    “If John claimed to be God and knew this was a false claim, then John would be a liar, but if Sam claimed to be God and knew this was a false claim, Sam would NOT be a liar.”

    We would be inclined to say that the speaker is being arbitrary and is applying a double standard. It seems unfair to call John a liar in this circumstance and yet to refrain from drawing the same conclusion about Sam under what appear to be the same circumstances.

    This shows that we expect there to be some principle, rule, or generalization that backs up similar conditional (If P, then Q) claims.

    Both Philip and I were trying to determine what principle or generalization was providing the support required to make the conditional statement (2) rational.

    The problem is that we don’t really know what principle McDowell had in mind, so we are just making educated guesses. Furthermore, even if McDowell was in fact assuming (A)as the reason for (2), he would only be mistaken in believing that (2) was true on the basis of (A). He would not necessarily be mistaken in believing that (2) was true, because (2) might be true for some other reason.

    OK, now to the actual vs. imaginary counterexamples. Why will fictional or imaginary examples work to refute the universal generalizations (A) and (B), but not work to refute the universal generalization “All swans are white”?

    Philip argued in support of his objection to (2) partly on the grounds of an analysis of the concept of “lying”. He saw that the generalization behind premise (2) was based on some understanding of the concept of “lying” (or more accurately, the concept of a “liar”). So, whatever the generalization is that is behind (2) it is some sort of conceptual assumption, some sort or conditions for the application of the concept “liar”.

    The use of imaginary counterexamples is clearly correct in the case of concepts that are analyzable in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions. If the sufficient conditions for the application of a concept are satisfied, then the concept necessarily applies in that case.

    However, I’m not clear on how this works for concepts that can only be analyzed in terms of criteria (in the sense of being indicators or evidence for the applicability of a concept without being either necessary or sufficient conditions). Need to think about that kind of case a bit more.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826768452963498005 Jim Lippard

    “Both Philip and I were wrong. (A) and (B) are both possible assumptions that could be used to support premise (2), but neither assumption is absolutely necessary in order for (2) to be true.

    Premise (2) could be true for some reason other than (A), and it could be true for some reason other than (B). Refuting a reason in support of (2) does not thereby refute (2).”

    Are you assuming that all reasoning is deductive?

    If the only reason offered for (2) is (A), and that reason is rebutted, then that means that an *undercutting* or *undermining* defeater has been supplied for (2). It doesn’t deductively prove that (2) is false, but it does supply a reason not to believe it by taking away its justification.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Response to Dianelos Georgoudis…

    Dianelos said…

    The Gospels are not primary an ontological claim or argument; rather they are an invitation to follow a particular way in our lives. It is by seeing that we should follow Christ's way that one is moved into realizing the existence of God (and understanding Christ's relationship with God) – not the other way around. Indeed in the Gospels we find Jesus saying over and over again "do this, do that" and hardly ever "that's how reality is".
    =============

    This is partially correct. However, it is important to note a significant difference between the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, & Luke) and the Gospel of John.

    Jesus is reluctant to talk about himself in the Synoptic gospels, and instead talks mostly about the Kingdom (or rule) of God. In John, Jesus rarely speaks about the Kingdom of God, and instead frequently talks about himself – his unique relationship to God and his leading role in God's plan for mankind.

    This difference between John and the Synoptic gospels about the content of Jesus' words and teachings is one of the reasons that most leading Jesus scholars view the gospel of John as an unreliable source for the words and teachings of Jesus. The general consensus of Jesus scholars is that the claims that Jesus makes about himself in John are actually early Christian expressions of faith about Jesus (the Gospel of John likely began as a series of early Christian sermons), and not words (or ideas) put forward by the historical Jesus.

    Josh McDowell's case for premise (1) is based heavily on quotations from the Gospel of John, and thus his case is weak, because it is based on a questionable assumption that most leading Jesus scholars of the 20th century have rejected:

    (ROJ): The fourth gospel is a reliable source for the words and teachings of Jesus.

    For more details, seem the recent posts on my blog:

    http://crossexamination.blogspot.com/search/label/Trilemma

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16731690779682393927 Philip

    Bradley,

    I think you’re overcomplicating matters. Premise (2), I take it, is a material conditional statement, and logically speaking, the only way this sort of statement can be false is if the antecedent could possibly be true and the consequent false. This way, the antecedent wouldn’t be a sufficient condition of the antecedent. The antecedent is a set of conditions that is supposed to suffice for being a liar. These conditions are: Jesus claims to be God, Jesus is not God, and Jesus knows he’s not God.

    If there is a possible world in which these conditions are met, but Jesus is not a liar, these conditions are not sufficient, and so premise (2), the material conditional statement, is false. I described such a possible world: Jesus claims to be God in a mystical sense; he knows statements about mystical truths are limited and literally false, but he asserts them anyway to tantalize his followers; and he’s confused about his religious experience, so he’s not God after all. (Alternatively, Jesus might have said he’s God, knowing this is just a useful fiction or metaphor.) All of that can be true and Jesus needn’t be a liar. Therefore, (2) is false. It’s not that complicated.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Response to Smijer…

    Smijer said:

    Josh McDowell might wish to conflate premise (1) as you and he express it with (1a) as you express it, but such conflation invalidates the logical validity of the argument. The argument can be formulated either way – with 1 and 6, with 1a and 6a. I believe it was actually formulated with 1 being paired with 6a and thus was an invalid argument.
    ===============

    Good point.

    There does seem to be some equivocation going on by McDowell. He sometimes uses “Lord” instead of “God” when expressing the conclusion of the Trilemma (although that could be just to maintain the use of three “L” words- Lord, Liar, or Lunatic). More significantly, at the end of the chapter on the Trilemma, he concludes that Jesus is “the son of God”, which is not the expression used in premise (1).

    The equivocation also might work the reverse of what you suggest, with premise (1) meaning (1a), but the conclusion being something weaker than (6a).

    The Liar and Lunatic labels fit better if the claim made by Jesus was a strong one, like (1a). While the conclusion is more plausible if it is weaker (e.g. Jesus is divine in some way). The problem with a weaker conclusion is that it might not be of much use in supporting traditional Christian beliefs about Jesus.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Response to Jim Lippard…

    Jim said:

    Are you assuming that all reasoning is deductive?

    If the only reason offered for (2) is (A), and that reason is rebutted, then that means that an *undercutting* or *undermining* defeater has been supplied for (2). It doesn’t deductively prove that (2) is false, but it does supply a reason not to believe it by taking away its justification.
    ============

    I was not assuming that all reasoning is deductive. My point is a more general one about reasons and arguments. Refuting a reason for P, does not thereby refute or disprove P. This is true whether the reason is deductive or inductive or some other kind of reason.

    This is because there can be more than one reason given to support a claim. The failure of one reason to support a claim does not mean that all reasons fail to support the claim.

    In the case of determining whether someone is a liar or mentally ill, we should go by the “innocent until proven guilty” principle, so the absence of good reasons for thinking a person to be a liar (or mentally ill) should result in a conclusion of “not a liar” (or “not mentally ill”).

    However, such a conclusion is not known to be true or proven to be true by the absence of good reasons, it is only presumed to be true on the basis of a principle of fairness.

    I want others to presume that I am honest and sane until they have good reason to think otherwise, so I should treat others in a similar way, presume them to be honest and sane until I have good reason to think otherwise.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Response to Philip…

    Philip said:

    The antecedent is a set of conditions that is supposed to suffice for being a liar. These conditions are: Jesus claims to be God, Jesus is not God, and Jesus knows he’s not God.

    If there is a possible world in which these conditions are met, but Jesus is not a liar, these conditions are not sufficient, and so premise (2), the material conditional statement, is false.
    ==============

    What you say here makes sense if we assume that (2) is based on an analysis of the necessary and sufficient conditions of being a “liar” and if (2) includes all of the conditions required to constitute a sufficient condition for the application of this concept.

    However, not all conditional statements are based on the analysis of a concept, and it is hard to be sure that the intention here is to lay out ALL of the conditions. Some other required conditions might simply be assumed to be true in Jesus’ case.

    The same sort of thing happens, probably more often, with conditional statements that are empirical rather than conceptual.

    John is standing above a puddle of gasoline on the floor. He is holding a box of kitchen matches in his left hand, and an unlit match in his right hand. I say, “If John lights the match and tosses it onto the floor, then John will start a fire.” This statement is presumably true or correct, but it leaves out some of the conditions required to yeild a sufficient condition. There needs to be oxygen in the room, for example. I’m assuming that condition to hold, but it is not explicitly stated in the conditional claim.

    Furthermore, in the case of empirical/causal conditional claims, we cannot state all of the conditions required to ensure the effect will follow the cause. For example, in my statement about John and the match, I did not exclude the possibility that the room contained a high-tech computerized fire-prevention system which has the capability of detecting lit matches, determining their trajectory (when thrown), and firing a stream of fire extinguishing foam that is aimed to put the flame of the match out before it gets within two feet of the gasoline puddle on the floor.

    But for the fire to start, this additional condition needs to be met (the absence or non-functionality of such a high-tech fire prevention system). The fact that I can imagine the possibility of such a system existing or being present in the room with John is not a good counterexample to my conditional claim.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16731690779682393927 Philip

    Bradley,

    You’ve thrown down a red herring here, with your talk of causal conditionals. In the case of a causal conditional, we’d be dealing with an inductive argument such as an inference to the best explanation. But you laid out the argument as a deductive one, formulated in basic propositional logic, which indicates that the conditional is a simple material one with the truth table you learn in introductory logic. In that case, my point stands and the argument is unsound. If you’re assuming some other type of logic, such as relevance or modal logic, you’d have to specify that and reformulate the argument.

    As it stands, premises (2) and (3) are clearly not causal statements. It’s not as though Jesus’s saying he’s God, etc, *causes* him to be liar; rather, the claim is that certain conditions–the very ones stated–are sufficient for being a liar. That’s simply how material conditionals work, and there’s no reason given to think (2) isn’t a material conditional. On the contrary, your calling the argument a “valid deductive” one implies that the premise is a material conditional (or some more complex kind of conditional, fit for a deductive argument).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Response to Philip…

    Philip said:

    But you laid out the argument as a deductive one, formulated in basic propositional logic, which indicates that the conditional is a simple material one with the truth table you learn in introductory logic. In that case, my point stands and the argument is unsound. If you’re assuming some other type of logic, such as relevance or modal logic, you’d have to specify that and reformulate the argument.
    ================

    Yes, the symbolization and proof of the validity of the argument use material conditionals to represent the conditional statements in English. Yes, an imaginary counterexample works against material conditional statments. If it is logically possible for P to be true and Q to be false, then the material conditional P -> Q is false.

    But the question remains, whether any and all imaginary counterexamples (showing the logical possibility of P and ~Q) to (2) interpreted as a material conditional also work as counterexamples to the original conditional statement in English.

    In favor of your position, I agree that it makes sense to view (2) as grounded in an analysis of the concept of "liar", and this means that the assumption upon which (2) is based is an analytic claim, that certain conditions can be identified as constituting a sufficient condition for the application of the concept "liar".

    The required conditions are not necessarily all spelled out, however. The assumption supporting (2) might be, as I have suggested, this:

    (B) Anyone who claims to literally be the God of Western theism, and who knows that he/she is NOT literally the God of Western theism, is a liar.

    The reference to this specific set of circumstances may hide or bury a condition for being a liar. (B) is logically compatible, for example, with the following claim:

    (C) John claimed to literally be Santa Claus, but John knew that he was not literally Santa Claus, yet John was NOT a liar.

    I might well be that there is a significant difference between claiming to literally be the God of Western theism, and claiming to literally be Santa Claus, and that difference might be relevant to some unspecified condition for the application of the concept "liar".

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05102852681074729331 GPacini

    3. If Jesus claimed to be God, and Jesus was not God, and Jesus did not know that he was not God, then Jesus was mentally ill.

    Isn't there a problem here? What constitutes mental illness today does not seem to hold for the ancient world. Socrates had a "daemon" which spoke to him internally, but he was not considered mentally ill.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    GPacini said…

    Isn't there a problem here? What constitutes mental illness today does not seem to hold for the ancient world.

    Bradley responds…

    "illness" is a problematic concept, and "mental illness" doubly so. One key consideration is functionality or the ability to cope in one's particular circumstances, and that can and does vary between cultures and over history.

    Nevertheless, a person who thinks he is all-powerful and all-knowing when he is in fact just an ordinary human being is a person who is clearly out of touch with reality and who, if he acts on these false beliefs, will put himself (and others) into real danger, regardless of his culture or historical circumstances.


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