Philosophy, history, books, wrestling, beard.

On Epistemology

I haven’t posted about books that I’ve read for quite a few months again, but I just finished one that was really neat: Linda Zagzebski’s “On Epistemology.”

Zagzebski gives a quick walk-through of the current consensus on epistemology and then makes her main argument: if one is to have a meaningful life then one must care about things; the more things that one cares about, the more meaningful life they live; in order to care about something, one must develop beliefs about it; in order to have true care, one must be conscientious (care about whether those beliefs are true or false).

These end up, she argues, pulling us in opposite directions, because one needs to not believe things that are false and this is easily done by just believing nothing, but one also needs to try to believe as much as possible that is true in order to care about more things.

Zagzebski walks through some of the history of skepticism and shows how periods of skepticism have centered on the idea that knowledge = certainty and talks about philosophers like Pyrrho, Descartes, and those who embrace the “Absolute Conception of Reality” which stresses that there is a separation between the mind and reality, all of which infers skepticism. She then presents some basic solutions to skepticism.

She then talks about trust and suggests issues with self-trust. She argues that it’s incoherent to think that one should only trust one-self and that it is possible to gain knowledge from others. Even better is a community where people can be trusted because they don’t lie to each other.

Then Zagzebski inquires into the question “what is knowledge.” Is it justified true belief? Is it “true belief supported by evidence that eliminates all possibilities except those we are properly ignoring?” She goes into a bunch of possible definitions and ends up with a “credit theory” for knowledge – something like “Knowledge is a belief in which the believer gets to the truth because she acts in an epistemically conscientious way.”

We must care about the truth, the book suggests, if we are going to care about anything (and, of course, we have to care about morality). She thinks, though, that we should focus our target on understanding instead of certainty and suggests that this is what Plato had in mind when he discussed knowledge.

Many philosopher (especially those in the West) have suggested that what is best is an activity of mind and so those of us that want to live the best possible life should care an awful lot about knowledge. It was a great book and I’d recommend it for those interested in philosophy.

Marty McCurdy FreeWill discussion

This is a conversation that I had with Marty McCurdy back a few years ago. I keep referencing it so I want to have a place to reference this conversation. Here it is:

Marty McCurdy shared a link.
August 1, 2013
I believe in the absolute sovereignty of God. That means I believe that everything that happens, happens exactly as God has planned it. I don’t believe that an ant gets stepped on in the smallest town in New Zealand if God did not plan it and intend that it happened. In spite of this belief I often live my life as a virtual atheist. I don’t surrender to God’s sovereign plan; I am not consoled by His “disruptive sovereignty.” In fact much of the time I am ridden with anxiety and I am upset with the disruption God seems to cause in my life. God’s word says that even the disruptions in my life are ultimately for my good, but I don’t seem to be able to find refuge and consolation in this fact. It makes sense for the atheist to be anxious he/she does not believe anybody is in control of what actually happens. It simply makes no sense for a person such as myself who believes God is in control of everything that happens, from the most minute details to the grand actions of nations, and who believes that control will cause everything to work out for my good, to be permeated with anxiety about what might happen and to be distraught about what has happened. I am simply living much of my life as an atheist. So I will pray this prayer from Scotty Smith that God will cause me to surrender to his consoling and disruptive sovereignty.

Wayne Watts Doesn’t that lead to Theological fatalism, though?
Basic Argument for Theological Fatalism

Yesterday God infallibly believed T. [Supposition of infallible foreknowledge]


If E occurred in the past, it is now-necessary that E occurred then. [Principle of the Necessity of the Past]


It is now-necessary that yesterday God believed T. [1, 2]


Necessarily, if yesterday God believed T, then T. [Definition of “infallibility”]


If p is now-necessary, and necessarily (p ? q), then q is now-necessary. [Transfer of Necessity Principle]


So it is now-necessary that T. [3,4,5]


If it is now-necessary that T, then you cannot do otherwise than answer the telephone tomorrow at 9 am. [Definition of “necessary”]


Therefore, you cannot do otherwise than answer the telephone tomorrow at 9 am. [6, 7]


If you cannot do otherwise when you do an act, you do not act freely. [Principle of Alternate Possibilities]


Therefore, when you answer the telephone tomorrow at 9 am, you will not do it freely. [8, 9]

2. Compatibilist responses to theological fatalism – Foreknowledge and Free Will (Stanford Encyclope
One response to the dilemma of infallible foreknowledge and free will is to deny… See More
August 1, 2013 at 6:27pm · Like · 1 · Remove Preview

Marty McCurdy Wayne interesting that you include a page from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I have been reading the page at the end of this comment. I have also been reading a book by the same author who wrote the page for the Encyclopedia. The book is “Creation and the Sovereignty of God.” That book has slowed down my output of books read considerably. To your question “doesn’t that lead to Theological Fatalism?” If by Theological Fatalism you mean predestination and or determinism then the answer is absolutely yes!! The bible (I believe God) says “I am God and there is no other; I am God and there is none like me, DECLARING THE END FROM THE BEGINNING and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘MY COUNSEL WILL STAND, AND I WILL ACCOMPLISH ALL MY PURPOSE'” (Isaiah 46:9-10). Daniel 4: 34-35 says “he does according to his will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What doest thou?'” Lamentations 3:37-38 says Who has commanded and it came to pass, unless the LORD has ORDAINED IT? Is it it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and evil come?” Proverbs 21:1 says “The king’s heart is is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” Wayne the bible is full of these types of verses I find it amazing that so many people are unwilling to accept what they teach. Now if by fatalism you mean it doesn’t matter what we do, then I do not think that is a logical progression from a view of the complete sovereignty of God. This is the fallacy of believing that God only predestines the ends of things and not the means to the ends of those things. God predestines that my heart will be burdened for someone, he predestines that I will pray for that person, he predestines that I will reach out in love toward that person. He predestines the entire chain of events down to the most minute details. Now some people will argue that this simply makes us robots and I guess that depends on your definition of robots. Wayne what always bothers me is that I think atheism and naturalism can logically only lead to a deterministic world view. If there is no God then I believe it only makes sense that whatever people do is simply the result of a combination of nature and nurture. People can’t create themselves (whatever existentialist claim). If people choices are not determined why would we ever ask the question WHY did somebody do this or that? If people were truly free in the libertarian sense then the question why would simply not make sense at all. Also if people were truly free I would have noway to know whether the student who brought me an apple one day might not bring a gun the next day and shoot me. Our personality dictates much of how we act, do we create our own personality? If people are free in the libertarian sense then how can we expect to influence them? Wouldn’t our influence violate their freedom? When I talked to my wrestlers, when I talk to the people I care about, when I write on facebook I am trying to influence people in a sense I am trying to at least slightly change who they are. Do we truly want a free world? Do we not want to be able to influence our children. I can’t stand it when I hear a wrestling coach say I don’t care if my son wrestles. I would say then you shouldn’t be coaching. If you don’t believe wrestling would be good for your son why do you want to coach others in that sport. Well Wayne I need to go pick up my wife but I would love to discuss this further with you. I am always impressed by how thoughtful you are. Thanks for your comments Marty

Divine Providence (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Traditional theism holds that God is the creator of heaven and earth, and that a… See More

Wayne Watts Sigh… I had maybe 1000 words written up in response to this before my computer lost power.
August 1, 2013 at 10:43pm · Like · 1

Wayne Watts So… I’m going to do this in segments this time so I don’t lose everything in case I lose power again. I hope that you don’t mind.
August 1, 2013 at 10:49pm · Like · 1

Wayne Watts I’m impressed by your response, Marty, and I think that you make an excellent series of points. I hold you in the highest respect and I hope that you know that I am always the one who walks away from our discussions the better and not you. You always make yourself an excellent representative of your faith and I don’t seek to disparage it in any way. If you feel that my arguments ever go past the level at which is respectable, just tell me and I’ll exit.
August 1, 2013 at 10:58pm · Like · 1

Wayne Watts I hope that you make good progress with “Creation and the Sovereignty of God.” I have been, as of late, working on John H. McMahon’s translation of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Aristotle is not easy to read. I know what you mean when you mention that it is slowing down your progression through books – this one is slowing me down as well. Aristotle is not easy to read.
August 1, 2013 at 11:00pm · Like · 1

Wayne Watts When you ask “If by Theological Fatalism you mean predestination and or determinism” yes. I absolutely do mean determinism. I understand that you believe that the bible, at least, was inspired by God. I don’t. I realize that this creates a separation in what we understand when we read bible verses, but I would like to think that I can take the prophets words on their merits and not necessarily on their ethos. The bible, as I understand it, has a huge number of verses and chapters that seem to infer determinism, but there are, from my understanding, an equal number of verses and chapters that seem to infer the opposite. In my last post, I mentioned a list of them, but I don’t think that it really matters. I’m sure that you know them much better than I do.
August 1, 2013 at 11:07pm · Like · 1

Wayne Watts I don’t think that you have the same understanding of determinism that I do. I have been reading Metaphysics lately and I think that Aristotle makes some excellent points about it. Aristotle makes a few premises clear about the idea. If God (the god Apollo, based upon his oracle at Delphi making predictions about the future that were supposed to be infallable) knows everything, then he knows the future; if God knows the future, then he knows what you will do tomorrow; if he knows what you will do tomorrow, then you will do it; if you will do it, then you have no choice; if you have no choice, then you have no free-will, if you have no free-will, then you could not have done otherwise; if you could not have done otherwise, then it makes no sense to talk in terms of punishment, for if you could not have done otherwise, why punish you? If it makes no sense to punish you because you could not have done otherwise, then life has no meaning. You have to do what you have to do. I believe that life does have meaning. From the belief that life does have meaning, it’s really just a series of Modus Tollens arguments to go back to the idea that God must not know everything. If life is to have any sort of meaning, then we must have choice. If we have choice, then we could do otherwise, and the future must not be set.
August 1, 2013 at 11:17pm · Like · 1

Wayne Watts I think that you contradict yourself when you claim that God knows all things, but that he only determines the means and not the ends. I think that my prior argument proves this.
August 1, 2013 at 11:22pm · Like · 1

Wayne Watts I do think that your argument makes us robots. I don’t believe that we are simply robots. I think that our lives carry meaning. We have the ability to choose and are therefore responsible for our actions. If we cannot choose to do otherwise, then we are necessarily not responsible for our actions.
August 1, 2013 at 11:25pm · Like · 1

Wayne Watts I think that you again contradict yourself when you claim that atheism necessarily leads to determinism by making our actions nothing apart from nature and nurture. You leave out the possibility of conscious thought. If we have conscious thought, then we are aware that we have the capacity to choose; and if we have the capacity to choose, then we are responsible for our actions. By becoming aware of our choice, we necessarily become aware of our responsibility. If we are responsible for our actions, then our lives necessarily carry meaning.
August 1, 2013 at 11:29pm · Like · 1

Wayne Watts If our choices are necessarily determined, then we would have no choice in whether we asked “why” or not. We would have to whether it made sense or not. I do not believe that this is the case.
August 1, 2013 at 11:33pm · Like · 1

Wayne Watts People cannot create themselves, I agree, but I do believe that man has the capacity to choose his own fate; that it is not necessarily chosen for him.
August 1, 2013 at 11:34pm · Like · 1

Wayne Watts If people are free, then we have the capacity to influence them; if they are not free, then we do not have the capacity to influence them. The idea that our influence would matter to them infers that they have a choice. If they have a choice, then they can choose to do other than that which they are “fated” to do. Fate, then, has no meaning. It simply does not exist.
August 1, 2013 at 11:36pm · Like · 1

Wayne Watts If you feel that by your facebook posts that you can influence people, then you must necessarily agree that determinism simply does not exist. If you can change their behavior, then they must not be fated to do any one particular thing or another. They must have the ability to choose. If they have the ability to choose, then their behavior must not be determined; if their behavior is not determined, then their lives carry meaning.
August 1, 2013 at 11:39pm · Like · 1

Wayne Watts If we can influence our children, then they must not be determined to do any particular thing or another. They must, necessarily, have the capacity of choice. If they have choice, then they carry responsibility. I believe that we do have responsibility, therefore we must not be determined.
August 1, 2013 at 11:40pm · Like · 1

Wayne Watts Well, I’m sorry to post so many times here, Marty. I wish that my previous post hadn’t been erased by my sudden power loss. I feel like I had it better phrased then, but oh well. I look forward to your response. Dominus vobisne.
August 1, 2013 at 11:48pm · Like · 1

Marty McCurdy Wayne I like all of your posts, but so far I have only “liked” the ones I have actually read. This way you can know where I am in my reading. In the last post I read you did an excellent job of putting Aristotle’s ideas into words I could actually understand. What he has basically stated is what is considered to be the Classical Problem of Evil, i.e. God can’t be omnipotent and omnibenevolent and have created a world with so much evil in it. God could be simply omnipotent and created such a world (he would not care about the evil or at least not care about it that much). He could also have been simply omnibenevolent (all loving) and created such a world (he would simply be powerless to prevent all of the evil). Your argument or Aristotle’s argument goes one step further and takes on one of the theodicies (attempts to solve the problem of evil) which is called the free-will argument. The free-will argument suggests that God could have prevented evil but chose not to for the greater good of creating true human freedom (what I would call libertarian free will). The people who support this argument agree with you that if people do not have true freedom then life is basically meaningless (I don’ agree with this thesis but I will get to that later). Your argument has pointed out that if people do have libertarian free will there is simply no way God could be truly omniscient. If choices are truly free they simply can’t be know a head of time and God can’t be all knowing. Unlike most evangelicals (at least this is what I suspect) I agree with you. If you want to have libertarian free human actions you simply must forfeit God’s omniscience. I simply don’t see this as being at all consistent with scripture or as being consistent with a God who created the universe out of nothing and speaks all of history into existence. Well I need to go to a half day in-service but Wayne I will be back. I typed this fast so I could do it before I leave if it doesn’t make any sense forgive on the basis I was in a hurry.
August 2, 2013 at 8:09am · Unlike · 1

Wayne Watts Good response thus far. I’ll wait until you are finished to respond to your points if you’d like.
August 2, 2013 at 9:49am · Like

have meaning. Even if that was true it would not prove that libertarian free will exists. It would only prove that a deterministic world has no meaning. Before I go on I must be clear by what I mean by libertarian free will as opposed to what is often called compatibilist free will. According to libertarian free will humans are able to make at least some choices where there are insufficient prior antecedents to determine what that choice will be. This is sometimes called autonomy. According to those who hold to libertarian free will or to autonomy this type of freedom is required for people to be responsible for their actions. Compatibilist free will is considered to be consistent with determinism. The compatibilist believes that free will only requires that the individual making the choice is not under external coercion to make the choice or internal compulsion to make the choice. Another words as long as the person is able to make choices according to what they truly want to do then they would be free choices. This is in no way inconsistent with determinism. The determinist would argue that what a person wants in effect the person’s personality is determined by all types of forces. From an atheistic/naturalist point of view I believe these forces could pretty much be summed up in nature and nurture. I don’t see how an atheist could ever argue for anything other than a deterministic world view. Don’t get me wrong I know they do, I just think they are entirely inconsistent when they do. In effect they would be arguing that a person could create something from nothing. If my choices are not a result of my personality where do they come from? If they are a result of my personality then the question must be where did my personality come from? For the libertarian view point to hold true individuals would have to be able to create their own personalities but how do they do this. How do they create something from nothing? Well back to your point that a life with out libertarian freedom would be a life without meaning. Well I agree with you that life has meaning. In fact I would argue that the universe, which includes are choices and every other thing that we know of, shouts meaning. I just don’t agree that we can infer libertarian freedom from the fact that the universe projects meaning. Well I need to go back are read more of your points. Pat McCurdy, Keenan McCurdy, do you have anything to add to this discussion? John McDermott you said you were interested in theological dialog well here you have it.
August 2, 2013 at 6:32pm · Unlike · 1

Marty McCurdy Wayne I am sorry if I wrote it wrong. I believe God determines both the means and the ends. My point was that some people confuse predestination and think that God predestines people to heaven or hell regardless of what they do. That thinking is what I object to. God predestines the means by which things happen (say training hard for wrestling) and the ends of the thing that happens (say either winning or losing a match). Some people argue that predestination is a deterrent to prayer. If people are going to be saved it is predestined so why should I pray. I would argue that I pray for people’s salvation because God is in charge of it. I also believe that my prayers are part of the means that God has predestined to accomplish His predestined ends. If you truly believe in libertarian free will why would you pray to God for someone’s salvation. You would be asking God to do what you believe He can’t and shouldn’t do. Why would a person who believes in Libertarian free will pray for God to do anything other than to make sure it is a completely level playing field and that a persons important choices are not influenced by anything. But that again begs the question where would those choices come from would they be made from nothing? Wayne a person who has had a big influence on my thinking in this area was a college philosophy teacher I had named Doug Erlandson. Who knows maybe he will add to this discussion.
August 2, 2013 at 6:47pm · Unlike · 1

Marty McCurdy Wayne on the responsibility thing I have to be honest I am still working on that. I would say at the very least we are responsible for our sins because God holds us responsible for our sins. I believe we are responsible at an even deeper level than simply God holding us responsible but at at this point (and maybe until I am glorified and maybe even after that) this remains a mystery to me.
August 2, 2013 at 6:53pm · Like

Marty McCurdy I don’t see how conscious thought contradicts determinism. Just because I have an awareness of what I am doing doesn’t mean that there are not enough prior antecedents to determine what my choice will be. When you preach to your wrestlers that they should work hard and give their best effort or when you tell your students that they should search for truth, they are conscious of it but it still might influence them it still might tip them to want to work harder to want to search for truth. Awareness of a choice even awareness of our responsibility does not negate the question why did we choose A over B? If there is a WHY then there simply is no libertarian free will. We are always asking why did one person do one thing and another person do something else. The behavioral sciences are totally based on the idea that people are not free in a libertarian sense. Psychology and Sociology both assume that people are at least not completely free when they assume that we can study individuals or groups and figure out why they act the way they do. When you have a meeting about a student and you ask why doesn’t Billy try harder you are assuming that Billy is not completely free. If Billy is completely free there is no why to whether he tries or doesn’t try it was simply his choice. My daughter just finished her PHD in Psychology (I am pretty positive that the determining factor in that was the DNA from her mother) and she acknowledges this. Wayne because I believe you are a caring coach who wants to help his wrestlers and students to be the best that they can be, I am guessing you are constantly trying to influence them. This means that in essence you don’t have any problem with violating their freedom to be the type of person they want to be. As i wrote earlier I don’t see how being conscious of choices has any impact on whether those choices are free or determined. If I can ask why you made the choice you did then I am assuming you are not completely free because if you were there would be no why.
August 2, 2013 at 7:16pm · Like

Marty McCurdy Whether something makes sense to us or not is a determining factor. If I can convince you that it makes sense to go out for wrestling then that will impact your choice. If I can’t convince you that it makes sense to go out for wrestling then you probably won’t go out for wrestling. Determinism doesn’t reject that our consciousness or our mental capacities influence our choices in fact it is based on the idea that they do. I think I will be happier being a teacher then working on the railroad all my life so I choose to become a teacher.
August 2, 2013 at 7:23pm · Like

Marty McCurdy If people don’t create themselves then on what basis do they choose their fate? Where does that choice come from? Again I ask do they create something out of nothing. If the scales are perfectly balanced then on what basis do they tip the scale? I choose to tip the scale to the right. Why? There simply can be no answer and this is why some people would argue that libertarian free will is simply capricious chance. If the choice is not based on something it must simply be a chance decision. Do choices based on chance make us more responsible or truly free?
August 2, 2013 at 7:30pm · Like

Marty McCurdy Influence is can be a determining factor. If it can’t it is nothing. I would argue that our choices are simply the sum of our influences. You attempt to influence the beast athlete to come out for wrestling the basketball coach his offering him a house to come out for basketball but his dad was a wrestler and has been telling his son his whole life that wrestling is the world’s greatest sport, the sum of the influences favors wrestling and he goes out for wrestling. If he was totally free there would be no reason why he wrestled or didn’t wrestle it would have been his free choice that came out of nothing I guess.
August 2, 2013 at 7:36pm · Like

Marty McCurdy The way you use the term fate it sounds like a person is being pulled against his will. This is simply not the case. When I was trying to convince my wife that I was the man for her, I didn’t want her to choose me over the cowboy from Georgia against her will, I did everything in my power to change her will so that she would choose me because I was obviously the best choice. Lets just say that I am glad God was the ultimate determining factor on that one.
August 2, 2013 at 7:40pm · Like

Marty McCurdy I do believe people have the ability to choose but those choices are based on who they are and what they know. If I can convince a student that staying in school will help them to have a better life then I have influenced their choice, if the students buddies have been more effective at convincing them that dropping out and doing drugs is the secret to happiness, then they will probably drop out and do drugs, unless there is another influence which is stronger.
August 2, 2013 at 7:45pm · Like

Marty McCurdy If I can influence my children’s choices then those choices are not absolutely free. If influence is not the ability to tip the scales of choice (or at least to add more weight to one side of the tetter totter of choice) then what is influence. If influence can’t affect choice then is it really influence? I would argue that it isn’t. When Obama and Romney were trying to influence me you bet they were trying to have an impact on my choice.
August 2, 2013 at 7:49pm · Like

Marty McCurdy Well Wayne I hope I have not driven you off. I attempted to deal as honestly as I could with each of your points. As I tell my students I lay awake at night thinking about this stuff.
August 2, 2013 at 7:53pm · Unlike · 1

Wayne Watts Lol. No, you haven’t driven me away. I’m right now going through your comments and doing a pre-write for a response. I’ll get back to you once I’ve gathered my thoughts.
August 2, 2013 at 7:54pm · Like · 1

Marty McCurdy John McDermott thanks for jumping in the discussion. I don’t believe Adam had free will because “God has declared the end from the beginning,” not the beginning from after Adam had sinned but the absolute beginning. The fall was absolutely part of God’s eternal plan as was the Crucifixion. Foreknowledge is also not being able to see the future it is to have a predetermined relationship. “Those whom God foreknew he also predestined,” does not mean God looked down the tunnel of time and predestined those who he saw would choose him. It means that those who God knew by writing their names in the book of life (before Adam) he predestined to a relationship with his son.
August 2, 2013 at 8:03pm · Like

Wayne Watts I wonder what Marty would think of Daniel Fioret’s computer argument.
August 2, 2013 at 8:07pm · Like

Wayne Watts And Pat Shoell Cook.
August 2, 2013 at 8:09pm · Like

Marty McCurdy John please read my first response to Wayne I give a number of verses in that comment that I think are contrary to your view point. I absolutely don’t believe God has contingent knowledge. I don’t believe God is in anyway contingent. Yes there are verses that would make it appear that God is reactive but their are verses like the ones I have sited above which declare he is never reactive so you to come to a conclusion how you are going to understand something that on the surface appears to be a contradiction. The author who enters the story seems to make the most sense out of it to me. God writes himself in to his own story. So as the writer he declares the end from the beginning and he never alters from this. He writes the whole story of history in a single thought. As a character in his own story he changes his mind he weeps over the lost he is frustrated with Israel. This is better explained by Joe Rigney in the following article. Wayne and John I think you would at least find it interesting.…/confronting-the-problem-s…

Confronting the Problem(s) of Evil
IntroductionWhere was God?The question is always the same.After the initial shoc… See More
August 2, 2013 at 8:18pm · Like

Marty McCurdy Wayne is Daniel’s argument something I should know or are you encouraging him to jump into are discussion? I ask because I am at a loss if it is something I should know.
August 2, 2013 at 8:20pm · Like

Wayne Watts I’m asking him if he’ll jump in and say it. We had quite the conversation about this on our trip out to California.
August 2, 2013 at 8:21pm · Like · 1

Marty McCurdy John I did attempt to define terms up toward the top of discussion. Probably my second or third response to Wayne.
August 2, 2013 at 8:23pm · Unlike · 1

Marty McCurdy John if you will read my responses to Wayne. You will see that I don’t think libertarian free will makes any sense even from an atheistic or naturalistic point of view. Also I agree their is mystery but I don’t think it is mystery that God is absolutely sovereign and works everything according to the council of his will. The very idea of God that is represented in the Bible is that he is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, in other words he is an absolutely non-contingent being he is, he is never becoming. God never learns he is a perfect being.
August 2, 2013 at 8:30pm · Like

Marty McCurdy “Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad–in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call–she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’ What shall we say then? ‘Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human WILL or exertion. but on God who has mercy.” Romans 9:11-16
August 2, 2013 at 9:04pm · Like

Wayne Watts Ok… I think that I am finally all caught up with the reading. What better way to spend the Friday night, eh? Heh… I dig it. I do, however, have a whole page full of points that were made throughout the discussion. I don’t think that I am actually going to respond to all of them, but I do feel like I can throw out my ideas on a few of these items.
August 2, 2013 at 9:16pm · Like · 1

Wayne Watts Marty, I wasn’t attempting to discuss the free-will issue in the context of the problem of evil. I find that I still have yet to hear a convincing argument against the Epicurean argument: Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
August 2, 2013 at 10:03pm · Like · 1

Wayne Watts I was attempting to discuss the issue of free-will on its own merits. I think that you are correct when you state that meaning alone does not prove free-will, but I think that free-will seems to be the obvious answer to the universe. Why would all of this exist unless there were some sort of a meaning to it? It seems that the most obvious answer, the one that requires us to make the fewest number of assumptions about reality is the one that infers necessarily that there is some sort of meaning to the universe. If that is the case, then it is really just a series of Modus Tollens arguments to get back in my argument to the idea that there must not be such a thing as an omniscient God. I didn’t hear in there anywhere a rejection of the premises that I presented in that argument, and it would seem therefore deductive that the conclusions would necessarily follow that I presented from the given premises. If you think that I am incorrect here, I’d like to hear a rejection of one of my premises. If I missed it somewhere, can you restate it please?
August 2, 2013 at 10:07pm · Like · 1

Wayne Watts If free-will is the obvious answer to the universe, it would seem that Occam’s razor would put the burden of proof on the counter position and not on mine, but I am happy to jump into that if you’d like. If the universe is already pre-determined, then the future exists; if the future exists, then we will do what is in that future; if that future exists, then there really isn’t any such a thing as motion, only the incorrect perception of motion. Aristotle refutes this in the Metaphysics by saying that we do have motion and that to claim that one can move and yet not move at the same time is a basic logical contradiction. I agree with him.
August 2, 2013 at 10:10pm · Like · 1

Wayne Watts In response to your nature/nurture atheistic world, I would again say that I fail to see in there the place for conscious choice. I think that I failed to fully describe this idea in my earlier post, but I do think that we have such a thing as a conscious mind. We have the ability to practice meta cognition. If we can think about our thinking, then we can come to a realization that we are responsible for our actions; if we are responsible for our actions, then we have choice; if we have choice, then we have free will. It seems like a simple enough argument. If we don’t have free-will, then we don’t have choice; if we don’t have choice, then we are not responsible for our actions; if we are not responsible for our actions, then we must not be able to practice meta cognition. The mere fact that we are cognizant about our ability to think shows that we have responsibility and therefore it shows that we have free-will.
August 2, 2013 at 10:13pm · Like · 1

Wayne Watts Nature/nurture leaves no place in it for the ability to make a conscious thought. If we have the ability to make a conscious thought, then we have the ability to choose our fate. It must not necessarily exist outside of our capacity to determine for ourselves what our future will be.
August 2, 2013 at 10:14pm · Like · 1

Wayne Watts I think that you make a fine point, Marty, when you say that something cannot come from nothing. I would agree to that point. I disagree, however, in that I don’t think that our decisions are coming from nothing. I believe that they are coming from, at least in part, our conscious decisions.
August 2, 2013 at 10:16pm · Like · 1

Wayne Watts Where do choices come from? From our decisions of course. We are affected by stimuli, and we choose, and we act. I find that our choice is the essential part there, because we have the ability to change it. We are not determined to do any one thing because of the stimuli that affects us. You seem to think that we are necessarily determined to act in one way or another based upon the stimuli that affects us. I don’t think that this is the case. I can have stimuli affect me in all sorts of ways, but I can choose to act contrary to those stimuli because I have free-will.
August 2, 2013 at 10:18pm · Like · 1

Wayne Watts I can get to the creation from nothing if you’d like later, John, but I’m going to try to fully respond to Marty first.
August 2, 2013 at 10:19pm · Like · 1

Wayne Watts I’m not an atheist. I’d probably refer to myself more as a deist.
August 2, 2013 at 10:20pm · Like · 1

Wayne Watts In regards to personality, I think that my personality is really only the reflection of actions as perceived by others. Personality does not determine how one will act, it is the way that another might come to have some sort of understanding about the way in which any one particular person might act. The sum total of these experiences would be interpreted by another, but the idea that any one person would be forced into any particular series of actions by a “personality” is absurd. It would leave out the possibility that one could change. People do change. Have you ever seen Les Mis?
August 2, 2013 at 10:25pm · Like · 1

Wayne Watts No, I haven’t ever read anything on molinism.
August 2, 2013 at 10:25pm · Like · 1

Wayne Watts Marty, in responses to me, you keep making references to choice, but you don’t really much leave open the possibility of choice because you state that God both determines the means and the ends. How can this not be contradictory?
August 2, 2013 at 10:36pm · Like

Wayne Watts Why do I ask Billy why he doesn’t work harder? Because I know that he can choose to work harder but he does not. If I can see that he is working as hard as he can, then I don’t ask him the question. This assumes that he has choice. I ask him why he is choosing the one path over the other to get him to practice a moment of meta cognition. I hope that he can realize that he is the captain of his ship, that he has choice, and that he is in charge of his destiny. If God controls both the means and the ends, if the world is determined, then it doesn’t make any sense to ask him this question whatsoever. He will do what he will do and he cannot choose to do otherwise. I think that this is absurd.
August 2, 2013 at 10:39pm · Like

Wayne Watts Congrats to your daughter for her excellent performance in education. I congratulate her because I believe that she could have done otherwise. I believe that she could have chosen something else and it seems laudable that she chose this particular path instead of another one. It wouldn’t make any sense at all to congratulate her, however, if she absolutely had to do it and could not have done otherwise.
August 2, 2013 at 10:40pm · Edited · Like

Wayne Watts I have to disagree with the point that you made about something making sense determining our actions. You’ve known teenagers, I think. Haven’t you heard them explain that they simply did not know why they engaged in one particular behavior over another? We don’t always do what our rational mind says is the best course of action. Some people even commit suicide. I think that many of these people who do commit suicide realize that it is not the best course of action and yet do it anyways. This would seem to contradict that point.
August 2, 2013 at 10:42pm · Like

Wayne Watts You discuss the idea of convincing someone to do a particular thing. How can we convince someone to do a particular thing if they are determined to do one particular thing and not another? It simply is incompatible with the idea of determinism in my opinion. How do people choose their fate? Exactly that. They choose. They make a, sometimes, conscious decision. They can do so because they have a conscious mind. They have a conscious mind and so therefore are responsible for their actions. You say that you made a choice to become a teacher instead of a railroad worker. If you could choose the one over the other, do you not have choice? If you have choice, then you have free-will. If you have free-will then you are not determined to do one particular thing over another.
August 2, 2013 at 10:44pm · Like

Wayne Watts Finally, I think that you make some other excellent points in your remarks, Marty. I don’t, however, see how compatibilist free-will is anything but a cop-out. I hope that you could further enlighten me. Whether we are talking about libertarian or compatibilist free-will, it doesn’t seem to negate the point that I made from Aristotle before. If God is omniscient, then God knows the future; if God knows the future, then he knows what you will do tomorrow; if he knows what you will do tomorrow, then you will do it; if you will do it, then you have no choice; if you have no choice, you have no free-will (whether libertarian or compatibilist, take your pick.) I look forward to your response, Marty.
August 2, 2013 at 10:48pm · Like

Wayne Watts Ok, thanks for waiting, John.
August 2, 2013 at 10:48pm · Like

Wayne Watts Which point would you like to discuss first?
August 2, 2013 at 10:49pm · Like

Wayne Watts You can comment if you have free-will
August 2, 2013 at 10:51pm · Like

Marty McCurdy Wayne the best I can say is that I believe libertarian free will to be an incoherent notion. In my mind it requires the one making the choice to create something out of nothing. I think we always wonder why somebody made the choice they did. I think the assumption of why is the assumption of determinism. I do think your argument is essentially 1. we sense meaning in the universe, 2. meaning requires free will, 3. therefore we must have free will. I think this argument fails for two reasons. 1. As I have stated libertarian free will is an incoherent notion and we show that we do not really believe in free will every time we try to influence another person or when we expect a person to act in the future the way they have acted in the past according to their personality. Libertarian free will would not require simply freedom in choice but actually freedom in creating ourselves. The question would be from what do we create ourselves. 2. The second reason I reject your argument is that I do not think meaning in the universe necessitates free will. I believe the universe shouts meaning as Romans1 says. The reason I got into the problem of evil was I guess because of your reference to God’s Omniscience being inconsistent with free will. This tends to come up in discussions of the problem of evil because many people who do believe in libertarian free will (and see it as the solution to the problem of evil) also believe in God’s omniscience which I believe to be inconsistent as I believe you do also. Though I think John might disagree with us. You do bring up the Epicurean argument from the problem of evil. I do think the answer to the problem of evil is that God has a reason for allowing evil. God could have easily created a universe without evil but he chose to create a universe with evil. Though I must admit I am still working this out, my quick answer would be that as John pointed out, the one God of the universe is a Triune God made up of three persons. Within this Trinity their has always been love. If God was not triune love could not have existed eternally it could have only started with the creation of beings to love. The father has always loved the Son and the Spirit and they in turn have always loved the Father. Don’t get me wrong this is not polytheism but their is inter Triune love and this love within the Trinity is in my opinion the motivation/incentive for all that has been created. So i would argue that the whole grand drama of creation and redemption and all of history is a manifestation of triune love. We Christians benefit from this love because God us inside of Christ and Christ loves us with the love he has for the Father. The whole meaning of everything is wrapped up in the Trinity. Well time to take a breath.
August 3, 2013 at 8:35am · Unlike · 1

Marty McCurdy Wayne I have some idea why you lasted so long you are in either Mountain or Western Time zone, still that required some impressive endurance. John I am not sure where you live but I am pretty sure you are in central time zone so you must be a major night owl. My problem is I have become a night owl over the summer but not I need to get readjusted to a school schedule.
August 3, 2013 at 8:41am · Unlike · 1

Marty McCurdy John I believe that anti-theism is religious view point held ultimately by faith. Just as theism this does not mean that an atheist has no logical reasons for his position it just means that they can’t be proven and therefore require an an element of faith. Actually I am not sure anything can be truly proven but that is another argument also.
August 3, 2013 at 8:44am · Like

Marty McCurdy John I also agree that you make a valid point about the problem when you point out that defining anything as evil requires some sort of ultimate standard. I believe that ultimate standard requires a belief in God. Others such as Kant (though I believe he was a theist) have attempted to come up with an ultimate standard outside of God. I believe Kant’s categorical imperative fails in this regard. Sure it might be good idea that we should only do that which we would be willing to make an ultimate law but I can’t see how that makes anything right or wrong in any type of ultimate sense. It assumes that human preservation might require it but what can we say makes human preservation so valuable. Even Darwinism doesn’t conclude that the preservation of anything has any ultimate value only that it exists, there can really be no value.
August 3, 2013 at 8:51am · Like

Marty McCurdy Wayne I am not totally sure I understand your argument about motion but my quick answer is that it is a matter of perspective. We (people) are always becoming always changing but God is never becoming he is always the same and his knowledge is always the same. He created the entire historical experience in one thought. He even created time. God does not exist inside of time he is outside of time and sees everything at once. Again I don’t think your inference from meaning to the necessity of libertarian free will exists.
August 3, 2013 at 8:59am · Unlike · 1

Marty McCurdy Wayne I don’t see how consciousness, meta cognition, our awareness of our choices makes those choices any less determined. I am conscious of my choice to be typing to you write now. I know what I am doing, I know that I am making a choice to do it. I enjoy doing it. Why am I doing it instead of spending time with my grandson which I should probably be doing? Because at this moment the antecedents which predispose me to be typing to you are stronger than the antecedents which would predispose me to doing something else. Determinism does not deny that we make choices, it does not deny that we are not aware of those choices, it does not deny that we can think about our thinking I am doing that right now, it just simply says that there is a reason a cause for all of those things. If we were truly free, libertarian free their simply would be no cause. I could not tell you why I am typing you. I would simply be doing it, there could be no explanation for it. If there were it would be a cause and that cause would deny the freedom of my choice to be typing to you. It doesn’t matter that I am aware of the fact that I am choosing to type to you or not. In fact because I am aware of the choice I am actually somewhat aware of the reasons (causal determinants) that I am typing you.
August 3, 2013 at 9:10am · Unlike · 1

Marty McCurdy When we make choices about our future those choices may (but won’t always) in fact determine some aspect of our future, this in noway refutes the idea that those choices themselves might not have been determined. Domino B knocking over domino C does not mean that domino A did not knock over domino B thus causing it to knock over domino C. In fact I would ask how would domino do B anything if it was not first acted upon. I regress to the cosmological argument.
August 3, 2013 at 9:17am · Unlike · 1

Marty McCurdy Wayne you assert that you can act contrary to all the forces who act upon you by your free will. I am sorry but I must ask why? Where does this will to act contrary to all of the forces acting upon you come from? Are you creating something from nothing? Your ability to consciously think about that choice is a cause in itself, it is a result of the interaction of neurons. Your ability to evaluate the choice has been caused or you simply created that ability out of nothing. Even with the ability to think about your thinking you can’t remove yourself from the causes that have effected you and given you that ability. In essence you (the self) is the result of those causal determinants. Meta Cognition or thinking about thinking in my mind does nothing to negate the argument for determinism in fact I think it fits nicely into either a theistic or an atheistic determinism.
August 3, 2013 at 9:27am · Unlike · 1

Marty McCurdy I have seen the movie Les Mis I need to read the book. That would only take me a decade or two. Wayne I don’t believe personality is fixed. I totally believe it is fluid. You can call it whatever you want I honestly would prefer to call it the soul. Whatever we are talking about who you (or me) are. So Wayne whatever you want to call it, the you that is, is always being acted upon by influences and so you are constantly evolving, but is from that you in whatever state it is in at the moment that you make your choices. If not what makes the choices? Wayne it seems to me that for your argument to make true sense and to really have the force you believe it does to give meaning to the universe, you must be able to create yourself to make you, you. If the you that is you or whatever you want to call it is truly the determinant of your choices you must be able to create that you, you must be the ultimate determinant of who you are. I simply don’t believe that makes any sense. It makes people gods and we are not gods. Ultimately we are creatures whether we like it or not. God is God and he has created all that exists.
August 3, 2013 at 9:39am · Unlike · 1

Marty McCurdy John and Wayne and spend time with my family. The determining forces are causing me to end my discussion for now. I would just like to say one last thing to John I also do not believe faith is a work but I believe if we make it the determining factor in our salvation we have turned it into a work. If it is my libertarian free choice to believe or not to believe then belief has become a work and ultimately you have works salvation and a man saves himself God does not ultimately save him. The person choosing to believe is the ultimate determining force. Signing off for now Marty.
August 3, 2013 at 9:44am · Unlike · 1

Wayne Watts I think that we have written enough here to write the better part of a young adult novel. It’s been a good conversation, though. I am in Utah, so I’m in the mountain time zone. That does give me an edge on you guys for the late night writing
August 3, 2013 at 12:19pm · Like · 1

Wayne Watts I brought up Les Mis because in that story, the protagonist actually makes a real, substantial change. For Javert, change seems to be impossible: a criminal is a criminal and will always be a criminal. This is just simply not the case, though. People change. That change, I think, disproves determinism. We don’t always just have to act based upon whatever forces in the universe affect us. We can choose to do otherwise. You ask where does this will to act contrary to the forces affecting me come from? From my conscious mind. At a certain age, we humans become self-aware. We practice meta cognition. We realize that we are the captains of our ships. When we have this realization, we come to the age of responsibility, that first moment where we become aware that we are in the process of making change and that we are responsible for our actions. In short, yes, I am creating the future and this does make me, in a very odd way, a little god – an unmoved mover. It’s an incredible responsibility, the realization that I am responsible for the world that I create, but the alternative, the idea that I have no control over the universe, is simply absurd to me. It would infer that I had no responsibility whatsoever. That type of thinking is for the criminal. What an excellent excuse to avoid responsibility for anything that they do: I could not have done otherwise, God made me do it. The idea of punishment would make no sense because there would be no such thing as responsibility.
August 3, 2013 at 12:31pm · Like · 1

Wayne Watts You and I talk a lot about teaching our young, but how can we be successful in teaching the children if we do not constantly remind them of their responsibility? I spend a lot of time reminding my wrestlers that they are responsible for whether they win their matches or not: not me, not their parents, but them. I worry that the deterministic view necessarily leads to a certain shirking of this idea of responsibility. If our wrestlers cannot choose to do otherwise, then they are not responsible for whether they win their matches or not.
August 3, 2013 at 12:45pm · Like · 1

Wayne Watts Anyways, I’m more than a bit long-winded. What do you think?
August 3, 2013 at 12:46pm · Like · 1

Marty McCurdy Wayne, you are certainly no more long winded then I am. You write from your personal experience that your world view gives you a sense of the seriousness of your responsibility. I think that is admirable. I also think that part of the reason your responsibility is so serious, is that it is real, you truly do impact others. In essence in at least a small way you change their will/personality/soul/heart/spirit (whatever you want to call it the essence of what they are). If there will is to be completely free you should not be able to do this. When you tell your wrestlers they are responsible for their actions you are encouraging them and hopefully influencing them to take responsibility for their actions. In the process of helping them to be responsible you are actually attempting to violate their free will. I know this might sound contradictory but I don’t think it is. We are responsible and we should act responsibly the bible teaches this while at the same time teaching that God is in control of every detail of our life. If I give you the impression that I think I have this all figured out, I am sorry, because that is certainly not the case. Let me say that I too feel a great sense of responsibility. I believe that if I don’t parent right it will negatively affect my children, I believe that if I don’t teach right it will negatively affect my students, I believe when I was coaching that if I didn’t coach right it could have a real negative impact on my wrestlers. I believe that if I am not a good friend it could have a negative impact on my friends. I even believe that if I don’t facebook right it could have a negative impact on people. Even more importantly I believe that if I am not faithful in prayer it could have a detrimental impact on people. So Wayne in other words I believe that what I do really matters it truly makes a difference in the lives of others, in essence it impacts their very being, it will influence who they actually are and it will certainly have an impact on their will (the choices they make). So Wayne I too have a tremendous sense of responsibility but at the same time I believe God controls my every action down to the most minute detail. I don’t think one thing happens that God did not ultimately intend to happen and this includes terrorist flying jets into world trade centers and it includes hurricanes and tsunami’s. I believe that much is mystery and that there is much that I don’t understand but I believe God is good and that he has a reason for even the most horrible things that happen. I know that we won’t understand the reasons for most these horrible things this side of heaven. So there you have it. I believe that I am responsible and that my actions do make a difference (I often have a tremendous sense of guilt for the ways in which I have not acted responsibly) at the same time I believe God is in absolute control and not one things happens that he did not intend. So now you have a pretty good idea of the paradox that is the mind of Marty McCurdy.
August 3, 2013 at 3:23pm · Unlike · 1

Wayne Watts Good post, Marty. This is as good a place as any to exit this most excellent dialogue. I’ll see you in the next one
August 3, 2013 at 5:22pm · Like · 1

Marty McCurdy John I am not 100% sure I understand the concept of contingent knowledge. What I thought it meant was that God would be reacting to something that he learned. I don’t believe God ever learns. God is never becoming (the word I believe R.C. Sproul used). God is never a reactor he is only an active but that activity is outside of time. When I say God could have created a world without evil I mean (at least what I think I mean) is that God was constrained to create as He did by nothing other than himself. John I to believe I am a Christian because I know I am a sinner who is absolutely and completely helpless to save himself. A book that I am reading right now (well I was reading it five minutes ago) is “Creation and The Sovereignty of God” by Hugh J. McCain. This book is impacting my thinking on this subject even as I am typing this response to you. This book is very difficult for me. I am quite literally only reading about five pages an hour. McCain suggest that God didn’t think and then create the universe he decided he wanted. I think McCain would say that God thought the universe and all that has ever happened and will ever happened into existence. Well hopefully I will have more to write on the subject when I finish reading the book, which at my present rate (average 5 pages an hour) will not be in the real near future. John I would suggest you read the book but you might want to read the following article by Joe Rigney first. Joe Rigney was the person who introduced me to Hugh J. McCain (in a letter). It was Rigney who first introduced me to the metaphor of God as the Author and all of creation and all of history as his great story. That metaphor has been helpful to me in dealing with the problem of evil. Well read Rigney’s article and if it maybe helps scratch where you are itching then maybe you will struggle through McCain’s book with me and help me to understand it. If you want at the end of Rigney’s article there is also a link to an article in an online encyclopedia by Hugh J. McCain. In that article McCain discounts the idea of Middle knowledge or Molinism that you referred to earlier in the discussion.…/confronting-the-problem-s…

Confronting the Problem(s) of Evil
IntroductionWhere was God?The question is always the same.After the initial shoc… See More
August 4, 2013 at 7:12pm · Like

Marty McCurdy I am not sure the that McCann or Rigney would say God “just is.” I can’t say for sure I don’t know either of the men personally though Rigney did send me an email. I think what McCann would say is that God made once choice in creation or he had one thought in creation. This is a quote from McCann “To say that God can produce and comprehend the universe in all its history in a single timeless act is to attribute to him powers far beyond our own.” Have you read the article I linked by Rigney?
August 4, 2013 at 9:47pm · Like

Wayne Watts shared a link.
September 28, 2013

Yes, You Have Free Will. This Is Why.
It has become fashionable to say that people have no free will. Many scientists cannot imagine how the idea of free will could be reconciled with the laws of physics and chemistry. Brain researchers say that the brain is just a bunch of nerve cells that…

***click on the link here to read***

Marty McCurdy Wayne I agree with the author that causation can’t be simplified to physical causation. It seems to me that the free will the author is arguing for is not libertarian free will or autonomous free will or any type of free will which would run counter to determinism. If the argument is simply that we make some choices which are not determined by external coercion or internal compulsion then I submit free will exists. The author seems to admit that the type of free will he is talking about does still allow for causation. He writes “Most experts who deny free will are arguing against peculiar, unscientific versions of the idea, such as that “free will” means that causality is not involved.” I would guess that he is right about that. Most people who are arguing for free will are arguing for a sort of self causation. I am not sure that the free will the author is arguing for is the type of free will that would be satisfactory to you. He doesn’t see to point to any type of choice that could not be explained as being caused by prior antecedents. I have only read the article once, so I might have missed something, but he seems to have conceded that all choices are caused, he just thinks that these causes involve more than electrical chemical forces. He believes we must include psychological forces (beyond simple brain chemistry) and cultural forces. These are still forces they are still causes simply because they are not “physical” causes doesn’t make them any less causes. I would argue that much of causation is not physical causation, in addition to psychological and cultural causation I would include spiritual causation. So this freedom might be sufficient for him to feel like he is truly free but I doubt it is sufficient for many especially those who would consider themselves existentialist. Many want to believe, that at least in many cases, their will is free from all causes that they in a sense are self causing, creating themselves, creating who they are. Well as I said Wayne I only read the article once so if I missed something in the article please point it out. I see the author as arguing against a simple causation in favor of a complex causation and for a will that if free from external coercion and internal compulsion but a will that if far from absolutely free to create itself.
September 30, 2013 at 4:17pm · Edited · Unlike · 1

Wayne Watts I think that you are right that the author doesn’t quite go as far with free-will as I’d like to. I think that the fact that causes exist doesn’t necessarily mean that we don’t have free-will. We don’t have to respond to causes in expected ways; we can choose to do otherwise. It seems like the idea that physical reality exists, therefore causes exist, therefore causes determine how humans will respond, is simply an example of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. Just because I act and perceived “causes” exist, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the perceived “causes” forced me to behave in a certain way.
October 1, 2013 at 2:45pm · Like · 1

Marty McCurdy It sounds like you are arguing for at least a bit of soft determinism. If we are not at least soft determinist I don’t see why the behavioral sciences (i.e. psychology and sociology) would even be studied. If you don’t think anything impacts our choices then it would make no sense to try to influence anyone. I will admit all of these things make sense if you are at least a partial/soft determinist you don’t have to be a hard or absolute determinist as I am. I agree that we can’t actually know what the causes are. What we think caused us to choose one thing over another might not have had any impact at all and on the reverse what we did not think effected us might have had a mighty impact on us. That is why I like the whole concept of the butterfly effect.
October 1, 2013 at 3:45pm · Like

Wayne Watts I don’t think that I am arguing in favor of a soft determinism. I think that the behavioral sciences are studied in order that we might come to better understand the nature of man and the things that influence the choices that he makes. I do think that there are things that impact our choices and I don’t think that it makes no sense to try to influence anyone. If there is such a thing as determinism, that thing is what makes it so that trying to influence anyone is absurd. If they have to make the choices that they will make in the future, it makes no sense to try to influence them or teach them virtue. The political community exists, in part, that for the sake of which we might help to teach virtue to our people. I agree that we can know what causes are, I don’t necessarily agree that they force us to behave in certain ways. Just because I get hit, that does not mean that I have to hit back. I can choose to do otherwise. I can choose to do otherwise because I have choice. I have choice because I am free. What did you have in mind by mentioning the butterfly effect?
October 1, 2013 at 5:17pm · Like · 1

Marty McCurdy I found this on Wikipedia. I know it is not a great source but I think this gives a pretty good idea of what I was referring to. “The butterfly effect is a common trope in fiction, especially in scenarios involving time travel. Additionally, works of fiction that involve points at which the storyline diverges during a seemingly minor event, resulting in a significantly different outcome than would have occurred without the divergence, are an example of the butterfly effect.” I don’t think he used the term but I think Ray Bradbury had a science fiction novel in which a guy goes back in time and accidentally steps on a butterfly and then when he comes back to the present everything is different.
October 1, 2013 at 5:45pm · Like

Wayne Watts I think I have a working understanding of what the butterfly effect is, I was just wondering what you meant by it in that context.
October 1, 2013 at 6:12pm · Like · 1

Marty McCurdy It might not have been a good point but I was responding to this sentence from you “Just because I act and perceived “causes” exist, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the perceived “causes” forced me to behave in a certain way.” My point was simply that things we perceived as causes might not be true causes and something we don’t perceive as a cause “a butterfly effect” might be a cause. Maybe I used the phrase incorrectly. Well that is at least what I think I meant by it.
October 1, 2013 at 7:20pm · Like

Slaughterhouse Five

Finished reading “Slaughterhouse Five” by Kurt Vonnegut.…/…/0440180295

I picked this one up just a couple of days ago when I was bored and went to Barnes & Noble. I first heard about the book back when I was reading Matt Harding’s journal: Harding really liked Vonnegut.

As soon as I picked it up I was enchanted by Vonnegut’s prose. I’ve heard before that he is one of America’s best writers and I found this to be true; his style is haunting.

The book is ostensibly Vonnegut’s story about the bombing of the city of Dresden in Germany during WWII, but is really more about the main character Billy Pilgrim who was present at the massacre with Vonnegut (they hid in a bomb shelter with around 100 Americans while 130,000 Germans were slaughtered in the city above).

Pilgrim was supposed to be an assistant to a chaplain, but was captured by the Germans before he was able to get to his post. After the war he became an optometrist and many years later he was injured in an airplane accident. After the accident he started talking a lot of nonsense about aliens (Tralfamadorians) and how the future was necessarily set because he could travel through time and see the past, present, and future.

The aliens in the story can see through time in a way that humans cannot. When they don’t like what they see they close their eyes and, instead, focus on the moments in time that they like. This is, I think, an important part of the story; it’s commentary about how we don’t tend to dwell on moments in history when we don’t like what we see (e.g. Dresden) and only focus on what we think is positive.

The book is very short – I think that I finished it in 2 days. I would recommend it to anyone.

Recent Books

I haven’t posted about the reading that I’ve done now for a few months; I have been reading, though.

To start off since I last posted, I read “The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster” by Bobby Henderson. The work is mostly a satirical look at the way that many people look at religion (the populists in particular).

Next, I read a book that I got from Trent Weibel that took some small segments of a bunch of Aristotle’s works (Metaphysics, logic, psychology, ethics, poetics, and politics) and presented his philosophy using only these small segments. This was hugely useful for me because it completely changed the structure of how I presented Aristotle in my elective class. I really think that this book helped me more than anything in suggesting how to present Aristotle (I don’t think that I ever presented his ideas well in that class before this).

Next, I finished reading a series of works that I’ve been working on over the course of a bunch of months. I read Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics again and created, what I believe, was an excellent PowerPoint (although probably too lengthy) on the book. The students that saw me present it, though, really liked it and they were mostly saying that they thought that it was one of the best works that they’d ever heard of by the end.

After Nicomachean Ethics, I read Aristotle’s Metaphysics from cover to cover again. Like the Nicomachean Ethics, I created a PowerPoint on this one that is way shorter than what I had before and gets the main points across, I think, much better.

I finished reading again The American Vision textbook that we use to teach in US history. I finally taught American history this year up to the present (I even got up to the 2014 midterm elections – the future students of history are going to make fun of us so bad for that election).

Additionally, I finished reading again Robert Strayer’s Ways of the World for AP World History class. I’ve created a bunch of Quizlets on the chapters for my AP World kids.

I’ve also been working a bunch on guitar. I have been getting lesson worksheets from my teacher and I’ve collected them in a binder that I’ve got sitting on my shelf. I’ve purchased a book about how to write songs on the guitar that I have sitting in my stack (I’ll update you about that one when I start working on it).

Right now I’m reading Charles C. Mann’s book 1493.

Principle-Centered Leadership

I think that it’s been a couple of years now since I borrowed it from my parents-in-law, but I finally read Principle-Centered Leadership by Stephen Covey.

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I went through the Seven Habits a few years ago and picked up this book on the heels of reading that, borrowing it from the book shelf of my parents-in-law. I actually did start reading it, but never got past the first couple of chapters.

Anyway… in the book, Covey advocates for a leadership style centered on principles like fairness. He frequently refers back to an analogy he makes between a compass and a map. A compass points to true North and principles that are universal are similar to this in that they are neither subjective nor wavering but are absolute. A map, on the other hand, is a projected layout of the land which may or may not correctly reflect the realities of the land.

Covey compares a map to values and claims that those values are subjective and differ from person to person. An organization, he argues, that is centered on true North principles can more successfully unite different people within an organization or business to get them all focused on accomplishing a common mission. As a result of this, Covey affirms the importance of a mission statement for an organization and says that it ought to be centered on true North principles.

Covey writes a lot about different experiences that he had working with major organizations that had problems and how he worked to fix them. He also refers back a lot to his Mormon faith and, like in the Seven Habits, suggests that these beliefs that he has help with all sorts of issues that he deals with. In one chapter, for instance, Covey claims that, like the story of the creation in the New Testament, all things must come in order and day 5 creation items cannot happen before day 3 items.

Covey does restate a lot of the ideas that he first laid out in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. If you haven’t read it yet, I’d highly recommend that work (more than this one.) I really like when he reiterates that we ought to listen first to understand and then speak second to be understood.

Overall I enjoyed the work. I’d recommend it more to people who lead businesses (it has less utility, I think, for people who aren’t in business management, but there are still all sorts of ideas that translate across well to other fields.)

American Power and the New Mandarins

Finished reading “American Power and the New Mandarins” by Noam Chomsky.

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The book is intended as a critical commentary on the political and social attitudes of the American population in the context of the Vietnam War. The work is a combination of a series of essays that Chomsky wrote in the 1960s that balked at the prevailing imperialist attitude of the intellectuals of the era.

Chomsky points out that many American intellectuals of the time period believed that the only way that the Vietnamese could gain their freedom was if the US conquered them: “Thus, by Orwellian logic, we are actually defending national independence when we intervene with military force to protect a ruling elite from internal insurgency.”

In the essays, Comsky questions again and again whether the US even had the moral imperative to invade Vietnam in the first place (which, in my reading, he seems like one of the few who were doing so at the time).

Chomsky demonstrates his in-depth understanding of history and politics when he compares the situation that the US was involved with to the Spanish Civil War that occurred in the 1930s. He goes on in another essay to criticize American intellectuals for failing to teach US students of history about the Philippine-American War (and therefore denying students the opportunity to compare the situation to Vietnam).

I tried to read this work a few years ago, but, honestly, I didn’t have the vocabulary that I needed at the time to read_and_comprehend the work. Since then I have worked a lot on my vocabulary and my knowledge of history and I found the work much more readable this time. I’ve heard that Chomsky is really only aimed at the 1% of the population – and I think that people say this meaning that you have to have a very high level vocabulary to understand what he is saying and an in-depth understanding of history in order to understand his arguments.

I would think that my history teacher friends would enjoy the work Quinn Rollins, Marty McCurdy, Christopher Jones, Becca Elkins, Donna Haslam Morris, Jake Brown, and probably Brian Preece and Bryan Good.

Negotiating the Best Deal

Finished the course guidebook for The Great Courses “The Art of Negotiating the Best Deal” by Professor Seth Freeman.…/negotiating-the-best-deal.…


A few months ago I noticed that this course had received the top rating on the Great Courses website and I’ve always been impressed with the courses that received good rankings from their customers so I thought that I’d give it a try.

The course is broken down into 24 lectures which try to search not for a “distributive bargaining” sort of method, but rather for an “interest-based” bargaining approach in which each negotiator can walk away from the negotiation with more than which they came into it.

Freeman acknowledges that the other negotiator has interests and that sometimes the best way to negotiate is simply to listen well to their interests. The good negotiator is a good listener and researcher. Knowledge is power and a good negotiator does his/her homework and finds out all of the pertinent facts before entering into a negotiation.

Sometimes the best choice in a negotiation is to walk away and we should always keep in mind our “best alternatives to negotiating a deal.” There are tools for negotiating with powerful individuals or corporations, what Freeman calls “Godzilla and the Devil” and we ought to keep those tools in mind.

I haven’t actually “taken” this course, as in listening to all of the lectures, but I did find the guidebook interesting despite the fact that it’s obviously directed at business professionals (although it could certainly be useful to just about anyone as basically everyone participates in negotiation at some point – i.e. buying a car.)

I would recommend this course to anyone interested in getting a good deal on the next car that you purchase :P.

The Richest Man in Babylon

Finished reading The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason.

I got this book as a gift from my parents-in-law at Christmas last year and it’s been in the stack ever since.



The book is really pretty short and straightforward. Clason writes about a man whom he claims was the richest man in old Babylon in the ancient era. This man offers up advice about how he became such a rich man in this old city.


The first piece of advice that he offers is that you should keep at least a piece of each bit of money that you earn. He suggests that number ought to be no less than 10%. Next he suggests that you ought to control your expenditures, make your savings multiply through the magic of compound interest, guard your earnings from loss, own your own home, insure a future income, and increase your ability to learn. He calls these the “Seven Cures for a Lean Purse.”

Clason then suggests that men of action are favored by the Goddess of Good Luck.

clason_goodluckNext, Clason claims that there are 5 “Laws of Gold.” They include: wealth comes to he who fattens his purse (keeping no less than one tenth of what he earns,) finds ways for his money to earn money, protects his wealth, invests it only with those who are excellent in its keeping, and avoids tricksters and fraudsters who would steal it.

This book was short and sweet to say the least. I think that I finished it in 2 days. It’s a simple way to introduce anyone to personal finance and possibly might help anyone establish excellent habits relating to money.

Salt: A World History

I picked up Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlanskya few months ago at the local Barnes & Noble. I teach world and it seemed like an interesting read.

“Salt – the only rock we eat – has made a glittering, often surprising contribution to the history of humankind.”

Human beings need salt. All animals, in fact, need to have salt or eventually we will get sick and die. Our blood, even, is a briny salt solution. Have you ever noticed that when you cry your tears taste salty? Have you thought about the fact that when you sweat you excrete salt? You even excrete salt when you urinate, but we don’t have a system for creating our own salt: we have to ingest it. “It is essential to replace this lost salt.”

Life itself first evolved in the oceans; when creatures began crawling up out of the ocean, they had to drag along with them bags of saltwater. Human history, then, can be traced and is traced by Kurlansky around this idea of trying to acquire salt – not only to ingest, but also to preserve food. Salt has an important ability to preserve meats, fish and ham in particular.

The Chinese emperors, early on, began creating a government monopoly over salt and taxed it to raise funds for the state.




The ancient Egyptians used Natron – a salt – to preserve mummies. The Romans established cities near salt deposits and used it to preserve meat. Cheese is really little more than salt mixed with milk (and an enzyme that comes from inside animal stomach lining.) The Europeans in the Middle-Ages ate a lot of salted fish because they were required on “lean” days by the church to eat no red meat. Salted fish, then, became the most important export for the North, and Baltic seas and was tremendously important on the Mediterranean Sea trade.

Access to salt was one of the primary reasons why the Union was able to defeat the Confederacy in the US Civil War. The French Revolution was, at least in part, over whether the monarch had the right to continue the Gabelle, or the salt tax.

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Salt has continued to be a very important trade item in the modern era. Morton salt, for instance, is big where I live in Utah around the Great Salt Lake. The tide pools around San Francisco continue to produce large quantities of salt, but ever since the invention of refrigeration, salt has been less important worldwide. Nowadays modern Americans even eat way too much of the rock – so much so that many of us suffer from high blood pressure and the like.

This book was really good as a comprehensive world history that included all regions of the world and didn’t suffer from “Euro” or “Americentrism.” I would recommend it to my history teacher friends and to anyone interested in cooking – there’s a lot of salt recipes found within.


So I finally finished Chalmers Johnson’s Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic last week.…/…/B001P3OMM8
I posted earlier about the part of the book where Johnson compares the Roman Republic, the British Empire and the modern US empire.
He then goes on to talk about the Central Intelligence Agency and several other US intelligence agencies. Johnson worries that the several intelligence agencies are turning in to the President’s private army. He runs through a list of “regime changes” that the CIA and other agencies have been involved with in other countries, beginning with the 1953 “regime change” of Iran. “It has been my experience over the years that the usual response of a policymaker to intelligence with which he disagrees or which he finds unpalatable is to ignore it.” – Robert Gates
Johnson talks a lot about the problems of torture and the unscrupulous practice under Bush and Cheney.
He then goes on to talk about US military bases in other people’s countries. The US has an extensive presence in, especially, Japan, Germany, and South Korea. The US troops there, however, have a problem with staying out of trouble. The soldier’s have committed all sorts of atrocities: rape, murder, child molestation. The problem with this is obvious: the US depends on these countries cooperation in order to maintain our bases there; for every crime committed by a solder in these places, it gets harder and harder for us to justify our military presence there.
“Some ‘host nations’ for our military bases abroad pay large sums to the United States to support our presence in their countries.” Japan and Germany especially pay billions of dollars a year in a program called “burden sharing” to keep our troops there.
“The longevity of the U.S. empire depends less on hypertechnical military and strategic calculations than on whether its junior partners trust the good sense of the U.S. government…” – Johnson
There’s a chapter in this book that talks about “SOFA’s” or Status of Forces Agreements in which the US, when it has troops stationed in foreign country, comes to an agreement with the foreign country about what sorts of rules are going to govern the men; whether the laws of the country or the laws of the United States. Johnson talks at length about the problems with the SOFA that governs US troops in Japan.
Johnson then goes on to talk about the US dominating space, which some politicians and military leaders in our country think is of paramount importance.
The book concludes with a summary of the trilogy from Blowback through Sorrows of Empire to Nemesis. Johnson gives a clear picture of the state of the US presence overseas. It’s a somewhat damning portrait of what we tend to do when we have soldiers stationed in other people’s countries and how we got to be here – and where we are going.
I think that the only person that I know who would really enjoy reading this series would be Sam Hiatt. Maybe Andy Graff.

The long-awaited final volume of Chalmers Johnson’s bestselling Blowback trilogy confronts the overreaching of the American empire and the threat it poses to the…