The Problem of the Ascension

Here is an argument that seems to pose a prima facie problem for the core Christian doctrine that Christ ascended into heaven:

(1) Christ has a body
(2) Whatever has a body is physical/extended
(C1) Therefore Christ is physical/extended [1,2]
(3) Christ ascended into heaven
(4) Whatever ascends into heaven is in heaven
(C2) Therefore Christ is in heaven [3,4]
(5) Heaven is non-physical/unextended
(6) If something is non-physical/unextended then whatever is in it is non-physical/unextended
(C3) Therefore Whatever is in heaven is non-physical/unextended [5,6]
(C4) Therefore Christ is non-physical/unextended [C2,5]
(C5) Therefore Christ is physical and not physical/ extended and not extended. [C1,C4]

Holding onto (1) seems to be essential to the Christian message given the theological thesis that whenever a human soul does not poses a body, the human is dead and the fact that Christ is not dead (“Christ is risen indeed!”).

One may also argue for (1) on medical grounds. Whenever a humans brain and heart cease to function, the human is dead, and if Christ has no body then he has no brain and no heart, so he would have no brain and heart to function, so he would be dead, but as I said before Christ is not dead, therefore Christ must have a body. (It would seem odd to think the one that defeated death ascended into heaven only to be dead again).

One may also argue for (1) on the basis that it follows from the traditional view of the Eucharist. Whether one accepts consubstantiation or transubstantiation one must believe that the ascended Christ has a body for both views entail that he does.

(2) just seems to be an essential truth about what bodies are; they are extended, physical things. It seems impossible to imagine something being a body but not being extended. What would it even be to be an unextended body? It seems that any unextended thing would not be a body at all.

(3) is just the Christian doctrine in question. Denying it would result in either denying Christianity full stop or falling into some extreme heresy such as docetism.

(4) just seems to be a truism. If I ascend into space then I am in space, likewise if I ascend into heaven I am in heaven.

(5) Seems to follow from the standard Christian belief that heaven is a spiritual realm. If it is spiritual it is not bodily. If it is not bodily then it is not extended. Further if it is spiritual, since spirits are unextended then it is unextended.

(6) Seems to me to be true for how could an extended thing be in an unextended place?

So the question is what premise(s) could one push on to get rid of the problem in a non-ad hoc and convincing way or is there a way to render the argument invalid?

I haven’t seen much work at all on this problem. William Lane Craig has a small reply to an argument a long these lines, he seems to think that we ought to deny (1). I find this completely unsatisfactory for the reasons I gave above and I believe that it is probably unbiblical. So let me know your thoughts because I have been thinking about this a lot recently and find it to be a very interesting problem.


Rome and Antioch

I’ve been reading a lot recently on the Christology (specifically on topics pertaining to the incarnation and the hypostatic union). I ended up reading a lot about monophysite christologies and the arguments that the oriental churches put forward for them. Interestingly enough it seems if there is anything more than a semantic difference between the oriental churches and those that accept the chalcedonian creed it is a very minute difference. The difference seemed to hardly be worth the schism in the church that followed the council of Chalcedon. But recently I stumbled across this:

Which I found to be very exciting. After 1531 years the Patriarch of Antioch and the Pope realized the sillyness of the split. Here’s a quote:

“The confusions and schisms that occurred between their Churches in the later centuries, they realize today, in no way affect or touch the substance of their faith, since these arose only because of differences in terminology and culture and in the various formulae adopted by different theological schools to express the same matter. Accordingly, we find today no real basis for the sad divisions and schisms that subsequently arose between us concerning the doctrine of Incarnation. In words and life we confess the true doctrine concerning Christ our Lord, notwithstanding the differences in interpretation of such a doctrine which arose at the time of the Council of Chalcedon”

This might have interesting implications for Craig’s cosmological argument, among other things, if it turns out to be legit.


Post by Mike Riggs


I wrote this paper a little over a year ago and thought that it would be a good post for the blog. I hope y’all enjoy!

My aim in this paper is to construct the best argument for the skeptics’ conclusion that we cannot know anything be means of the senses, and then assess how one should view such an argument. I will first give the generic structure of a skeptical argument and then build an instance of this argument by using a specific skeptical hypothesis. I will then argue that although the argument seems plausible it seems less plausible then another argument that reaches a contrary conclusion. I will then give an argument on the skeptics’ behalf to make the skeptics strengthen what I believe is the weak premise in the argument. I conclude this paper with an assessment of this second argument and a brief assessment of what I think is going on in the debate between the skeptic and her opponent.

The skeptical arguments that I wish to focus on in this paper all have the same basic form. That is, they all start with the basic premise that if we are to know the truth of a proposition p then we must know that some skeptical hypothesis H is false. The skeptic will then go on to argue that we do not know that the skeptical hypothesis H is false, and because of this we do not know that p. The type of skeptic that I wish to engage is the skeptic who argues that we cannot come to know anything by means of our senses. So, for p let us substitute that we know things through our sense experience. As for H it seems that any of the major skeptical hypotheses would work to get the argument to work. Take the brain in a vat hypothesis. The brain in a vat hypothesis claims that it is possible that all of my experiences are not real representations of the outside world and in actuality I am just a brain in a vat getting fed artificial sense experiences by some sort of mad scientist. Clearly if this hypothesis is true I cannot know anything by means of my senses, since they are artificial and do not truly represent the outside world.

Using this as our skeptical hypothesis we can now build an argument that we cannot know anything through our senses. The argument goes as such:

(1)  If I am to know anything by means of the senses then I must know that I am not a brain in a vat.

(2)  But, I do not know that I am not a bran in a vat

(3)  Therefore, I do not know anything by means of the senses.

At first glance this argument seems to be very intuitively plausible. The first premise definitely seems to be true, and actually follows from the closure principle about knowledge. The closure principle is that for any conditional statement, if a, then b if someone knows that if a then b, then they are in a position if they know that a to know that b. As I said, it definitely seems that if we are brains in vats then there is no way that we would be able to know anything through the sense. And, if this is true then so is its contrapositive, which is just the first premise of the argument.

What about the second premise? There seems to be some sort of intuitive pull to the idea that I do not know whether or not I am a brain in a vat. How would I be able to know that it is the case that I was not a brain in a vat? The experiences I would have would be qualitatively the same. So, how could I tell the difference? But, still it is not clear that just this metaphysical possibility is enough of a motivation for me to accept the this premise of the argument. Surely, there is a possible world in which I am a brain in a vat, but this doesn’t mean that I should believe that for all I know I could be a brain in a vat. So, it seems that this premise would be in need of some further reasons in order to make this argument seem persuasive. Further, it also seems that due to this premise there is something a little fishy going on in the argument. This premise is a skeptical premise that takes us to a skeptical conclusion. One may feel that there is an air of question begging going on because of this, the argument should not take us from skeptical premises to a skeptical conclusion but instead, it should be an argument that just takes us straight to skepticism without making any skeptical assumptions. G. E. Moore responds to such arguments by claiming that we should be more confident that the skeptical conclusion is false then in the fact that we are brains in vats. So, a counter argument to the skeptics’ argument can be made like so:

(4)  If I am to know anything by means of the senses then I must know that I am not a brain in a vat.

(5)  I do know things by means of the senses (for example: that I have hands).

(6)  Therefore, I know that I am not a brain in a vat.

The argument itself does beg the question against the skeptic, since (5) is just the denial of what the skeptic wishes to conclude, which does not make this argument entirely satisfying. But, I am sympathetic to what is going on here. It seems that given just the basic argument that I have presented so far there is not a truly compelling reason to accept the conclusion of the skeptics’ argument because of premise (2). I agree with Moore in thinking that we ought to be more confident in believing (5) then (2), especially if we are not given any sort of compelling argument to accept (2).

So, from here the question is, can the skeptic give any further justification for (2) that will make the skeptical argument more compelling? In Pryor’s paper “The Skeptic and the Dogmatist” he makes an argument for skepticism, which he thinks is more compelling than the argument that I have offered at the beginning of this paper. Really it seems to me that what this argument does is offer us more compelling reasons to think (2), instead of just considering the possibility itself of us being brains in vats. So, I will just use it as a supplementary argument to the one I offered at the beginning of this paper.

Pryor uses the evil demon as the skeptical hypothesis, but I will continue just to use the brain in a vat hypothesis to stay consistent with the rest of this paper. The argument will go like this:

(7)  If I am to know that we are not a brain in a vat, then we must come to this knowledge through the senses.

(8)  But if I am to know anything through the senses then I must already know that I am not a brain in a vat.

(9)  Therefore, I do not know that I am not a brain in a vat.

(7) seems as if it should not be very contentious, it is hard to imagine how someone could be successful showing only on a priori considerations that they are not a brain in a vat, and it is hard to think of any compelling methodological reasons to reject this claim either, so I think that we should grant the skeptic that in order for us to know that

(8) definitely seems to have some intuitive pull to it. It seems that if I were to come to know anything through the senses then I must have already ruled out (prior to my coming to know things through the senses) that I am not a brain in a vat. Really all this is, is a repeat of (1), with an emphasis on the priority of ruling out the brain in a vat hypothesis prior to gaining any sort of knowledge through sensory experience.

I have already granted that the first premise seems to be a relatively strong one, and should not be considered a point of contention. So, this means that if one were to argue against the skeptic in anyway (8) would have to be the premise to deny. This is what Pryor ends up doing in his paper. Pryor argues for a position called dogmatism in where (8) is rejected on the grounds that we do not need any antecedent reason to rule out the skeptical hypothesis to be justified or know that we can have knowledge through the senses. Pryor says:

“You could have this justification even if there were nothing else you could appeal to as ampliative, non-question-begging, evidence that p is the case. Hence, to be justified in believing p, you do not need to have the antecedent justification the skeptic demands. You do not need to have the evidence to rule the skeptic’s scenarios out, in a non-question-begging way.” (532)

To me this view response seems to be correct. It seems like an awfully high requirement for the skeptic to ask of a person to be able to rule out their hypothesis prior to them being justified or being able to have knowledge of things through sense experience. This is where I think the skeptic goes wrong. She demands too much work for us to be able to come to have knowledge (or justification) in something that it seems we should not be required to have to do so much work for. The intuition that I am trying to pull at here is that our knowledge of the world that we have immediately through the senses should be easy, it should not require for us to go through and disprove or argue against some skeptical hypothesis for us to have that sort of knowledge.

So, what is going on here? Why do the skeptical arguments seem to be so intuitively plausible? Well I think the reason for this is that when we consider these arguments we have a natural inclination to conflate two different concepts, the first being our knowledge of the world and the second being our confidence in our knowledge of the world, or, alternatively, we conflate knowledge with certainty. I think that when we think of knowledge since it is factive, which makes it an absolute notion I think that we take this beyond what we should and think that this means that we must have no possible way in which our knowledge could be rendered false. But, as I said earlier about the skeptical arguments this too seems to be too strong of a requirement for knowledge. Though we are naturally inclined to want certainty for our knowledge our knowledge of the world does not require certainty of our beliefs.

In conclusion I have given what I believe to be the best argument for the skeptical conclusion and given what I think is the correct reply to this argument. I then gave an assessment of why though the skeptical argument is wrong, we find it to be very plausible.

Post by Cruz Davis

Conee on Omnipotence Part II: Intelligibility

So we left our last post on Conee off with a promissory note that we would try to make his position intelligible. Conee defends unrestricted omnipotence:

  • UO: An agent A is omnipotent iff A can make any proposition true or any proposition false.

The problem with UO arises when we interpret the ‘can’ in UO as ‘possibly’ as the following definition does:

  • UO*: An agent A is omnipotent iff that for any proposition P, it is possible that A makes P true and it is possible that A makes P fasle.

When we interpret ‘can’ as ‘possibly’ and hold (like Conee does) that there are propositions that are not possibly true and propositions that are not possibly false then it seems that UO* entails that the logically impossible is possible, which seems to be nonsense and completely unintelligible. One could avoid this problem by denying that there are propositions that are not possibly true and propositions that are not possibly false. Plantinga calls this view ‘Universal Possibilism’. But this is not what Conee seems to want. Conee wants to deny Universal Posibilism but make sense out of UO. An omnipotent being can make true propositions that are not possibly true. The way that he goes about this is to interpret the ‘can’ in UO should be interpreted as ‘has the ability to …’ or has the power to …’ as so:

  • UO**: An agent A is omnipotent iff for any proposition P, A has the ability to make P true and the ability to make P false.

Now in order for this to work we need to somehow divorce the notions of ability and power from the notion of possibility. Having the power or ability to make something the case must not be equivalent to or entail that possibly that thing is the case.

There is a question about whether or not we can motivate this distinction. We believe that we can make this distinction but let us leave motivating this distinction for a later post.

The Paradox of the Stone

One of the most famous problems with omnipotence is the stone paradox. I’m sure most all of us have come across this in form or another. The problem derives from the question: ‘can God create a stone so big that He couldn’t lift it?’ If He can, He is not omnipotent because there is something that He can’t do, namely lifting the stone. If He cannot, then He is not omnipotent because there is something that He cannot do, create the stone. Here is the argument in premise conclusion format:

  1. Either G can create a stone too heavy for G to lift or G cannot create a stone too heavy  for G.
  2. If G can create a stone too heavy for G to lift then G is not omnipotent.
  3. If G cannot create a stone too heavy for G to lift then G is not omnipotent.
  4. Therefore G is not omnipotent.

Note that this paradox only arises if we think that God is able to do anything. There are other restricted definitions of omnipotence that would avoid this paradox. But is this even really a decisive argument against the position that an omnipotent being is capable of doing anything? I am convinced that it is not. In fact that it is a quite poor argument against this understanding of omnipotence.

First we need to think about what is in the range of ‘anything’ in the actions that God could perform. Does ‘anything’ range over just all logically possible things or does it extend to God being able to do logically impossible things? Lets restrict ‘anything’ to mean only logically possible things. Either an unliftable stone is a logically possible thing or a logically impossible thing. If the stone is a possible object then God can make it but it is not threatening to God’s omnipotence that He cannot lift it because it would be impossible to lift an unliftable thing and God’s omnipotence does not allow Him to do anything. If the stone is an impossible object then God could not make it and this would not threaten His omnipotence since an omnipotent being cannot do impossible things. Now let’s say God can do impossible things. It does not matter whether or not the stone is an impossible object. God can create a stone that He cannot lift. But this is not a problem for His omnipotence because God can lift the stone that He cannot lift because His power extends to all things possible and impossible. I think that this is a conclusive objection to this argument. I do think there are other objections to omnipotence that are strong but the paradox of the stone is just not one of them.

Post by Cruz Davis

Does God Exist?

A couple of friends of ours are having a debate at OSU on the existence of God. If any readers are near OSU’s campus and want to check it out we recommend going.

Here is the information for the event as posted on facebook:

“Come see a friendly debate on God’s existence between Andrew Lyles of Ratio Christi and Don Sutterfield of Students for Free Thought. Please bring a friend. There will be time for questions after the debate ends. For anyone that needs a map… here ya go: Even though this map lists rm 274, you still take the same direction and just go to rm 131. Same building.