Thursday, December 10, 2015

(More) about me

Up until this point I've kept my identity on this blog quite private. There was a reason behind this. The school that I used to teach at, up until this fall, was a heavily conservative Christian private school. They believed in a young earth, creationism, Jesus' divinity, Biblical inerrancy etc., and all sorts of things that I tend to question on this blog. So, I knew that if they ever came across this blog--and they did look online for their employees online activity--they would be taken aback and would most likely fire me--such is the heart of evangelical fundamentalists. So I kept my identity relatively obscure on this blog for that specific reason. However, I now work at a different school and no longer have this problem, so I felt the desire to illuminate more about my personal life, in case anybody cared.

So, my name is Steven (obviously) and I'm twenty-five years old. I was born on July 22, 1990 and raised in El Paso, Texas, where I still currently reside. Despite the tone of my posts, I'm actually a very goofy and sarcastic individual who is almost never serious. I have been married for almost two years to the most gorgeous woman alive (who also has her own blog), and I have a ten month old daughter named Norah Grace. I put a big emphasis on family and I make sure that that is always my number one priority. (I also have four dogs--I am a huge animal lover.) I graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso with a Bachelors of Science in Mathematics. I do plan to go back to school for a masters degree in philosophy, but that will have to wait. I have been teaching for three years and, to toot my own horn just a little bit, I am a damn good teacher.

I absolutely love football and am an avid Atlanta Falcons fan, which means I'm usually depressed during football season. I am obsessed with reading, though I rarely have time for it now since I'm a full-time dad. I also have become recently obsessed with chess, and I play online everyday--so if your interested in playing let me know!

Well, I thought I had more to say but apparently not. If you have any questions feel free to ask!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Are space and time necessary?

The other day I was commenting over at DebunkingChristianity—usually not a good idea—regarding whether or not the universe could be said to be necessary. I got into a few decent discussions—which is surprising given the venue--one of which was with the very courteous Nicholas Covington, the author of Hume’s Apprentice, over at Skeptic Ink. During the discussion Nick brought up the possibility of not necessarily the universe per se being necessary, but space and time being necessary. It turns out that Nick has actually written up an article (here) defending this very thesis of his--in fact I remember reading it last year. It’s an answer to the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” His answer is that the reason there is something rather than nothing is because space and time themselves are necessary and provide a necessary framework for existents. Needless to say, I don’t find Nick’s arguments persuasive nor valid, hence this post.
So, let’s see where Nick goes wrong. He begins by attempting to narrow down the definition of existence:
What is the difference between the two [a sea monster and the sun] that makes one real and the other imaginary? Well, the sun has detectable effects on ourselves and other things, but a sea monster doesn’t. […] In order to interact with other beings, or have effects on things, you must be within time. An effect takes place at a certain point in time, and you can’t act at a certain point in time if you aren’t within it.

My quibble here is with the talk of cause and effect necessitating temporality. I agree that usually causality is temporal, in that a cause usually precedes its effect in time. For example, I can hit my drink thereby knocking it over, and obviously the act of hitting my drink came before the act of the drink falling over. This is the common deterministic billiard ball type of causation. But, this is not universally the case, and this does not exhaust all types of causation, as I’ve argued in the past. There is such a thing as non-temporal and simultaneous causation. For example, if I hold my daughter, we have the cause of me holding my daughter, and the effect of her being suspended five feet above the ground. Yet, these are one and the same event, meaning the cause and effect happen simultaneously. I don’t hold my daughter and then she is subsequently being suspended, she is being suspended as long as I am holding her. The cause is simultaneous with the effect.
There are many more examples like this.  For instance, a person shaping a clay pot. The pot is only shaped simultaneously as the sculptor shapes it, not after. Or, the solidity of table. The effect of a table being solid is achieved as long as the material constituents are arranged in such a way as to be sufficient for that effect--the solidity is simultaneous with that arrangement. Or, the swinging of a hammer. The hammer’s motion is being caused by the swinging of the carpenter’s hand, and these two are simultaneous. There is no shortage of examples of simultaneous causation. But, what does this mean? Well, it means that, contrary to Nick’s claims above, a cause and effect relationship does not necessitate time.

But wait. I know I can already picture a reader making the following point: while the examples given demonstrate simultaneous causes and effects, the objects used in said examples are still in time. That is to say, the daughter, pot, carpenter, hammer etc. are all temporal objects existing in time. This is correct, but does it really call my point into question? No. For recall that Nick’s point was that in order for one existent to interact or to have an effect on another existent, time is a necessity—not that the existents themselves must be in time. But we’ve seen that this is false. If simultaneous causation is a reality then it is at least metaphysically possible for two existents to interact—i.e. one causing the other—without such an interaction being temporally ordered and without the existents to be in time itself. The point here is that causation qua causation need not be temporal.

Thus, Nick’s attempt to help pin down the definition of existence by interaction is moot so far. For if time is not a necessary condition for interaction, then one cannot infer that all that can or could exist must be within space and time—since Nick claims that interaction is fingerprint of existence. And therefore Nick has no warrant for concluding that we can define existence as space and time.
But Nick’s not finished. After (erroneously) defining existence as space and time, he continues:
Under our working definition of existence, space and time do not exist, strictly speaking. Space and time don’t have effects on things, space and time are a framework in which effects, actions, and reactions reside. As such, it makes no sense to ask whether the framework of existence exists.

There reside a few problems here. First, Nick has already made this inference off of poor reasoning when he assumed that time is a necessary condition for causality and interaction—and therefore for existing things. We saw that this was false. But even aside from this, he seems oblivious to the question-begging nature of his endeavor. For even if for the sake of argument we concede that Nick was correct that space and time were necessary for actual existents, this doesn’t give us any right to redefine existence as space and time itself. Let me put my point a bit more analytically: Demonstrating that X is a necessary condition for Y does not entail that Y is identical to X. That is to say, demonstrating that space-time is a necessary condition for existing things—something that he hasn’t even demonstrated but that we’re granting for argument’s sake—does not entail that existence is therefore defined as space-time. This is simply a non-sequitur. Nick has shown absolutely no good reason, then, for redefining existence as space and time, and to do so is to engage in blatant question-begging.
Second, if space and time were necessary, then, by the definition of ontological necessity, simply contemplating space and time would enlighten us to its necessity. Why would this be? Because something which is necessary contains the reason for its existence in its nature—that is to say, what it is would be identical to the fact that it is. Thus, if something is necessary, then contemplating its nature would be to simultaneously contemplate its existence. And a corollary of this is that you could not fail to conceive this thing existing. But space-time obviously does not satisfy this definition of necessity, since we can easily conceive of space-time not existing at all, and therefore space-time is not necessary.  However, Nick thinks that he can get around this by claiming that space-time does not “exist,” and instead claims that space-time is a framework, and that therefore speaking of its existence or non-existence is nonsensical.

However, this is might only be true if indeed existence is to be defined as space-time. But we’ve seen no good reason to think that we should redefine existence in such an idiosyncratic way. Yet, it gets worse than this, because Nick is basically engaging in explicit question-begging (again). He’s simply defined existence as X, and then claimed that you cannot question the existence of X since X is, by definition, the framework of existence—of which interaction is a corollary. But this is extremely problematic. One cannot simply a priori redefine existence as X and then claim that X is therefore necessary. In fact this is exactly what the ontological argument for God attempts to do, and Nick’s argument is fallacious for the same reasons—in fact we could call Nick’s argument the ontological argument for naturalism.

But it gets even worse than this for Nick’s thesis. For let’s grant for argument’s sake that Nick was correct in his arbitrary redefining of existence as space-time and that space-time is indeed the framework for all existents. Is it still true, as he stated above, that we cannot speak of this framework’s existence or non-existence? No it’s not, because space-time, in order to be distinguishable from literal non-being, must have certain properties and actualities. The fact that it is a framework does not absolve it from harboring these things. For example, in mathematics the set of integers is itself a framework that is completely different in nature from its elements. But the set itself--again in order for it to actually be something as opposed to nothing—must have certain distinguishing properties—e.g., it is infinite, and thus we see that a framework can have properties. So space-time, though it might be a framework, still is manifest in certain actualities and properties—and who would even argue that space-time does not have properties? But why is this important? Well, if space-time has certain properties—e.g., being n-dimensional—then it will always be possible to conceive the absence or lack of these properties, and therefore the lack of space-time itself. But this means that talk of the existence or non-existence of space-time is not nonsensical. And more importantly it means that, by the definition of necessary given above, space-time is not necessary and could metaphysically fail to exist. And thus space-time cannot be existence itself.
In conclusion we’ve seen that Nick’s bold thesis is extremely problematic. First, it assumes a faulty view of causality. Second, it engages in question-begging and non-sequiturs. And most importantly we’ve seen that even if we were to grant his argument and erase all previous objections, his conclusion is still not justified, and is false. It would seem that space-time, then, is not necessary.



Friday, November 6, 2015

Embodied realism revisited

Mike D, over at the newly rejuvenated The A-unicornist has decided to engage my review--my original posts can be found here: Part I, II, and III--of the philosophy of embodied realism, as promulgated in Philosophy of the Flesh, that I wrote about six months ago—I guess better late than never. His three posts can be read here, here, and here. While I did plan on writing more reviews on embodied realism, I instead found that the common readers of my blog were not really interested in the material, and, moreover, after my last post—wherein I attempted to demonstrate that embodied realism was self-refuting—I felt that I had adequately cracked the foundation that embodied realism lays upon, and therefore not much more needed to be said. But Mike D doesn’t agree (shocker!), hence his review, and thus I feel the need to revisit this topic in order to dispel the fallacies in his thinking and arguments. Sit back and enjoy, preferably with a cup of coffee.

Correspondence Theory of Truth
My first post on embodied realism was an attempted defense of the correspondence theory of truth, in opposition to embodied realism which claimed that such a philosophy is false because it ignores our levels of embodiment and the corollaries therein. Those that read the post will remember that I carefully made my point that all that is required for the correspondence theory to be valid is for truth-bearers to correspond to truth-makers. This is important, because Mike makes a mistake right off the bat in his review by claiming, contrary to the very post he’s answering, that the theory claims that the concepts in our minds correspond directly to real things in the world.” Well, no, this is not what it says, or at least this is not how I articulated my position for reasons that I specifically outlined in the first post, based on the distinction between formal and virtual properties that adhere. So Mike is already misstating my position.

Now, this idea of correspondence is a crucial reason why the example of the reality of color is an example utilized by both Mike and I. As was highlighted before, color does not exist without human embodiment—that is without the subjectivity of the cognitive and visual human apparatus. But this does not mean that the reality of color is not objective, that is, it doesn’t mean that it can be said to objectively obtain in reality. As I said before, there is a difference between objective truth, and truth obtaining objectively. Color cannot obtain without an embodied observer, so it does not obtain objectively, but this does not mean that color does not exist in objective reality. To argue such is to engage in conflation. Now, Mike did engage this point of mine, and found my definition of “objective” wanting:
So what on Earth could Steven mean when he says that he agrees with the authors that color does not inhere in the world objectively, but then he says that it is objective "virtually"? Steven appears to be operating on an idiosyncratic and, frankly, ambiguous definition of "objective". Objectivity generally means that the truth of a proposition is not dependent on any subject.
Here’s what I mean, and it reflects back to what I said above. All that is required for a statement to be objectively true is for a truth-bearer to correspond to a truth-maker. That’s it. It is the correspondence that must be objective, and not the bearer or the maker. So, why is this a problem for Mike? Well, the embodiment of man only renders the truth-maker to be subjective, and not the correspondence itself. For instance, if I say “The grass is green”, you have three parts related to the truth of this statement. You have the truth-bearer in the statement itself, you have the truth-maker realized in the color obtaining subjectively, and you have the correspondence between the two. Notice that the correspondence is objective, even though the truth-maker is subjective. Thus, the truth “The grass is green” is still objectively true, even though we need to be embodied in order for color to obtain. Embodiment, then, simply does nothing to call the objectivity of truth into question here, and therefore Mike’s position here is false.

Mike then continues his point, predicated on the same misunderstandings he expounded above:
It's quite clear that color, as well as conceptual spaces like skies and gardens, cannot fit any common-usage definition of objectivity. Steven seems to think (as would be the case in the correspondence theory of truth) that embodiment serves to "obtain" objective truths. But this overlooks the fact that our minds actually create and impose conceptual structures onto the world. Colors, skies, and gardens are all examples of things that do not exist in the classical sense of objectivity, but rather are what Lakoff describes as "mutliplace interactional properties": phenomena that only exist as an emergent function of our neurocircuitry interacting with the world around us.

Again Mike is conflating objective truth with truth obtaining objectively. Color obtains subjectively, but it is an objective truth that it exists. To reiterate, the fact that our embodiment can create and impose conceptual structures onto the world only affects the truth-maker, and not the correspondence itself, and therefore this subjectivity does not affect the objectivity of the correspondence itself.  Mike seems to have not caught it when I made this point in my original post. Moreover, this all stems from his poor understanding of what the correspondence theory actually means and how I originally articulated it—as we saw above.

Mike then incorrectly sums up my position and draws (also incorrect) conclusions from it:
Looking back, Steven's argument is just all over the place. He defines a property inhering "virtually" in such a way that is all but indistinguishable from Lakoff's position, and even concedes that Scholastics like him do not think color exists objectively in the world, just as Lakoff argues. Except then he says it does, if by "objective" we mean "virtually objective", even though virtual inherence (as he's defined it) directly conflicts with classical objectivity. As it stands, Steven's objections so far are just a mess.
First off, Mike incorrectly articulates my position by claiming that I conceded that color does not exist objectively. I never said that. I said that color does not obtain objectively, and this again demonstrates that Mike has misunderstood my position. I believe that the statement “color exists” is objectively true, and my only qualification is that the nature of its obtainment is subjective. There is a difference between the two, and unfortunately it has evaded Mike’s comprehension.

Second, Mike claims that virtual inherence conflicts with classical objectivity. This is false once again. To reiterate again, classical objectivity only requires a correspondence between a truth-bearer and a truth-maker. And a property that inheres or obtains virtually does not call this requirement into question. It only entails, as I said above, that the truth-maker obtains subjectively, but this does not make the correspondence itself subjective. So, contrary to Mike, no assaults have been committed against classical objectivity, and correspondence theory remains intact.

However, we’re not finished here, and we can see that things are even worse for those who would attempt to dispel the correspondence theory. For think about what one is saying when they say the correspondence theory of truth is false—as Mike and Lakoff do. They are saying that the theory fails to adequately represent the way reality operates—and this relies on the very same theory of correspondence. Even the authors of Philosophy of the Flesh do this! In order to make the case against correspondence theory they tried to show that the levels of embodiment demonstrate that the correspondence of correspondence theory is not a neat one-to-one relation as is supposed, and therefore the theory is false. But by doing so the authors are utilizing the very theory they’re attempting to disprove! That is, they’re arguing that correspondence theory cannot be true, because it fails to accurately correspond to the way reality actually operates. Thus, not only has Mike’s case not been made, it’s not even possible to make it.

Levels of Embodiment
Mike then (still in his first post) transitions to a particular criticism I made, regarding the levels of embodiment. Let me re-expound my argument presently, because it will be momentarily seen that Mike completely misunderstands it.

Remember that the authors of Philosophy of the Flesh claimed that there are three distinct levels of our embodiment: the neural, phenomenological, and cognitive unconscious level. The authors then claimed that there can be no truth statements that are “level-independent,” that truths can only be stated at distinct levels and distinct vantage points and that one level cannot be erected over and against another. (This position always reminds me of Obi Wan Kenobi in return of the Jedi stating "What I told you was true, from a certain point of view." Who knew Kenobi was an embodied realist?) Going back to our discussion on color, the authors stated the following:
Both the phenomenology-first and science-first strategies are inadequate in one way or other. If we take the phenomenology-first strategy, we miss what we know scientifically is true about color. We get the scientific metaphysics of color wrong. Our “truth conditions” do not reflect what we know to be true. If we take the science-first strategy, we do violence to the normal meaning of the word and to what ordinary people mean by “truth.”
The authors are saying here that, with regard to color, we cannot simply erect the neural level of embodiment as the end-all-be-all of the color discussion by saying that, scientifically, color does not exist—because then we do damage to the phenomenological level wherein color indeed seems to exist. But neither can we erect the phenomenological level over above the other levels because then we do damage to what science actually tells us about the physics of color.

Here’s where my point came in. My point was that sometimes we have to erect one level above another, and that many times doing damage to one level of embodiment is allowed and is necessary—at least, if we want our predications to be coherent. A prime example that I highlighted in my post, is cases where we know, through science, that our immediate qualia—a part of our phenomenological level--is wrong, or deceiving. And here we should be able to truly say that our phenomenological level is wrong and inaccurate, and the only way we know this is through science. And therefore in these cases a “science-first” strategy is logical and necessary.

Now, here’s what Mike had to say regarding this point, and it’s not even in the ballpark of answering or contending with my point:
The authors are not asserting that the correspondence theory of truth assumes the phenomenological level to be true all the time — indeed as Steven notes, the authors point out that the correspondence theory fails to even acknowledge these different (and sometimes conflicting) levels of truth, and that is the central issue.
Mike is quite confused here. First, I’m attacking the position of embodied realism, as stated by the authors. So my point had nothing to do with claiming that the authors were “asserting that the correspondence theory of truth assumes the phenomenological level to be true all the time.” Again, my point was not predicated on the authors taking this position. Furthermore, correspondence theory was momentarily irrelevant to my point, so Mike’s mention of it is misplaced and confused.

The point that Mike missed was that, contrary to the author’s point above, our levels of embodiment can in fact be erected over one another and do damage to each other. The example I utilized to make my point was that of hallucinations. Why? Because on the phenomenological level, a hallucination is in fact experienced. It does constitute valid qualia. And therefore, on embodied realism, a hallucination is seen as “true” on that level. But scientifically and neurologically, we know that the object of the hallucination does not actually exist in objective reality. So, should we just sit on our hands and claim that a hallucination is “real” from the phenomenological level, but false from the neural level, because God forbid we let one of these levels make the decision for us? Of course not. A hallucination is simply a false perception, and that’s it. Science wins here. And therefore there is one level, in this instance, that is erected above the “truth” of another and subsequently renders it false.
But, Mike’s not having it:
The authors do not at any point either state or imply the ridiculous assertion that all phenomenological claims must be taken at face value (Steven said, "just because we perceive something does not mean it is there”, with which the authors would of course concur). And importantly, the authors do not assert that different levels of embodiment are equally true at all times.
Whoa there. First, I never claimed that the authors stated such. Mike has once again misunderstood my point. My point was not predicated on the proposition that all phenomenological claims must be taken at face value, or that the levels of embodiment are equally true at all times. Remember that the authors claimed that embodied realism requires us to jettison the belief that we can formulate a unique and complete description, on one level of embodiment, of a particular state of affairs. Therefore, my point, to reiterate it ad nauseum, is that in the case of hallucinations we can, and must, formulate a unique and complete description of the event based primarily on neuroscience and psychology, which necessarily does damage to the “truth” of the phenomenological level, and this contradicts the author’s claim that this should not be done.

But wait, Mike’s not done:
When one level of embodiment produces stable truths that contradict unstable truths of another, the level of embodiment producing stable truths is privileged. That is why we're skeptical of hallucinations of dead relatives: we know from neuroscience that people in certain conditions experience a wide variety of hallucinations that may or may not include deceased relatives. The results from neuroscience are replicable, stable truths; visitations from dead relatives are not. When multiple levels of embodiment produce stable truths — as in our study of the mind through neurobiology, neurocomputation, and cognition — they create an overlapping and complimentary understanding — the kind that allows to us to learn that the correspondence theory of truth is, in fact, wrong.
Big problems here. Mike is doing exactly what the authors say cannot be done, and is actually agreeing with me in the process. That is, Mike here is arguing for a science-first strategy and is arguing for the momentarily privileged status of the “truth” of the neural level, and is thereby doing damage to the “truth” of the phenomenological level. The results from neuroscience, while they might indeed be stable truths, are being erected as the end-all-be-all of the discussion, and are seen as giving us a complete description of the state of affairs of hallucination.

But Mike is even more confused than his oblivious agreement with my stance would indicate.  He claims that his argument works because in this instance you have “multiple levels” that produce stable truths, as opposed to just one level being erected over another. But this is blatantly false according to the levels promulgated by the authors of Philosophy of the Flesh that Mike reveres. The examples of disciplines that converge on these stable truths that Mike lists—e.g., neurocomputation, neurobiology etc.—are all subsumed under one level of embodiment, namely that of the neural level—again, according to Lakoff. So contrary to Mike, if these stable truths—which are subsumed under the neural level--can indeed call the phenomenological view into question, then you have the epitome of one level gaining a privileged status above the others—the very thing Lakoff said couldn’t and shouldn’t be done. So either Mike is right and his beloved Lakoff is wrong, or Lakoff is right and Mike obliviously agrees with me. Either way it’s a lose-lose for Mike.

So did Mike really demonstrate that my criticism of the levels of embodiment was wanting? Hardly. He only demonstrated that he has trouble comprehending both my position and Lakoff’s.

Embodied Truth
My second post dealt with the theory of truth put forward by Lakoff in the form of embodied truth. I began the post highlighting a remark the authors made on how we conceptualize truth, and Mike had a visceral reaction to it:
Steven is already so far off the mark here that I'm just gobsmacked. The authors are not claiming there are no objective truths, or that truths do not exist independently of us. They are certainly not arguing that something is, for example, "true for me" in the form of pure subjectivism. Rather, they're talking about how human beings conceptualize truth, and how shared truths become stable truths.
Is Mike right here? Actually I believe he is (partially), and I do believe that I misread or misunderstood what the authors were getting at. I conflated the psychology of how we conceptualize truth with embodied truth as a philosophical theory of truth. So Mike is correct in highlighting this mistake of mine. Fair enough.

However, if the whole notion of embodied truth is not a theory of truth per se, then how, on embodied realism do we actually ground truth? Well, remember that due to the different levels of embodiment, we can have distinct truths at different levels, but we can have no neutral viewpoint apart from these levels from which to make objective predications? But then, how do we arrive at truth? That is, how can we say X is the case, or is not the case?

Here’s where Mike and embodied realism misstep. I claimed in my original post that a theory of truth is not amendable to scientific results like that of embodied cognition. Why not, you ask? Because one first needs a theory of truth before one can engage in science. Science presupposes truth, not the other way around. Here’s how Mike responded when this was brought up:
But of course, the authors discuss at length the assumptions underpinning scientific realism to which they adhere. The results of embodied cognition do not, as Steven asserts, constitute an a priori theory of truth, but rather illuminate how human minds conceptualize, understand, and share truths. The authors state, "A person takes a sentence as 'true' of a situation if what he or she understands the sentence to be expressing accords with what he or she understand the situation to be."
Let the reader understand that Mike completely side-stepped the issue. I don’t recall any instance where I asserted that embodied cognition constitutes an a priori theory of truth—I don’t recall it because it never happened. However, this isn’t even the issue. The issue is that embodied cognition simply does not have the power to make any such comment on what truth is, or is not, since it presupposes truth in the first place. If B relies on A, then no corollary of B can call A into question. And this is the issue to which Mike is completely silent on.

Embodied realism has not, then, called correspondence theory into question (as we saw above) and it has given us no other theory to put in its place. How then can embodied realism call competing philosophical theories false?

Metaphysical realism
My last post on embodied realism dealt with its relinquishing of metaphysical realism, and why I believe this to be not only false, but self-refuting. For example, the authors claim that “[Embodied realism] denies that we can have objective and absolute knowledge of the world-in-itself… [and] denies on empirical grounds, that there exists one and only one correct description of the world[.] (p. 96) My claim was that this position can only be taken seriously if it is being objectively predicated of reality-in-itself. That is to say, this position is effectively saying that reality is such that X is the case—that is, that we cannot know reality-in-itself. But, this obviously entails that we know something about how reality objectively operates, otherwise the position is literally false.

But Mike is prepared to answer this claim:
When the authors say that there is no "purely objective" understanding of reality, they mean "objective" in the unembodied sense of classical scientific realism: the idea that our mind directly grasps objective truths, and that things like concepts, abstractions, metaphors, and logic are part of the rational structure of reality. The authors' thesis is that those phenomena are emergent properties of the embodied mind, so that while indeed we can safely and reasonably assume that we can attain knowledge of an objective external reality, we cannot do so in a manner that is itself untethered from the cognitive framework through which we necessarily view the world.
The problem here is that Mike’s qualifications of the author’s position do not actually rescue said position from incoherency. First, I was already aware of the author’s belief in attaining knowledge through “stable truths”. By “stable truths” the authors simply mean repeatable and reliable patterns. The problem is that this claim still undermines their position. Consider this question: Is the statement “stable truths can attain knowledge” itself a stable truth? I don’t see how, since this is not a proposition that is susceptible to the type of scientific investigation that yields repeatable and reliable patterns. And this is because one must first have a priori knowledge before one even engages in science, and therefore before one begins the search for stable truths. Therefore, knowledge is already presupposed by the search for stable truths and thus the latter cannot be defined in terms of the former. (We’ll get more into this below when we speak of metaphysical assumptions.)

But it’s even worse than this for the embodied realist. For how do Mike and the authors know stable truths can and do in fact attain the status of knowledge of reality? They already need beliefs about the nature of reality in order to predicate this statement. Since we are part of reality, we need to already believe things about the nature of reality in order to state our epistemic relationship to it.  And Mike can’t turn back to stable truths to ground this belief, since he would be arguing in a circle. Mike is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

 Thus we see that no matter how the embodied realist wants to jettison metaphysical realism, he will always return to it.

Metaphysical assumptions
Next Mike asks what I think is a very important and pertinent question:
The real conundrum is this: can cognitive science really say anything about how we fundamentally conceptualize reality, since science itself requires us to make philosophical assumptions?
He continues down the line:
It seems reasonable to conclude from his objections that Steven believes empirically-informed philosophical insights to be self-defeating — since those empirical results themselves rely on some set of philosophical assumptions in the first place. But as the authors have argued, only a minimal set of methodological assumptions is necessary for scientific inquiry to proceed. From those basic assumptions, we can gain insight into how our minds construct and interpret data, and we only need to make a very minimal few assumptions along the way.
A couple of things here. First, I in no way believe that empirically-informed philosophical insights are self-defeating. I only call empirically-informed insights self-defeating when they result in a reductio ad absurdum. That is to say, I find philosophical positions based on science to be self-refuting when they attempt to call into question the first principles that are necessary for knowledge and the intelligibility of the world, which is what science is predicated on in the first place.

And what exactly are these first principles, or assumptions, that are necessary for scientific inquiry? Well Mike, following Lakoff, lists the following:

•           Objective reality exists, and we can have stable knowledge of it
•           Other minds like our own exist
•           These minds can be studied empirically
•           The empirical results of those studies can be generalized to all human minds

While I (for the most part, and tentatively) agree with the assumptions listed here, they are by no means exhaustive. Before we do science there are still many more principles that need to be proposed. We need to assume that there exists causal regularity and uniformity in nature. We need to assume the validity of induction. We need to assume that things are intelligible in themselves. We need to assume the laws of logic. We need to assume a theory of truth. We need to assume, not that we can have stable knowledge of reality, but that we can predicate things of reality that accurately correspond to the way reality actually is.

Now why is the listing of all these assumptions important? Well, because if science presupposes these propositions, then no corollary of science can ever call these into question. You simply cannot pull the rug out from underneath yourself, and this is what Mike fails to comprehend, as is evident by these statements of his:
If we accept these assumptions — as most all of us do — then the philosophical implications of convergent empirical evidence across multiple scientific disciples cannot be ignored. When convergent scientific evidence informs us that most of our reasoning is unconscious and metaphorical, or that cognitive metaphors are crucially tied to our embodiment, we have to acknowledge that these results undermine classical conceptualizations of metaphor, reasoning, and indeed truth itself.
This is simply false. The philosophical implications of “convergent” empirical evidence can indeed be, and must be, ignored when they call into question the principles that science itself rests on. As I reiterated above, if B presupposes A then no corollary of B can ever call A into question. This is a logical necessity. And this is why Mike’s position, that of embodied realism, continually refutes itself, because it keeps trying to bite the hand that feeds it. You simply cannot kick out the foundation your position is resting upon and expect it to remain intact and coherent.

If you’ve made it this far I congratulate you. (To be honest, I barely made it this far.) We’ve witnessed a lot of things in this post. First, we’ve seen that Mike was quick to point out my supposed poor understanding of embodied realism, when in fact a lot of the time he could barely rearticulate my own criticisms, or his answers sidestepped them so far that they became irrelevant and peripheral to the discussion at hand. Second, we saw that Mike could not slay the correspondence theory of truth as he wanted to; neither could embodied realism replace it with any coherent theory of its own; neither could embodied realism’s levels of embodiment put the correspondence theory into question at all. Third, we saw that Mike’s attempt to save embodied realism’s “realism” through the use of “stable truths” did not work, and could not work even in principle. Lastly, we saw that the results of embodied cognition do not have the power to call our most basic metaphysical principles into question, and that when embodied realism attempts to utilize these results to call said principles into question, it ends in self-refutation.

So that’s it. I have nothing more to say. Embodied realism is false and self-refuting, and despite Mike’s efforts, it cannot be rescued from the depths of incoherency.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

How to (really) think about metaphysics

Today I was visiting some of the blogs I frequent and I stopped by the blog Atheism and the City, authored by a frequent commenter at my blog who goes by the name “The Thinker”.  He has just posted a review of Chapter 3 of Edward Feser’s book The Last Superstition. There is much to quibble with in Thinker’s post, but I’ll save an attempted refutation of his arguments for another day. My main focus here is regarding his comments on metaphysics and scientism.  I’ve gone on ad nauseum on this blog about the importance of metaphysics, and the falsity and self-refutation of scientism (see here),  but Thinker presents a different spin on this issue—a view he calls “weak scientism”—and therefore I felt the need to point out its falsity, thereby tossing it in the trash-bin with the other failed metaphysical frameworks.

Thinker begins to articulate his thoughts on weak scientism:
 I hold to what is sometimes called "weak scientism." Unlike strong scientism, which says that "the characteristic inductive methods of the natural sciences are the only source of genuine factual knowledge and, in particular, that they alone can yield true knowledge about man and society," weak scientism says that the natural sciences are given a privileged status over metaphysics and logic and all other methods of derived knowledge, but it stops short of saying that science and logic are the "only" ways of yielding true knowledge.
It’s hard to say exactly what Thinker means by the natural sciences entertaining a “privileged status” over metaphysics and logic. Perhaps he means that the natural sciences are more genuine and pure methods for attaining knowledge of reality. It is certainly true that the natural sciences have illumined the majority of beliefs and knowledge that we have about how the natural world behaves. But does this give one warrant to claim that science therefore entertains a privileged status for gaining knowledge about reality, over and above metaphysics? I don’t see how. For, as I’ve argued before, science tells us how the world behaves, but it does not, and cannot, tell us why—only metaphysics can hope to do this. Science might be able to tell us about the four forces of nature, for example, but it cannot tell us why those forces obtain at all as opposed to others. So I fail to see how science should be given a privileged status regarding methods of inquiry above methods like metaphysics.

The Thinker continues:
Furthermore, I apply this privileged status of science mostly when entertaining questions regarding ontology, such as the fundamental nature of reality—for which science is our most reliable epistemology, contrary to what Feser says.
So now Thinker says that science seems to be our most reliable guide for answering questions regarding the fundamental nature of reality. Again, this presents a couple problems. First, science by itself does not have the tools to comment on the fundamental nature of reality. This might seem like an arrogant statement against science, but it’s the truth. Scientific law only describes what already exists and how it behaves. But simply describing what already exists is purely abstract, in that it doesn’t actually enlighten us to the intrinsic nature of what it’s describing. So science simply doesn’t cut deep enough to penetrate the fundamental nature of reality.

Second, the natural sciences necessarily describe only the natural world. Therefore, if there were other aspects of reality, science could not enlighten us one way or another regarding their behavior. In fact, even if there exists no supernatural aspects of reality, science could likewise not comment on its non-behavior. The point is that science is completely silent on the question of what comprises the set of reality and being. To construct my point in another fashion, the description of a set of elements is not sufficient to conclude that only the set exists. Something else would be needed to ground this proposition, and it couldn’t be a mere description of a set’s behavior.

Let’s move on:
No logician could ever derive the physics of quantum mechanics from the laws of logic, or from metaphysics. Only empirical evidence could enlighten us to such phenomena, and the universe is ultimately quantum mechanical in nature.
Thinker continues to make the similar mistakes here. First, I agree that science, and only science, enlightens us to the physics of quantum mechanics and general relativity etc. But nobody ever said that metaphysics was the method of inquiry that should have done this. You see, science uncovers the physical contingencies of the universe that can be repeated and predicted using abstract mathematical equations—equations that could have been different. But, metaphysics enlightens us to the necessities of the universe, and anything that could or would exist. It tells us the ontology of causality, identity, first principles, time and free will etc. So, to once again engage in chest-thumping on behalf of science because of its discoveries of the physical contingencies of the world is simply misplaced here, since metaphysics wasn’t attempting to do this in the first place. It’s like a basketball player praising his dunking ability, while playing soccer. Metaphysics tells us the fundamental nature of reality, and science tells us how this reality happens to behave. The latter is not equivalent to the former.

Second, Thinker shoots himself in the foot here with his last statement about the universe being quantum mechanical in nature. How does he know the universe is entirely quantum mechanical in nature? Well quantum mechanics cannot tell him this, since, to reiterate, QM is only a description of sub-atomically existing matter. How does he know this description constitutes the fundamental nature of reality? Even if he has an answer to this question, it will not be given to him by QM. He will have to have some other fulcrum to lay this proposition upon. And this goes for any set of natural sciences you want to erect as the end-all be-all description of reality. A description of a set simply will not be sufficient for concluding that only what’s in the set is what exists, or that the set does not have an aspect of its nature not captured by the original description. The Thinker’s attempt, then, to ground weak scientism seems to have failed.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Apocalyptic Jesus (Part II): The imminent kingdom of God

Let us continue with our series which attempts to highlight the imminent eschatology of Jesus (part I here), an eschatology we would label as apocalyptic. In the previous post I highlighted how important it is to interpret the ministry of Jesus against the backdrop of the worldview of second temple Judaism, and how this worldview shaped and catalyzed the apocalyptic framework. This will be important to keep at the forefront as we, in this post, delve into another focal point of Jesus ministry: the Kingdom of God.

To those familiar with the New Testament it should come as no surprise to hear that Jesus’ ministry was organized around and predicated on the Kingdom of God. Jesus spoke of this Kingdom probably more often than he spoke of anything else. In fact, in the book of Matthew alone the phrase “kingdom of God” (or kingdom of Heaven) is used thirty-seven times, while it is used thirty-two times in Luke’s Gospel! In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus famously asked for “Thy Kingdom come.” Scholar Craig Keener notes that “virtually every stratum of Gospel tradition testifies that Jesus regularly announced the kingdom, there should be no doubt that this was a characteristic emphasis of Jesus teaching.” In the same vein,  secular historian Michael Grant claims the following in his book Jesus:
[E]very thought and saying of Jesus was directed and subordinated to one single thing […] the realization of the Kingdom of God  upon the earth[…] This one phrase sums up his whole ministry and his whole life’s work. (p. 10-11)

So it’s clear then, Jesus’ ministry was about one general focal point: the kingdom of God. But what exactly was meant by this phrase? Was it metaphorical or literal? Christians these days interpret the phrase “kingdom of God” as meaning a Christian lifestyle of love, or some interpret it as world evangelization. But in order to find out what Jesus meant by the phrase we need to understand how it was used in second temple Judaism.

In The Historical Jesus of the Gospels Craig Keener claims that in Jesus’ time the phrase “kingdom” signified the concept of “rule”, “reign”, or “authority” (p. 196).  Again, Michael Grant, in agreement with Keener, claims that “the Hebrew term [kingdom] refers not so much to a realm as to the dynamic kingly rule and sovereign action of God.” (p. 15) So, the kingdom of God seems to represent God’s sovereign rule and reign. To quote Keener again, “When Jewish people prayed for God’s kingdom to ‘come,’ they weren’t simply invoking God’s mystical presence among them for the present time; they were praying for God’s future reign to come.” (p. 198)

Moreover, we can survey Jewish texts in the second temple Judaic period and see how they used the phrase “kingdom of God.” The Kaddish prayer states the following: “May he establish his kingdom in your lifetime and in your days, and in the lifetime of the whole house of Israel, speedily and at a near time.” In the Testament of Moses 10:1 it says that “[God’s] kingdom shall appear throughout his creation, and Satan shall be no more[.]” And from the Dead Sea Scrolls 4Q246 it states the following: “His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom and all his ways in truth. He will judge the earth in truth and all will make peace. The sword will cease from the earth and all provinces will worship him[.]” These uses of kingdom surely seem to imply the reign, rule and authority of God.

Thus, the phrase “kingdom of God” seems most plausibly to be conceived as the restoration of God’s rule and authority as seen through the Davidic Kingdom, brought about by divine intervention ( see part I).  Again, this is what was expected by most Jews and it makes perfect sense to interpret Jesus’ use of the phrase “kingdom” in this vein—any other interpretation only strains credulity and is anachronistic.  For, as the Jews believed, God’s authority obviously was not being exercised in second temple Judaism since the Jews were still being oppressed. But, His rule was soon to come, and his Kingdom would be established once and for all. At least this is what Jesus and many Jews believed.

This brings us to Jesus actual statements about the kingdom, and exactly how close he believed God’s rule was to being realized:
The kingdom of God has come near you. Luke 10:9
Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come in power. Mark 9:1
The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.  Mark 1:15
You must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. Luke 12:40
Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Mark 13:30
And will God not grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. Luke 18:7-8
Obviously this is the tip of the iceberg. Anyone who’s ever cracked open the New Testament will see phrases of this kind peppered throughout. The point is that Jesus believed God’s intervention, which aimed at establishing his kingdom once and for all was right around the corner. So close in fact that his disciples wouldn’t even die before it happened. So close that Jesus’ own ministry was the first fruits of the ushering of this kingdom. This is apocalypticism, plain and simple.

But this line of thought can be taken even further, and can illuminate further elements of Jesus’ ministry. Think of some of Jesus’ extreme commands in the vein of asceticism: Taking no thought or concern for subsequent days.   To make oneself a eunuch for the kingdom’s sake. A lack of concern for material things, including personal possessions and even shelter. Jesus’ willingness to die etc. (This asceticism is also illuminated in Paul when he told the churches not to marry.) It should be obvious from reading the Gospels that Jesus kept a general distance from the way normal society took its course. He simply didn’t care about what most Jews and Romans cared about. And why should he have, since he believed the world was about to end due to God’s intervention. Why care about possessions if they won’t be important any longer? Why care about what’s going to happen tomorrow, since tomorrow might not come at all? Why care about your family or marrying a woman if such things won’t matter when God intervenes? This point is driven home in Karl Frank’s book With Greater Liberty when he states that “the conviction that the end of the world was near always fostered asceticism.” (p. 30) It should be obvious that this ascetic outlook fits like a glove with an apocalyptic worldview, and therefore gives us more reason to regard Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet.

Thus, we see that Jesus’ ministry rested on the fulcrum of the kingdom of God. Yet we’ve seen that in second temple Judaism the kingdom of God represented God’s eventual intervention which would establish once and for all his sovereign authority. And we’ve seen that Jesus made statements that explicitly state that this intervention was right around the corner and would happen within the lifetime of his disciples. Lastly, we saw that Jesus’ indifference to the common matters of the world makes perfect sense under the condition that Jesus believed the world would be ending soon. Everywhere we turn, the apocalyptic framework makes perfect sense when predicated of Jesus’ ministry. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

Why science cannot (ever) explain the existence of the universe

Can the universe account for its own existence? Can we find, within physics and cosmology, the reason for why physical reality exists at all? Cosmologists and physicists are hopeful that finding an answer to these questions is at least possible and maybe even plausible. For the cosmologist’s job is to search out the origin of the universe—or find out if it had an origin at all—to find out why it exists in the first place, and why and how it came to exist in its current state. Now cosmology has come a long way in the last century and it continues to advance in leaps and bounds. But despite the advancements of physics, I maintain that physicists will never in principle be able to explain the existence of physical reality.

I realize that in promulgation of this statement I am shouldering a great burden of proof, and that such a statement can even come across as arrogant. However, please note that it is borne out of careful logical study of the philosophy of science, and not from a petulant view of science or scientists. In fact, I have found that it is “skeptics” who arrogantly fail to recognize the explanatory limits of science, and by doing so would only take my aforementioned statement as arrogant because their vision is dogmatically colored by the lens of positivism. However, since this is not the time to get into the hypocritical creeds of the freethought community, let us return to the thesis at hand: science cannot explain why the universe exists. (Note that by “universe” I include any possible meta-universe or multiverse.)

Now, what gives me the right to assert such a blanket statement like this?  Well, the nature of scientific inquiry itself does. You see, as I’ve pointed out before, science operates on inductive conditional statements like “if p, then q”. This is why scientists can run an experiment a finite amount of times and then generalize a conditional statement as a law. (Note again that such an exercise would be moot unless we took things to have shared essences.) And this takes us to the nature of scientific laws themselves. Scientific laws are mere descriptions of the way things tend to behave given certain ideal conditions. These laws are not prescriptive, in that they don’t inform substances on how to behave. Rather, substances behave the way they do and our formulated laws are informed by such behavior.

The pivotal point here is that scientific laws are ontologically dependent on existence, not the other way around. That is to say, scientific laws don’t obtain unless you first have something which actually exists and behaves in some way. That’s why the conditional statements of scientific law start with “if p,” meaning “if some state of actual affairs obtains in reality”.  Now, what exactly does this have to do with science explaining the existence of the universe? Well, if existence logically precedes scientific law, then the latter cannot itself ever explain the former. That is to say, scientific law first needs something already in existence to describe the behavior of—it doesn’t describe non-existence—therefore science is reliant upon existence, and thus existence will always be a higher member in an explanatory chain.  But in order for science to explain the universe it would itself need to be the higher member in an explanatory chain, and since this is logically impossible then it follows necessarily that science cannot in principle explain the existence of the universe.

There’s another point to be made here, however. It should also be noted that science cannot even account for its own laws. That is, science itself cannot determine why the laws are the way they are as opposed to being another way. Here’s why. Either (i) the reason scientific laws are the way they are is to be illumined by another scientific law, or (ii) the reason scientific laws are the way they are is to be illumined by an explanation not susceptible to scientific description. (i) is not a viable option because explaining scientific law by another scientific law just pushes the question back a step and doesn’t answer anything. Moreover, the question was to explain the set of scientific laws, and this cannot be done by another scientific law not in the set since the set already contains all scientific laws. Thus, option (i) isn’t even possible. (This is why arriving at a scientific Theory of Everything is not possible as well.) If one chooses (ii) then we arrive at an explanation not susceptible to science, which only proves my point, namely, that scientific law cannot explain itself.

Implications for naturalism

Now all these points actually have important implications for naturalism as well. For most ontological naturalists naturalism seems to imply physicalism—note that I’m not claiming that naturalism necessarily entails physicalism, only that most naturalists are physicalists. The reason for this is that if all that exists is the natural world and the natural world contains all matter, energy, space and time, then all that exists in the natural world is physical—or it at least supervenes on the physical—and therefore all that exists is physical.

But this means that physics itself should be able, in principle, to arrive at a theory of everything and thereby explain the existence of the physical world. But we’ve just seen above that this is what physics and science cannot, in principle, do. And thus physicalism and naturalism are false—again, based on those who would derive physicalism from naturalism. David Bentley Hart articulates the point numerous times in The Experience of God:
Physical reality cannot account for its own existence for the simple reason that nature—the physical—is that which by definition already exists; existence, even taken as a simple brute fact to which no metaphysical theory is attached, lies logically beyond the system of causes that nature comprises; it is, quite literally, “hyperphysical,” or, shifting into Latin, super naturam. This means not only that at some point nature requires or admits of a supernatural explanation (which it does), but also that at no point is anything purely, self-sufficiently natural in the first place. (p. 96)

To drive the point home one last time, physics and science are at a loss to explain exactly why the physical world is the way it is, and why it exists in the first place. Science is explanatorily inert here. And this should not be the case if physicalism were true. Thus, because of the nature of the universe and the explanatory limits of physics, physicalism is false. What implications should this entail for naturalism? I’ll let the reader decide for themselves.


Monday, August 17, 2015

The Apocalyptic Jesus (Part I): Apocalypticism and John the Baptist

I realize that this current series of articles is going to turn off some of my Christian readers—hopefully only momentarily. I understand that. The idea that I’m entertaining and arguing for is completely contrary to any form of orthodox Christianity, and it will be seen as heretical and blasphemous. I understand that as well. But before you dismiss what I’m about to argue, please understand that I once felt the same way. The idea that Jesus (wrongly) expected the world to end in his own lifetime is something that I would have scoffed at only about four years ago. But after reading the scholarly arguments put forward for the apocalyptic Jesus thesis, and after a hard road of trying to convince myself otherwise, this viewpoint just seemed to be the most logical explanation of Jesus’ ministry that I had ever come across. I didn’t want this view to be true, I really didn’t. But at the end of the day I had to follow the evidence where it led; and it is this evidence that I will attempt to put forward over the next few articles. I admonish you, the reader, not to let your preconceptions rule your judgment of the evidence—though I know that this is almost impossible. Please try to be as objective as possible and read with an open mind.
It should go without saying that a historical figure’s life, words, and deeds should be studied and judged within the larger context of their immediate culture. Jesus is no different. Jesus lived in the time of second temple Judaism (515 BC-70AD) and during the latter part of this time period a certain worldview was rampant and ubiquitous among the Jews—namely, that of apocalypticism.

Apocalypticism is an eschatology (i.e. set of beliefs about the end of the world) wherein the end of history is brought about by divine intervention and is thought to be happening very soon. It is this belief that became the primary worldview of second temple Jews for a few reasons. You see, starting in the eighth century B.C., the promised land of the Israelites was constantly under attack from foreign powers. The most important of these attacks took place in 586 B.C. and subsequently led to the exile of the Israelites from the southern kingdom and their subsequent oppression by the Babylonians. This exile was interpreted by the prophets as punishment from God for Israel’s lack of faithfulness and sin. So the prophets promised that if Israel got their act together and sincerely repented of their unfaithfulness, then God would restore them their land and would reestablish them among the nations. But unfortunately the land was never restored back to their control and their land was continually dominated by more and more increasingly powerful nations, despite the fact that Israel had indeed repented of their unfaithfulness—this happened for a couple centuries. So if Israel, God’s chosen people, had done what God wanted, then why wasn’t he fighting for them any longer? Why was he now the one no longer being faithful?

This is exactly what Israel was asking itself, and out of these questions apocalypticism was generated. For it was then thought that Israel was no longer being punished by God for being unfaithful, rather Israel was being punished by God’s enemies (both spiritual and physical) for being faithful! Thus, the Israelites were suffering for their faith, instead of suffering for lacking it, as had previously taken place. Moreover, Jews were beginning to stand up to their oppressors, and consequently were being martyred left and right for their faith; thus cognitive dissonance caused the Jews to cook up an afterlife and a day of final judgment, in which the faithful would be vindicated, and the enemies of God who were oppressing his chosen people would finally get what they had coming to them—since God obviously wasn’t doing this currently. This day of God’s intervention, restoration, and subsequent judgment was seen to be more and more imminent, because it was thought that God surely would not let his children suffer needlessly. Hence, it was seen by a majority of Jews in second temple Judaism that God’s cosmic intervention was right around the corner, and any day now the messiah would come and drop the curtain on this inversion of world powers.

We see these pronouncements of apocalypticism in the Assumption of Moses, 1 Enoch, the Book of Daniel, Isaiah 24-27, Zechariah 9-14, 4th Ezra, the Apocalypse of Abraham, 2nd Baruch, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and in the Essene movement. The point is that second temple Judaism was soaked in an apocalyptic worldview, and it is in this context that the ministry of Jesus must be interpreted—to claim the opposite is anachronistic. To quote critical NT scholar Dale Allison from the book The Apocalyptic Jesus: [T]o propose that Jesus thought the end to be near is just to say that he believed what many others in his time and place believed. (p. 23)

The question then is, Did Jesus really believe the end was near?

Those that came before and after
One way to best understand Jesus’ ministry is to survey the ministry which was the genesis for his own, as well as surveying the ministry that was generated from his. Let us begin with the former.
It is no secret that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. For Jesus to submit himself to be baptized by John, he obviously had some theological and doctrinal continuity with him and his ministry.  As Scholar Craig Keener notes in The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, the “baptism indicates, at the least, that Jesus knew and accepted John’s message[…] Jesus’ message stood in continuity with John’s[.]” (p. 176) Not only this, but Jesus explicitly praised and endorsed the Baptist himself. He stated that John was “more than a prophet” (Matthew 11:9) and that “among those born of women there has not risen one greater than he.” (Matthew 11:11) Therefore, it seems clear that Jesus thought very highly of John, and, since John preceded him, Jesus believed his ministry to be a continuation of John’s.

But what exactly did John the Baptist preach? Well John was quite clear that Israel needed to turn to God and repent, but why? Well, John asked “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” and stated that “the ax is laid to the root of the trees.” (Luke 3: 7 and 9) That is to say, John expected God to intervene soon—the ax is laid to the root of the trees—and therefore repentance was necessary if one wanted to be on God’s side when he intervened. Again, Keener states that “John was a wilderness prophet proclaiming impending judgment.” (p. 167)

Moreover, the fact that John was a prophet living in the wilderness should not be overlooked. You see, many Jews expected Israel’s restoration to occur in the wilderness—partly because of verses like Hosea 2:14-23—and the prophets seem to have insinuated that a new exodus would take place there. The Qumran community was an apocalyptic movement and they lived exclusively in the wilderness for the same reasons—though it is not thought that John was part of the Qumrans. Thus, a ministry in the wilderness, as John had, seems to have clear apocalyptic implications.

So, it seems that Jesus had continuity with John’s ministry, and his ministry seems to have had an apocalyptic element to it. And thus it makes even more sense to view Jesus as an apocalypticist due to his theological predecessor John the Baptist. But what about Jesus’ immediate followers and successors? Did they show any signs of imminent eschatological expectations? You bet they did. Let us survey just a few verses to demonstrate this:
Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers. (Romans 13:11)

In a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay. (Hebrews 10:37)

You must also be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. (James 5:8)

The one who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ (Revelation 22:20)

It should be quite apparent from these verses that the earliest followers of the Jesus movement expected their salvation and vindication—which included the return of Jesus—to manifest very soon. At any moment Jesus would be riding on the clouds to usher in that very thing.

So where did this belief come from? Because this belief was not some peripheral doctrine of Jesus’ immediate followers.  It seems to be a ubiquitous eschatology that permeates the deepest desires of the Jesus movement.  If Jesus did not believe that the end was near, then why did his posthumous ministry hold to such a belief? How do we explain the ubiquity of apocalypticism in Jesus’ followers? Is it really just plausible to say that Jesus’ followers just all happened to form this mistaken belief independently of one another? Or is it not more plausible that the ubiquity of their belief had its genesis in the teachings and beliefs of him whom they called their Lord?

Now when you pair this with the eschatology of John the Baptist then our thesis becomes even more compelling. For if the Jesus movement branched out from an apocalyticist movement, and if the successors of the Jesus movement maintained apocalypticist beliefs, then it really only makes sense that Jesus himself was also an apocalyticist. The denial of this claim is simply implausible. For then one would have to address why Jesus endorsed John’s ministry, yet had a completely different eschatology—even though his eschatology seems to be apocalyptic, a point we’ll argue for in the next few articles—and why Jesus’ followers jettisoned (their master) Jesus’ eschatology in favor of an apocalyptic one. This latter thesis is too ad hoc and it violates the principle of parsimony. It seems that simplicity prevails here, and it seems most plausible that Jesus, like those immediately before and after him, was an apocalypticist. To quote Dale Allison: “[T]o reconstruct a Jesus who did not have  strong eschatological or apocalyptic orientation entails discontinuity […] with the movement out of which he came as well as with the movement that came out of him. Isn’t presumption against this?” (p. 21)