Sunday, January 07, 2018


Thought-experiments are common in science and philosophy. Atheists and Christian apologists both employ thought-experiments. These are useful in different ways:

i) Sometimes we resort to a thought-experiment because an actual expedient isn't feasible.

ii) Apropos (i), an advantage of thought-experiments in ethics is that no one is really hurt, since the victims are hypothetical characters rather than sentient people. 

iii) Thought-experiments enable us to screen out extraneous variables. By contrast, real life is messy.

iv) Thought-experiments are used to test a generalization. If there are counterexamples, then that's a hasty generalization. If it allows for exceptions, than it's not true or false in principle. Rather, it may be true or false depending on the situation. 

v) By the same token, thought-experiments can be used to test someone's consistency or commitment. If their position has dire consequences when taken to a logical extreme, will they balk?

vi) Despite the value of thought-experiments, it's necessary to distinguish between real or realistic dilemmas, and highly artificial or pseudo-dilemmas. 

Suppose an atheist puts a Christian on the spot by asking, What would you do if you discovered that the Fall (Gen 3) was legendary, or the Flood (Gen 6-9) was legendary, or the call of Abraham (Gen 12) was legendary, or the binding of Isaac (Gen 22) was legendary, or the Exodus was legendary, or the nativity accounts (Matthew & Luke) were legendary?

These hypothetical scenarios are designed to generate a psychological dilemma for the Christian. What is he prepared to jettison to relieve the dilemma?

In the nature of the case, dilemmas eliminate all the good options. That's what makes them a dilemma. Within that framework, there is no good answer. Every answer will be costly. 

But that the same token, that makes them pseudo-dilemmas. We're not really confronted with that stark choice. And we have no obligation to submit to those arbitrarily restrictive alternatives. 

Unless and until we actually have to cross that bridge, there's no reason to take them seriously. They're just mind games. A conundrum that only exists in the imagination rather than reality. It's up to God, in his providence, whether we face genuine dilemmas. 

vii) And thought-experiments cut both ways. It's easy to pose dilemmas for an atheist. How much is he prepared to lose? And that's not even hypothetical. 


  1. Speaking of pseudo-dilemmas, what are your thoughts about the emptiness problem? I was talking to a friend about it. He thinks we aren't making a metaphysical statement when we say "God is good" but are just a predication of the common usage of what we mean by "good" on God.

    1. It isn't reducible to the meaning of the word "good". That's just a placeholder for specific attributions and actions of God. And that isn't universally derived from our intuition or impressions, but in many cases from biblical revelation, which provides paradigm-examples of divine goodness to inform our concept of divine goodness.