Thursday, April 28, 2005

Response to Ed Babinski

Here are some comments by Ed Babinski which I would like to take a moment to respond to:

Ed: Vic, Why can't you be satisfied as a philosopher with simply trying to get more people to acknowledge which things they know the MOST about, and which they know the LEAST about, rather than tying to get others to agree with you concerning your "Christian" beliefs about so many things both seen and unseen, in nature and supernature, in this life and the next?

VR: Ed, people care about the beliefs they hold, and they would like to see others hold the same beliefs as themselves, especially if they think those beliefs really matter. Being agnostic about everything, and holding "suspicions" instead of convictions is fine, but doesn't comport too terribly well with trashing people who have firmer convictions and try to defend them. Or at least some people with firmer convictions; I have yet to see you criticize dogmatic fundamentalist atheists like Richard Dawkins, a man who treats any doubt about full-blown Darwinian naturalism as proof of stupidity or ignorance. (OK there's no hell for people to go to, but they do suffer intellectual damnation on his view nonetheless. I don't find him any more tolerant than Jimmy Swaggart). It does matter to you that people "leave the fold" and stop accepting evangelical Christianity. So you are interested in getting people to agree with you about that. Since you don't know what the truth is, you have to admit that evangelical apologists might be right. Nevertheless, you seem sure that even though you don't know the truth, anything has to be better than evangelicalism. Why?

Ed: Your work thus far also seems to be assuming that there are only two choices, 1) no meaning whatsoever to life, or, 2) meaning lay in accepting the dogmas, doctrines and holy book of one particular religion.

VR: I don't think I ever said that. The post on which you were commenting was an exploration of the idea that we can explain natural evil in terms of Satan. You will notice that I presented both sides and threw the issue out for discussion. In what part of that post was a trying to convince people to agree with my spiritual beliefs about this world and the next? You know what my main motive for writing that post was? I was trying to give my daughter material for her paper on the problem of evil. No more, no less.

You have a very bad habit of assuming that if someone is interested in defending or writing Christian apologetics, that everything they say must be some calculated attempt at evangelism. That is certainly not true of me, and I can assure you that it is not true of most Christian philosopher I know.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Ad hominem arguments

I just posted the following to the Internet Infidels Discussion Board:

Originally Posted by Ahab
And I would recomend it to anyone as a great example of the intellectual mush that passes for christian apologetics today.
To me it seems that its primary purpose is to provide a morale boost to those already convinced of the truth of its message. Secondly, to help dissuade those wavering believers from leaving the faith.

VR: Mr Carrier and I have profound disagreements; we both think the other mistaken. However, I think he would probably not use the term "intellectual mush" to descibe my book, (You've read it carefully I'm sure) and I am sure he does not think that much is to be gained by speculating about the motives of our intellectual opponents. I present and defend my arguments because I believe them to be good. I probably could have made stronger claims on behalf of my arguments (and some of my supporters think I should have) but I want to defend claims and positions that I really do think are defensible. I have no doubts about Mr. Carrier's sincerity, nor do I have any concern at all to speculate about his motives. He thought I was making an argument from motive against naturalists, but I was able to show him that I reallly think motive arguments can be addressed to all sides all day long and that they come out to a wash.

If my arguments played a role in someone's conversion, or if they prevented an otherwise wavering believer to remain a Christians, of course I would welcome that, but I am primarly concerned, like Mr. Carrier, in defending what I think is true. If I thought something else was true, I would be defending that. Some of my favorite discussions about theism and Christianity have been with atheists who have come, after the discussion, not to give up their atheism, but simply to recognize that Christianity, or C. S. Lewis, or theism, or what not, had more credibility to it than they had previously thought. To me, that's a huge success, even if the person remains an atheist for the rest of their lives.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Beversluis on C. S. Lewis

One issue that arose in relation to the discussion of John Ku's story is the critique of C. S. Lewis which impressed him. The book came out at the time when I began my doctoral studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana, and was the subject of numerous discussion amongst myself, fellow graduate student Tim Erdel, and Dr. Hugh Chandler, the eventual chair of my dissertation committee. The following is material for an essay I intend to publish in a volume I am co-editing with Steve Lovell on Lewis and philosophy, so comments are more than welcome.

My early reaction to the book was a very critical one, and I would still have to say (no surprise here) that I differ with the substance of the book at nearly every point. However, the book really does contribute to our understanding of C. S. Lewis and does advance the discussion. This is, to be honest, a good deal more than I can say for a number of more friendly books.

What the book succeeds in doing is providing the reader with a perspective on C. S. Lewis from the point of view of the unpersuaded reader. When I look at a great deal of the literature on Lewis, it isn;t so much that I think the literature too adulatory, but that I find that perspective of the critic is not given consideration. What that means is that people writing about Lewis very often do not succeed in making Lewis plausible to anyone who is not persauded already.

Criticism of a thinker you oppose can come in a couple of different forms. You may criticize someone because you think them an intellectual fraud whose has received an undeserved reputation in some quarters. You are attacking your target not because you think them a respectable opponent, but because you think them unworthy of respect. Or you can criticize a thinker because you think that, while their efforts are worthwhile, then nevertheless get it wrong in the final analysis, and you want to show why. The tone of the first type of critique is bound to differ profoundly from the tone of the second. In short, you can criticize someone as a Respected Intellectual Opponent or as an Intellectual Fraud.

In Beversluis we find a considerable ambivalence as to how to treat Lewis's works. In some passages he shows admiration for Lewis's intellectual gifts and achievements., suggesting that he intends his critique to be of the second variety. In other passages we find what seems to be Lewis-bashing. Richard Purtill, in an early review of the work, wrote:

"There is a notable lack of the principle of charity in the logician's sense, as well as of charity in the theological sense, despite much rather patronizing praise of Lewis." On this interpretation, anything Beversluis says about Lewis is patronizing, concealing his profound contempt for him. A recent book, S.T. Joshi's God's Defenders: What they Believe and Why They Are Wrong. 1clearly takes the contemptuous approach in his critique of Lewis while quite consciously building on Beversluis's work. And certainly the text of the book gives considerable ammuntion for this kind of a reading. As Thomas Morris writes:

It is Beversluis's aim to put his readers into a position where they can see Lewis's failures. In representative passages, he characterizes Lewis's 'irresponsible writing' as exhibiting a presistent tendency toward carelessness, inaccuracy, and oversimplfication wheneveer he discusses opposing views," and blasts Lewis's own positive positions as "confused," wrongheaded," shipwrecked," "disgraced," "considerably worse than fuzzy," "tendentious" and "desperate". Colorful passages in Lewis are labelled as "bellicose outbursts," and we find that Lewis doesn't just state his positions, he "gives vent to them. " The overall tone should be evident.

Reading Beversluis in this way, I was inclined to be a hostile critic of Beversluis. I believed that Beversluis was operating by the W. C. Fields-ish motto "never give a popular apologist an even break." I thought, and stiill think, that Lewis's arguments can by and large be defended against Beversluis's criticism. However, I also think that Beversluis's own views on Lewis are somewhat more complex, and probably less consistent, than I had been reading from his book. One would have thought that A. N. Wilson's hostile Freudian biography on Lewis would be right up Beversluis's alley, but in a review article for Christianity and Literature in 1992 entitled "Surprised by Freud", Beversluis takes Wilson to task for his attempt to psychoanalyze Lewis away. In the review essay he criticized Wilson for failing to treat the enormously influential apologist to who Beversluis actually ascribes the word "greatness" with adequate seriousness, and failing to consider how Lewis would respond to this kind of Freudian attack. In the review of Wilson he completely abandons any appeal to what I have referreed to in my book as the Anscombe Legend, the idea that Lewis gave up apologetics after being "defeated" by Anscombe at the Oxford Socratic Club. As he writes:

JB: First, the Anscombe debate was by no means Lewis's first exposure to aprofessional philosopher: he lived among them all his adult life, read theGreats, and even taught philosophy. Second, it is simply untrue that the post-Anscombe Lewis abandonedChristian apologetics. In 1960 he published a second edition of Miraclesin which he revised the argument of his third chapter and thereby repliedto Anscombe. Third, most printed discussions of the debate, mine included (65-73), failto mention that Anscombe herself complimented Lewis's revised version onthe grounds that it is deeper and far more serious than the originalversion (see Anscombe ix-x). Finally the myth that Lewis abandoned Christian apologetics overlooksseveral important post-Anscombe articles, among them "Is Theism Important?"(1952) -- a discussion of Christianity and theism which touches on philosophical proofs for God's existence and their relevance to the religious life -- and "On Obstinacy of Belief" (1955) in which he defendsthe rationality of believing in God in the face of apparently contraryevidence (the issue in philosophical theology during the late 1950s andearly 1960s). It is rhetorically effective to announce that thepost-Anscombe Lewis wrote no further books on Christian apologetics, but itis pure fiction. Even if it were true, what would this Argument fromAbandoned Subjects prove? He wrote no further books on Paradise Lost orcourtly love either.

In short, I think Beversluis intended for his book to be a critique of a Respected Intellectual Opponent, not an attack on what he took to be an Intellectual Fraud. And a critique of Lewis from the point of view of someone who takes him as a Respected Intellectual Opponent would be well worth reading. But I don't think the book succeeds as this type of critique, because if his criticisms of Lewis are correct, then not only was Lewis in error, he erred in ways that are not intellectually respectable.

Let's put it this way. Suppose I am playing a chess game with someone who is ranked above me, like Monokroussos or Rowley. And I see a quick and easy way to win the exchange (Rook for bishop or knight, almost always an advantage). Now maybe Dennis or Bob is just dropping the exchange. But, if I have more than a minute or so on my clock, I had better take a close look. It might be a trap. I might not have such hesitation if I were playing a beginner. Having studied Lewis for as long as I have, I can safely assert that when Lewis is wrong, he is rarely simply wrong. There is a good deal to be considered on his side before the view he espouses can be dismissed. In my susbsequent discussion of Beversluis's book, I wish to show how even if you think Lewis wrong, you have to take the measure of what he says before you can say that it is wrong. As a critic attempting to respond to a Respected Intellectual Opponent, Beversluis's book does not succeed because if Lewis is really guity as charged by Beversluis, he cannot be merely a Resepcted Intellectual Opponent who got it wrong, but an Intellectual Fraud who, in spite of a good reputation in some quarters, really can't think his way out of a paper bag.

Now he does not at any point in the review

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Descartes and the Cogito

People following the discussion of the Cartesian Cogito will be interested in this critical response to me by Alan Cook and some further clarification from Bill Vallicella.


Thursday, April 07, 2005

Vallicella on the Cogito

This is Maverick Philosopher's take on the cogito. Someone has already responded from a Kantian perspective.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

On the philosophy of mind and consensus

I responded to a comment on Bibliocracy from an anonymous commentator, in the context of a discussion of Kim's work in the philosophy of mind:

Matthew Anderson: "a fourth to a third of scholars are theists (and hence, dualists of some sort)."
Anonymous: That doesn't follow. Significant numbers of academic theists are also physicalists.
Consider Nancey Murphy's _Whatever Happened to the Soul_. Peter van Inwagen and I believe William Alston are also physicalists. In his debates William Lane Craig always points out that theists aren't necessarily dualists as they can believe in resurrection alone.
I think the obvious fact that a lobotomy can destroy your intellect and moral inhibitions is such compelling evidence against dualism that about the only remaining motivation for defending dualism is a religious agenda rather than a genuine philosophical or scientific consideration.
I think Kim's point was that among philosophers of mind whose opinions are shaped solely by considerations having to do with the philosophy of mind, who don't bring any particular religious prejudices they feel compelled to defend to the table, there is nearly a consensus that substance dualism is false.
The "consensus" is among the remainder of philosophers of mind, those who are not a priori bound to restrict their reasoning only to those ideas which conform to religious doctrines. And that is as it should be, since the only justification for specific religious dogmas, after all, is tradition.
Even among theists, J. P. Moreland, William Hasker, and Victor Reppert are the only theistic defenders of dualism that I'm aware of. The neuroscientific
evidence for some form of physicalism has left them little wiggle room unless they want to go the way of creationists and dismiss legitimate scientific data altogether.
The NEAR-consensus lies with those who publish almost exclusively in the philosophy of mind. Those whose primary focus is in the philosophy of religion are the die-hard holdouts. That's why you are hard pressed to find enough nontheistic substance dualists to count on one hand.
4:28 PM

Victor Reppert said...
There are a significant number of other defenders of dualism besides Moreland, Hasker and myself. Geoffrey Madell's Mind and Materialism is a book that came out way back in 1988 with no explicit religion backing it up, Charles Taliaferro's Consciousness and the Mind of God came out in 1996, Swinburne's Evolution of the Soul came out in 1986, I know Plantinga has defended substance dualism, John Foster and Howard Robinson are defenders of dualism as well. Some of these people have religious commitments that have something to do with it, and some do not.
One's broader metaphysics invariably has a great deal to do with what one accepts in the philosophy of mind, and this makes sense. If you are an atheist, if you think that we started off with a physical universe and everything else got here by evolution, then you are hard pressed to find any way that a non-physical soul could possibly emerge. This is why many people in the philosophy of mind are convinced that they have to be physicalists no matter what the difficulties with physicalism are, and many of them, like Kim, McGinn, Nagel, (who isn't really a physicalist) and Searle, are prepared to acknowledge massive difficulties for physicalism. No one starts doing philosophy from a neutral position; everyone who has a world view, to some extent at least, uses the faith seeking understanding principle. See this discussion by Maverick Philosopher William Vallicella.

The arguments that Anonymous is providing show a close interconnectedness between mind and brain, but these discoveries seem to me to be quite compatible with dualism, as even Richard Carrier concedes.
You also seem to be underestimating the influence of intellecutal peer pressure, which pushes pretty strongly in favor of physicalism. At least it did back when I was in grad school!

New volume on Narnia and philosophy

The essay on philosophy and Narnia, which I mentioned earlier, will appear in a volume advertised here. It's coming out this fall from Open Court press.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Leaving the fold and losing faith in Lewis

I would be interested in people's reactions to this story of leaving the Christian fold after having confidence in Lewis's apologetics shattered.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Dragon Games 3: Brilliancy or swindle?

Computers sometimes tell you things about your games that you would rather not find out. This has always been one of my favorite Dragon games, a nice crushing win over a higher-rated opponent. Annotators (but not computers!) tend to suffer from result bias, they tell you that whoever won was winning all along, that the other guy never had a chance, etc. So I played this game out on Fritz one evening, and was given a major shock.

White: Ilan Brand (X) Black: Victor Reppert (A)
Intra-club League, 1972
1. e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 g6 5. Nc3 Bg7 6.
Be3 Nf6 7. Bc4 d6

Entering via the Accelerated move order avoids the 9.
O-O-O system, which according to some commentators,
such as Mikhail Golubev, is thought to be more
dangerous than the 9 Bc4 system. But it does allow
White to play the dull and boring Maroczy, uh, er Swiderski Bind with 5.c4, which for a long time was thought to provide White
with an advantage. More recently, under the influence
of Tiviakov, it has acquired a drawish reputation, but
Tiviakov has suffered a couple of losses in this line.
I don’t remember why I didn’t play 7 …O-O 8. Bb3 d6 9.
f3 Bd7, though this would only yield an independent
variation if I were to play 10. Qd2 Nxd4 11. Bxd4 b5,
a line that Dennis Monokroussos has discussed a couple
of times on his chess blog.
Which move order should a player use who intends to
enter the Dragon? Perhaps it is a question of which
lines your opponent is more likely to be happy in.
Some players are happy Maroczy Bind players, others
are not.

8. f3 O-O 9. Qd2 Bd7 10. O-O-O Qa5 11. Bb3 Rfc8 12. h4

Here 12. Kb1 Ne5 13.Bg5 is the now hotly debated Moles variation.

12...Ne5 13. Kb1

But this variation poses a set of problems as well. My theory is that it will eventually prove to be the most dangerous line of all.
Historically, this variation was thought to give White
an advantage, though this assessment has been
challenged by Ward. Here the game diverges from the
Polchinski and Rowley games.


This is the move originally played by Korchnoi in
1967, and recommended in Ward’s Winning with the
Dragon. In WWTD2 Ward doesn’t retract the
recommendation, but presents 13…Nc4, which used to be
the main line, as a viable system for Black. However,
a testing line has arisen. After 14.Bxc4 Rxc4 15. Nb3
Qc7 (Ward’s recommendation) 16. g4 (instead of the
usual 16. Bd4) Rc8 17. e5, and now I think best for
Black is Nxg4 18. fxg4 Bxe5, with a very unclear
position that may be just a little better for White.
Here 15…Qd8 may be an underrated alternative; the
standard refutation is 16. e5 Ne8 17. h5 Bxe5 18. hxg6
hxg6 19. Bd4 but now Bxd4! 20 Nxd4 e5! 21. Qh6 Qf6 22.
Qh7+ Kf8 23. Nd5 Qg7 is only a draw. However, 17. exd6
may be a way White can play for the advantage. 15…Qa6
and 15…Qe5 are also alternatives, but I don’t have
much confidence in either of them.

14. h5

I consider this to be the weakest of a set of three
alternatives. 14. Ncxb5 is the most popular variation,
and Rowley talked me out of 13…b5 shortly after this
game by convincing me that Black doesn’t have enough
for the pawn in the endgame after 14…Qxd2. Ward and
others had some successes in this variation, but in a
game against Reeh, Ward faced 15. Bxd2 Nc4 16. Bxc4
Rxc4 17. b3 Rc5 18. c4 a6 19. Nc3 Rb8 20. Kc3 Ng4 21.
fg4 Bxd4 (Reeh-Ward Bern 1993) and after 23. Nd5,
White could have secured and advantage, according to
Golubev. However, Golubev also suggests 17…Rcc8, which
deserves some more careful attention. Also, 15…Rab8 is
another important line, after which one line is 16.
Nc3 Nc4 17. Bg5 Kf8 18. Rhe1 a5 19. Bxc4 Rxc4 20. Nde2
Nxe4 21. fxe4 Rxc3 22. Nxc3 Bxc3 23. Re3 Rxb2+ 24. Kc1
be5 25. Rb3 Rxb3 36. cxb3 with a slight edge for White
according to Velickovic. But there are lots of
alternatives to explore here.
14. Bh6 is considered superior to the text here. Now
14….Bxh6 15. Qxh6 Rxc3 16. bxc3 Qxc3 17. Ne2 Qc5 18.
h5 Nxh5 19 Rxh5 is bad for Black, and if 18…Nc4 19. hg
fg 20. Qd2 Be6 21. Qd4 was better for White in
Grabarcyzk-Jedryczka, Poland 1994. But I wonder if
17…Qb4, which has appeared in a couple of games, might
be an improvement for Black here. Uh, no. after 18. h5 Nc4 19. hg fg 20 e5! White looks good. However, 16...Nc4! has won 2 1/2 out of three for Black in this position, in spite of being neglected by the theory books.
The other major line is 14…Nc4 15. Bxc4 Bxh6 16. Qxh6
bxc4 17. h5 Rab8 18. Nd5 Nxd5 19. exd5 Qa3 (Qc3 and
Qb4 are unexplored alternatives) 20. Nb3 cxb3 21. bxa3
Bxc3++ 22. Ka1 cxd1(Q)+ 23. Rxd1 Bf5 24. g4 was played
in the complex game Tolnai-Jovicic Leibnitz 1990.


Black has the option of playing 14…Nxh5, which leads
to familiar positions with Kb1 and b5 included. Or
perhaps 14…Rxc3, which Ward played in the position
with these two moves excluded, should be considered

15. Bxc4 bxc4 16. hxg6

If 16. Bh6 Black has Rab8 17. Bxg7 Qb4 (Ward).

fxg6 17. Bh6 Bh8

A well-known stratagem, preserving the Dragon bishop.

18. Nde2

24 years later, in the game Bisby-Summerscale British
Championship 1996, White played 18. Nf5 gxf5 19. e5
and here dxe5 looks like it would have given Black a
decisive advantage.

Rab8 19. Qe1 Be6 20. Qh4 Qb4 21. Bc1 a5 22. e5 dxe5
23. Ne4

This is the critical position of the game. I thought
for many years my move was brilliant, but actually
White should have won. The idea is that after White
does his worst attacking h7, he ends up with nothing
and Black crashes through. That’s what happened, but
objectively Black was better off defending with 23…h5,
which leads to a perfectly good game for Black.

c3?! 24. Nxf6+ Bxf6 25. Qxh7+ Kf8 26. b3 a4 29. Qxg6??

White misses the boat. 29. Bh6+! Ke8 30. Bg7!! was a
winner. Score one for the silicon monster.

Bf7 28. Bh6+ Ke8 29. Qf5

White gets to threaten mate in one. But it does him no

Rc7 30. Bc1 axb3 31. axb3 Bxb3 0-1