Monday, July 31, 2006

Volker Dittman's argument from evil

At 8:04 PM, Francois Tremblay said…

Here is an argument by Volker Dittman:

1. There is evil/suffering.
2. A god is morally righteous/omnibenevolent.
3. Either:
1. A god can create a universe without evil/suffering.
2. There is an explanation for all evil/suffering. (With a theodicy.)
3. There is no explanation for some evil/suffering.
4. If 3a. or 3c. is true, then there is no god. This point represents the usual Problems of Evil.
5. If 3b. is true, then all evil/suffering is justified.
6. If 3b. is true, then all human evil is justified. (from 5)
7. If all our actions can be justified, then there is no more morality. We can rationalize the worst crimes.
8. If 3b. is true, then there is no morality. (from 6 and 7)

Of course this just presupposes what a free will defender will deny, that if it is wrong for me to do act X, then it is wrong for God to allow me to do act X. The freedom of my choice is supposed to be a good, which would be lost if God were to determine my action in such a way as to keep me from doing that act, even though the act itself would be sinful.

Francois Tremblay's argument from evil

At 8:02 PM, Francois Tremblay said…

Define moral righteousness (a weaker claim than omnibenevolence) as such:

"Posit a volitional being B. When making a choice where there is at least one perfect alternative and the cost of the implementation of all alternatives are identical (or in the case of a god, where the cost is automatically zero), B will choose a perfect alternative if B is morally righteous."

(1) If a god exists, then it is Creator.
(2) If a god exists, then it is morally righteous.
(3) Given (1) and (2), a god would not have created a non-perfect universe (defined as containing natural or human evil/suffering).
(4) We observe natural and human evil/suffering.
(5) No god exists. (from 3 and 4)

So a perfect God would have created a perfect universe? This of course means that a universe completely under his own control would be a better universe than one which contains creatures that have freedom in the libertarian sense. If creatures have freedom in the libertarian sense, then it's possible that those creatures will make it less than perfect despite God's wanting it to be perfect.

Further, if the universe isn't God himself, and God is the standard of perfection, then the universe, however good, would fall short of the standard of perfection, namely God.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Reply to Comments on the Problem of Evil

Steven: Are we going to see numbered premises for the argument from reason any time soon?
Re-read chapters 3 and 4 of my book for several numbered-premise arguments from reason. Comments like these reinforce the suspicion that you don't know how to read.
1) God, by definition, is omni-benevolent.
2) An omni-benevelont being, by definition, does all possible acts of benevolence in its power to do
3) Not all acts of benevolence are done.
4) Therefore, there is no omni-benevlent God.

No, an omnibenevolent being does not do all possible acts of benevolence in its power to do. Some acts of benevolence do harm to the world as a whole. For example, it would be a benevolent act, but not a beneficial act, to give a serial killer money to help him leave town unnoticed.

John Loftus wrote: My mother could be able to do this by merely eliminating the whole predator/prey relationship among her creatures. She would additionally make all of her creatures vegetarians and she would then reduce the mating cycles and sex urges of her creatures so that there is plenty of vegetation to go around.

Would she do that? Do you know all the effects that such a different world would include, including the outcome of all the free choices that have been made, and will be made, in this world, compared to all the free choices that have been made in your "veggie world?" Could an adequate ecosystem exist under those circumstances? Unless you have become omniscient, John, you can't possible know that. And if you were omniscient, then we have at least established that an omniscient being exists.

My mother could do better if she was omnipotent!

How do you know that, taking everything into consideration that God must take into consideration in creating a world, she could do better.

Hallq: I'm surprised you need to write a post to get this question answered. It's like writing a blog post to ask someone to explain the cosmological argument, or the problem of induction. My initial thought was to recommend you seek out a philosophy 101 text book.

There are numerous formulations of the argument from evil, some logical, some evidential, some probabilistic. There's Rowe's version, and there's Draper's. Are you claiming that we know all the premises to be true for sure, or that we think they they are only probably true. You need more than a PHI 101 textbook to make those choices.

John again: Vic, I actually think you're right here. What is there in the Bible, and not merely a philosophically defined "greatest conceivable being" that requires an omnibenevolent being? I do not believe the Bible requires that of her God.

But then you run into a different problem, don't you? Doesn't the Biblical God seem more like an ancient potentate then what God can be conceived to be?

I am taking God to be the being who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosover believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. Doesn't sound like an ancient potentate to me. But does that being have to create the best of all possible worlds, or at least the best possible world in his power to create. Maybe he does, but this is typically assumed without argument, and I am asking for the argument.

Blue Devil Knight: Similarly, but tangentially, shouldn't there be a lot more miracles if the Christian God existed?

And for each one that is performed we can always ask for one more. Maybe there is not best of all possible worlds.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Carrier compares himself to Aristotle, or does he?

When I first read Carrier's comparison of himself to Aristotle, I thought that all he meant was that you didn't have to be a credentialed philosopher in order to be able to participate in philosophical dialogue, and that Aristotle, for example, would not meet today's criteria of an academic philosopher. I make that kind of claim myself on behalf of C. S Lewis. But I'm not so sure now. What did he mean?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Challenge to Advocates of the Argument from Evil

I'd like to make an methodological point in discussions of the problem of evil, a part of the Plantingian legacy. If the theist begins by offering explanations of the existence of evil, and the discussion focuses on the adequacy of these explanations, the theist puts themselves at an unfair disadvantage. If I as a defender of the argument from reason were to say that since we don't now have a detailed explanation of the evolution of the brain, the argument from reason succeeds, I would be rightly criticized. The same principle applies here to the argument from evil. The correct procedure, it seems to me, is to ask the atheist to present his/her argument against theism. Is it a logical argument, a probabilistic argument, or some other kind of argument. Show me the argument, let me see what the premises are and what the conclusion is. Then an explanation, or a possible explanation, for evil might be required. Or not, depending on the structure of the argument. So I'm going to issue a challenge to atheists. Give me your version of the argument from evil. Numbered premises please.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Maverick Replies to Blue Devil Knight

Bill Vallicella respondes to Blue Devil Knight on logical truths.

Friday, July 21, 2006

What the h*** are you expecting God to do?

In C. S. Lewis's Problem of Pain, Lewis asks "What are you expecting God to do?" (instead of having people go to hell?). This atheist website offers some suggestions to the Almighty. Though, if God doesn't exist, it's going to be tough for him to take them. HT: Ed Babinski.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

An appendix to the redated post on Carrier

Other naturalists have been more modest in the way in which they reconcile intentionality and naturalism. They maintain that intentional states may not be reducible to physical states, as Carrier appears to be arguing, but they do think that these states are supervenient upon physical states. They very often agree that there is a mystery as to how intentional states can exist in a physicalistic universe. This is certainly a possibility for the naturalist, but it runs the risk, as we shall see, of making propositional states epiphenomenal, that is, causally irrelevant. This will be a serious problem for the naturalist, since a naturalist presupposes the existence of mental causation when they argue on behalf of naturalism.

Redated post on the Psychological Relevance of Logical Laws

IV. Argument from the Psychological Relevance of Logical Laws
My fourth argument concerned the role of logical laws in mental causation. In order for mental causation to be what we ordinarily suppose it to be, it is not only necessary that mental states be causally efficacious in virtue of their content, it is also necessary that the laws of logic be relevant to the production of the conclusion. That is, if we conclude “Socrates is mortal” from “All men are mortal” and “Socrates is a man, then no only must we understand the meanings of those expressions, and these meanings must play a central role in the performance of these inferences, but what Lewis call the ground-and-consequent relationship between the propositions must also play a central role in these rational inferences. We must know that the argument is structured in such a way that in arguments of that form the conclusion always follows from the premises. We do not simply know something that is the case at one moment in time, but we know something that must be true in all moments of time, in every possible world. But how could a physical brain, which stands in physical relations to other objects and whose activities are determined, insofar as they are determined at all, by the laws of physics and not the laws of logic, come to know, not merely that something was true, but could not fail to be true regardless of whatever else is true in the world.
We can certainly imagine, for example, a possible world in which the laws of physics are different from the way they are in the actual world. We can imagine, for example, that instead of living in a universe in which dead people tend to stay dead, we find them rising out of their graves on a regular basis on the third day after they are buried. But we cannot imagine a world in which, once we know which cat and which mat, it can possibly be the case that the cat is both on the mat and not on the mat. Now can we imagine there being a world in which 2 + 2 is really 5 and not 4? I think not.
It is one thing to suggest that brains might be able to “track” states of affairs in the physical world. It is another thing to suggest that a physical system can be aware, not only that something is the case, but that it must be the case; that not only it is the case but that it could not fail to be the case. Brain states stand in physical relations to the rest of the world, and are related to that world through cause and effect, responding to changes in the world around us. How can these brain states be knowings of what must be true in all possible worlds?
Consider the difficulty of going from what is to what ought to be in ethics. Many philosophers have agreed that you can pile up the physical truths, and all other descriptive truths from chemistry, biology, psychology, and sociology, as high as you like about, say, the killings of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, and you could never, by any examination of these, come to the conclusion that these acts we really morally wrong (as opposed to being merely widely disapproved of and criminalized by the legal system). Even the atheist philosopher J. L. Mackie argued that if there were truths of moral necessity, these truths, and our ability to know those truths, are do not fit well into the naturalistic world-view, and if they existed, they would support a theistic world-view. Mackie could and did, of course, deny moral objectivity, but my claim is that objective logical truths present an even more serious problem for naturalism, because the naturalist cannot simply say they don’t exist on pain of undermining the very natural science on which his world-view rests.
Arguing that such knowledge is trivial because it merely constitutes the “relations of ideas” and does not tell anything about the world outside our minds seems to me to be an inadequate response. If, for example, the laws of logic are about the relations of ideas, then not only are they about ideas that I have thought already, but also they are true of thoughts I haven’t even had yet. If contradictions can’t be true because this is how my ideas relate to one another, and it is a contingent fact that my ideas relate to one another in this way, then it is impossible to say that they won’t relate differently tomorrow.
Carrier responds somewhat differently. He says:
For logical laws are just like physical laws, because physical laws describe the way the universe works, and logical laws describe the way reason works—or, to avoid begging the question, logical laws describe the way a truth-finding machine works, in the very same way that the laws of aerodynamics describe the way a flying-machine works, or the laws of ballistics describe the way guns shoot their targets. The only difference between logical laws and physical laws is that the fact that physical laws describe physics and logical laws describe logic. But that is a difference both trivial and obvious.What this amounts to, it seems to me, is a denial of the absolute necessity of logic. If the laws of logic just tell us how truth-finding machines work, then if the world were different a truth-finding machine would work differently. I would insist on a critical distinction between the truths of mathematics, which are true regardless of whether anybody thinks them or not, and laws governing how either a person or a computer ought to perform computations. I would ask “What is it about reality that makes one set of computations correct and another set of computations incorrect?”
William Vallicella provides an argument against the claim that the laws of logic are empirical generalizations:
1. The laws of logic are empirical generalizations. (Assumption for reductio).
2. Empirical generalizations, if true, are merely contingently true. (By definition of ‘empirical generalization’: empirical generalizations record what happens to be the case, but might have not been the case.)
3. The laws of logic, if true, are merely contingently true. (1 and 2)
4. If proposition p is contingently true, then it is possible the p be false. (True by definition)
5. The laws of logic, if true, are possibly false. (From 3 and 4)
6. LNC is possibly false: there are logically possible worlds in which p & ~p is true.
7. But (6) is absurd (self-contradictory): it amounts to saying that it is logically possible that the very criterion of logical possibility, namely LNC, be false. Therefore 1 is false, and its contradictory, the clam that the laws of logic are not empirical generalizations, is true.
Logic, I maintain, picks out features of reality that must exist in any possible world. We know, and have insight into these realities, and this is what permits us to think. A naturalistic view of the universe, according to which there is nothing in existence that is not in a particular time and a particular place, is hard-pressed to reconcile their theory of the world with the idea that we as humans can access not only what is, but also what must be.

From John Searle's Rediscovery of the Mind on physicalist reductions of intentionality

So far no attempt at naturalizing content has produced an explanation (analysis, reduction) of intentional content that is even remotely plausible. ...A symptom that something is radically wrong with the project is that intentional notions are inherently normative. They set standards of truth, rationality, consistency, etc., and there is no way that these standards can be intrinsic to a system consisting entirely of brute, blind, nonintentional causal relations. There is no mean component to billiard ball causation. Darwinian biological attempts at naturalizing content try to avoid this problem by appealing to what they suppose is the inherently teleological [i.e., purposeful], normative character of biological evolution. But this is a very deep mistake. There is nothing normative or teleological about Darwinian evolution. Indeed, Darwin's major contribution was precisely to remove purpose, and teleology from evolution, and substitute for it purely natural forms of selection.54

54 Searle, John, Rediscovery,. 50-51.

Redated Post on the Argument from Mental Causation

The Argument from Mental Causation
I. The Argument from Mental Causation
The third of my arguments is the Argument from Mental Causation. If naturalism is true, even if there are propositional states like beliefs, then these states have to be epiphenomenal, without a causal role. Now careful reflection on rational inference, if we think about it, commits us to the idea that one mental event causes another mental event in virtue of its propositional content.
Now if events are caused in accordance with physical law, they cause one another in virtue of being a particular type of event. A ball breaks a window in virtue of being the weight, density, and shape that it is in relation to the physical structure of the window. Even if it is the baseball that Luis Gonzalez hit against Mariano Rivera that won the 2001 World Series, its being that ball has nothing to do with whether or not it can break the window now.
So let us suppose that brain state A, which is token identical to the thought that all men are mortal, and brain state B, which is token identical to the thought that Socrates is a man, causes the belief that Socrates is mortal. It isn’t enough for rational inference that these events be those beliefs, it is also necessary that the causal transaction be in virtue of the content of those thoughts. If anything not in space and time makes these thoughts the thoughts that they are, and if naturalism is true, then the propositional content is irrelevant to the causal transaction that produces the conclusion, and we do not have a case of rational inference. In rational inference, as Lewis puts it, one thought causes another thought not by being, but by being seen to be the ground for it. But causal transactions in the brain occur in virtue of the brain’s being in a particular type of state that is relevant to physical causal transactions. Only that property of the brain can be relevant to what the brain does, according to a naturalistic account of causation.
What this means is that those forms of substance materialism that accept property dualism invariably render the “mental” properties epiphenomenal. If the physical properties are sufficient to produce the physical effect, then the mental properties are irrelevant unless they are really physical properties “writ large,” so to speak. And mental states that are epiphenomenal cannot really participate in rational inference.
Carrier’s account of mental causation clearly presupposes a reductive, rather than a nonreductive materialism. He writes:
Every meaningful proposition is the content or output of a virtual model (or rather: actual propositions, of actual models; potential propositions, of potential models). Propositions are formulated in a language as an aid to computation, but when they are not formulated, they merely define the content of a nonlinguistic computation of a virtual model. In either case, a brain computes degrees of confidence in any given proposition, by running its corresponding virtual model and comparing it and its output with observational data, or the output of other computations. Thus, when I say I "accept" Proposition A this means that my brain computes a high level of confidence that Virtual Model A corresponds to a system in the real world (or another system in our own or another's brain, as the case may be); while if I "reject" A, then I have a high level of confidence that A does not so correspond; but if I "suspend judgment," then I have a low level of confidence either way. By simply defining "proposition" as I have here, Proposition 3 follows necessarily from Propositions 1 and 2. Therefore naturalism can account for this as well.
But I see a serious problem with this whole concept. In order for the content of the mental state to be relevant to the production of a rational inference, it seems to me that everyone who believes that Socrates is mortal would have to be in the same type of brain state as everyone else who believes that Socrates is mortal. Is this plausible?
But more than that, here again we find Carrier explaining one kind of mental activity in terms of another mental activity and then explaining it “naturalistically” by saying “the brain” does it. My argument is, first and foremost, that something exists whose activities are to be fundamentally explained in intentional and teleological terms. Whether we call it a brain, a part of the brain, a soul, a banana, or a bowling ball is not essential to my argument; if the fundamental explanations are intentional, then I have established all that I am trying to establish.

Monday, July 17, 2006

This is a redated post on Carrier on intentionality

Thursday, November 10, 2005
Carrier on The Argument from Intentionality
This is a version of part of the paper I presented in England. I am bumping it up to today to help understand some of the intentionality issues we have been discussing.

I. The Argument from Intentionality
The first of the arguments that I presented is the Argument from Intentionality. Physical states have physical characteristics, but how can it be a characteristic of, say, some physical state of my brain, that it is about dogs Boots and Frisky, or about my late Uncle Stanley, or even about the number 2. Can’t we describe my brain, and its activities, without having any clue as to what my thoughts are about?
To consider this question, let us give a more detailed account of what intentionality is. Angus Menuge offers the following definition:
1) The representations are about something
2) They characterize the thing in a certain way
3) What they are about need not exist
4) Where reference succeeds, the content may be false
5) The content defines an intensional context in which the substitution of equivalents typically fails
So, if I believe that Boots and Frisky are in the back yard, this belief has to be about those dogs, I must have some characterization of those dogs in mind that identifies them for me, my thoughts can be about them even if, unbeknownst to me, they have just died, my reference two those two dogs can succeed even if they have found their way into the house, and someone can believe that Boots and Frisky are in the back yard without believing that “the Repperts’ 13 year old beagle” and “the Repperts’ 8 year old mutt” are in the back yard.
It is important to draw a further distinction, a distinction between original intentionality, which is intrinsic to the person possessing the intentional state, and derived or borrowed intentionality, which is found in maps, words, or computers. Maps, for example, have the meaning that they have, not in themselves, but in relation to other things that possess original intentionality, such as human persons. There can be no question that physical systems possess derived intentionality. But if they possess derived intentionality in virtue of other things that may or may not be physical systems, this does not really solve the materialist’s problem.
The problem facing a physicalist account of intentionality is presented very forcefully by John Searle:
Any attempt to reduce intentionality to something nonmental will always fail because it leaves out intentionality. Suppose for example that you had a perfect causal account of the belief that water is wet. This account is given by stating the set of causal relations in which a system stands to water and to wetness and these relations are entirely specified without any mental component. The problem is obvious: a system could have all those relations and still not believe that water is wet. This is just an extension of the Chinese Room argument, but the moral it points to is general: You cannot reduce intentional content (or pains, or "qualia") to something else, because if you did they would be something else, and it is not something else." (Searle, Rediscovery p. 51).
Admittedly, this is merely an assertion of something that needs to be brought out with further analysis. It seems to me that intentionality, as I understand it, requires consciousness. There are systems that behave in ways such that, in order to predict their behavior, it behooves us to act as if they were intentional systems. If I am playing chess against a computer, and I am trying to figure out what to expect it to play, then I am probably going to look for the moves it think are good and expect the computer to play those. I act as if the computer were conscious, even though I know that it has no more consciousness than a tin can. Similarly, we can look at the bee dances and describe them in intentional terms; the motions the bees engage in enable the other bees to go where the pollen is, but it does not seem plausible to attribute a conscious awareness of what information is being sent in the course of the bee dance. We can look at the bees as if they were consciously giving one another information, but the intentionality as-if intentionality, not the kind of original intentionality we find in conscious agents. As Colin McGinn writes:

I doubt that the self-same kind of content possessed by a conscious perceptual experience, say, could be possessed independently of consciousness; such content seems essentially conscious, shot through with subjectivity. This is because of the Janus- faced character of conscious content: it involves presence to the subject, and hence a subjective point of view. Remove the inward-looking face and you remove something integral—what the world seems like to the subject.If we ask what the content of a word is, the content of that word must be the content for
some conscious agent; how that conscious agent understands the word. There may be other concepts of content, but those concepts, it seems to me, are parasitical on the concept of content that I use in referring to states of mind found in a conscious agent. Put another way, my paradigm for understanding these concepts is my life as a conscious agent. If we make these words refer to something that occurs without consciousness, it seems that we are using the by way of analogy with their use in connection with our conscious life.

The intentionality that I am immediately familiar with is my own intentional states. That's the only template, the only paradigm I have. I wouldn't say that animals are not conscious, and if I found good evidence that animals could reason it would not undermine my argument, since I've never been a materialist about animals to begin with. Creatures other than myself could have intentional states, and no doubt do have them, if the evidence suggests that what it is like to be in the intentional state they are in is similar to what it is like to be in the intentional state that I am in.

In reading Carrier’s critique of my book we find, in his response to the argument from intentionality, terms being used that make sense to me from the point of view of my life as a conscious subject, but I am not at all sure what to make of them when we start thinking of them as elements in the life of something that is not conscious. His main definition of “aboutness” is this:
Cognitive science has established that the brain is a computer that constructs and runs virtual models. All conscious states of mind consist of or connect with one or more virtual models. The relation these virtual models have to the world is that of corresponding or not corresponding to actual systems in the world. Intentionality is an assignment (verbal or attentional) of a relation between the virtual models and the (hypothesized) real systems. Assignment of relation is a decision (conscious or not), and such decisions, as well as virtual models and actual systems, and patterns of correspondence between them, all can and do exist on naturalism, yet these four things are all that are needed for Proposition 1 to be true.
Or consider the following:
Returning to my earlier definition of aboutness, as long as we can know that "element A of model B is hypothesized to correspond to real item C in the universe" we have intentionality, we have a thought that is about a thing.
Because the verbal link that alone completely establishes aboutness--the fact of being "hypothesized"--is something that many purely mechanical computers do.
Or again
Language is a tool--it is a convention invented by humans. Reality does not tell us what a word means. We decide what aspects of reality a word will refer to. Emphasis here: we decide. We create the meaning for words however we want. The universe has nothing to do with it--except in the trivial sense that we (as computational machines) are a part of the universe.
Now simply consider the words, hypothesize and decide that he uses in these passages. I think I know what it means to decide something as a conscious agent. I am aware of choice 1 and choice 2, I deliberate about it, and then consciously choose 1 as opposed to 2, or vice versa. All of this requires that I be a conscious agent who knows what my thoughts are about. That is why I have been rather puzzled by Carrier’s explaining intentionality in terms like these; such terms mean something to me only if we know what our thoughts are about. The same thing goes for hypothesizing. I can form a hypothesis (such as, all the houses in this subdivision were built by the same builder) just in case I know what the terms of the hypothesis mean, in other words, only if I already possess intentionality. That is what these terms mean to me, and unless I’m really confused, this is what those terms mean to most people.
Again, we have to take a look at the idea of a model. What is a model? A model is something that is supposed to resemble something else. But if we explain “X is about Y” at least partially in terms of “X is a model for Y,” I really don’t think we’ve gotten anywhere. How can X be a model for Y if it isn’t about Y in the first place.

Nevertheless we may be able to work though the critique and find how he proposes to naturalize the concepts.
Material state A is about material state B just in case “this system contains a pattern corresponding to a pattern in that system, in such a way that computations performed on this system are believed to match and predict behavior in that system.”
In correspondence with me Carrier said this:
As I explain in my critique, science already has a good explanation on hand for attentionality (how our brain focuses attention on one object over others). Combine that with a belief (a sensation of motivational confidence) that the object B that we have our attention on will behave as our model A predicts it will, and we have every element of intentionality.
But I am afraid I don’t see that this naturalization works. My objection to this is that in order for confidence to play the role it needs to play in Carrier's account of intentionality that confidence has to be a confidence that I have an accurate map, but confidence that P is true is a propositional attitude, which presupposes intentionality. In other words, Carrier is trying to bake an intentional cake with physical yeast and flour. But when the ingredients are examined closely, we find that some intentional ingredients have been smuggled in through the back door.

Here is another illustration:
The fact that one thought is about another thought (or thing) reduces to this (summarizing what I have argued several times above already): (a) there is a physical pattern in our brain of synaptic connections physically binding together every datum about the object of thought (let's say, Madell's "Uncle George"), (b) including a whole array of sensory memories, desires, emotions, other thoughts, and so on, (c) which our brain has calculated (by various computational strategies) are relevant to (they describe or relate to) that object (Uncle George), (d) which of course means a hypothesized object (we will never really know directly that there even is an Uncle George: we only hypothesize his existence based on an analysis, conscious and subconscious, of a large array of data), and (e) when our cerebral cortex detects this physical pattern as obtaining between two pieces of data (like the synaptic region that identifies Uncle George's face and that which generates our evidentially-based hypothesis that the entity with that face lives down the street), we "feel" the connection as an "aboutness" (just as when certain photons hit our eyes and electrical signals are sent to our brain we "feel" the impact as a "greenness").
Now did you notice the word “about” in step A of Carrier’s account of intentionality? If there is something in the brain that binds together everything about Uncle George, and that is supposed to explain how my thought can be about Uncle George, then it seems pretty clear to me that we are explaining intentionality in terms of intentionality.

What I think the deepest problem is in assigning intentionality to physical systems is that when we do that norms of rationality are applied when we determine what intentional states exist, but normative truths are not entailed by physical facts. In the realm of ethics, add up all the physical, chemical, biological, psychological, and sociological facts about a murder for hire, and nothing in that description will entail that it was a wrongful act. Similarly, scientific information about what is will not tell you what an agent ought to believe, but we need to know what an agent ought to believe in order to figure out what he or she does believe. According to Searle, for example, intentionality cannot be found in natural selection, because “intentional standards are inherently normative,” but “there is nothing normative about Darwinian evolution.” So any attempt to naturalize intentionality will end up bringing intentionality in through the back door, just as Carrier’s account does. When you encounter a new or unfamiliar attempt to account for intentionality naturalistically, look it over very carefully, and you should be able to find our where the bodies are buried.
posted by Victor Reppert @ 3:56 PM

At 10:22 PM, Dogtown said…

I hate to continue to be a one-trick pony, but I think reading Dretske would help Carrier out of some of his problems. I think Carrier is on the right track, but he needs some more theoretical machinery to discharge his obligations to use physical yeast and flour when baking his intentional cake.

At 10:38 PM, Steven Carr said…

Victor writes 'There can be no question that physical systems possess derived intentionality.'

How can a system which lacks all intentionality gain intentionality?

What intentionality does an unconscious man have? None whatsoever. Even his mind lacks all intentionality.

So how does an unconscious man regain intentionality?

What exists that could kick-start the intentionality of an unconscious mind? Increasing brain activity?

Rather more likely than the idea that an unconscious man has a soul that can intend to regain intentionality.

At 10:04 AM, Victor Reppert said…

Dogtown: I'm sure Dretske buries the bodies deeper than does Carrier. But I'm convinced they too will be found. (Actually, the phrase was used by Bill Hasker when we had a faculty discussion group at Notre Dame on Explaining Behavior, by Dretske).

I realize this, as it stands, is a bald assertion.

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Explanatory Compatibility and the Argument from Reason

VIII. Unlimited Explanatory Compatibility and the Noncausal View of Reasons
This is a point at which Anscombe, in her brief response to Lewis’s revised argument objects, claiming that Lewis did not examine the concept of “full explanation” that he was using. Anscombe had expounded a “question relative” conception of what a “full explanation” is; a full explanation gives a person everything they want to know about something. John Beversluis explicates this idea as follows, using the string quartets of Beethoven as his example:
Fully means “exhaustively” only from a particular point of view. Hence the psychologist who claims to have fully explicated the quartets from a psychological point of view is not open to the charge of self-contradiction if he announces his plans to attend a musicologist’s lecture on them. In music, as in psychology, the presence of non-rational causes does not preclude reasons. In fact, there is no limit to the number of explanations, both rational and non-rational, that can be given why Beethoven composed his string quartets…All of these “fully explicate: the composition of his string quartets. But they are not mutually exclusive. They are not even in competition.39 This is an explication of the idea of an unlimited explanatory compatibilism. It is further supported if one accepts, as Anscombe did when she wrote her original response to Lewis, the Wittgensteinian doctrine that reasons-explanations are not causal explanations at all. They are rather what sincere responses that are elicited from a person when he is asked what his reasons are. As Anscombe puts it:
It appears to me that if a man has reasons, and they are good reasons, and they genuinely are his reasons, for thinking something--then his thought is rational, whatever causal statements can be made about him.40
Keith Parsons adopted essentially the same position in response to my version of the argument from reason when he wrote:
My own (internalist) view is that if I can adduce reasons sufficient for the conclusion Q, then my belief that Q is rational. The causal history of the mental states of being aware of Q and the justifying grounds strike me was quite irrelevant. Whether those mental states are caused by other mental states, or caused by other physical staets, or just pop into existence uncaused, the grounds still justify the claim.41
But the claim that reasons-explanations are not causal explanations at all seems to me to be completely implausible. As Lewis puts it,
Even if grounds do exist, what have they got to do with the actual occurrence of belief as a psychological event? If it is an event it must be caused. It must in fact be simply one link in a causal chain which stretched back to the beginning and forward to the end of time. How could such a trifle as lack of logical grounds prevent the belief’s occurrence and how could the existence of grounds promote it?42
If you were to meet a person, call him Steve, who could argue with great cogency for every position he held, you might on that account be inclined to consider him a very rational person. But suppose that on all disputed questions Steve rolled dice to fix his positions permanently and then used his reasoning abilities only to generate the best-available arguments for those beliefs selected in the above-mentioned random method. I think that such a discovery would prompt you to withdraw from him the honorific title “rational.” Clearly the question of whether a person is rational cannot be answered in a manner that leaves entirely out of account the question of how his or her beliefs are produced and sustained.
As for the question of explanatory compatibility, the issues related to the question of whether one causal explanation can exclude one another or whether they can be compatible is rather complex. But in the case of the string quartets of Beethoven, surely the example is a flawed one, because what is being discussed here is different aspects of the composition. The urge to compose them requires a different explanation from the decisions Beethoven made about what melody to compose, how to put the harmony together, and so on. If Beethoven was obsessed with writing for string instruments, we still do not know why he chose quartets as opposed to, say, cello solos.
Second, it seems clear that there have to be some limits on explanatory compatibility. Consider how we explain how present came to appear under the Christmas tree. If we accept the explanation that, in spite of the tags on the presents that say Santa Claus, the presents were in fact put there by Mom and Dad, this would of course conflict with the explanation in terms of the activity of Santa Claus. An explanation of disease in terms of microorganisms is incompatible with an explanation in terms of a voodoo curse. In fact, naturalists are the first to say, “We have no need of that hypothesis” if a naturalistic explanation can be given where a supernatural explanation had previously been accepted.
Further, explanations, causal or noncausal, involve ontological commitments. That which plays an explanatory role is supposed to exist. So if we explain the existence of the presents under the Christmas tree in terms of Santa Claus I take it that means that Santa Claus exists in more than just a non-realist “Yes, Virginia,” sense.
Even the most non-reductivist forms of materialism maintain that there can be only one kind of causation in a physicalist world, and that is physical causation. It is not enough simply to point out that we can give different “full” explanations for the same event. Of course they can. But given the causal closure thesis of naturalism there cannot be causal explanations that require non-materialist ontological commitments. The question that is still open is whether the kinds of mental explanations required for rational inference are compatible with the limitations placed on causal explanations by naturalism. If not, then we are forced to choose between saying that there are no rational inferences and accepting naturalism. But naturalism is invariably presented as the logical conclusion of a rational argument. Therefore the choice will have to be to reject naturalism.
Lewis maintains that if we acquired the capability for rational inference in a naturalistic world it would have to have arisen either through the process of evolution or as a result of experience. However, he says that evolution will always select for improved responses to the environment, evolution could do this without actually providing us with inferential knowledge. In addition, while experience might cause us to expect one event to follow another, to logically deduce that we should expect one effect to follow another is not something that could be given in experience.
39 Beversluis, Search, 73-74.
40 Anscombe, Metaphysics, 229.
41 Parsons, “Further Reflections” 101.
42 Lewis, Miracles, p. 16.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Argument from Reason and Lewis's Post-Anscombe Revision

IV. The Argument of the First Edition
In the first edition of Miracles, Lewis presents the version of the argument from reason that Anscombe criticized. We can formalize it as follows:
1. No thought is valid if it can be fully explained as the result of irrational causes.
2. If naturalism is then all beliefs can be explained in terms of irrational causes.
3. Therefore, if naturalism is true, then no thought is valid.
4. If no thought is valid, then the thought, “materialism is true,” is not valid.
5. Therefore, if materialism is true, then the belief “materialism is true” is not valid.
6. A thesis whose truth entails the invalidity of the belief that it is true ought to be rejected, and its denial ought to be accepted.
7. Therefore, naturalism ought to be rejected, and its denial accepted.
This is the argument that drew the criticisms of Roman Catholic philosopher and
Wittgenstein student Elizabeth Anscombe. This critique is significant because of way in which it forced Lewis to develop and refine his arguments. Entirely too much attention has been paid to the putative psychological effects of this controversy, and conclusions concerning Lewis’s success as a Christian apologist have been drawn on the basis of his supposed emotional reaction to Anscombe’s challenge. Very often this is done without regard to the content of this exchange, and often this is done by people who show by their discussion to have no real understanding of the relevant philosophical issues. Such a procedure, as Bertrand Russell once said of a thesis in the philosophy of mathematics, has all the advantages of theft over honest toil.
V. Anscombe’s First Objection: Irrational vs. nonrational.
Is it correct for Lewis to talk about physically caused events as having irrational causes? Irrational beliefs, one would think, are beliefs that are formed in ways that conflict with reason: wishful thinking, for example, or through the use of fallacious arguments. On the other hand, when we speak of a thought having a non-rational cause, we need not be thinking that there is any conflict with reason.
While this is claim seems correct, it hardly puts an end to the argument from reason. The problem arises when we consider what a naturalist typically believes. Let’s take the theory of evolution as an example. Naturalists are always big on evolution, since invariably they must assign to the evolution process the task of producing the incredibly complex features, say, the human eye. Traditionally, the existence of the human eye was thought to be so efficient and complex that it had to be the handiwork of God. After all, the artificial replacement of vision by modern medicine is still the stuff of science fiction. Nevertheless, the naturalist is undaunted; she is persuaded that it is all the result of natural selection. However, a naturalist does not merely need to believe that we are the product of evolution through random variation and natural selection, she also has to believe that there was a process of scientific inference that led Charles Darwin to reach his conclusions about natural selection and how it works. Naturalism really does require the existence of rational inferences in order to be legitimate. Now a rational inference is a rational process. A valid or sound argument is an argument on paper in which the premises are true and the conclusion follows logically and inevitably from the premises and therefore must also be true. A rational inference, however, is not just a paper argument, it is an act of knowing on the part of a person that recognizes the content of the premises, accepts the premises as true, perceives the logical relationship between the premises, and concluded that the conclusion must be true as well. In short, the naturalist must believe not merely that their own beliefs were not produced by irrational causes, they must maintain that the conclusion that evolution is true was produced, in the mind of Charles Darwin and in their own mind, as the result of a rational process. Otherwise there would be no reason to prefer the deliverances of the natural sciences to a blind acceptance of the Book of Genesis as a way of forming one’s beliefs concerning the origin of species.
For that reason, it is possible to restate Lewis’s argument in such a way that it does not make reference to irrational causes, and indeed in Lewis’s revised chapter the phrase “irrational causes” does not appear.
1. No belief is rationally inferred if it can be fully explained in terms of nonrational causes.
2. If naturalism is true, then all beliefs can be fully explained in terms of nonrational causes.
3. Therefore, if naturalism is true, the no belief is rationally inferred.
4. If any thesis entails the conclusion that no belief is rationally inferred, then it should be accepted and its denial accepted.
5. Therefore, naturalism should be rejected and its denial accepted.
VI. Anscombe’s Second Objection: Skeptical Threats
Anscombe also objected to the idea that Lewis had argued that, if naturalism were true, then reasoning would not be valid. She asks, “What can you mean by valid beyond what would be indicated by the explanation you give for distinguishing between valid and invalid reasoning, and what in the naturalistic hypothesis prevents the explanation form being given or meaning what it does.” This is a paradigm case argument, and the point is this: We can ask whether this particular argument is a good one, but does it really make sense to argue that reasoning might itself be invalid? Anscombe maintains that since the argument that some particular piece of reasoning is invalid involves contrasting it with some other kinds of reasoning that are valid, the question “Could reasoning really be valid?” is really a nonsense question.
One way of using the argument from reason would be to use it as a skeptical threat argument. The idea is that if naturalism is true we will be unable to refute skeptical arguments against reasoning in general. The problem here is that it is far from clear that anyone, naturalist or not, can refute skepticism about reasoning, nor is it considered any great merit for any metaphysical theory that it would be possible to refute this kind of thoroughgoing skepticism. And, if we need to refute skepticism in order to accept some world-view, then it is not at all clear that theism will do that either. If we use our theistic beliefs to defend the basic principles of reasoning, then we would have to formulate that into an argument and then presuppose our ordinary canons of logical evaluation in the presentation of that very argument, thereby begging the question.
Rather, one can, it seems to me, present the argument from reason as a best explanation argument. One should assume, at least to begin with, that human beings do reach true conclusions by reasoning, and then try to show, given the fact that people do reach true conclusions by reasoning, that this is best explained in terms of a theistic metaphysics as opposed to a naturalistic metaphysics. Now if we present the argument in this way, and then an opponent comes along and says “I see that your argument presupposes that we have beliefs. I don’t think we do, so your argument fails, then we can reply to him by saying that if there are no beliefs then you don’t believe what you’re saying. Consequently the status of your own remarks as assertions is called into question by your own thesis that there are no beliefs, and that this is going to end up having a devastating effect on the very sciences on which you base your arguments. Presenting the argument in this way, it seems to me, gets around the problems based on the Paradigm Case argument.
VII. Anscombe’s Third Objection: The ambiguity of “Why,” “Because,” and “Explanation
The third and main Anscombe objection to Lewis’s argument is that he fails to distinguish between different senses of the terms “why,” “because” and “explanation.” There are, she suggests, four explanation-types which have to be distinguished.
1. Naturalistic causal explanations, typically subsuming the event in question under some physical law.
2. Logical explanation, showing the logical relationship between the premises and the conclusion.
3. Psychological explanations, explaining why a person believes as he/she does.
4. Personal history explanations, explaining how, as a matter of someone’s personal history, they came to hold a belief.
She suggests that arguments of different types can be compatible with one another. Thus a naturalistic causal explanation might be a complete answer to one type of question with respect to how someone’s belief came to be what it was, but that explanation might be compatible with an explanation of a different type.
Now what is interesting is that Lewis, in reformulating his own argument, not only draws the distinctions on which Anscombe had insisted; he actually makes these distinctions the centerpiece of his revised argument. He makes a distinction between Cause and Effect relations on the one hand, and Ground-and-Consequent relations on the other. Cause and effect relations say how a thought was produced, but ground-and-consequent relations indicate how thoughts are related to one another logically. However, in order to allow for rational inference, there must be a combination of ground-consequent and cause-effect relationships which, Lewis says, can’t exist if the world is as the naturalist says that it is.
Claiming that a thought has been rationally inferred is a claim about how that thought was caused. Any face-saving account of how we come to hold beliefs by rational inference must maintain that “One thought can cause another thought not by being, but by being, a ground for it.”
However, there are a number of features of thoughts as they occur in rational inference that set them apart from other beliefs.
Acts of thinking are no doubt events, but they are special sorts of events. They are “about” other things and can be true or false. Events in general are not “about” anything and cannot be true or false….Hence acts of inference can, and must be considered in two different lights. On the one hand they are subjective events in somebody’s psychological history. On the other hand, they are insights into, or knowings of, something other than themselves. So here we already have three features of acts of thinking as they occur in rational inference. First, these thoughts have to be about something else, and second, they can be true or false. Second, their propositional contents must cause other thoughts to take place. But there is more:
What from the first point of view is a psychological transition from thought A to thought B, at some particular moment in some particular mind is, from the thinker’s point of view a perception of an implication (if A, then B). When we are adopting the psychological point of view we may use the past tense, “B followed A in my thoughts.” But when we assert the implication we always use the present—“B follows from A.” If it ever “follows from” in the logical sense it does so always. And we cannot reject the second point of view as a subjective illusion without discrediting human knowledge. So now, in addition to the three features of thoughts as they occur in rational inference, we can add a fourth, that is, that the act of inference must be subsumed under a logical law. And the logical law according to which one thought follows another thought is true always. It is not local to any particular place or time; indeed laws of logical obtain in all possible worlds.
Lewis then argues that an act of knowing “is determined, in a sense, by what is known; we must know it to be thus because it is thus.” P’s being true somehow brings it about that we hold the belief that P is true. Ringing in my ears is a basis for knowing if it is caused by a ringing object; it is not knowledge if it is caused by a tinnitus. As Lewis puts it:
Anything that professes to explain our reasoning fully without introducing an act of knowing thus solely determined by what it knows, is really a theory that there is no reasoning. But this, as it seems, is what Naturalism is bound to do. It offers what professes to be a full account of our mental behaviour, but this account, on inspection, leaves no room for the acts of knowing or insight on which the whole value of our thinking, as a means to truth, depends.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A llink to an old post on the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism

The Concept of Naturalism

This is familiar to most of you, but I am including it in a paper I am writing.

The Concept of Naturalism
Exactly what does Lewis mean by naturalism? Very often the terms Naturalism and Materialism are used interchangeably, but at other times it is insisted that the two terms have different meanings. Lewis says,
“What the naturalist believes is that the ultimate Fact, the thing you can’t go behind, is a vast process of time and space which is going on of its own accord. Inside that total system every event (such as your sitting reading this book) happens because some other event has happened; in the long ru, because the Total Event is happening. Each particular thing (such as this page) is what it is because other things are what they are; and so, eventually, because the whole system is what it is.”22
As a presentation of naturalism, however, this might be regarded as inadequate by contemporary naturalists, because it saddles the naturalist with a deterministic position. The mainstream position in contemporary physics involves an indeterminism at the quantum-mechanical level. Lewis himself thought that this kind of indeterminism was really a break with naturalism, admitting the existence of a lawless Subnature as opposed to Nature, but most naturalists today are prepared to accept quantum-mechanical indeterminism as part of physics and do not see it as a threat to naturalism as they understand it. Some critics of Lewis have suggested that his somewhat deficient understanding of naturalism undermines his argument. Lewis, however, insisted on “making no argument” out of quantum mechanics and expressed a healthy skepticism about making too much of particular developments in science that might be helpful to the cause of apologetics.23
However, contemporary defenders of the Argument from Reason such as William Hasker and myself have developed accounts of materialism and naturalism that are neutral as to whether or not physics is deterministic or not. Whatever Lewis might have said about quantum-mechanical indeterminacy, the problems he poses for naturalism arise whether determinism at the quantum-mechanical level is true or not.25
Materialism, as we understand it, is committed to three fundamental theses.
1) The basic elements of the material or physical universe function blindly, without purpose. Man is the product, says Bertrand Russell, of forces that had no prevision of the end they were achieving. Richard Dawkins’ exposition and defense of the naturalistic world view is called The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a World Without Design26 not because no one ever designs anything in a naturalistic world, but because, explanations in terms of design must be reduced out in the final analysis. Explanation always proceeds bottom-up, not top-down.
2) The physical order is causally closed. There is nothing transcendent to the physical universe that exercises any causal influence on it.
3) Whatever does not occur on the physical level supervenes on the physical. Given the state of the physical, there is only one way the other levels can be.
The argument from reason is concerned with what philosophers today call prepositional attitudes, states such as believing that proposition p is true, desiring that proposition p be true, doubting that proposition p be true, etc, and how these prepositional attitudes come to be caused. There are three types of materialism, at least so far as propositional states are concerned. One type is called eliminative materialism, which argues that propositional attitudes like belief and desire do not exist. Another kind is called reductive materialism, according to which mental states can be analyzed or reduced in physical terms. A third kind is non-reductive materialism, according to which mental states are not to be analyzed in physical terms, but given the state of the physical, there is only one way the mental can be. All of these positions are consistent with the definition of materialism given above.
As for naturalism, it is hard to see how a world-view could be naturalistic without satisfying the above definition. Perhaps a world could be naturalistic if there was no matter or if the science describing the most basic level of analysis is not physics. However, whatever objections there might be to materialism based on the argument from reason would also be objections to these forms of naturalism. So although the argument is primarily directed at materialism, so far as I can tell, there is no form of naturalism that fares any better against the argument from reason than materialism.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Balfour and the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism

The Argument from Reason did not originate with Lewis. Something like it can be traced all the way back to Plato, and Augustine had an argument that said that our knowledge of eternal and necessary truths. Descartes maintained that the higher rational processes of human beings could not be accounted for in materialistic terms, and while Kant denied that these considerations did not provide adequate proof of the immortality of the soul, he did think they were sufficient to rule out any materialist account of the mind. However, naturalism or materialism as a force in Western thought did not become really viable until the 1859, when Charles Darwin published the Origin of Species.
The earliest post-Darwinian presentation of the Argument from Reason that I am familiar with, and one that bears a lot of similarities to Lewis’s argument, is found in Prime Minister Arthur Balfour’s The Foundations of Belief. Lewis never mentions The Foundations of Belief in his writings, but he does say in one place that Balfour’s subsequent book Theism and Humanism is “a book too little read.” According to Balfour the following claims follow from the “naturalistic creed.”
1) My beliefs, in so far as they are the result of reasoning at all, are founded on premises produced in the last resort by the ‘collision of atoms.”
2) Atoms, having no prejudices in favour of the truth, are as likely to turn out wrong premises as right ones; nay, more likely, inasmuch as truth is single and error manifold.
3) My premises, therefore, in the first place, and my conclusions in the second, are certainly untrustworthy, and probably false. Their falsity, moreover, is a kind which cannot be remedied; since any attempt to correct it must start from premises not suffering under the same defect. But no such premises exist.
4) Therefore, my opinion about the original causes which produced my premises, as it is an inference from them, partakes of their weakness; so that I cannot either securely doubt my own certainties or be certain about my own doubts.
Balfour then considers a “Darwinian rebuttal, which claims that natural selection acting as a “kind of cosmic Inquisition, will repress any lapses from the standard of naturalistic orthodoxy. The point was made years later by Antony Flew as follows:
[A]ll other things being equal and in the long run and with many dramatic exceptions, true beliefs about our environment tend to have some survival value. So it looks as if evolutionary biology and human history could provide some reasons for saying that it need no be a mere coincidence if a significant proportion of men’s beliefs about their environment are in face true. Simply because if that were not so they could not have survived long in that environment. As an analysis of the meaning of ‘truth’ the pragmatist idea that a true belief is one which is somehow advantageous to have will not do at all. Yet there is at least some contingent and non-coincidental connection between true beliefs, on the one hand, and the advantage, if it be an advantage, of survival, on the other.
However, Balfour offers this reply to the evolutionary argument:
But what an utterly inadequate basis for speculation we have here! We are to suppose that powers which were evolved in primitive man and his animal progenitors in order that they might kill with success and marry in security, are on that account fitted to explore the secrets of the universe. We are to suppose, that the fundamental beliefs on which these powers of reasoning are to be exercised reflect with sufficient precision remote aspects of reality, though they were produced in the main by physiological processes which date from a stage of development when the only curiosities which had to be satisfied were those of fear and those of hunger.
Interestingly, Balfour’s argument here finds surprising support from Darwin himself. In a letter to William Graham Down, Darwin wrote:
the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?
As can be seen Balfour’s presentation of the argument, and his consideration of counter-arguments, anticipated much of the debate on this issue that is still going on a century after his book was written.

Monday, July 10, 2006

A critique of anti-psi skeptics

HT: J. D. Walters. This is an article saying the critics of psychic phenomena (the CSICOPs) are not the impartial investigators they claim to be. I know that Jim Lippard, who supports the conclusions of these skeptical investigators, has also been critical of their excesses, so I would be interested in his response to this paper.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Lewis on the Goodness of God

Lewis on Divine Goodness
Lewis, of course, is not content to develop the C. S. Lewis defense, and I am not even sure he would concur with Talbott that the defense is a sufficient refutation of all arguments from evil. His next task is to develop and clarify the concept of divine goodness. On the one hand, he maintains that what we mean by good in referring to God must be commensurable with what we mean by good in creatures, and that we must not allow ourselves to say that our black is God’s white. So, for example, we are not free to admit that some act of God is senselessly cruel, and then say that our black is God’s white. On the other hands, our understanding of what is right or wrong may stand in need of correction. He says:
If God is wiser than we His judgment must differ from us on many things, and not least on good and evil. What seems to us good may therefore not be good in His eyes, and what seems to us evil may not be evil.36
Does this mean, as Beversluis charges, that at the end of the day our black really does become God’s white? According to Talbott:
When considering a disagreement about the moral consequences of an act, one must distinguish carefully between two very different cases: one in which all of the relevant facts (such as the exact circumstances in which the act was performed) are known, and those in which some of the relevant facts are not known. A primitive who concludes that men in white coats bearing long needles are cruel to children need not be operating from a moral framework that differs substantially from our own; nor would it be surprising to find that a loving father in a primitive culture wants to “protect” his child from the shot of penicillin that a missionary doctor, filled with the love of God, wants to administer. The loving father simply lacks some important information.37
Lewis does maintain that the problem of evil will be insoluble so long a certain popular meanings are attached to the terms “good” and “love.” Beversluis maintains that Lewis is redefining these terms, abandoning their ordinary usage in order to defend God against the problem of evil. However, what Lewis is in fact doing is arguing that these popular meanings are in fact corruptions of the proper uses of the terms. In fact, Lewis wrote a book entitles Studies in Words in which he explained how the content of some words could be damaged or weakened in popular usage, so that their meaning has been lost.38 And Plato’s Socrates was never satisfied with “popular meanings” of words, which is why he questioned people as to whether they mean what they really meant by the words they used, concluding that they not only did not know what they were talking about, but they compounded that ignorance with the further ignorance of thinking that they did.39
About the terms “good” and “love.” Lewis writes:
By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively his lovingness, and in this we may be right. And by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness—the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a god who said of anything we happened to like doing, “What does it matter so long as they are contented.40
Lewis then argues that God wants to give people the only happiness that he can provide, the happiness of a life in fellowship with himself, the kind of happiness that can last for an eternity. As such, God cannot be satisfied with a creaturely “satisfaction” that does not deepen a person’s connection to God. He also analyses love and discovers that the higher the love, the more the lovers expects from the beloved. The higher the level of love, the “tougher” that love is on the one who is loved. However, this does not involve any alteration of what the terms “good” and “love” mean upon reflection; it is only the recognition of defective popular meanings that have been attached to these words.
Lewis then explores the human condition, arguing that the way in which humans behave is in profound need of correction, attempting to recover what he calls “the old sense of sin.” Here he attempts to undermine a wide range of arguments people make for the claim that they are not such bad people after all. Why do bad things happen to good people? If Lewis had heard that question, he would argue against the supposition that such people are good. While many people are not outwardly bad compared to other people, He writes:
I have been aiming at an intellectual, not an emotional, effect: I have been trying to make the reader believe that we actually are, at present, creatures whose character must be in some respects, a horror to God, as it is, when we really see it, a horror to ourselves. This I believe to be a fact: and I notice that the holier a man is, the more fully he is aware of that fact. Perhaps you have imagined that this humility in the saints is a pious illusion at which God smiles. That is a most dangerous error. It is theoretically dangerous, because it makes you identify a virtue (i.e. a perfection) with an illusion (i.e. an imperfection), which must be nonsense. It is practically dangerous because it encourages a man to mistake his first insights into his own corruption for the first beginnings of a halo around his silly head. No, depend upon it: when the saints say that they—even they, are vile, they are recording truth with scientific accuracy.41
Lewis then goes on to discuss present an admittedly speculative theory about how human beings might have gone from a state of obedience to God to one of disobedience, the doctrine of the fall of man.

36 Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p. 37.
37 Talbott, “C. S. Lewis and the Problem of Evil,” p. 44.
38 Lewis, Studies in Words (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2nd ed., 1990).
39 James Petrik, “In Defense of C. S. Lewis’s Analysis of God’s Goodness, ” International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion (1994), 46-47.
40 Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p. 40
41 Ibid. p. 67.

Stand up for Oz, uh er Kansas

(206) 292-0401 X107


TOPEKA, KS – “Should public schools censor scientific evidence just because it
challenges Darwin’s theory of evolution?” asks Robert Crowther, director of
communications for Discovery Institute a non-partisan public policy center. “Of
course not. Teachers should present all the scientific evidence, including both
the strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory, and this is exactly what
the Kansas state science standards call for.”

At the behest of Kansas teachers and parents the Discovery Institute in July
will launch the website to help defend Kansas’ science
standards. At the website people who support teaching both the scientific
strengths and weaknesses of evolution will be able to sign a petition supporting
the state’s science standards.

In 2005 the Kansas State Board of Education revised the state’s science
standards to require students to learn the full range of scientific evidence for
and against biological and chemical evolution, after hearing testimony from 23
scientists and scholars about how such evidence should be presented in the

“There is now a concerted and organized effort to undermine those standards, and
ultimately to repeal them and replace them with dogmatic, Darwin-only science
standards,” said Crowther.

According to the Institute, polls consistently show that an overwhelming
majority of Americans believe that when biology teachers present the scientific
evidence supporting Darwin’s theory of evolution, they should also teach the
scientific evidence against it.

In their rationale for adopting the standards the Kansas State Board of
Education stated: “Regarding the scientific theory of biological evolution, the
curriculum standards call for students to learn about the best evidence for
modern evolutionary theory, but also to learn about areas where scientists are
raising scientific criticisms of the theory.”

“There are some in Kansas, and around the country, now using their voices to try
to tear down Kansas’ science standards and stifle discussion of the scientific
evidence they don’t like,” added Crowther. “We think that the Kansas science
standards are the best in the nation and so we’re committed to helping preserve
them, which is why we started the website.”

According to Crowther, Kansas’s approach to teaching evolution will better
inform students about the facts of the scientific evidence in biology, and also
require them to critically analyze the evidence so they will gain the critical
thinking skills necessary to become good scientists. Four other states
–Minnesota, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and South Carolina– have standards
requiring students to learn about critical analysis of evolution already in

Scientists continue to raise questions about evolutionary theory, and in recent
years a growing number of scientists have raised significant issues challenging
various aspects of biological and chemical evolution. Students deserve to learn
about the views of these dissenting scientists, both so they can better
understand the scientific evidence, and also so they can formulate the critical
thinking skills needed to be good scientists.

Discovery Institute is a non-profit, public policy center that studies issues
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A New essay I'm starting on Lewis's Miracles

After the famous Liar, Lunatic or Lord trilemma, the second most-discussed apologetic argument advanced by C. S. Lewis must be the argument against naturalism found in the third chapter of his book Miracles: A Preliminary Study, commonly known as the argument from reason. This is, I suppose, largely my fault, since I wrote a book, C. S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason,1 dedicated to the discussion and defense of that argument. The argument was the subject of Lewis’s famous exchange with Elizabeth Anscombe,2 which resulted in Lewis developing a revised version of the argument. Besides my own efforts, the argument has been defended by more recent philosophers such as William Hasker,3 Richard Purtill,4 and Angus Menuge.5 What is more, perhaps the best-known Anglo-American philosopher of religion, Alvin Plantinga,6 has developed a line of argument that bears a family resemblance to the argument Lewis defended. The argument has, however, had its critics. Not only Anscombe, but also Antony Flew7 and John Beversluis8 have criticized Lewis’s version of it, Jim Lippard,9 Keith Parsons,10 Theodore Drange,11 and Richard Carrier12 have criticized my efforts, and Plantinga’s argument has attracted a whole host of philosophical opponents.13
In this essay, I will begin by discussing the role Lewis’s argument plays in the context of his book on miracles. I will then proceed to discuss the argument’s antecedents, particularly its place in the apologetic writings of the British Prime-Minister and philosopher Arthur Balfour.14 I will then present the argument of Lewis’s first edition, explain Anscombe’s criticisms, and then present the argument as it appears in the revised edition of Miracles. I will attempt to show that it is not the case, as Beversluis maintains, that Anscombe’s objections can be pressed further, and that Lewis’s revised argument does nothing to meet them.15 Rather, the argument, in my judgment does successfully survive Anscombe’s objections. After that I will discuss some recent versions of the argument, both mine and those of others, and will then respond to also discuss some objections that have been put to it by recent writers.
I. The Argument from Reason and its place in Lewis’s Miracles
Lewis was first and foremost a Christian apologist, and not merely a theistic
apologist. What this means is that Lewis does not typically follow the “classical” model of apologetics in which it is deemed necessary first to prove the existence of God and then to prove the truth of various Christian doctrines. Lewis’s Miracles was written in response to a request by Dorothy Sayers, who wrote him and told him that there were no good books on the subject. Lewis called the book Miracles: A Preliminary Study, and this immediately raises the question “preliminary to what?” That answer is, preliminary to the study of biblical scholarship. An innocent Christian, (or non-Christian) might pick up a book on biblical scholarship and assume that the scholarship there presented reflects the state of the evidence for and against a particular miracle claim found in Scripture. What he or she may not be aware of, however, is that the evidence for or against a miracle claim is typically assessed against the backdrop of some presuppositions on the part of the scholar concerning the antecedent likelihood of the miraculous. Some scholars and historians begin their investigations of Scripture with presuppositions that rule out accepting any miracle story as literally true. Rudolph Bultmann, an enormously influential German biblical scholar with whose works Lewis was familiar, wrote:
"It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles. We may think we can manage it in our own lives, but to expect others to do so is to make the Christian faith unintelligible and unacceptable to the modern world"16
Similarly, earlier this year, in a debate about the Resurrection of Jesus with William Lane Craig, the eminent biblical scholar Bart Ehrman maintained:
What are miracles? Miracles are not impossible. I won’t say they’re impossible. You might think they are impossible and, if you do think so, then you’re going to agree with my argument even more than I’m going to agree with my argument. I’m just going to say that miracles are so highly improbable that they’re the least possible occurrence in any given instance. They violate the way nature naturally works. They are so highly improbable, their probability is infinitesimally remote, that we call them miracles. No one on the face of this Earth can walk on lukewarm water. What are the chances that one of us could do it? Well, none of us can, so let’s say the chances are one in ten billion. Well, suppose somebody can. Well, given the chances are one in ten billion, but, in fact, none of us can. What about the resurrection of Jesus? I’m not saying it didn’t happen; but if it did happen, it would be a miracle. The resurrection claims are claims that not only that Jesus’ body came back alive; it came back alive never to die again. That’s a violation of what naturally happens, every day, time after time, millions of times a year. What are the chances of that happening? Well, it’d be a miracle. In other words, it’d be so highly improbable that we can’t account for it by natural means. A theologian may claim that it’s true, and to argue with the theologian we’d have to argue on theological grounds because there are no historical grounds to argue on.17
Biblical scholars who follow the lead of Bultmann or Ehrman begin their investigations with the presupposition that any story about what happened in biblical times that contains no miracle is better than an story about those same events which involves God’s miraculous intervention. This view was given its classic expression in David Hume’s famous “Of Miracles,” section X of his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. The casual reader might think a scholar such as Bultmann or Ehrman has discovered that a non-miraculous account of, say, the events surrounding the first Easter, is preferable to a miraculous account, when in fact these scholars feel obligated to presuppose, going into their investigations, that miraculous explanations must be avoided.
Bringing such presuppositions to the study of Scripture, in Lewis’s view, threatened the very essence of Christianity. The Apostle Paul said “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” and “we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 19). Thinking clearly and consistently about miracles is critical to understanding the issues surrounding Christianity. Lewis maintained that unlike religions like Hinduism and Buddhism, the miraculous element in Christianity is absolutely critical. “Demythologized” understandings of Christianity, for Lewis, drained Christianity of its content.
People like Bultmann and Ehrman, who study the founding events of Christianity with a deliberate disregard for the miraculous element, use a principle of methodological naturalism when investigating biblical texts, that is, in the investigation of those texts only natural processes should be considered, and nothing that would involve the supernatural. What they maintain, essentially, is that, at least for the purpose of investigating historical events, they are obligated to view the physical world as if it were causally closed.
Lewis begins his book on miracles by pointing out that one cannot simply look at the evidence to determine whether some miracle or other has occurred, one must consider whether the antecedent probability of the miraculous before deciding this. One decision that a person has to do with whether or not one believes that there is anything other than nature, and if so, whether that undermines the causal closure of the physical world.

Monday, July 03, 2006

A Very Belated Response to Alan Cook

More than half a year ago, I wrote a defense of Descartes' "I think therefore I am" argument. (I redated it recently).
I attempted to defend Descartes's claim against the objections of people like Bertrand Russell, who says that Descartes was entitled only to claim "there are thoughts" as opposed to an "I" that does the thinking, and that the claim that there can be thoughts without a thinker is as incoherent as the idea that there is pain without a sufferer.

Alan Cook responded essentially by saying that a pain is an item in mental space, and the "awfulness" of pain can be overcome through meditation; the meditiation technique being a process of disowning the pain; the pain becomes a something in one's mental space but ceases to be painful.

I'd like to look at this issue by quoting some interesting comments by C. S. Lewis that concern the same issue, from The Problem of Pain p. 32.

"If fire comforts that body at a certain distance, it will destroy it when the distance is reduced. Hence, even i a perfect world, the necessity for those danger signals which the pain-fibers of our nerves are apparently designed to transmit. Does that mean that an inevitable element of evil, (in the form of pain) is inevitable in any world? I think not: for while it may be true that the least sin is an incalculable evil, the evil of pain depends on degree, and pains below a certain intensity are not feared or resented at all. No one minds the process "warm--beautifully hot--it stings" which warns him to draw his band from exposure to the fire; and, if I may trust my own feeling, a slight aching in the legs as we climb into bed after a good day's walking is pleaurable."

These considerations lead Lewis to make a distinction on p. 90.

"But the truth is that the word Pain has two senses which must now be distinguished. a. A partricular kind of sensation, probably conveyd by specialised nerve fibers and, recongnizable to the patient as that kind of sensation whether he dislikes it or not, (he faint ache in my limbs would be recofnized as an ache even if I didn't object to it). b. Any experience, whether physical or mental, which the patient dislikes."

Cook has some comments about pain as a motivator:

"Another reason that the pain I experience seems peculiarly “mine” may have to do with the motivational role of pain. When we say “Smith is in pain”, is it not a conceptual truth that “Ceteris paribus, Smith wants to do something to alleviate or eliminate the pain”? I’m quite willing to grant that this may be a conceptual truth regarding the use of the ordinary-language concept of pain, but that only shows that that ordinary-language concept is radically deficient. What one comes to see is meditative experience is that most, if not all, of what we interpret in naive experience as the aversion to pain is actually “mental chatter”, internal verbalization of phrases like “Damn, that hurts! I wish that would go away. Could I get away with moving my leg a little bit? I was an idiot to come here and put myself through this.” When one listens to that chatter for long enough, it eventually gets boring and something else in the mind thinks “Oh, shut up already. We’ve had enough of your grouching.” (This thought may or may not itself take the form of internal verbalization; at times one simply finds that the complaining voice has quieted down for a while, leaving it uncertain whether the rest of the mind got tired of listening or the complainer just got worn out.) And none of this is any way implies that “It stops hurting as much”, that the pain has decreased in intensity, because it’s evident that the sensation located in that region of space hasn’t changed at all.

If we are talking about pain in sense b, this does not seem to make sense at all. It is impossiible for there to be a state that a person dislikes if there is no person to dislike it. On this conception of pain the idea of "pain without a sufferer" is analytically incoherent.

And are pains in the particular locations of space that we suppose that they are, in the same sense that, for example, a green stapler can be behind my back and still green? Isn't it possible to have a pain "located" (phenomenologically) in body part that no longer exists? I can (phenomenologically) have a pain in the butt even though I have no butt. The pain in the butt is relative to the way it appears to my self, and if there is no self, then we really can't make sense of the idea of a pain in the butt.

Anyway, my apologies to Alan for this very very long delay.

A link to an old post of mine on Calvinism and the problem of evil

And here is triablogue's reply

Dmitry Chernikov replies to Infidel in Exile


This recent blog entry criticizes C.S. Lewis’s famous argument for the divinity of Christ. As will be recalled, Lewis proposes a trilemma: that Christ had to be either a liar, or lunatic, or, failing these, Lord. Since it is clear from Scripture that Jesus was neither a liar nor a madman, we are forced to conclude that he was Lord and God.

Now I am not a Biblical scholar, so I will not respond to the “Infidel in Exile”’s arguments dealing with whether or not Jesus really called himself God. I will simply assume that he did based on such Biblical passages as “Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.’” (Jn 8:58), “‘The Father and I are one.’” (Jn 10:30), and “Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.’” (Jn 14:9) I will therefore confine my replies to his logical arguments.

Infidel writes: “Could a liar be a great moral teacher? Of course! All the great moral teachers of history were human beings, and like all humans, must have been liars.” First, setting aside the strange claim that all people (including presumably Infidel himself) are liars, it should be clear that not all lies are made equal. How many “great moral teachers” in human history pronounced themselves the infinite, transcendent, immortal God? Perhaps one can lie about one’s youthful indiscretions and still remain a moral man, but to falsely claim divinity would be something that even Infidel should think is extraordinary. This kind of a lie would be utterly irresponsible on Jesus’s part if he was a mere human, for it would entail His infallibility and therefore the absolute correctness of His moral teachings. But no great moral reformer has dared to claim such infallibility, except, of course, the Pope, but only when speaking ex cathedra on faith and morals, and only in virtue of the truth of Christ’s divinity. This very claim, therefore, would justify calling Jesus a bad guy, if He was a liar.

Second, one of the consequences of the belief in Jesus’s divinity has been a 2,000-year-old worldwide religion that has claimed billions of adherers and a vast body of theological and philosophical certainties. If Jesus lied about himself, then the Christian religion is a lie, and he is responsible for it. (And don’t tell me that Jesus’s disciples or the later generations have “misunderstood” Jesus’s message. The Church has developed the Christian doctrine pretty well.) Only the devil could have deceived so many people for so long.

Third, how was Jesus able to deceive his disciples? How was he able to convince erroneously so many people of his own divine/human nature? There must have been something very powerful about him. But the most powerful created being who is a deceiver is the devil. Hence that’s precisely what Jesus was if he was a liar.

Fourth, Jesus was accused of being a devil.

But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “This man drives out demons only by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons.” But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste, and no town or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself; how, then, will his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own people drive them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Mt 12:24-28)

His argumentation here seems unimpeachable. But could Jesus have been just a prophet to whom God had given power to perform great miracles? This is highly doubtful, because it would imply that God also approved of Jesus’s message of his own divinity. God would never have favored a man in such a way unless He also knew that he would not abuse the gifts horribly for his own ends.

Fifth, Jesus picked the worst environment in which to proclaim himself God. For the Jews were the least likely people to worship a mere man, and he would know that.

Finally, if Jesus was a liar, then he had to have been a tremendously cunning man. Yet he failed to realize that blaspheming by calling himself God would lead to his rejection, persecution, torture, and death. Alternatively, Infidel must assume that Jesus wanted to die. But that assumption seems dubious and without Scriptural support. Jesus seems highly rational and without any kind of mental sickness like a death wish. He predicts His death, but He does not welcome it.

The conclusion is that Jesus could not have been a liar. Now let us suppose that the second horn of the trilemma is true; that is, that Jesus was insane. Our author continues:

He might have sincerely believed in what he said. He might even have sincerely believed he was God. His followers might have believed it too. That sort of thing has happened before as well. But even if he were crazy, would that invalidate him as a great moral teacher? Crazy people are as likely to say intelligent and insightful things as anybody. After all, saying Jesus was a nut doesn’t really say anything about what kind of nut he was. He might have been a nut like Kurt Godel, one of the great philosophers of all time, who in his later years insisted on communicating with everyone by phone even if they were in the same room. Yet his social strangenesses did not prevent him from being a truly great thinker and teacher.

If Jesus was mad, then one of his mental problems was delusions of grandeur of the most outrageous sort. He did not imagine himself to be the emperor of Rome but God. Now once again, how common is that delusion? In fact, in order to believe himself to be God in human flesh, Jesus would have to deceive himself into believing to be omniscient, omnipotent, immortal, already blessed with the vision of God, etc. Are these beliefs common to the mentally ill? Infidel would have to show that they are, yet he has not done so. And how reasonable would it have been for Jesus’s followers to believe their master’s claims unless he gave them very good reasons to do so?

But suppose that this ultimate delusion of grandeur is, in fact, a recognized form of psychopathology, a “divinity complex” of some sort. As Peter Kreeft points out,

Its character traits are well-known: egotism, narcissism, inflexibility, dullness, predictability, inability to understand and love others as they really are and creatively relate to others. In other words, this is the polar opposite of the personality of Jesus!

In addition, people who are victims of such an exaggerated self-status are very often proud and antinomian and therefore wicked. We read in the Bible, for example, that “The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.” (Ex 33:11) But we know also that “Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” (Num 12:3) If Jesus falsely thought of himself as God, then he would have no need to be humble (except insofar as he thought he needed to be obedient to the Father). How likely would it be then for his teachings to be coherent and to correspond to reality? Falsely imagining oneself to be divine would poison all of one’s actions and likely result in insane doctrines, as it did, for example, for the 13th century Brethren of the Free Spirit, whose motto was “if the eye sees and covets, let the hand grasp it.” Yet we read about Jesus that “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” (Lk 2:40)

Our author continues: “Another problem with this point of view is that in fact there is nothing particularly divine about his teachings in any case; they can be found in the popular philosophy, Cynic and Stoic, of his day, and in the Old Testament.” But no one claims that it is Jesus’s moral teachings that compel our belief in his divinity. Rather, we are to infer it from the manner of his birth, his miracles, his fulfillment of prophecies, His revelations, his resurrection and ascension into heaven, from the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, and lastly from his character that makes Jesus’s self-understanding as a union of the divine and human natures in one person to be believable. Yet these teachings are nevertheless consistent with His divinity and inconsistent with his being a liar or a lunatic.

But suppose for the sake of argument that Jesus, being mad, was nevertheless able to avoid the bad character traits associated with his illness. There is once again the matter of the foregoing signs and wonders. From where could Jesus get the power to persuade the world of his nature and mission? Would God have blessed a madman in such a way? If Christ performed miracles, etc., then that is a sign of his divinity; if he did not perform miracles, then the conversion of billions completely without miracles is a miracle in its own right. (This is not my own argument; Aquinas makes the same one.)

Infidel’s final claim is that Jesus may have used the term “God” and “Son of God” as a metaphor for his secular kingship or claim to the throne. But in light of the life of Jesus taken as a whole, is it really plausible to suppose that he considered himself to be a merely secular ruler? Did he not argue that his kingdom was not of this world? (Jn 18:36) Did he not rebuke those who imagined him to be a secular deliverer of Israel from the Roman rule? Does he seem like a Caesar, afterwards deified? Does he look like the kind of a guy who would claw his way to power, all in order to tax, inflate, regulate, conscript, start wars, lie, and do the sort of things that governments do? Is his message “I will reform the government to make it more efficient?” I think not.

There are two other possibilities, viz., that Jesus was a kind of an Eastern guru and, the most popular idea nowadays, that the whole thing is a myth. I will not argue against these here. But it should be clear by now that Jesus could have been a lunatic either.