Friday, June 12, 2009

The Russell-Copleston Debate

Before there was William Lane Craig, there was...The Russell-Copleston debate. Who do you think won this one?

A redated post

50 comments:

unkle e said...

I read that debate years ago, and I always thought Russell was very weak on his response to the moral argument. His response that perception of moral values can be likened to our perception of colour seems very weak to me, and contradicts his own statements on his experience as a juror in the Nuremberg war crimes trials, when he said:

""I do not myself think very well of what I have said on ethics. I have suffered a violent conflict between what I felt and what I found myself compelled to believe .... I could not bring myself to think that Auschwitz was wicked only because Hitler was defeated, but the ghosts of [other philosophers] seemed to jeer at me and say I was soft."

As to who won, I think the question is probably meaningless - we can hardly score philosophical discussion like a football game.

SE said...

Of course, as far as Nuremberg goes, if the allies engaged in the act as well, it wasn't a war crime (aerial bombing killing tens of thousands of civilians, for example).

"If the Nuremberg laws were applied, then every post-war American President would have been hanged." - Noam Chomsky

Matthew said...

Interesting debate. Reminds me of Craig-Smith.

Ron said...

SE,

While it is true that the Allies and all the American presidents after WWII weren't charged with war crimes, to say that this proves that morality is relative doesn't make any sense. What Chomsky is claiming is that the American government has been acting in a morally rephrensible way, like the Nazis (though the Nazis were obviously worse).

There is nothing inconsistent with believing that both the Axis and Allied countries acted in morally bad ways, but the latter avoiding punishment for their failings in this earthly life.

SE said...

Dear Ron, good point, but I didn't say that it proves that morality is relative. I should have been clearer and written a longer comment, perhaps, but I thought I was just making a brief observation on the previous comment's reference to Nuremberg. It is relevant, though, in some sense, to those who still believe that even the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were morally justified (I've heard Christian Ministers and Jewish Rabbis defend it). Of course, I agree with Chomsky on this.

T'sinadree said...

Does anyone know if there's a recording of this debate (preferably in mp3 format)? I've found a portion of it on the Internet Archive. However, I can't seem to find it in its entirety.

Ron said...

SE,

Point taken. I realized after I made my comment that you didn't explicitly claim that morality is relative. As for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki I often wonder if there was a better way. The defenders of our (I"m an American) use of nuclear weapons claim that it saved American lives which would have been lost in the event of an invasion. However, I think it is possible that we could have blockaded Japan or used a nuke on an uninhabited part of Japan as a warning shot. I think the Japanese may have been close to surrender at that point, but that is something disputed.

Ilíon said...

R: "This raises a great many points and it is not altogether easy to know where to begin, but I think that, perhaps, in answering your argument, the best point at which to begin is the question of necessary being. The word "necessary" I should maintain, can only be applied significantly to propositions. And, in fact, only to such as are analytic -- that is to say -- such as it is self-contradictory to deny. I could only admit a necessary being if there were a being whose existence it is self-contradictory to deny."

But it *is* self-contradictory to deny that God exists. For, when one denies that there is a Creator, then one must necessarily end up denying that reason, consciousness, intelligence, will/agency, knowledge ... and one's own self ... exist.

J said...

Russell:

"""The difficulty of this argument is that I don't admit the idea of a necessary being and I don't admit that there is any particular meaning in calling other beings "contingent.".....

..... The word "necessary," it seems to me, is a useless word, except as applied to analytic propositions, not to things.

A rather critical point: the "necessitarians" (including Leibniz, apparently) often equivocate on "necessary" , or at least use it in a vague sense--. As Russell notes, necessarily true applies to analytic propositions not to matters of fact (though perhaps post Kripke, some might dispute that--- so might Newton): and the first cause (or lack thereof) involves empiricism and inference (ie scientists making inferences about big bang). For that matter, it's not contradictory to posit an infinite series of causes, or even "ex nihilo" without a monotheistic creator.

We might ask where the idea of necessarily true analytic propositions derives from...that said, Plato should not be mistaken as an ally of JHVH. Similarly, though humans at times seem to refer to an abstract idea of Justice that is not just consensual or man-made, that does not establish the truth of judeo-christianity.



""" when one denies that there is a Creator, then one must necessarily end up denying that reason, consciousness, intelligence, will/agency, knowledge ... and one's own self ... exist."""

Hah. Let's see a proof of that. There's no contradiction in claiming that complexity rose from simple beginnings, or that human intelligence developed over centuries (obviously the case in science): reason for that matter may be used by Chomsky or the KGB, or Klan, etc. It's not innately valuable.

Ilíon said...

Aww, J, you drank the Kool-Aid.

J said...

Ad hominem. Besides, given your sunday-schoolness: you are the Jim Jones KOol-aid drinker.

Russell has a bunch of other arguments showing the problems with belief in a monotheistic, omnipotent creator, and/or the supposed infallibility of scripture.

Ilíon said...

J, imagining himself intellectually superior ro me (and possibly consequently og more "worth" to "the universe"): "Hah. Let's see a proof of that."

J, Dude, we *both* know that you you don't want to see the proof of that. And whether you know it, I know that you *will not* see the proof, you will not engage it, you will not allow it to correct your erroneous view of the nature of reality.

Further, I know that even were you ever to begin to engage the argument, you will always think yourself able to escape its implications by retreating into irrationality (as you've already started to do: "It's not innately valuable.") -- but then, for me, helping persons such as you to retreat into irrationality is amusing.

Ilíon said...

yet another self-satisfied fool: "Ad hominem."

And ignorant, to boot.


"Besides, given your sunday-schoolness: you are the Jim Jones KOol-aid drinker."

And, apparently, a vampire (i.e. unable to see himself in the mirror).


"Russell has a bunch of other arguments showing ..."

Russel has nothing. He's shallow, when he's not self-deluded; though one does see the attraction to one such as you.

SE said...

Hah. Let's see a proof of that.

J, Ilíon doesn't deal in proofs, just his ridiculous assertions. Existence exists, and there is no need to posit an imaginary invisible magical being to explain it.

The Reification of Nothingness

Does the Christian acknowledge that he has a burden to prove his claims, or not? If he does, then he should get down to business and present his proof. If he does not acknowledge that he has a burden to prove his claims, then he should state his denial explicitly and be prepared to live with the results. He should realize that he has no basis to protest non-believers who do not accept his god-belief claims and remain in their non-belief. They certainly aren't going to "believe" on the theist's say so, and theists who renounce their burden to prove their claims need to learn how to get over this.-Dawson Bethrick

J said...

He's another xtian psychotic; even a mockery of his own code --ie turn the other cheek, Ilion. And yeah those are ad hominems.

Actually, Ilion, Russell had plenty. His points against the cosmological argument are mostly from Kant's first antinomy (intentionally, or otherwise)--which was against Leibniz's points on a "necessary" first cause. BR knows his Hume and voltaire as well (ie Candide). He's aware of the fallibility issue.

Did Kant have nothing either, genius?

J said...

IlionSqueak:

....Further, I know that even were you ever to begin to engage the argument, you will always think yourself able to escape its implications by retreating into irrationality (as you've already started to do: "It's not innately valuable.")...yada yada yada

Ah I f-ed up and assumed we were dealing with a sane rational person: Ilion's a........ XtianBot--I suspect from like the Triablogue reichstag.


Fool, you don't even know what Copleston's arguments entail. Fr. Copleston was no biblethumping baptist type anyway, but catholic and Aristotelian (not to justify his points--they are not "necessary"--but he knew what argumentation consisted of. At least Papists error with taste and dignity).

unkle e said...

Dear J & SE

Since Vic has re-posted, I might as well re-enter the fray.

I am a christian who nevertheless agrees with you that Ilion, unfortunately, resorts too often to scorn and ad hominem, and too little to grace and reason. I apologise for that.

As to proofs and the statement "Does the Christian acknowledge that he has a burden to prove his claims, or not? ", I think there are at least two answers to this.

1. A christian philosopher proposing an argument definitely has the responsibility, like all philosophers proposing arguments, to justify each premise and each proposition.

2. However an ordinary person has no such "burden of proof" if they are not attempting a proof. Life is more than philosophy and the questions of truth, God's possible existence and what he may expect of us are too important to remain simply the subject of abstract argument. Each of us makes choices about how we live our lives and what we believe, and we stand or fall by those choices. We should not (I believe) avoid those questions and responsibilities by sheltering behind someone else's inability to "prove" their viewpoint to us.

Thus, as a christian, I have chosen the belief that I find most reasonable, most in accordance with the facts. I couldn't prove it to anyone else any more than they could disprove it. But I can share my insights (such as they are!) with anyone interested. The choice remains theirs.

Best wishes.

legodesi said...

Copleston doesn't require that God be a necessary being, only that, relative to the data, it is necessary to explain something to refer to a being that has in itself its own reason for existing.

legodesi said...

Copleston's argument from contingency is identical to that of Dallas Willard, and Willard himself states that it doesn't require a necessary being.

Anonymous said...

i think the religious experience argument was a mistake.

Ilíon said...

Unkle E,
Does anyone, really, care what you think about me?

You don't have the *right* -- you passive-aggressive, you feminized homunculus --to "apologise" for me.

Ilíon said...

Anonymous: "i think the religious experience argument was a mistake."

It rather depends upon just what one is arguing, does it not?

If one is arguing, "I have had experience 'X,' therefore you ought to believe proposition 'Y'," then, of course, that is erroneous.

On the other hand, if one is arguing, "I have had experience 'X,' which is consistent with proposition 'Y' and inconsistent with proposition 'not-Y,' therefore I have rational justification for believing proposition 'Y'," then it it not erroneous.

J said...
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J said...

I accept your apology, and forgive you Frater Idion. Blesssed be, you and e.


The argument from contingency used by the clever Fr. copleston is still a variation on first cause argument. Which is not itself a necessary argument, but, I suggest an analogy--interesting, and even sublime in a religious sense, but not really a valid argument--more like the cosmic Pool Hall analogy.

Were you to walk into a pool hall right after some X broke the table--- and the balls were still rolling--you would quite reasonably infer that some person broke the table and caused the balls to move . Yet say there are no people standing, no one with a pool stick in hand. You would immediately think some one person sitting next to the table had racked up the balls, and broke the table. But you really DO NOT know that. You note balls falling into the pockets, and say, good shot! Then perhaps you ask who broke the table. Then one of the cronies next to the table smiles, and brings out a....Robotic pool player, from under his chair, or...offers some other strange explanation. Without direct knowledge of the actual beginning of the process you don't really know. Likewise, scientists assume the laws of physics, constants, chemical reactions are regular. But they don't KNOW that. Yes, it's far more likely than not. There are of course many other problems with the big bang (like matter created ex nihilo, itself contradicting normal science).

legodesi said...

J,
While we may not know the specific reason for the broken pool table, we know that it couldn't have occurred without a reason.

J said...

Say X walks in a few seconds after some kids from a hs physics course finished up some experiment. Yet the last break of table was from one of the underachievers who actually just dumped a bag of balls onto the table (the same number as used in normal game). there was no break, just a random scattering. Or it was two or three malcontents who did it, just by tossing balls onto table--OR, there's another robot pool player which drops out of the ceiling (pool hall boss flicks the switch) and just dumps balls, etc. Yes, it may have been caused--though even that is not necessary. And any speculations of who or what really broke the table are a posteriori, inductive --like the first cause argument itself.


The use of the word "reason" for physical events (e.g. Leibniz's celebrated "sufficient reason") also seem a bit vague, and manipulative. Is there a sufficient reason for the Moon??? One could explain what brought it about, offer hypotheses, discuss the science, and so forth, but there's not a "reason" behind it, in the sense of motivation. What's the reason behind the swine flu, cancer, STDs, earthquakes, so forth.

legodesi said...

"Yes, it may have been caused--though even that is not necessary."

J, you've hidden your bald assertion here like a needle in toothpicks. Your illustration has nothing to do with showing that it may not have been caused; it shows that its cause could have been one of many possible causes.

If the word "reason" bothers you, replace it with "explanation"

Eric said...

J, your cosmic Pool Hall analogy misses the point: Copleston's contingency argument doesn't attempt to explain any particular event, but existence itself. That is, he isn't trying to explain how the table broke, but how the table -- which exists contingently -- *is* at all.

J said...

No, you're mistaken. In the analogy, the balls are in motion; and that motion is--or seems to be---dependent on (contingent) someone breaking the table, yet someone coming late to the game does not know who, or what broke the table. (One could say the same about the construction of table, so forth).

The contingency argument (ie, contingency variation on First Cause argument) may be MACRO yet makes use of the same analogous, inductive type of reasoning. It's not necessary.

J said...
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J said...

Actually, I will grant that the argument from contingency is slightly different than the first cause argument: the contingency argument does allow for possibility of infinite series of causes. So not exactly standard theology.

That said, it is an inductive argument, like all of Aquinas, and pseudo-necessary, not to say from a pre-copernican, pre-galillean thinker. Believe if you will, but don't mistake Aquinas' little updates of Aristotle for proof.

(the ontological argument seems more akin to a deductive argument, but still has inductive aspects--what is "perfection" idea, existence, etc)

Ilíon said...

Do any of you remember 'Perezoso' (or 'Peresozo,' or whatever the spelling was)?

======
This post brought to you by "harro" -- which is kind of amusing in the circumstance.

J said...

Ah the subtle ad hom., attempt to defame, connect to a....bad guy. Not very christian of you, Frater Idion. I'm not saying "atheism is true," either--but I am saying no proof exists of God, no arguments, synthetic or analytic, can prove His supposed existence--ergo, rational theology is misguided.

Why not address the topic: Aquinas's arguments, including "contingency" are inductive,, and not necessary

T v F.

Show your work.

Eric said...

J, the point you seem to be trying to make with your Pool Hall example is the difficulty of reaching a conclusion about the nature of a cause from an inference from its effects (quote: "Without direct knowledge of the actual beginning of the process you don't really know").
However, as I said, your analogy is misguided. While we may have any number of alternative explanations for the break, we don't have a similar abundance of alternatives with respect to questions of contingent and necessary existence. Copleston is arguing against the notion that everything that exists does so contingently, and that therefore something must exist necessarily; your Pool Hall raises no such problem: it stops at the question of who or what broke the table, and doesn't even approach the question of whether who or what broke the table existed contingently or necessarily. Again, the analogy fails.

"I'm not saying "atheism is true," either--but I am saying no proof exists of God, no arguments, synthetic or analytic, can prove His supposed existence--ergo, rational theology is misguided."

J, provide us with an example of a *proof* from any discipline that reaches a substantial conclusion about the nature of reality (or of any similarly important subject). Or, to put my point another way, with a combination of your words and mine,

"I'm not saying [there are no moral truths], either -- but I am saying no proof exists of [moral realism], no arguments, synthetic or analytic, can prove [its] supposed existence -- ergo, rational [morality, i.e. moral reasoning] is misguided."

I hope the non sequitur is jarring enough to be obvious.

J said...

Copleston (following Aquinas nearly verbatim) does not himself offer a necessary argument for why supposedly contingent beings depend on a necessary being (begging the question of say whether planets, stars, chemical elements themselves are contingent or not). It's analogous reasoning--as with my analogy, which does have a direct bearing on any of the "causal" arguments of Aquinas (ie, covering the first three, at least, and really the supposed Design argument as well). They are not axiomatic, and certainly not supported by modern physics, which does offer instances of apparently undetermined events (gas molecules, and some isotopes, I believe)


The point on "morality" not a non sequitur at all, in fact sounds about like Hume on fact-value distinction. And really, Hume provided very powerful counter-arguments to about any theological argument you care to name, but Varsity Town has just forgot about them (and Hume himself). Hume--and Humism-- had few intellectual equals until Einstein, Russell and the quantum crew come along (and Vienna circle, perhaps).

Eric said...

"The point on "morality" not a non sequitur at all, in fact sounds about like Hume on fact-value distinction."

Nonsense. Hume argued that reasoning isn't sufficient for moral judgments: our 'sentiments' ultimately guide us here. My example (using your words, but substituting 'morality' for 'atheism' and the like) was meant to show the absurdity of moving from 'there are no proofs for X' to 'reasoning about X is futile.' I know that you try to bring Hume up at every point, but his moral philosophy is simply irrelevant here.

"And really, Hume provided very powerful counter-arguments to about any theological argument you care to name, but Varsity Town has just forgot about them (and Hume himself)."

Forgotten about them? You're kidding, right? Those of us who have studied or are studying this stuff in the classroom have read Hume, you know. It's sorta required. He is kinda popular. And yes, we have read his posthumously published Dialogues on Natural Religion. I was required to read it in a survey course, for goodness' sake! You're speaking from pure ignorance, J.

Oh, I notice that you avoided my request for a proof.

J said...
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J said...

the absurdity of moving from 'there are no proofs for X' to 'reasoning about X is futile.'

There are reports of chupacabras, loch ness monsters, aliens, astrology as well. But no proof, no reliable evidence. That doesn't mean that one can't speculate! But your speculations regarding The Chupacabra does not mean the ding-an-sich, a Chupie, exists, or is even plausible. Yes, the Gott-talk a bit more involved than that, but just macro-ized. (On the Ontological proof for the Chupacabra......, the perfect Chupie idea, must have a perfect cause!)

As far as your other claims, that theology is no different than natural sciences, or mathematics, that IS rubbish, to put it kindly. There are many analytical truths, and synthetic truths (freezing point of water is 0 celsius, etc). Consider the Pythagorean theorem, or Euclid, for starters. Basic syllogistic forms, modus ponens, trig, calculus, etc. Axiomatic. real knowledge, and needs no theology as back up (and pre-ju-xtian as well). That said, perhaps Zeus did help out.

Theology makes pretension to logos, though seems more suited to ethos (or pathos at times). I think there's something to be said for the ethos of the New Testament--Thomas Jefferson respected the wisdom of the Sermon on the Mount. Sad that most biblethumpers conservatives don't, nor do the altar-boy Guiliani types.

Eric said...

"There are reports of chupacabras, loch ness monsters, aliens, astrology as well. But no proof, no reliable evidence."

I think this evinces part of the problem here: you're confusing 'proof' with 'evidence.'

"That doesn't mean that one can't speculate!"

And this follows from your confusion above -- 'speculation' isn't all that's left sans 'proofs' and 'reliable evidence.' I have no 'proof' that my fiance loves me, and all of my 'evidence' is defeasible (evidence almost always is), but it doesn't follow that my conclusion is speculation.

"As far as your other claims, that theology is no different than natural sciences, or mathematics, that IS rubbish, to put it kindly."

And where did I claim that?

Eric said...

*fiancee

J said...

No. Read the post again: neither synthetic proof (ie empirical, based on evidence) NOR analytical, axiomatic proof. You have conflated the two.

Tthe Behe sort of Design freaks proceed via one sort of inductive theological argument, but again not at all necessary--a matter of plausibility, really--and even Behe says it doesn't prove the inerrancy of the Bible, or really have anything to do with Christianity, much less La Misa Brunch. Design seems more deistic, than religious. That said, even the sacred blood/cellular movement/ enzymes, etc that Behe praises also functions with Mansons and Katie Krenwinkles, Stalins and Hitlers. Or with great white sharks for that matter.

Eric said...

"No. Read the post again: neither synthetic proof (ie empirical, based on evidence) NOR analytical, axiomatic proof. You have conflated the two."

You've done it again. Remember your Hume, Mr. J! What would a 'synthetic proof' look like? (For a self proclaimed Humean, you sound an awful lot like a Kantian here!) A 'proof' is indefeasible; inductive conclusions about, say, the freezing point of water are defeasible (think 'grue'). I'm not endorsing this, mind you; I'm just following out the logical implications of your Humean philosophy.

J said...

Hume anticipated Kant--and influenced him-- with his schema, which distinguished relations of fact (synthetic, more or less, the natural sciences), from and relations of ideas (mathematics and logic). He did not mean to suggest the Kantian a priori--though I'm not sure he was a complete constructivist. I don't worship Hume, or any thinker. There are reasons to object to some of his skepticism (though it's not as skeptical as some biblethumpers think). Either way, theological "arguments" are not relations of ideas, ie mathematical. So they would seem to be matters of fact: though the facts are rather sketchy, if not non-existent (and that applies a fortiori to the supposed historical accuracy of scripture.).

We might agree with someone who finds Newtonian physics or the motion of the planets heavenly, majestic, awe-inspiring, supremely orderly, etc. but claiming it proves a monotheistic Being identical with the God of the Bible is another thing.

J said...
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J said...

A 'proof' is indefeasible; inductive conclusions about, say, the freezing point of water are defeasible (think 'grue').

Yes, I agree, for sake of argument. So the terminology-- synthetic "truths"--is a bit misleading. They are falsifiable, or subject to falsifiability; though I sort of doubt the freezing point of water will change. Newton's laws hold, except at the quantum or Einsteinian level. (Im a realist about science, for most part--though not about the scientific establishment). Yet at same time, physics, even if continuous, regular, predictable so forth is not the axiomatic knowledge of mathematics (or logic, really).

But in regards to much of natural science (say the continuing debates of evolution), so-called economic laws, "social sciences", etc Hume certainly raised a legitimate point (as Popper knew ), and touched on probability issues as well. There's also a Kuhnian sort of issue to Hume, overlooked by moralists: scientific laws/theories change, evolve---Einstein replaces Newton; Copernicus and Galilleo replaced Aquinas and Aristotle.

PhilosophyFan said...

"i think the religious experience argument was a mistake."

Have you read Kai-man Kwan's newer case for religious experience? Honestly, I went in expecting a weak argument and was pleasantly surprised (this from the new Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology)..

Anonymous said...

The new 'Blackwell Companion' does look interesting.
J: You are prob way more experienced than myself, but it is a little sad that you have to keep throwing in versions of an Argument from Evil / bad design, with 'great white sharks' and 'cancer' & such. It seems a bit ADD of you. Anyway, when Dembski's new book (The End of Christianity:Finding a Good God in an Evil World) comes out, take a peek I suggest.

J said...

Cancer, plagues, spanish influenza, swine flu, STDs all must be part of the Designer's perfection. Divine attributes!


See Quentin Smith's discussion of the POE. Rather hard to overcome, however mundane some believers find it.

I think Dembski, Behe and crew really want to bring back the nazi party, but are doing it in a rather subtle manner--through Jeeezuss!. At least skinheads, however f-ed up, have enough spine to wear swastikas, etc. Fly your Swazi-Jeezus, dawg

Anonymous said...

Prob not much point in responding, J, but actually evil is rather hard to explain in any world without God - as 'evil' in any case. Knowing a bit about humanity, I do accept we've caused it, but God has already fixed it; yep, thru the cross. Look into it, why don't you? You're probably older than me, so you have a bit less time - life's sad like that.
If 'ad hominems' give you more pleasure, I guess it's your time.

Ilíon said...

Anonymous: "... but actually evil is rather hard to explain in any world without God - as 'evil' in any case. "

In a world without GOd, 'good/right' and 'evil/wrong' are meaningless terms.