Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bultmann's case for de-mythologizing

From Kerygma and Myth. I think the Jesus Seminar owes a lot to this guy.

Hark the herald angels sing
Bultmann is the latest thing
They Surely Would if he had not
Demythologized the lot

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Why James Sennett still believes

I am grateful to John Loftus for putting this up, though some of the comments feel like a bunch of fundy Christians trying to get Sennett to pray the sinner's prayer. Only, I guess there's no prayer once you accept the Four Atheist Laws.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cleaning up the outsider test

John: I just think some things need to be cleaned up in the argument. When someone has reflected critically on one's religious beliefs to the extent that I have, you have to wonder when you see something like this "what more does he want." If you are talking about making sure that you don't exempt or privilege you religious beliefs from the sort of scrutiny that you would engage in if you, say, were buying a used car, OK so far. I think it is wrong to criticize someone who finds fault with your test as it stands for refusing to submit their beliefs to scrutiny.

What beliefs, as a class, have to be looked at here? I think it's special pleading to put "religious" beliefs in here by themselves, but maybe "metaphysical" or "world-view" beliefs have to be put in there as well, and these would have to include naturalistic world-view beliefs. Everyone lives as if some world-view were true, so it seems to me that that has to be the reference class at first. I don't think there is a "skeptical" position that's outside the system; if you don't act on any religious beliefs you are in effect acting as if some sort of naturalist is true. As the bumper sticker says "Sleep in on Sunday and Save 10%."

Then you have to take into consideration that some of us hold epistemological theories that say it is rational to hold one's current beliefs in the absence of evidence that they are false. I happen to think this is true of beliefs in general, so I'm not privileging my religious beliefs in any way. Nor would I insist that a Mormon just set aside their Mormon beliefs without first giving evidence against Mormon claims. I'm skeptical of a lot of things, including objective burden of proof claims. I think the burden of proof is on the side of the person who is trying to convince someone else. Your test may have to take issue with my general epistemology, not just my philosophy of religion, if it is to make the sorts of claims.

Finally, there is an argument from the psychological and sociological origin of religious beliefs to their likely falsity. It looks like that is just an evidential argument. I can't see that as being part of the test per se, I think it's got to be an argument that might be given to someone who is taking the test. Resisting that argument, surely is not tantamount to not being willing to subject one's beliefs to scrutiny. I don't think these arguments work, as I indicated in a rebuttal to Keith Parsons, who argued in much the same way.
I think there has to be a pretty sharp distinction drawn between a test of beliefs, and an argument that certain beliefs are false.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Not trying to convert anyone?

A redated post.

Duke wrote: Well, I guess I agree with the basic statement here, but I'm not trying to "convert" you to atheism. Believe in the Christian god, if you want; sure. Believe in Shiva. Believe in the Tooth Fairy. All I'm doing is pointing out that those three beliefs are equally irrational.

Really. Atheists aren't out to earn converts. You should really explain that to Dan Barker, the head of the Freedom of Religion Foundation and well-known atheist. See the link below.

I don't think of myself as engaged in evangelism. I do hope that my work helps to make it possible to believe, but I think the step of commitment to Christ is distinct from that of accepting arguments; it is an act of will, not of reason or the emotions. I actually think that I do most to support the credibility of my religion when I attempt to reflect honestly on philosophical matters pertaining to my religion, which means that I will reject popular apologetical lines if I think these lines lack rational support. For example, I took a lot of flack from fellow Christians a few months back because I opposed the view that there are really no atheists. I personally avoid making irrationality charges against people with whom I disagree. There are substantial arguments on both sides of the question of God, and there are plenty of people who are brilliant on both sides of this question. Do people really think that Christians like Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, and Robert Merrihew Adams are stupid, similar to an adult who retains belief in the tooth fairy?

I won't say I don't want people to believe the truth, especially the sorts of truths that matter. So do you, or you wouldn't bother to post. I'm sure you don't like seeing people who caught up in ancient superstitions, and rejoice when the leave the fold. I am nowhere near as "evangelistic" about my faith as some people are about getting out of Christianity.

So let's hear no more of this nonsense that atheists aren't interested in converting others.

Addendum 3/27/09. There's something incoherent (Ilion would use a different word), about saying on the one hand thar your belief is just as dumb as believing in the Tooth Fairy, but I really don't care whether you give up the belief or not.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Can you Change the Past?

Another answer would be just to deny that you can’t change the past. So, I go back in time, and put a flying tackle on Oswald, sparing Kennedy from death (assuming there was no one on the grassy knoll that really did the dirty deed). But because of some decisions by Kennedy, I end up dying in 1991, which means I never get to go back and save Kennedy, in which case Kennedy dies, in which case I live and go back to save his life, in which case he lives and I die in 1991, which means that I never get to go back…….

The sensible and the not so sensible outsider test

I think there are some sensible things that you can say under the guise of the Outsider Test, and some things that aren't so sensible. It is something like Russell's The Value of Free Thought in that respect.

I think you have to look at some different epistemologies, like the one that I expounded above, and ask what kind of outsider test you want to use.
If it is just an exhortation to take into consideration that there are other, perfectly intelligent people who don't believe as I do, that's hardly news to me. Being "skeptical" doesn't tell me a whole lot.

The danger here is that the test will be used to establish some strong polemical claims against Christianity on a "hard" reading, but under cross-examination the "test" retreats to its "soft" interpretation.

On the other hand, if someone objects to the "test" that person is told that they are brainwashed and refusing to raise questions about their faith, because they are refusing to absorb the "sensible" point the test makes. The "sensible" point about subjecting religious beliefs to intellectual scrutiny is one that I wholeheartedly accept. That I somehow should think of orthodox Christianity as no more probable that Mormonism when I begin investigating the issue is, in my view, not sensible, basically because I believe in the Decline and Fall of Classical Foundationalism, and I think it requires an artifical neutrality that should not be required of anyone, Christian or not.

Bayesianism and the Outsider Test

At this point I don't so much object to the OTF, as much as I think it is less than perfectly clear what asks me to do. From the minute I had a conversion experience in 1972 I've been as aggressive as anyone in asking tough questions of my faith. I'm the guy who majored in philosophy because if there were any arguments good arguments against Christianity, I wanted to hear about them while I was still and undergraduate, as opposed to finding out about them when I was older. I would have to say that right up there with the works of C. S. Lewis, I would have to put Russell's The Value of Free Thought as one of the essays that has influenced my intellectual life the most, and I read that in 1972 also. My education, except for three years in a liberal seminary, has been spent in secular institutions which have been relatively hostile to Christianity. I've been as skeptical of Christianity as anyone I know, unless skepticism requires actual disbelief.

But I'm skeptical about a few other things, like the human ability to be completely neutral in evaluating anything. We often go wrong when we assume that just because we stop believing something that some of our peers still believe, that somehow this is due to our intellectual superiority or something like that.

I also am convinced that people should continue believing what they do believe unless there is evidence that suggests they should give up their belief. I have doubts about how far it is possible to make ourselves "outsiders" to our own belief systems, be it Christian, Jewish, atheist, or what not. That is why I am very reluctant to issue diagnoses of intellectual dishonesty or stupidity or what have you. However, our belief systems should be open to evidence, positive and negative, concerning what we believe.

We're all in Neurath's boat, and I think taking all the culturally conditioned planks out is going to cause the boat to sink. I'm pretty convinced by the arguments against classical foundationalism, even when the Cartesian quest for absolute certainty is abandoned. If I were to describe my epistemology, I would describe it as subjectivist Bayesian. We start with whatever we confidences we have, and we adjust those confidences based on the evidence has we encounter it. Bias is gradually eliminated in this way, and over time, if the evidence is strong enough, the prior are swamped and everyone agrees. This may take awhile for religion, not because there are a bunch of brainwashed Christians out there, but because of the sheer complexity of the issue, and the emotional involvement of both sides in it.

A good discussion to get into related to this came up with the idea of "freethinker." Russell defined "freethinker" in terms of the methods people use to decide their beliefs, and Jeff Lowder argued in a paper "Can a Christian Be a Freethinker" that we have no good reason to believe that a Christian couldn't meet those criteria. Unfortunately, in one passage in his essay, Russell presumes that if a university were to hire a Christian in its philosophy department, that person could not be a freethinker.

How could the Outsider Test be presented to someone who believes in subjectivist Bayesianism as an epistemology? Are we being asked to accept a set of evidence against all religious beliefs?

What I fear is that there is an outcome-based criteria for whether someone has really applied the Outsider Test, and that is if they leave the fold. Otherwise, they couldn't possibly have applied the test, now could they?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hasker's argument against the compatibility of foreknowledge and freedom

Hasker's argument against the compatibility of foreknowledge and freedom.

•Arguments against the compatibility of foreknowledge and freedom
1.It is now true that Clarence will have a cheese omelet for breakfast tomorrow.
2.It is impossible that God should at any time believe what is false, or fail to believe anything which is true.
3.God has always believed that Clarence will have a cheese omelet tomorrow.
4.If God has always believed a certain thing, then it is not in anyone’s power to bring it about that God has not always believed that thing.
5. Therefore, it is not in Clarence’s power to bring it about that God has not always believed that he would have a cheese omelet for breakfast.
6. It is not possible for it to be true both that God has always believed that Clarence would have a cheese omelet for breakfast, and that he does not in fact have one.
7. Therefore, it is not in Clarence’s power to refrain from having a cheese omelet for breakfast tomorrow.

Hume's Essay on Miracles

More response to the outsider test

I guess we've got to get some clarification on the concept of being skeptical. If what it is to be skeptical is just to entertain skeptical questions about one's beliefs, to subject them to scrutiny, to take seriously possible evidence against them and to ask what reasons can be given for them, then I have been performing the Outsider Test since 1972. When I was an undergraduate I incessantly annoyed my friends with objections to Christianity; in fact, one of my closest friends from that time remarked that I was an expert at finding objections to Christianity, even though I was a Christian.

If this is a reason to reject the maxim of my undergraduate philosophy teacher (an atheist) "You ought to believe what you already believe, unless you have evidence that what you believe is not true," then I wouldn't endorse that kind of skepticism. If I have to try to find a neutral position from which to do all my reasoning, I just don't think there is one.

Is this an attempt to overthrow Reformed Epistemology and accept some sort of classical foundationalism? The problems for the classical foundationalist enterprise are well-documented.
Further, a religion based on special revelation, unless that revelation is written in the skies or something like that, has to be given to one group of people and then spread. That being the case, there are bound to be disparities with respect to who gets the message and who doesn't. That should be no surprise to anyone.

We have to work from our antecedent probabilities (which are admittedly not objective) and adjust based on the evidence. There's no other way to go about it. We are the people we are, not other people, even if we can do the best we can to put ourselves in the shoes of others.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Testing the Outsider Test

This is John Loftus' most recent defense of the outsider test for faith. I think I have some problems I would like to see him solve if he is going to defend it.

First, it would be good if the argument could be formulated with premises and a conclusion. Exactly what is he arguing for, and what is the basis for his argument.

Second, it would be cheating to have a test and just mark our religious beliefs as the beliefs to be tested. Keith Parsons once asked, "Tell me, do you really think that, had you been born Vijay instead of Victor, and if you were from Bangalore rather than Phoenix, AZ, that you would not now be as devoted to Brahma as you are to God?" And the answer is I don't know. If Keith had grown up in the United Methodist church that I did, and had he discovered Plantinga or Lewis before leaving the fold, as opposed to converting briefly to West Rome Baptist Church and hearing weekly hellfire threats as an undergraduate, would he now be a Christian philosopher instead of an atheist? The "what if" game is far harder than it looks to play.

But I happen to know something about Vijay. Keith and I agree that there is an independently existing physical world. Vijay does not. If either of us had been born Vijay, we would think of the world of experience as maya, or illusion, and we would not see it as ultimately real. So it looks as if external world realism fails the outsider test. Yet I see no reason to be accept external world skepticism because if I had been born in India, I might have been brought up to reject external world realism.

What about moral beliefs? I think that rape is wrong. If I had been brought up in a certain culture, I'm told, I would believe that rape is OK if you do it in the evening, because a woman's place is at home under her husband's protection, and if she is gone she's asking for it. So my belief that rape is wrong flunks the outsider test. This gives me no basis whatsoever for doubting that rape is wrong.

What about political beliefs? I think that representative democracy is a better form of government than monarchy. If I lived in 16th Century Europe, or in other parts of the globe, I probably would not believe that. So my belief in democratic government flunks the outsider test. However, this gives me no reason to have the least doubt that democracy is better than monarchy.

What about scientific beliefs? If I had been born in the Islamic world, or in some Christian churches, I would have been taught to reject the theory of evolution in its entirety. So it looks like the theory of evolution fails the outsider test. Nevertheless, this in itself is insufficient grounds for the slightest doubt about evolution.

Finally, a certain natural conservatism with respect to changing our minds about matters of world-view, or any other issue for that matter, is both natural and rational. I thought the lesson of things like Cartesian foundationalism is that if you throw out all sort of beliefs as unjustified and load the burden of proof onto those beliefs, it's hard to stop and have anything left. Most people thought that Descartes had to cheat to get his world back. If we have to be skeptics about all of our sociologically conditioned beliefs, I am afraid we are going to be skeptics about a lot more than just religion.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Craig vs. Carrier

Apparently Carrier found a debate setting with Craig unhospitable to his verbose style. Why am I not surprised?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

What do we want when we want life after death?

To desire immortality is to desire the eternal perpetuation of a great mistake”. -Schopenhauer.

Doesn't that make you feel better already.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Poisoned brand

When I was in my financial institution yesterday, I saw an advertisement for AIG financial advisors. That may not play too well with the customers.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A critical analysis of Mere Christianity

On not misunderstanding Judaism: What Kind of a Messiah are They Waiting For

When Christians say this "they're waiting for their Messiah" I get the feeling that Christians think that Jews are looking for someone to do pretty much the same thing Christians claim Jesus does for us.

Evangelical Christians often use the expression "He paid the penalty for our sins" to describe what Jesus does for us. Amongst Jews, there is debate as to whether they are even looking for an individual Messiah, (as opposed to a Messianic Age), and if they are, I seriously doubt that they are looking for a Messiah to pay the penalty for our sins and replace the Jewish sacrificial system. I'm not saying that that kind of Suffering Servant isn't foreshadowed in the Hebrew Scriptures, but I do think that Christians and Jews have different Messiah-concepts. Just because they use the same word doesn't mean they have the same things in mind.

I am supplying a link to the Wikipedia entry on the Messianic Age.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Obama picks the Tar Heels

I, on the other hand, support the missing shade of blue. Actually, my team is maroon and gold Arizona State as usual. Now we need BDK to say that I either have the wrong blue or the wrong Devils.

Bayes' Theorem and the Existence of God

This is an Scientific American article on the usefulness of Bayes' theorem in assessing such things as theism.

Well, well, of course, of course. Bayes' theorem doesn't give you objective antecedent probabilities. So we have to go with the ones we've got, and conditionalize our beliefs based on the evidence we received? Why go with the ones we've got? Can you suggest any others, without introducing an incoherence in our beliefs?

That's why I'm an annoying Bayesian subjectivist when it comes to prior probabilities. Let people have the antecedent probabilities that they have, and let us see what evidence moves the scale up or down.

This raises an issue, I realize, for advocates of the "outsider test." One one level, we can't get outside of our belief system and shouldn't try. Otherwise, we end up in a general skepticism, which is where Descartes should have landed if he had been consistent. But if the outsider test argument works, isn't it an argument attempting to show that Christian theism is less probable than you originally thought it was?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Otte on Draper's Evidential Argument from Evil

Partial Theodicies

•While it is too much to know why some evil did happen, it might be a good idea to have some ideas as to why a good deal of the evils in the world might have happened. These are partial theodicies that offer possible answers to the question of some evils, rather than comprehensive theodicies which give a full and sufficient account of why God permits any and all evils.

The AFR and the AFE

Some people have asked how I think those arguments compare. I answered that on the last page of my book!

" ... the arguments from reason do provide some substantial reasons for preferring theism to naturalism. The "problem of reason" is a huge problem for naturalism, as serious or, I would say, more serious, than the problem of evil is for theists. But while theists have expended considerable effort in confronting the problem of evil, the problem of reason has not as yet been acknowledged as a serious problem for naturalism" - Victor Reppert, C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea. In Defense of the Argument from Reason, Downers Grove, Illinois, InterVarsity Press, 2003, p. 128.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

On explaining too much or too little

On the one hand, if we don’t offer much in the way of explanations, and just rebut argument against theism, appealing to mystery to avoid refutation, we nevertheless are left with weak position. The atheist can respond that the suffering in the world makes perfect sense on his own world-view, in that if there is no benevolent being in charge then the random distribution of pleasure and pain that we actually experience is pretty much to be expected.

On the other hand, if the theist explains too much, he runs the risk of hubris, or claiming to know what he is not in a position to know. He could find himself in the position of the comforters of Job.

Christian philosopher Daniel Howard-Snyder writes:

We do others a grievous disservice to hold out to them in private or in the pulpit any expectation to understand why God would permit so much evil or any particular instance, expectations which we have no reason to believe will be fulfilled, expectations which when left unfulfilled can become near irresistible grounds for rejecting the faith. We are in the dark here. We can’t see how any reason we know of, or the whole lot of them combined, would justify God n permitting so much horrible evil or any particular horror. We need to own up to that fact.

Daniel Howard-Snyder, “God Evil and Suffering,” in Michael Murray ed. Reason for the Hope Within (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), p. 101.

The Argument from evil starts here

With the very existence of an independently existing world. According to this Spinozistic argument. HT: Craig Bustrin.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Why unnecessary evil is necessary

If it appears to us as if God will constantly act to minimize suffering, then it will also not appear to us as if our actions will be decisive in determining whether suffering will occur or not occur.

Hence, if we are to live in a world in which meaningful choices are made and in which our choices have serious consequences, it must appear to us that there are many evils which are not necessary for any greater good. Therefore apparently unnecessary evil is in fact a necessary for the existence of truly significant human choices.

This is an based on some arguments by William Hasker.

Three Redemptive Uses of Suffering according to Lewis

A redated post on Lewis on suffering. This was part of an essay I wrote for a Bruce Edwards' C. S. Lewis encyclopedia.

It is after these preliminaries that Lewis beings to talk about human suffering and why it occurs. He first identifies the proper good of a human creature as the submission of that person’s will to God, the surrender of human self-will to God’s will. He points out that even non-Christian and non-theistic religions require this kind of submission, so this is not a viewpoint peculiar to Christianity. Lewis does not argue that pain is the only method God uses to bring about submission to God, but it is a significant one.
God whispers to us in out pleasure, speaks in our conscience, and shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world42.
Lewis delineates three contexts in which pain can be serves the redemptive purpose of driving us toward submission to God. The first is simply an expression of the common belief that bad people ought to suffer. Although Lewis notes that some people object to the idea of retributive punishment, retribution is the only thing that makes sure that punishment is just. According to Lewis, pain “plants the flag of truth within the fortress of the rebel soul.”43
However, if the pain of bad people shatters the illusion that all is well, pain in the lives of other people shatters the illusion that what we have is enough. Even good Christians find it difficult to turn toward God when they feel as if they have all they need. He writes:
Let me implore the reader to try to believe, if only for the moment that God, who made these deserving people, may really be right when he thinks that their modest prosperity and the happiness of their children is not enough to make them blessed; that all this must fall from them in the end, and if they have not learned to know Him they will be wretched. And therefore he troubles them, warning them in advance of an insufficiency that one day they will have to discover.44
In one letter Lewis asked for prayer from a Christian friend because he was going through “A Plain Called Ease.”45 If the kind of good that will make for permanent happiness requires a relationship to God, and if ordinary prosperity takes that away from us.
The third role of suffering is based on the idea that God expects us to submit our wills to him, and that cannot possibly be willed by fallen creatures unless it is unpleasant. Mere obeying is intrinsically good, but given human self-will, obedience cuts against the self-centered will.
We therefore agree with Aristotle that what is intrinsically right may well be agreeable, and that the better a man is the more he will like it; but we agree with Kant so far as to say that there is one right act—that of self-surrender—which cannot be willed to the height by fallen creatures unless it is unpleasant. And we must add that this one right act includes all other righteousness, and that the supreme canceling of Adam’s fall, the movement “full speed astern” by which we retrace our long journey from Paradise, the untying of the old, hard knot, must be when the creature with no desire to aid it, stripped naked to the bare willing of obedience, embraces what is contrary to its nature, and does that for which only one motive is possible.46
In the Book of Job Satan asks “Does Job serve God for naught?” implying that Job’s righteousness can be explained by the benefit Job receives from his obedience, and he asks the question of whether Job would remain faithful and righteous if his life were wracked with suffering. Thus a faithful person, who is prospering, in one sense, is not asked to make the most profound act of self-surrender. This can only occur if the apparent link between righteousness and reward is broken.
In arguing as he does Lewis explicitly says that he is attempting to make the doctrine of being made perfect by suffering “not incredible.” He does not say that he can make it palatable; in fact, he says that it is not palatable.
Now does this understanding of suffering represent a retreat from Platonism? Is it an abandonment of the idea that the standards we use in evaluating the actions of God are commensurable to the standard we use in evaluating human actions? I think pretty clearly that this is not true. There is an intended good which is a good for the creature, which is supposed to make the suffering worthwhile. Nor is it overly difficult to see how Lewis’s own suffering in grief could be thought of as serving a redemptive purpose.
Since the causes of our suffering are complex, we need not presume, as Beversluis does, that the degree to which a person suffers is indicative of state of one’s relationship with God. He writes:
Yet, if we accept this argument, we must conclude that those who suffer only appear to be close to God but in fact are not—otherwise, why do they suffer? We must also conclude that those who do not suffer only appear to have drifted from God but in fact have not. Furthermore, the more you suffer, the further from God you are; the less you suffer, the further from God you are. Furthermore, the more you suffer, the more God loves you, and the less you suffer, the less he loves you, since it is those we love that we punish and those to whom we are indifferent that we allow to be happy in contemptible and estranging modes.47
However, remember, Lewis has given three different circumstances where God might have a redemptive use for pain, and these three circumstances can occur on different spiritual levels. Remember also that Lewis has made the case that the most spiritually advanced persons are persons who recognize that they are “vile,” that is, they recognize more fully than the rest of us just how far they have to go to be fully surrendered to God. Lewis’s claim concerning the reasons for suffering is not a simplistic “shattering thesis,” for people who are far from God, it is a complex thesis concerning how suffering works redemptively at all levels of spiritual development. The last of these uses of suffering, suffering as an opportunity to continue to serve God without the appearance of reward, involves no shattering whatsoever. As Petrik says:
The bottom line for Lewis, however, is that the business of mending souls is so complex that we can not hope to fully understand the manner in which suffering is distributed among human beings. Nothing the vast discrepancy between the degree to which individuals may suffer, Lewis confesses that he is ignorant of the causes of this distribution. And of course he is right. Any speculation as to the role of suffering or its absence is playing in an individual’s spiritual development will always remain fairly blind speculation…48
In addition, Lewis also mentions a redemptive use of suffering for the benefit of others. He writes:
What is good in any painful experience is, for the sufferer, his submission to the will of God, and, for the spectators, the compassion aroused and the acts of mercy to which it leads.48
So suffering does not merely benefit the character of the sufferer, it can also benefit the character of those who observe the suffering. As Talbott writes, “Nothing, it seems, arouses compassion and melts the heart of the arrogant and the powerful in a way comparable to the suffering of children.” 49
Another objection found in Beversluis is that if we were to inflict suffering on those we love in the way that Lewis is suggesting that God does, we would be acting wrongly. He writes:
On thing is certain in any case: if I were to become as “exacting” with (my children) in Lewis’s awful sense, I am confident that they would not rejoice in their newly acquired discovery that I really loved them. Nor do I believe that such a failure would be a sign of some juvenile deficiency in them.50
However, someone with greater wisdom and knowledge might surely have the right to use means that someone with less wisdom and knowledge would not have the right to use. As Lewis himself says:
To turn this (the redemptive role of suffering) into a general charter for afflicting humanity “because affliction is good for them” (as Marlowe’s Tamberlaine boasted himself as the scourge of God”) is not indeed to break the divine scheme but to volunteer for the post of Satan within that scheme. If you do his work, you must be prepared for his wages.51
So I do not think that Lewis has to violate his “professed Platonism” in order to accept his own account of suffering. Nor was Lewis wrong to see his own suffering during his grief experience as God’s work in getting him to cease his reliance on earthly comforts, even the comfort of a Christian marriage.
Another difficulty, however, pressed by Erik Weilenberg, is that Lewis really does not deal with the suffering of children in his treatment of the problem of pain.52 It is a bit odd, because he is willing to consider the suffering of another class of “special victims,” that is, animals. Children are more like us than animals, and so he cannot make the comment about children’s suffering that he makes about animal suffering, namely, that he really doesn’t know much about the place of animals in God’s plan and that whatever he says about them is going to be speculative. By way of response to this difficulty, I would make three points. One is that no treatment of the problem of evil can be expected to be comprehensive. As Daniel Howard-Snyder points out, if we could explain all of our sufferings we would be contradicting some clear Biblical passages, such as what we find in the Book of Job. He goes on to say:
We do others a grievous disservice to hold out to them in private or in the pulpit any expectation to understand why God would permit so much evil or any particular instance, expectations which we have no reason to believe will be fulfilled, expectations which when left unfulfilled can become near irresistible grounds for rejecting the faith. We are in the dark here. We can’t see how any reason we know of, or the whole lot of them combined, would justify God n permitting so much horrible evil or any particular horror. We need to own up to that fact.53
So we should see Lewis as attempting to give us a substantial understanding of much of the evil we see and experience, but I think he was not foolish enough to think that he had explained it all. But secondly, as is evident from the quote from Talbott, in the case of the suffering of children, here the case is hardest to make that it can benefit the sufferers morally, but it does have the strongest effect of all suffering on those whom Lewis calls “the spectators,” it arouses their compassion in the way that nothing else in the world does. I would have liked Lewis to include more discussion of the suffering of children in The Problem of Pain, and I do consider it a weakness of the book that this was not included. However, that in itself is not, in my judgment, sufficient to make his book an abject failure or a tissue of fallacies.
42 The Problem of Pain p. 93.
43 Ibid. p. 95
44 Ibid. p. 97.
45 Letter to Sister Penelope, 5 June 1951 in Hooper (ed.), Letters of C. S. Lewis, p. 410. Quoted in Purtill, “Did C. S. Lewis Lose his Faith.”
46 Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p. 101.
47 Beversluis, Search, p. 117.
48 Petrik, “In Defense,” p. 54.
49 Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p. 110.
50 Beversluis, Search, p. 114.
51 Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p. 112.
52 Erik Wielenberg, "The Christian, the Skeptic, and the Atheist: C.S. Lewis, David Hume, andBertrand Russell on God", forthcoming.
53 Daniel Howard-Snyder, “God Evil and Suffering,” in Michael Murray ed. Reason for the Hope Within (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), p. 101.

Natural and Moral Evil

• Philosophers typically divide evils into moral evils, which are the direct result of evil actions by human persons, and natural evils, which are not directly produced by human actions.
• The fact that Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast with the force that it did would be an instance of natural evil, although the fact that the levees were not adequately maintained and broke, and the fact that Brownie did a “heck of a job” might be regarded as instance of moral evil.

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Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.
Eye strike a key and type a word
And weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait a weigh.
As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long
And eye can put the error rite
Its rare lea ever wrong.
Eye have run this poem threw it
I am shore your pleased two no
Its letter perfect awl the weigh
My chequer tolled me sew.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The argument from reason, and the explicability of the mind

It seems to me that a version of the argument from reason confirms Bayesian-confirms theism even if a naturalistic explanation of the mind is perfectly possible.

If atheism is true, how likely is it that there are creaturely minds?

P(EF)P(F) over

P(EF)P(F) + P(EF')P(F')

E= Creaturely minds exist.
F= The fundamental causes of the universe are mental in nature.
F'= The fundamental causes of the universe are not mental in nature.

Since we are trying to determine whether the argument confirms theism, we have to assume a subject that is on the fence between F and F'. In other words we have to assume that that F = .5.
Now, how likely is it that minds should exist on the assumption that the basic causes are mental. Pretty likely, it seems to me. If theism is true, then from what we know of ourselves as rational creatures, we should expect that a rational being in charge of everything would create rational beings with whom He or She could communicate. But what if God does not exist, and the basic causes were non-mental. How there can be minds is at best difficult and at most impossible to explain. A lot of things had to happen just right in the development of the human brain in order for reason to be possible, if it is even possible at all. It looks, therefore, like the existence of creaturely minds confirms theism even if we cannot show that, for example, dualism is true. The existence of creaturely reason, therefore, confirms the mental character of the universe.


The Arian Controversy: An Outline

The Arian Controversy
The Problem of the Trinity
The Situation
A.After nearly three centuries of suffering varying degrees of persecution, the Emperor Constantine became a Christian. Thus, he issued the Edict of Milan which permitted Christians to worship publicly.
B.The fourth century produced the great fathers of the Church; Athanasius, the Cappadocians, Jerome, Ambrose, and Augustine.
C.It also was a period in which Christians faced for the first time the problem of what to do with political power.
A. It would be inaccurate to say that the Arians did not believe in the trinity. They believed that there was a Father, a Son, and a Holy Spirit. The question was what the relationship was between these three. The central question was whether the pre-existing Son is a creature created by God, or a co-eternal member of the Godhead. It is the Arian position that the Son was the greatest of all God’s creatures, but nevertheless not one in substance with God the Father.
The Council of Nicea
A.Constantine had hoped that Christianity would be the cement of the empire. Since the controversy over Arianism was tearing the Church apart, Constantine got the Church to convene the Council of Nicea, in which they would attempt to resolve the dispute.
B.The Arians put their position at the council in a very strong and unadulterated form, and it was condemned. The Son was defined as being “One in substance with the Father.” The Son is God just as the Father is God. They wrote a statement of faith affirming this, called the Nicene Creed. By Imperial decree Arius was banished, and his books were burned.
The controversy persists
A.The churches did not completely accept the Nicene formula, and even the bishops who adopted it weren’t sure it was the best thing.
B.Constantine’s successors, especially his son Constantius, were Arian supporters.
C.But the Nicene position was championed by a stalwart defender, St. Athanasius.
Athanasius’ Concerns
A.Monotheism. The worship practice of the Christian Church gave full and complete worship to Jesus Christ. Thus, if Christ was created by God and is not God, then if Christians worship God the Father and Christ, they worship more than one God, and if you add in the Holy Spirit, that’s three gods.
B.The doctrine of salvation. If Christ isn’t God, and Christ is our savior, the God is not our savior. This is a problem.

Lowder on Logical Arguments from Evil

Jeffrey Jay Lowder on logical arguments from evil.

According to logical arguments from evil, some known fact about evil is logically incompatible with God's existence. (In contrast, evidential arguments from evil merely claim that some known fact about evil is evidence for God's nonexistence.) Ever since Alvin Plantinga rebutted J. L. Mackie's logical argument from evil, the majority of contemporary philosophers of religion have come to believe that logical arguments from evil are unsuccessful. This opinion is not unanimous, however. Philosophers Richard Gale, Quentin Smith, and Howard Jordan Sobel challenge the conventional view regarding the prospects for logical arguments from evil. Indeed, Smith has formulated a new version of the logical argument from evil to avoid the pitfalls of Mackie's argument. Nevertheless, many philosophers remain highly skeptical regarding logical arguments from evil.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Plantinga on TULIP

Plantinga claims that the Five Points of Calvinism is a misnomer.

A study of Reformed Epistemology

Bertrand Russell: Moral Objectivist

This was in 1910.

Rupert Loydell responds to Miller's book on Narnia

Religious experiences and alcohol

If I have been drinking, and I think I see pink elephants on the ceiling, and my friends assure me that there are none there and that it must be the result of too many Miller Genuine Drafts, then I am justified in considering my “visions” hallucinatory and going on about my business. Is the situation really the same with religious experiences ?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Searle on the Computer Model of the mind

I have linked to an attack on the Computer Model of the Mind by Searle that Feser thinks decisive, over on Dangerous Idea 2. No one has responded yet, so I thought I put something over here.

What is the basic human problem?

Christians usually identify the basic human problem as sin. But what is that, and why wouldn't God just keep people from sinning and avoid the problem in the first place. But if it isn't sin, what could it be? One group of people would say ignorance. We don't know enough, and if we did, we wouldn't have so much trouble. Maybe by pursuing scientific knowledge we can solve the basic human problem. For people like atheist Richard Dawkins the basic human problem has to do with the tendency for form God-beliefs that hamper human progress. For others it might be unjust social structures, such as captialism. For still others, like the Buddha, the basic human problem is suffering. To stop suffering, you stop the cravings that cause the suffering. Perhaps for others it is government.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Logical Problem of Evil and the Success of Arguments

Most atheists who use the argument from evil concede that the existence of the world’s evil does not generate a logical contradiction with theism. I think that this as much the result of a general skepticism about philosophical arguments as it is a result of the success of Plantinga’s defensive argument. The idea that one argument against God is so powerful as to settle the issue, and show decisively that everyone who holds a position as widely-held as theism are just being irrational, is a lot to ask of a philosophical argument, so it isn’t too surprising that even many atheist philosophers don’t think the logical argument from evil does what, say, Mackie thought it could do.

A review of Boyd's Satan and the Problem of Evil

From the Evangelical Theological Society

Michael Peterson's Evil and the Christian God

This is an old book on the problem of evil.

Monday, March 09, 2009

A thoughtful, pro-petition response from a Christian philosopher

This was put up on the Prosblogion by Keith DeRose. This doesn't by any stretch of the imagination answer all of my difficulties with the original petition, but it does show that a good deal of the pro-petition rhetoric is self-defeating, and that if one wants to defend the petition one should refrain from claiming that a religiously motivated ban on homosexual conduct is irrational and bigoted.

I still do have concerns about the move from "puts people of gay orientation at a disadvantage" to "discrminates against people of gay orientation." I keep going back to the fact that if I were an unmarried person who didn't consider myself "the marrying kind" I would be put at the same disadvantage as a gay person by these institutions.

Further, I have been in secular institutions where there was no code of conduct concerning faculty sexual behavior, and to my mind there should have been.

If the asterisk just means "this is seen by the majority of APA members as discrimiatory," that could be distinguished from "these people are bigots." It not only matters what is said, but how it is said.

Robert Almeder makes a case for reincarnation on this youtube video

Robert Almeder is a philosophy professor at Georgia State University.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Elliot Sober reviews Hume's Abject Failure

Earman's critique of Hume is highly regarded, please note that Earman is not a Christian apologist. (Neither was Patrick Maher, my philosophy of science teacher from University of Illinois who advised my papers on miracles). Sober suggests a more modest employment for Hume's argument.

In spite of William Lane Craig's enthusiastic employment of Earman's critique of Hume against Ehrmann (two similar names!), a Bayesian version of Hume's argument could be used, it seems to me, to undermine some of the more audacious claims made by Christian apologists.

J. P. Holding on Hume on Miracles

Tendentious and entertaining as usual. But surely not more tendentious than what we've been getting here.

Friday, March 06, 2009

I'm not dead yet!

The Kennedy Memorial Health Care Plan?

C. S. Lewis on "uniform experience" against miracles

Now of course we must agree with Hume that, if there is absolutely "uniform experience" against miracles, if, in other words, they have never happened, why then they never have. Unfortunately, we know the experience against them to be uniform only if we know that all the reports of them are false. And we can know all the reports of them to be false only if we know already that miracles have never occurred. In fact, we are arguing in a circle.

I am linking to a blog entry from Brain Cramps for God on Miracles and History.

Teddy Roosevelt for philosophers

Speak softly, and carry a big argument.

A Critique of Alston's Claim that We Perceive God

A New Book on Hitler and Christianity

An exchange on Hume on Miracles

This is an exchange we had a few months back on miracles and Hume.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Is Icelandic Elf-belief properly basic

Yes! I'm an equal opportunity Reformed epistemologist.

Bill Craig is debating Hitchens

This should be good. Almost as good as a debate with the Dawk.

Is belief in God properly basic, at least for some of us?

One way of looking at this issue is to try to determine who, in the question of God, has the burden of proof. A good many discussions in introductory philosophy classes presuppose that the theist has the burden of proof.

But is this correct? Are we better of just saying what my philosophy professor at ASU once said, that "you have the right to believe what you already believe, unless there is good evidence to support believing something different."

Does rationality involve neutralizing our prior convictions and starting from scratch? Why should we be expected to do that with respect to the question of God when we are not expected to do that with other beliefs. At least, when people have tried to this, not with respect to belief in God, but with beliefs generally (i. e. Descartes and classical empiricism), it has resulted in all sorts of beliefs (moral beliefs, the belief in an external world, the belief that the future will resemble the past, etc.) are unjustified, that most of us take to be justified.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Flew on God and the Big Bang

Is it really about gay rights?

To be perfectly honest, I don't think that this petition business is about upholding gay rights. (You know any active gays who are disappointed that they can't get jobs at Wheaton or Biola?) It is about attacking and marginalizing conservative versions of Christianity. I would have thought that a national philosophical organization would be about generating and facilitating philosophical discussion, not about maintaining political correctness. The nondiscrimination policy had been in place for two decades and had never been interpreted to include codes of conduct. If "discrmination against orientation" is insufficient for these people, then they should introduce wording that includes discrimination against sexual conduct. The idea that we discovered, all of a sudden, in 2009, that some of the leading Christian colleges in America have been violating the APA discrimination code that had been in place for the last 20 years, is insane.

For atheists who think that Christianity is a "mind virus," who believe that religion poisons everything, who see God as a delusion, who seek then end of faith except for a few Baptists to be put in cultural zoos (so long as they don't try to teach their children that naturalistic evolution is false or that gay sex is a sin), this is an ideal tool.

Let me reiterate, I voted no on the marriage definition initiative (similar to California's Prop 8) here in Arizona, and would do so again. I am not even denying that the hostile environment that gay people face in many Christian environments is unfortunate. The hostile environment that many Christians face in some secular philosophy departments is no picnic either, let me assure you.

Bigotry and the Intellectual Climate

The most important thing is that the health of our intellectual environment is damaged when we start throwing around terms like "bigotry" when we don't have a proof that the view is wrong that is so strong that no one who takes the opposing view can be anything but bigoted. The charge of bigotry is an irrationality charge and, as such, requires a very high standard of proof.

What would be required would be evidence not only that there is nothing wrong with homosexual activity, but evidence that anyone, either on theological grounds or any other grounds, who thinks homosexual acts are wrong or sinful is in the grip of bigotry. Unless you want to go the "God Delusion" route (which would require a whole different set of APA policies) you are going to have to think inside the theological box and show that no reasonable person operating within a Christian framework can conclude that homosexual activity is sinful. The insitutions that are being targeted in the petition are colleges like Wheaton and Calvin. Their contributions to the philosophical community are enormous, as, I think, most people realize. That alone is good reason to think, once, twice, three times, and four times before tagging them with bigotry.

And even where there is bigotry, dialogue, not official censure, is the best remedy.

Monday, March 02, 2009

The Lippard Blog: Daniel Dennett at ASU

The Lippard Blog: Daniel Dennett at ASU

This is Jim Lippard's account of a Daniel Dennett presentation at ASU. I fear that whenever I read Dennett I get a lot of pro-science and pro-materialism bravado, a lot of interesting examples, but when I go looking for the argument, half the time I can't find it.

It is interesting that Dennett uses the term mind-creationists, and applies that term not to people like me (whose existence I am sure he would not be willing to recognize), but to Fodor and Searle, both of whom are atheists, and neither of whom would dare draw the conclusion that a creator need apply. Of course Dennett is delighted to lump Turing resistant philosophers of mind, including atheists like Fodor and Searle, in with "creationists," which is a blanket term for those benighted enemies of reason who are blinkered by their religious fundamentalism into a literal interpretation of Genesis. So you get Fundamentalist Bible-thumpers and Young Earth Creationists = People who attribute anything to a Creator = People who think the mind isn't purely physical = People who think the mind has original intentionality. So Dennett's foes in the philosophy of mind are just like all those other creationists. If I were Fodor or Searle I would have a fit.

Lippard writes;

A few of the "mind-creationists" Dennett pointed out were Jerry Fodor and John Searle. Another is Victor Reppert, author of C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason, the main argument of which I criticized in a short paper ("Historical But Indistinguishable Differences: Some Notes on Victor Reppert's Paper," Philo vol. 2, no. 1, 1999, pp. 45-47). Reppert's position is that Turing machines don't actually do arithmetic, because they have no semantics, only syntax, and that you only get meaning through original intentionality of the sort that John Searle argues is an irreducible feature of the world. Computers only have semantics when we impute it to them. My argument was that if you have two possible worlds that are exactly alike, except that one was created by a top-down designer and one evolved, there's no reason to say that one has semantics and the other one doesn't--how they got to the point at which they have creatures with internal representations that stand in the right causal relationships to the external world doesn't make a difference to whether or not those representations actually refer and have meaning.

Contrary to this, I maintain that reference and meaning have to be reference and meaning for some conscious agent who perceives and understands that meaning, and that a complete description of causal relations is going to leave the semantic states indeterminate.

Liberalism, principle, and that APA petition

If liberalism designates a set of actual principles, as opposed to doing what whoever the left likes at the moment would prefer, then liberalism is not on the side of the petition.

I've slammed conservative politicians for doing whatever moneyed interests want regardless of principle. The same thing happens to leftists, who have too much power in academic circles for their own intellectual sobriety.

Robert Adams on Moral Arguments for God

This is a classic essay, and a personal favorite.

Did God the Father Suffer when Jesus was Crucified?

The Church rejected Patripassian Modalistic Monarchianism. But I wonder how many Christians would affirm it if it were explained to them?

Hate the sin and love the sinner

Thanks to David C. for that piece by Corvino on the APA petition. It strikes me as far more rational than anything else I've seen from the pro-petition side. Rather than respond to it as a whole, I would like to make a note of one comment he makes.

I also agree that, while there’s a difference between orientation and conduct, the two cannot be teased apart as easily as some religious conservatives would like. Who we are is intimately connected with what we do—especially when it comes to deep personal relationships. Those who profess to “love the sinner but hate the sin” often distort that deep connection.

I admit that it is difficult to hate the sin and love the sinner. If you oppose the passion of my life, or my deepest and most powerful intimate relationship, how can you claim to love me? I understand the force of these comments.

But in order to have a civilized society, you have to hate the sin and love the sinner. You have to associate with people whose actions you disapprove of and whose beliefs you disagree with heartily. And if you want to have a philosophical society, and not just a secularist echo chamber, you have to be able to have respectful exchanges with people on the other side. You have to be very reluctant to draw that conclusion that says "If that's what you believe, then we just can't talk at all."

Advocates of a Dawkins-style New Atheism seem to be moving in that direction with respect to belief in God. They seem to me to want to remove religious faith from the sphere of serious discourse, to laugh it out of the intellectual marketplace. This is a dangerous course.

I believe that GLBTs make a serious mistake when they shut people out who don't approve of them. There is a dialogue and debate on gay issues that has to take place within communities of faith. It is to their advantage to respect the integrity of those traditions while staking out their own positions in response. This is especially important for GLBTs of faith, and there are many of those. They, too, benefit in the long run if they can learn to hate the sin (which to them would be the sin of thinking homosexuality to be a sin) and love the sinner.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Amputees and the Argument from Evil

I think this person argues a lot like Loftus.