Monday, October 31, 2011

Informal Fallacy Test

This was the Quote of the Day a year ago on Debunking Christianity

Faith is a belief in an unknown or unrealized proposition in spite of evidence that the belief is incorrect. Faith is clearly NOT a belief in an unknown or unrealized proposition that is SUPPORTED by the evidence, because if that belief was supported by the evidence, it ipso facto does NOT REQUIRE Faith.

Which fallacy, if any, is committed in the above passage? 

a. ad hominem
b. begging the question
c. red herring
d. no fallacy

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Because I Said So: The Straw Man of Theological Voluntarism

Is the essence of Christian ethics, in the area of sexuality as elsewhere, summed up in the familiar parental phrase "Because I said so?" A Catholic writing in the Stanford Review thinks not.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Flannagans on the nonliteral reading of the genocide order

The Flannagans are pretty conservative theologically, and this is their anti-literalist response to the genocide problem.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Never Ever Bludgeon Babies? You'll Get an Argument from Peter Singer and Michael Tooley

This links to a paper by Scott Klusendorf on the pro-infanticide positions of Tooley and Singer. Interestingly enough William Lane Craig has debated Tooley on the existence of God.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Amalekites, Canaanites, theo-utilitarianism, and skeptical theism

No, I do not hold that YHWH commanded the slaughter of the Amalekites. I hold that either God didn't do that, or there are unknown reasons why He did. I can see some reason why God might have commanded such a thing, so that in my view the case against it isn't a slam dunk. So I would not call someone a moral monster who thought that God had given such a command, I think it morally possible that God might have done so, but on the other hand treating someone anyone as outside the pale of moral consideration strikes me as problematic and not in accordance with what I know about God in the New Testament. In other words, I don't see how these actions could be justified without putting some limits on who is my neighbor, and the parable of the Good Samaritan says we can't really draw such limits.

I'm not committed to a theory of inspiration that would require me to defend such a thing. In another part of Deuteronomy, the Blessings and the Cursings, it indicates that people will get earthly blessings if they are obedient to the Covenant, and earthly cursings if they are not obedient. But you only have to look as far as Job and Ecclesiastes to see that that's questionable even within the Bible.   People as conservative theologically as the Flannagans don't try to defend the Amalekite/Canaanite ban as morally acceptable.

We are considering the possibility that God had a reason for doing something that seems to go against the grain of morality. Someone who feels committed to a sufficiently high view of inspiration and inerrancy to think that a moral defense of the passages must be available. I think if I were to make such a defense, it would have to be pretty much along the lines of skeptical theism, although, because of the need to preserve monotheism, I can see some of the reasons for it.

Part of this has to do with how much of a consequentialist you are. Does the possibility of good consequences that maybe God can see and we can't justify God in telling someone to slaughter a whole nation of people. I suppose if I were a theo-utilitarian, the possibility would be open that God could command an action, atrocious in itself, which would be justified by its consequences. Never Ever Bludgeon Babies? But what if you know that the baby is Baby Hitler?

I don't concur with Craig's position on this, but I think that it's easy to be too simplistic and glib in criticizing him.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stephen Law's Debate with William Lane Craig

This debate really did take place. Thrasymachus has mapped the debate at the title's link.

Credit where Credit is Due

Has anybody noticed that, before Christianity, nobody ever dreamed that there were some things you couldn't do to noncombatants and defeated nations. If you conquered in battle, then the people belonged to you to kill, rape, or enslave as you saw fit. What the ban on, say, the Amalekites does is remove the last two options.

As I pointed out in one of the discussions, the just war theory was invented by Christians. Not secular humanists.

I still consider this an insufficient defense of the Amalekite ban. But people who criticize the Bible should recognize where the ideas come from by which they criticize it.

Of course, people like Dawkins help themselves to these moral ideas as if they were somehow obvious, when in fact they were pretty much unheard of before Christians came on the scene.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Amalekites, Mr. Spock, and the lesser of two evils

Anon: It's interesting how genocide is the 'lesser of two evils' between it and polytheism. Good to know.

VR1: Yes indeed. In order for God to save the world through Christ, there has to be a nation of people committed to the idea that there is one God who demands righteousness. The Canaanites, et al, if allowed to live, would have seduced the Hebrew people away from the worship of Yahweh. In fact, they did seduce many Hebrew into idolatry.  If all the Hebrews had become idolaters, then God would not have had a nation of people to send Christ to. As Mr. Spock says, the needs of the many (for Christ) outweigh the needs of the few (the Canaanites, Amalekites, etc.), so they had to be slaughtered.

VR2: Why do I not like saying this sort of thing? After all, according to a well-known secular ethical theory, utilitarianism, an act of any type can be right if it maximizes the total balance of pleasure over pain, up to and  including genocide. Nevertheless, my reply seems a little glib.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Amalekites, the Creation Hymn, and the Hebrew Learning Curve

I'm redating my post on difficult passages in the Old Testament. I would just add that the what is being referred to as the chaos argument is one that I would be inclined to resist, but has to be taken seriously.

Wagner said: Victor, it seems that you believe in some form of inerrancy.But how do you reconcile inerrancy and a "evolving moral consciousness"? Could you please recommend some essential reads about this problem?

With respect to inerrancy, I start by saying I don't especially like the term, and am not sure quite what is supposed to count as an error. I've covered the Amalekite massacres before here, and my view is that they strike me as morally unacceptable per se from a moral standpoint, suggesting that either there is something I don't understand about the situation, or the actions are wrong, and Scripture reflects what we now know to be an inadequate moral awareness.

It could turn out that, given where the Hebrews were on the moral learning curve, and given their proneness to be influenced by the more agriculturally sophisticated Canaanites, the best thing for God to tell them was to kill everybody in those tribes, even though someone with a better developed moral sense could not be told to do such a thing. It was an essential part of God's plan to sustain a nation of people dedicated to monotheism, and perhaps, under the circumstances, that's what God had to do. It is hard for me to imagine that someone who absorbed the message of the Good Samaritan, which teaches us essentially that there are no national boundaries on neighborness and hence no national limits in the requirement to love our neighbors, could engage in that type of conduct. What is worrisome to us about this is partly the fact that, even if the Amalekites and Canaanites were immoral people, God orders children to be killed, who could not possibly be responsibe for the evils of the tribes. But even the notion of individual moral responsibility doesn't come out of the chute immediately for the ancient Hebrews. It gets clearly articulated in Ezekiel 18, but I am not sure where before that.

The link didn't work about my holding to some version of inerrancy, so I'm not sure what I said. I think there is a lot of vagueness attached to the term. Interpreted broadly enough, I'm sure it's true, but I know those who use it have a more precise meaning in mind, and some, in the name of inerrancy, impose hermeneutical constraints that proscribe interpretations that I would accept. I know that there are passages in the Bible that sound as if they teach the righteous are rewarded and the wicked punished on earth, but then Job and Ecclesiastes come along and deal with the fact that, so far as we can see, that ain't happening.

The creation hymn in Genesis seems appropriate to an early stage on the scientific learning curve, and I see it's message as metaphysical (the monotheism of the hymn vs. the polytheism of the Enuma Elish), rather than scientific. I don't think its literal words need to be defended vis-a-vis modern science.

In saying all this I am sure I am profoundly disappointing both the inerrancy police (putting your moral intutitions ahead of the Bible, tsk tsk), and the skeptics among you.

Of course, it is surely open for the skeptic to say that God could, and should, have given the Hebrews a faster learning curve, both morally and scientifically. That's, I suppose a version of the argument from evil. Why didn't God dispel scientific and moral ignorance more quickly than he did. I don't subscribe to a theodicy sufficiently fine-grained to give an answer to that question.

On Engaging the Real Arguments

I disagree pretty strongly with Craig's way of defending such things as the ban on the Amalekites. At the same time, if I refused to engage anyone who held a position that I considered to be morally repugnant, there probably aren't going to be a whole lot of people to talk to.

I don't really have trouble with the idea of Dawkins refusing to debate Craig, if, for example, he thought that the sort of timed debate that Craig excels at would be a bad venue for him. The problem is that his work attacks religious belief but never comes to grips with such things as the Kalam Cosmological argument, or some of the other arguments Craig uses.

It's one thing to be poorly informed about theology. It is another thing to be poorly informed about the kinds of arguments that are used to defend belief in the existence of God.

Dawkins makes the claim that the theist is delusional, by which I take it he means that the case against theism is overwhelming. Yet he doesn't, in any serious way, engage any of the arguments in natural theology, and he seems to imply that it is beneath him to engage leading defenders of belief in the existence of God, and their arguments. I don't care whether he does it in a debate format or some other format, but somewhere, somehow, he needs to show that he knows how the Kalam Cosmological Argument and the Thomistic Cosmological Argument restrict the class of what needs a cause, so that a simplistic "Who made God" can't refute them in any direct way.

Craig is a leading defender of arguments for the existence of God. Regardless of whether some of his statements are morally repugnant, Dawkins needs to come to terms with him and those like him if he is to have any credibility with respect to his delusion charges. Putting his nose in the air with the "Courtier's Reply" does not replace confronting the actual relevant arguments.

Subjectivism and Evil Moral Positions

To hear Dawkins' talk, it sounds as if he's refusing to debate Craig because he holds an evil position, on killing the Canaanites.

But the fact is in Dawkins' universe, statements like "It was wrong of the ancient Hebrews to kill all those Canaanites and Amalekites" is neither true nor false. He may dislike it pretty intensely, and no doubt he thinks it conflicts with some strong moral intuitions that he has, but his philosophy doesn't even allow him to charge Craig with error on this point.

It isn't that Craig holds such a preposterous position that this proves his total irrationality. In fact, he holds a view that Dawkins himself would not consider to be false, let alone refutable.

Somewhere in England, an emperor is missing his lab coat.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dawkins explains his refusal to debate WLC

Now it's not about resumes, it's about genocide.

Is the Euthyphro a Pseudo-Dilemma

Doug Benscoter thinks so. This would be bad news for the people who scream "Euthrypho!" every time a moral theory with a theological basis is introduced.

HT: Ilion.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Pro-Murder Position on Abortion

Most discussion in the abortion debate presupposes that if the pro-life person can establish the claim that abortion is murder, the debate is over and the pro-life position has won. Camille Paglia, somewhat to the consternation of her fellow pro-choicers, actually concedes what pro-lifers consider to be their central argument. The standard pro-choice position denies the claim that abortion is murder, Paglia's view embraces it, but defends the absence of laws against abortion nevertheless.

Let's take a look at her statements:

Let’s take the issue of abortion rights, of which I am a firm supporter. As an atheist and libertarian, I believe that government must stay completely out of the sphere of personal choice. Every individual has an absolute right to control his or her body. (Hence I favor the legalization of drugs, though I do not take them.) ....

Hence I have always frankly admitted that abortion is murder, the extermination of the powerless by the powerful. Liberals for the most part have shrunk from facing the ethical consequences of their embrace of abortion, which results in the annihilation of concrete individuals and not just clumps of insensate tissue. The state in my view has no authority whatever to intervene in the biological processes of any woman’s body, which nature has implanted there before birth and hence before that woman’s entrance into society and citizenship.

It looks as if a logically consistent position can be maintained here, the freedom to do as one chooses with one's own body trumps the genuine right of the fetus to life.  For a lot of people, her position is counterintuitive. Is her position irrational? Well, Hume said "It would not be irrational to prefer the death of a thousand Orientals to the pricking of the little finger." So, how, exactly, does the argument proceed from here? 

Actually this reminds me of an old friend of mine by the name of Bill Patterson, (whom Bob Prokop also knew),  now an archivist for the Heinlein Library, who staunchly opposed abortion on moral grounds. But since he was an anarchist, he opposed legislation against abortion, since he opposed, well, legislation, period. 

Relativism and Human Rights

Relativism is incompatible with an idea that many of us hold dear, the idea of inalienable human rights. If relativism is true, we are endowed by our culture, not our creator, with certain rights, and if the culture denies those rights,  as in cases like slavery or female circumcision, then there is nowhere to go to justify a claim that, contrary to what the culture has decreed, our rights are being violated. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Hope Springs Eternal

From William Lane Craig's calendar. 

Tuesday 25th October 2011
7.30pm Lecture "Is God a Delusion?" A Critique of Dawkins' The God Delusion
[or a debate with Richard Dawkins if he should accept the invitation]
Sheldonian Theatre, Broad Street, Oxford, OX1 3AZ

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Meritocracy and Economics: Herman Cain on Why You're Not Rich

"Don't blame Wall Street, don't blame the big banks, if you don't have a job and you're not rich, blame yourself!" Cain said. "It is not a person's fault because they succeeded, it is a person's fault if they failed. And so this is why I don't understand these demonstrations and what is it that they're looking for."

One of the main things that, for me, made me doubt and abandon the conservative politics of my high school days, was the fact this just didn't seem true. There were too many luck factors out there to believe that economic advantage is the product of personal merit. I heard about a study that showed that, in today's America, the biggest determinant of your economic success is how wealthy your parents were. 

Part of what may be at the bottom of some of this is the Reagan idea that when the government is helpful to disadvantaged persons, it undermines human self-reliance and creates "welfare queens."   I think conservatives have the idea that markets are meritocratic, that they distribute in accordance with what people deserve, or at least approximately. Therefore, when the government acts to help people lower down the economic totem pole at the expense of the people higher up, the government takes money from people who deserve it and give it to people who don't deserve it.  

Is there something more plausible than this for conservatives to say?

Does Fitting the Crime require Resembling the Crime

Maybe fitting doesn't require resembling. I'm inclined to think that it gives people an emotion. sense of fittingness if there is a similarity between the offense and the crime, but retributive theory just says you're supposed to deprive the offender of happiness in a measure that is calibrated to the wrongness of the act. There is nothing in that that requires that the form of the punishment resemble the offense.

When a murderer is executed, the death of the murderer differs in many ways from the death of the victim. The state makes sure the death is relatively free of physical pain, something murderers don't care about. The person executed has an execution date set on the calendar for years prior, the victim doesn't. So the murderer's experience differs in many ways from that of the victim.

Everyone is under a death sentence, anyway.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Court-appointed rapists

If the punishment has to resemble the crime in order to fit the crime, then what are we going to do with rapists? 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What the death penalty WILL deter

It would probably deter jaywalking better than murder. Murderers have a motive to risk at least life in prison to kill someone, so risking the death penalty is a smaller step further. On the other hand, no one is going to risk being executed to avoid walking a few feet to the crosswalk. 

A "Simpleminded" Response to a Complex Theological Problem

Somebody had to have been the first human. After all, there had to have been a first monkey, a first elephant, a first cockroach. Call that person Adam. That first person could have been in fellowship with God, and blew it. Why does evolution change anything? 

Monday, October 10, 2011

James White vs. my former colleague Lee Carter

Here are the complaints of Christian theologian James White against my former GCC colleague Lee Carter. I don't approve at all of what Carter has said, but I think I would even keep this case out of the courtroom. But if you think that someone can make a case against Gangadean but not against Carter, then I've got some oceanfront property in Arizona, from my front porch you can see the sea.

An Establishment Clause Case against a California High School Teacher

For anti-Christian statements in class. You see, the establishment clause cuts both ways.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Constitutionality and Censorship: Some Questions for Gangadean's Debunkers

I am afraid you don't understand what I have been arguing. I am a former student of Surrendra Gangadean, but not a follower in any sense. I am not, nor have I ever been, involved with Westminster Fellowship.

I have not chosen Romans over the Constitution. I am instead arguing against what I consider to be a tendentious interpretation of the Establishment Clause that I consider to be far removed from the original intent of the founders, and which has implications that I think even atheists should find objectionable.

The framers of the Constitution wanted to avoid the situation where the government had an established church, and they wanted to make sure people could practice religion any way they wanted to. That is the reason for the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause in the Constitution. I would concede a further point, that freedom of religion includes freedom from religion; that is, that a person is free to not engage in any religious practice whatsoever if they so choose.

The case against Gangadean seems to be centered around the idea that in presenting a rational argument for the existence of God, he is violating the establishment clause. In presenting the argument he does not force students to accept it, and he realizes that some may not. He doesn't say "Believe it because I say so," he asks people to consider the argument and decide for themselves if it is sound, in much the way that any teacher might present an argument for or against belief in God. (If this is not the case, then, of course, we would need evidence that he requires students to accept the argument in order to pass the course. Rumors and allegations won't do here). But, according to the case against him, he nevertheless violates the EC by even doing this.

Now, notice that the MCCCD standards for the introduction to philosophy class says that the course is supposed to cover arguments for the existence of God, as well as the problem of evil. But, of course, there are plenty of classes which cover the arguments where the teacher does not endorse the arguments, and in many cases the teacher will criticize the arguments. So, the teacher has to present arguments for the existence of God, but he can avoid violating the Constitution only by failing to endorse those arguments? That would mean that if a teacher doesn't endorse these arguments, it doesn't mean anything since he couldn't legally endorse them even if he thought they were sound?????

Of course, many teachers present the philosophy of religion section of their class with a desire to show students that their belief in God is irrational. They present the ontological, cosmological, and teleological arguments for the existence of God, usually with not much sophistication on the positive side, and then refute them with broadly Humean rebuttals. Then they will bring up the problem of evil, with the implication that failure to explain all evils refutes theism. Then they bring up Kierkegaard's Leap of Faith as proof that Christians themselves realize that their beliefs are irrational.

I have heard some of these teachers say things like "Well, I presented all the arguments for the existence of God and refuted them, and students still believe!" It is clear that in many cases they intend to impact the religious beliefs of their students, but of course, they seek to impact it negatively rather than positively. If someone were to ask them if, in presenting these arguments the way they do, they are impeding the free exercise of religion, they would probably say something like, "If people want to be irrational, I can't stop them. All I'm doing is showing them how irrational they are."

But a teacher who defends an argument in natural theology can say approximately the same thing. He can say "Yes, reason can be used to show that God exists. But I'm not forcing them to become believers in God. If people want to be irrational, I can't stop them."

Even if you accepted these arguments for belief in God, no religious act follows from that. It isn't even like the school prayer situation, where someone in school is pushed by the teacher to perform a religious act he may not believe in doing. Many students that I have encountered have a belief in the existence of God, even when they don't go to church and don't engage in religious acts. So making a case for God doesn't establish or force any religious activities, even on those students who accept those arguments.

If a teacher were to argue vigorously against the existence of God in class, and were also the faculty sponsor of the Campus Humanist Club or the school's Richard Dawkins Society, they would be doing a lot of things with which  I disagree, but the would not be engaging in any pedagogical misconduct. I've even heard students say "If you write a paper for X, and you defend the existence of God, you can't get better than a C." That kind of biased grading would, of course, be poor teaching,  whether done by a believer or an atheist. But it's a whole lot easier to assert this sort of thing than to provide real evidence that it is happening.

Of course, you can say that "Atheism isn't a religion, it's a non-religion, and so attempting to establish the truth of atheism doesn't violate the Establishment Clause, but defending it in class is." This is the "not collecting stamps" argument. But I am sure that is far from what the founders intended. And, as  Finney pointed out in the first thread, atheism has been ruled a religion for purposes of the Free Exercise clause, so it has to be treated as one when considering the Establishment Clause.

As Voltaire (hardly a defender of traditional Christianity) said, "I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." A college or university should be an open marketplace of ideas, and the Establishment Clause is being abused when it is used as a tool for censorship.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Follow-up notes on the lawsuit post

A week or so ago, I was looking for a "Debunking C. S. Lewis" site that I had found. I typed the word "debunking" into Google, and instead of finding "Christianity" as the next word, which I expected to be suggested by Google, instead Google directed me to "Debunking Surrendra Gangadean," which is a Facebook page. I was shocked. Why would be be picked out for debunking?

The Facebook page was supposed to be devoted to the fallacies and sophistries of Surrendra Gangadean, but I actually saw no discussion of his arguments, or the arguments in his book. Instead, the site seemed to be devoted to the charge that he pushes his religious beliefs on his students, that he uses his classes to recruit students to a Christian fellowship he heads, and it was there that I discovered the lawsuit that was filed against him based on the Establishment clause. To read that site, he uses his classroom to run what amounts to a cult. 

What seemed to me problematic about all of this is that there are plenty of people who make a case against religious belief in their classes, and this is done deliberately with the intent to get people to give up their religious beliefs. If the Establishment clause can be used to beat religious professors over the head for defending their religious beliefs in class, but unbelievers can bash religious belief all they want, this creates an unfair asymmetry for the believer. 

However, I have been in contact with someone who is a good deal closer to my former teacher than I am, and he tells me that I was insufficiently critical of the factual content of the Debunking page. Professor Gangadean does not use his classes to recruit for a fellowship; in fact, he does not make his own beliefs especially evident in his classes, and often plays devil's advocate against the positions he himself holds. If so, he doesn't operate much differently from the way I do. I do think the description of my former teacher's activities by his debunkers is tendentious at best and deceitful at worst. 

Most teachers have beliefs which they make evident to some extent in their class. After all, we do believe things, and we should be able say that we do believe them. I know fellow Christian instructors who are more forward about their own beliefs in class than I am. If, on the other hand, I thought that many of my students were getting a lot of anti-religious intimidation in other classes, I might advocate more for what I believe than I do. I do feel a primary responsibility to teach the curriculum. I sometimes get asked about my own beliefs, and typically I will defer answering until the end of the semester. I try to make sure that, whatever you are a believer or an unbeliever, you will be able to say when the class is over that your view was competently represented. 

What I am saying is that I could be more of an advocate for my Christianity than I in fact am, and if I were to do so, I should not have to be concerned with lawsuits and the Establishment clause. The marketplace of ideas should be left open to all viewpoints, including religious ones. The idea that religious professors are obligated to lean over backwards to be neutral, while anti-religious can be unremittingly hostile, is a situation which is far from what the Founders had in mind when the laid out the laws concerning the establishment and free expression of religion.