Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mark Nelson on reductio versions of the Argument from Evil

A redated post.

The is from Mark Nelson's paper Naturalistic Ethics and the Argument from Evil,' Faith and Philosophy, vol. 8, no. 3, 1991.

Nelson argued in this paper that the moral premise of the argument from evil is undermined if the atheist construes that premise in a non-realist way, that is, he does not think that any propositions about what one ought to do can be true.
For reference, here are 1, 2 and 4 to which he refers in the paper.

1) if there were an all-good, all-powerful God, then there would be little or no evil in the world.

2) But there is much evil in the world.

4) If there were an all-good God, he would want there to be little or no evil in the world.

He writes, concerning the possibility of a reductio version of the argument:

Third, while not taking the argument as a reason for atheism itself, the naturalist can still try to offer the argument as an ad hominem argument that anyone who holds the non-relativistic ethical theory that the theist in fact holds should reject theism. That is, even if the naturalist does not believe premises 1 and 2, she can argue that the theist must (or at least does) hold premises 1 and 2, and that these jointly entail 3 (atheism-VR). Since few theists these days deny 2, the real issue is whether the naturalist can show that the theist must, or does, accept 1. In the present context, this boils down to whether the naturalist can show that the theist must, or does, accept 4, and this is a tall order. While some theists accept 4 or ought to, given their other philosophical commitments, it is by no means obvious that all do or even should, since, for theists, the acceptability of 4 depends to some extent on the truth about morality, and even among theists there is considerable disagreement about what this is. In sum, it's not as if the naturalist can point to a set of moral propositions to which all theists must share and say "See! These commit you to 4!" And the theist should be wary of letting her critic pin some definite moral theory on here, since it may be difficult to say what moral theory a world view commits us to, except from a vantage point "inside" it, as it were. Moreover, the theist might regard the ability to handle the problem of evil as a condition of adequacy for any theistic theory of morality. Finally, such an ad hominem argument does not satisfy the conditions for a disproof of the existence of an all-good, all-powerful God.

The Intentionality Delusion

This is a Vallicella post about Rosenberg's denial of intentionality. You have to wonder how he avoids that conclusion that, since no statements are about anything, his own statements are also not about anything. But I suppose it is consistent naturalism.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Conflating atheism with materialism

Parbouj has been making the complaint that Lewis, and those like myself who make use of his philosophical ideas, conflate atheism with materialism.

The interesting thing about that is that when Lewis himself became persuaded by anti-materialist arguments, he didn't become a theist, he attempted to avoid traditional theism by adopting an alternative philosophy that was very prevalent in his own time, namely, Absolute Idealism.

Here's what he wrote about it:

It is astonishing (at this time of day) that I could regard this position as something quite distinct from Theism. I suspect there was some willful blindness. But there were in those days all sorts of blankets, insulators, and insurances which enabled one to get all the conveniences of Theism, without believing in God. The English Hegelians, writers like T. H. Green, Bradley, and Bosanquet (then mighty names), dealt in precisely such wares. The Absolute Mind—better still, the Absolute—was impersonal, or it knew itself (but not us?) and it was so absolute that it wasn’t really much more like a mind than anyone else….We could talk religiously about the Absolute; but there was no danger of Its doing anything about us…There was nothing to fear, better still, nothing to obey.

Lewis never supposes that anti-materialist arguments (such as the argument from reason) establish theism  immediately and directly. Nor do I. I do think the my argument does establish that what is basic to reality is something mental, and that it is cannot be fully described in non-mental terms. I also think that that mental something at the base of things, is most coherently drawn out in terms of a theistic philosophy.

I have always been very explicit about this, see, for example, here.

Subjectivism and the argument from evil as a reductio

The reductio requires that you establish that a particular conception of goodness is essential to Christianity. I think it's a mistake to just say "no problem, it's just a reductio." Even if you argue that a theist must accept an objective standard of right and wrong, you then have to show that the standard that God supposedly violates by allowing the type of evil you are highlighting is a standard that Christians, in virtue of being Christians, are committed to. That's a bit of a demanding chore, in my book.

If you're a subjectivist, you can't say "This is the true standard of right and wrong, God violates that in virtue of allowing the evil he does allow, therefore, an omnipotent being, if he exists, can't be good." What you have to say is that Christians are committed to the standard that God is violating. Showing that commitment on the part of Christians is bound to be difficult.

A two or three years back on DI I got into some dialogue with Calvinists, in which I argued that a God who predestined some to heaven and some to hell would not be a good being in any recognizable sense. I still think that's right, but they argued that what it is for God to be good is that God's actions promote his own glory, and by glory they mean that God acted in such a way as to be able to exercise as many of his attributes as possible. God's goodness, as they understood it, required him to required him to exercise both his merciful forgiveness of sinners, which he does by giving them saving grace and welcoming them into heaven, but also by leaving people in sin and exercising his attribute of hostility to and punishment toward sin, which he exercises by punishing people eternally in hell. The Calvinists I was discussing with denied that they were theological voluntarists. God is seeking glory in this sense is, on their view, satisfying an objectively true standard of ethical conduct. Nor would I make the case that Calvinists aren't Christians.

I still think that this leaves us with too big of a disconnect between goodness as we understand in human relationships and goodness as practiced by God. But making that case as someone who believes in an objective moral standard is difficult enough. Making such a case if you are an ethical subjectivist strikes me as being just plain impossible.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

C. S. Lewis on Subjectivism and the argument from evil

A redated post.

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I com­paring this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: A fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist—in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: Just as, if there were no light in the uni­verse and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.

Mere Christianity, II, 1

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Against Gandhi

If Bnonn is right in this essay, Gandhi is not the saint he was cracked up to be.

I suppose few "great" people are quite what they have been cracked up to be.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Great Sin

A redated post.

C. S. Lewis on Pride: The Great Sin
I first read Mere Christianity when I was 18 years old. At the time, I was between my freshman and sophomore years of college, and had spent much of my time until then in the Arizona competitive chess scene. (Just so you know, the competitive chess scene, especially amongst teenagers, is not a hotbed of humility).
In addition, I have spent much of my life since in pursuit of achievement, especially intellectual achievement. So this chapter of Mere Christianity was a like a hard kick in the stomach.
Today many people with a “psychology” orientation would say that “self-esteem” is very important.
Aristotle said that humility is a vice.
27 years ago, I wrote a sermon counterbalancing was an overstated case in this chapter. However, a properly balanced chapter on this subject would not have had the impact on me that the actual chapter did.
I should warn you that those who know me best might tell you that I am the last person on earth to be lecturing anybody about humility.
Further, the Christian tradition’s emphasis on humility effectively demolishes the theory that Christianity is the product of wishful thinking. Who would want this to be the main sin of the human race?

Lewis: this is where Christianity morality differs from other moral ideas.
No one except Christians ever admits to this vice.
However, no one who is not a Christian ever shows any mercy towards it on others. No fault makes a man more unpopular, but we are unconscious of it in ourselves.
The virtue is pride or self-conceit, and the opposite virtue is humility.
This, not chastity, is the center of Christian morality. This is the essential vice, the utmost evil. It was through pride that the devil became the devil. Pride leads to all other vice. It is the complete anti-God state of mind.

(One time I mentioned to a class of students at the University of Illinois that there were 18 or so full-time faculty members at the U of I, and that as far as I knew 17 of them were atheists. One student raised his hand and said “Those atheists in your department, do they think of themselves as the supreme beings?” I was not quick enough to say “not all of them.”)

If you want to know how proud you are ask: “How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronize me, or show off?” The point is that each person’s pride is in competition with everyone else’s pride. Pride is essentially competitive, while other vices are competitive only by accident. Pride takes no pleasure out of having some thing, only out of having more of it than the next man has.

The sexual impulse may cause two men to want the same girl. However, pride will cause a man to take your girl from you, not because he wants her, but because he wants to prove he is a better man than you are.

Why do wealthy people want to make more money? Pride, and lust for power. Why does a girl spread misery by collecting admirers? Pride. Why does a political leader or whole nation go on and on, demanding increasingly? (This is my last territorial demand-Hitler.) Pride again.

Pride causes enmity because it is enmity. In addition, it is enmity toward God, as well as toward others. If you are always looking down, you cannot look up.

Why are people who are obviously eaten up with Pride say they believe in God and appear very religious? They are worshipping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing before a phantom God, but are really imagining how much this God approves of them and thinks them better than ordinary people. (VR: Pharisee’s prayer: I thank God that I am not as other men.)

Whenever we think that our religious life makes us better than other people, we are being acted on not by God but by the Devil.

The real test of being in the presence of God is that you see yourself as a small dirty thing or you forget about yourself altogether. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.

Teachers appeal to a boy’s pride or self-respect, to get him to behave decently, you can even overcome other sins through an appeal to pride. (VR: I’m not sure about this one). However, the devil is happy with that, he is happy to cure your chilblains by giving you cancer.

However: Pleasure in being praised is not pride. Vanity, the pursuit of the praise of others, is a kind of pride, but it is the kind that is least bad—at least you care about what someone other than yourself thinks.

One should be glad that one has pleased another, and even more glad that one has pleased God. VR: I should think, as well, that one should be pleased to have achieved any worthwhile goal.

Someone can be “proud” of a son, or father, or school, or regiment, etc. If we mean admiration, then that is not a sin. However, if you give yourself airs because of it that is a sin.

God does not forbid Pride because it offends God’s own pride, but because God wants you to know Him, and your pride gets in the way.

Lewis says he wishes he could tell us what it is really like to get free from pride.

A truly humble person would not be a self-denigrating person; he would simply be a cheerful person who was very interested in what you said to him.

First step toward humility? Realize that you are proud.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cafeteria Conservatism and Corporate Prostitution

A redated post. 

It seems to me that the Republican leadership, while calling itself conservative, is prepared to abandon conservative principles whenever and wherever it helps the corporate bottom line. I respect conservatives, but I despise corporate prostitutes, and that is what I think these so-called conservatives have become.

I mean look at Medicare Part D. Now conservatism would say this is a bad idea, expanding gummint to cover prescription drugs for people on Medicare. It expands government bureaucracy, etc, all the arguments against Medicare from when I was a kid. Liberals are disappointed because Medicare can't negotiate prices for these drugs. So why do it? Cui bono? Who benefits? Not the people on Medicare, so who could it be? The drug companies, who are happy to see an increase in Federal bureaucracy so long as it help line their pockets?

Do you really need to be a liberal to point this out?

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Question for Frank Beckwith and Other Pro-Lifers

This is another way of posing the question I asked about embryonic stem cell research a few posts back. 

Frank: The abortion issue, of course, spills over into the debate about embryonic stem cell research, and raises a very interesting issue.

The pro-life, or conceptionist position, is that human life, and the right to life, begins at conception. This, of course implies that, once conceived, from its initial state as as zygote to when it dies, the human being possesses certain basic rights, including the right to life. Hence abortion is ruled out except in cases where homicide is justified, and homicide is not justified in the vast majority of abortion cases (danger to the life of the mother being the primary type of case where the requirements of justifiable homicide are met). But this protects not only fetuses, but also frozen embryos, which are created but not implanted. These are persons also, and therefore pro-life arguments extend to them, and it is homicide (and therefore murder if there is no moral justification for homicide) to use those embryos for embryonic stem cell research, since such use destroys the life of the embryos.

The question then arises as to what other rights these embryos have in addition to the right to life. I take it that ordinary fetuses have other rights besides the right to life. If embryos are frozen into the indefinite future, does this do a moral disservice to them? They get to live, but they never get a life, as it were. If life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are basic rights, then do we  not have an obligation to these embryos to give them the opportunity to grow up, be free, and pursue happiness, as opposed to leaving them in a frozen prison.

Or do embryos and fetuses have only the right to life? That strikes me as highly counterintuitive.

Has anyone developed a pro-life analysis of this issue?


Explicating Conservatism: Some Questions for Ilion and other self-described conservatives

Ilion, let's try to unpack your claim here.

I: Meanwhile, Prokop and his fellow leftist partisans *do* believe in, and *do* agitate for, using the violent power of The State to forcibly confiscate the honestly-earned wealth of [someone] so as to give it to [someone else] … and this is open theft. It is grossly unjust and immoral; that “the government” is doing it does not make it just or moral. Any society which tries to operate on this principle of mutual looting must utterly destroy itself.

VR: I think this is a fair statement of a standard conservative perspective. The presupposition seems to be that, before the government gets its greedy mitts on our money, it is distributed by markets, both the commodity markets and the labor markets. When this original distribution occurs, that distribution is relatively meritocratic; those who have more merit more. However this meritocracy is compromised by government's "well-intentioned" (and here I reference the signature statement on your blog), attempt to help the have-nots at the expense of the haves.

Now, I take it you do think the government has the right to ask that we all ante up to provide for our common defense, and probably some of this also needs to go to make sure the country's infrastructure is maintained. So there should be a military budget, there should be a budget for building roads and bridges and maintaining those, etc. As I understand it those should be paid for not at the point of income but at the point of consumption; those who use it should pay to use it.

But here, it seems to me that conservatives draw a distinction between the protective role of government and the non-protective role. The protective roles of government have a constitutional mandate (provide for the common defense, etc.), the non-protective roles are, pretty largely, a matter of government overstepping its authority. So, for example, if health insurance companies have a policy of excluding people with pre-existing conditions, it is unjust government intrusion to come in and prevent them from doing this, so that more people can be insured. So, conservatives at least can be hawks when it comes to what we need to do to defend ourselves, although there was a time in our history when conservatives tended to be isolationists.

At this point I am trying to spell out what I think is the conservative vision as you understand it, and I want to invite others who describe themselves as conservative to look at this and see if their own view is accurately represented. Amend as you see fit, guys. I want to put the descriptive process first before I start talking about why I have trouble believing this whole story.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

What happens to the unused embryos

Whenever I look at the arguments in the embryonic stem cell research debate, a question always arises in my mind. If taking the stem cells from the embryos is, as opponents claim, murder, then foregoing using them for stem cell research preserves them for what fate? If it's murder to kill them, then isn't leaving them forever and ever in liquid nitrogen any better? What kind of life are we saving them for? If every embryo is sacred, and God gets irate if they are destroyed, are we also wronging them if we don't give them a chance to have a life? At least, the "You could be aborting Beethoven" argument seems not to apply here.  

This is an article about unused embryos, and what happens to them. I'm sure some of you know more about this than I do. 

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Redistribution and parties

ADC wrote:

I'm more concerned with is how a particular candidate views the use government's monopoly on force. Will it be constrained to protection and defend individual rights - or unconstrained in attempts to shape and engineer a 'better' humanity?

VR: If this is your concern, then you cannot vote for members of either major party. Democrats believe in redistribution of wealth and income downwards, toward the poor and the middle class. Republicans believe in redistribution of wealth and income upwards, so that more money is concentrated in the hands of the wealthy.  Neither party practices laissez-faire economics. There is no advantage in voting Republican as opposed to Democratic, if you are a real conservative. Both parties do the same thing, just in opposite directions. The difference between them is that Republicans pay lip service to laissez-faire economics, while Democrats do not. There is no lesser of two evils here. 

May I suggest the Libertarians? 

McGrew on the Historical Reliability of the NT

This is a youtube video of a presentation given by Skype to the Belfast Reasonable Faith society.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

On Clinton's Lies

Some people say that the problem with Clinton was not that he had an affair, but that he lied about it. But what do you think about people who have affairs and don't lie about them?

Ben Schuldt replies to Darek Barefoot

Darek Barefoot wrote a defense of the AFR against Carrier. This is Ben Schuldt's response.

The Ten Commandments

One of the central ideas in religious morality is the idea of a commandment. It is sometimes said that they are the Ten Commandments, not the Ten Suggestions. Does being commanded by God give something a status of absoluteness or finality that you can't find in secular morality?

Monday, December 05, 2011

Fundy atheists

This is an oldie but a goodie, from Tektonics. It is certainly possible to change your brand of fundamentalism.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Evolution and its impact on Christian theism

There are two aspects of evolution that raise issues for religion. One is the obvious conflict between the theory of evolution and the traditional literal reading of Genesis. If, as traditionalists assert, the Bible gives us a comprehensive genealogy of the human race, then the age of not only "the earth" but also the heavens can at least approximately be calculated, and it comes to about 4004 B. C. (at least, that is what Bishop Ussher thought). That, of course, conflicts with evolution, but it also conflicts with garden-variety astronomy, which teaches that distant stars can be a million light years away. This site attempts to answer that question on behalf of the traditional reading of Genesis.  But such a reading of Genesis was rejected not merely by moderns who have been shown the problems with this by modern science. It was rejected by St. Augustine, hardly someone running scared from modern science.

The other, and more serious issue, is that evolution attempts to provide an explanation of speciation which replaces design with a trial and error process without design. At least in theory, you should be able to get to any level of sophistication in the engineering of the human body through genetic replication, natural selection, and, of course, enough time. So we can't go as easily as believers would like from what looks like the tremendous engineering of the human body to an intelligent designer, much less a creator. What looked to even our eighteenth century forbears like overwhelming reason to believe that there was an intelligence behind our universe (even for deists, who claimed that God created and designed the universe, but did not interfere in its operation, and did not incarnate himself as Christ to save the world). Even Hume, depending on how you read him, seems to cave in to a very denatured form of the design argument at the end of the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. But ever since Darwin, the sledding has been tougher for arguments from design to a Designer of the world. Some of the most popular forms of the design argument today make an end run around evolution, and look at the cosmic constants in place at the Big Bang, which, by definition cannot be products of an evolutionary process. 

Friday, December 02, 2011

Defending Carrier Against Me

This is a response by Carrier admirer Ben Schuldt to an early response of mine to Carrier. He uses the fallacy of composition charge against my argument.

Physicalist analyses of mental start by defining the physical by excluding the mental, but then combinations of the physical are supposed to be mental. Yet, when the physical descriptions are complete, it looks as if the marks of the mental have disappeared and have been replaced by something that doesn't look mental at all. I call this changing the subject, but Schuldt thinks that I am question-beggingly insisting on a "magical" analysis of mind. I say I am insisting on a mentalistic analysis of mind. The mental is what it is, and is not something else.

It doesn't seem that all part-to-whole inferences commit the fallacy of composition. For example, if every part of the shed in the back yard is made of wood, then the shed is made of wood, isn't it? (Even if it doesn't weigh the same as a duck).

Thursday, December 01, 2011

A Youtube Attack on my AFR

At least Richard Carrier read my book. I'm not sure this guy has.

For example, he makes the simplistic "argument from computers", which I responded to in my book, and numerous times subsequently, including here

I am not saying that there aren't more sophisticated ways of using computer science to critique the AFR, but this is not one of them.