Monday, April 30, 2012

Did Napoleon Exist? A satirical reply to Hume on miracles

A redated post.

By 19th Century philosopher Richard Whately. Say, does Richard Dawkins exist? I've never met him.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Ad hominem fallacy

The idea of ad hominem is this. A person says they believe something, and then give you a reason for believing it. Now, if they expect you to believe it because they said so, then who they are is important. But if they give you a reason, then you have to assess not them, but the reason they give for believing something. So, if someone offers a reason for rejecting the death penalty, it doesn't matter if, say, they are an inmate on death row. If they argue The focus shifts from them to the argument they offer. To focus back on the person when they have offered a reason for what they believe is to commit the "ad hominem" (to the man), fallacy.

William Lane Craig argues as follows:

1. Whatever begins to exist, must have a cause of its existence.
2. The universe began to exist.
Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.

Craig offers arguments in defense of each of the premises.

What that means, is that it is ad hominem to reject the argument by pointing out that he would believe in God, because of what he takes to be the  testimony of the Holy Spirit, even if other arguments were bad. It is ad hominem to argue that he had an emotional conversion to Christianity. It is ad hominem to say that he wants to believe in God, so he will produce whatever arguments he needs in order to believe. Since he has given an argument, critiquing any thing other than the argument is irrelevant.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A series on arguments for atheism: The Argument from Intellectual Progress

A redated post from about two years ago.

I found a page I had written on some arguments for atheism which I am not sure I have ever written spelled out as such, but seem to be implicit in a lot of people's thinking. Here's one, the Argument from Intellectual Progress:

1) Human thought has progressed from the earliest days of humanity until now.
2) In the infancy of the human race, humans believe that everything was divine: rocks, trees, etc.
3) Then humans believed in many gods but rejected the divinity of rocks and trees.
4) Then humans went from polytheism to monotheism with the rise of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, reducing the number of deities to one (or three-in-one, as the case might be.
5) At first these religions were accepted with a full-blown supernaturalism. More recently, even adherents of these religions have seen fit to modify their commitment to the supernatural. They acknowledge that the supernatural exists but are more reticent than their ancestors in attibuting things to the supernatural.
6) In the Eighteenth Century belief in God was reduced by the deists to a being who would up the universe like a watch. In the nineteenth century, after Darwin, atheism became a serious possiblity for many intelligent poeple. No in many educated groups, atheism is virtually taken for granted.
7) If we trace the logical conclusion of human thought, we will find that it is leading in the direction of the rejection of gods entirely. Perhaps in the 24th Century most people will be atheists, with a few theists hanging on in the outlying counties.

Of course I don't buy this argument, as I think it falls victim to Lewis's critique of chronological snobbery. But I would like to get some discussion on this.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Atheism and Falsification

Here's an article endorsed by P. Z. Myers. Where's Tony Flew now that we need him?

More on the AFR

II. C. S. Lewis’s argument, and mine
            In reading John Beversluis’s new edition of C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion, it occurred to me that while I have developed Lewis’s argument a great deal, I have not been as explicit as I might have been in delineating exactly how my argument differs from, and develops his. Of course, Lewis didn’t invent the argument, and it has an important predecessor in Arthur Balfour, the Prime Minister-philosopher of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Lewis’s role was to introduce the argument to a popular audience, and to revise the argument in response to the criticisms of Elizabeth Anscombe.  There have been other important contributors to the argument, in particular William Hasker and Alvin Plantinga.
            At several points along the way I have introduced some structure to the argument that was not originally present in Lewis. I am certainly following Lewis’s fundamental idea in this, but a number of the nuances in the argument are my own. Explicating exactly what I have done on this might be helpful in understanding my argument.      
Naturalism and Supernaturalism
Lewis begins his discussion by distinguishing between naturalism and supernaturalism. A naturalist is someone who thinks that the privilege of “being on its own,” belongs to “the whole show,” in much the way that sovereignty, in a democracy, belongs to the people not to some particular person or group of persons. A supernaturalist thinks that there are certain real things (or One Thing) that have the privilege of existing on their own, and that other objects depend on that for its existence. Further, he distinguished a “strict materialism,” which he thinks can be refuted by the one-line Haldane quote (If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, then I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true, and hence I have no reason for supposing that my brain is made up of atoms.), from naturalism that is not purely materialistic, and must be refuted with a more complex argument. Lewis says that if naturalism is true, there can be no free will, because determinism would be true. He mentions quantum mechanics, but he describes quantum-mechanical indeterminacy as a “threat” to naturalism, in which the “subnatural” can invade nature “from below,” as it were. However, he expresses doubt that this kind of indeterminism will continue to be affirmed by science.
            Because of this, Beversluis responds that his argument against naturalism works, if at all, against deterministic forms of naturalism, and unless the naturalism in question is of the determinist variety, Lewis’s argument is not an argument against that. But does determinism really make a difference? In deterministic forms of naturalism, events are guaranteed by the action of non-rational causes. In non-deterministic forms of naturalism, there is brute chance instead of determinism, but do events ever happen because of reasons? It doesn’t seem as if determinism makes a relevant difference.
            I think Lewis’s exposition of the naturalist-supernaturalist distinction needs some further development for philosophical argumentation today. I ask the question of whether the basic causes of the universe are mentalistic or non-mentalistic. If the basic causes of the universe are non-mentalistic, then if we have a mentalistic explanation, such as “Smith believes in evolution, in part, because the fossil record supports it,” then there has to be some explanation underlying that one which in non-mentalistic cause-and-effect operation of mindless atoms moving in accordance with the laws of nature is what is happening in the final analysis. On the other hand, if we look at those same atoms from the standpoint of theism, we find that those particles have the powers and liabilities they do because God created them that way. Scratch far enough, and you get a mentalistic explanation, not a non-mentalistic one. It is interesting that when you look at what makes something “material” or “natural,” you end up defining “material” in terms of the absence of mental characteristics. If a naturalistic worldview is true, then reason comes late to the party, when a brain of sufficient sophistication develops. Lewis describes his argument as an argument for supernaturalism, which is fine so long as we understand that by supernatural, what we mean is that it has, at bottom, and not a non-mentalistic explanation. Richard Carrier, perhaps the Argument from Reason’s most prolific critic, puts it this way.
Hence, I propose a general rule that covers all and thus distinguishes naturalism from supernaturalism: If naturalism is true, everything mental is caused by the nonmental, whereas if supernaturalism is true, at least one thing is not.
            But what are the characteristic of the mental? I have identified four characteristics of the mental. The first mark of the mental is purpose. For anyone who denies the ultimacy of the mind, an explanation in terms of purposes requires a further nonpurposive explanation to account for the purpose explanation. The second mark is intentionality or aboutness. Genuinely non-mental states are not about anything at all. The third mark is normativity. A normative explanation must be explained in terms of the non-normative, in the mental is not on the ground level of reality. The fourth mark is subjectivity.  There is no inner perspective at the physical level.
            Hence, a naturalistic view has, on my view, three basic elements. One of them is a mechanistic, that is non-mentalistic, basic level of reality. The second is the doctrine of the causal  closure of the physical. This does not require determinism, but what it does require that nothing outside of the physical be in causal connection. The third doctrine, is the doctrine of supervenience. Whatever is not itself physical must in fact, supervene on the physical. Therefore, this conception of reality is one which prohibits skyhooks, that is, anything from a higher level that is not accounted for on the lower level.
            Having laid out these elements, we can proceed to consider what I maintain a naturalistic view has difficulty accounting for. We could begin by looking at what human rationality is, or how it is supposed to manifest itself. Atheists very often perceive themselves has having the more rational view. The claim that, instead of believing things on faith, they look at the evidence and believe only what the evidence supports. But let’s take a look at how this works. If someone, let’s say, believes in evolution because they believe the fossil record supports it, that seems to imply that one set of mental events, those involved in examining and evaluating the fossil evidence, helps to bring about that fact that the person believes in evolution. But, it looks as if, at the basic level of analysis, mental states do not play any role qua mental states. What we have to be calling an instance of mental causation has to in fact be an example of physical causation in which the real causes are in the non-mental supervenience base, not amongst the mental states themselves.
            In fact, Lewis said that all knowledge, apart from the knowledge of our sensations, is inferred from those sensations. This led Beversluis to presume that his argument is essentially committed to the idea that, for example, our knowledge that there is a tree in the quad which I see, is really inferential knowledge. He points out that Lewis doesn’t really defend this view of sensory knowledge as inferential, and it would be odd for him to construct an argument based on this kind of view. But Lewis did not have to take such a strong view of inferential knowledge in order for his argument to work. What he needs, instead, is simply to argue that inferential knowledge is essential to science, since no modern atheist is going to argue that science does not acquire knowledge at all. If you consider the process of doing a mathematical equation, or basing a belief in evolution on the evidence, you will see that if your worldview says that this never happens, then this is certainly a very serious problem. These seem to be clear cases in which one mental event cause another mental event.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Who's really doing the science?

Is if Francis Collins, or the Gnu leaders? Find out here. 

HT: Bilbo.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

An analysis of the argument from reason

This is a treatment of the argument from reason, which includes a treatment of Hasker's version of the argument. Sometimes I think Bill is one forgotten founding father of the AFR.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Nagel, Loftus and future science

This is a response to a Loftus post on Thomas Nagel. 

"Scientifically uninformed philosophy, as opposed to scientifically informed philosophy." How in the world do you draw that distinction, given the fact that any step from science to philosophy is a step outside of the content of the science itself. Science always underdetermines the philosophy. Always, always, always.

Yeah, wait and see what science will do with it. That cannot possibly be present science, it has to be future science. If I think that science will reach a future outcome, I am extrapolating based on present science. But let's look at what science has done in the past century or so. We've gone from Newton to Einstein, Einstein to quantum mechanics, and the rejection of subatomic determinism. Scientists of a prior generation would be shocked at these developments. The mainstream in cosmology has mostly embraced a temporal beginning of the universe, something that theists would have expected to find true, but atheists like Russell would not.

Betting against science?

Here's what you quoted from Wikipedia. (OK, I won't quibble about whether you actually read Nagel, as opposed to getting your information from Wikipedia and Amazon. But, at the end of the day, you have to actually read Nagel to see if you have him right).

Nagel is not a physicalist because he does not believe that an internal
understanding of mental concepts shows them to have the kind of hidden
essence that underpins a scientific identity in, say, chemistry. But his
skepticism is about current physics: he envisages in his most recent
work that people may be close to a scientific breakthrough in
identifying an underlying essence that is neither physical (as people
currently think of the physical), nor functional, nor mental, but such
that it necessitates all three of these ways in which the mind "appears"
to us. The difference between the kind of explanation he rejects and
those that he accepts depends on his understanding of transparency: from
his earliest paper to the most recent Nagel has always insisted that a
prior context is required to make identity statements plausible,
intelligible and transparent.

That doesn't sound like he's betting against science, it looks to me as if he has some expectations about what science will eventually say when it gets done. And his point about a prior context seems to me to be logical in nature.

In order to reject this as impossible, you have to accept something like the Dennettian "no skyhooks" rule as somehow definitive of science, so that, if someone breaks that rule, they are, by definition, not doing science. 
I can easily imagine people out of the 19th Century saying that science can never abandon determinism, and that it can never accept a temporal beginning of the universe. To do so would be to not do science.
I see that here, the whipping boy ID has been brought up. I'm not always happy about what ID supporters have done, particularly where public school issues are concerned. But going all the way back to my days studying the philosophy of science, back when there was just creationism and ID had not been mentioned, I remember concurring with my atheist philosophy of science teacher that almost all of the "in-principle" arguments that creationism could never even possibly be science, were bad arguments.

I'm sure some of you will read into those last comments an endorsement of ID, or creationism, and I suppose nothing will stop you from doing so. But, for the record, I didn't endorse either one.

The present-day materialist may think that present science supports what he takes to be materialism. But, he still must look over his shoulder and ask Carole King's question of future science: "But will you love me tomorrow?"

Monday, April 09, 2012

Sunday, April 08, 2012

An Interview with Tim McGrew for Easter

A quote from Swinburne on the Resurrection

For Easter.A redated post.

“It is simply not possible to investigate whether Jesus rose from the dead without taking a view about how probable it is that there is a God likely to intervene in human history in this kind of way. If the reader thinks that all the evidence suggests there is no God of the traditional kind, or that although perfectly good he would not intervene in human history, then the detailed historical evidence about what happened in Palestine in the first century AD is perhaps not strong enough to make it probable that Jesus rose from the dead. And this despite the very striking coincidence that the one prophet in human history about whom there is the kind of life was also the one prophet about whom there is the kind of evidence not too unexpected if his life was culminated by a super-miracle. There is significant historical evidence that Jesus did satisfy the requirements, and the coincidence to which I referred must be taken seriously. If the background evidence leaves it not too improbable that there is a God likely to act in the ways discussed, then the total evidence makes it very probable that Jesus was God Incarnate who rose from the dead.”—Richard Swinburne, The Resurrection of God Incarnate

Friday, April 06, 2012

Christus Victor: An Alternative to Penal Subsitution

A redated post.

Defended also by Charles Taliaferro as the Narnian Theory of the Atonement.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Are all prayer studies negative?

Are all scientific prayer studies negative in their results? Apparently not.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

A story of an atheist's final days

This is a fascinating account of the end of a well-known atheist's life, as well as a Catholic testimony, from  R. J. Stove, the son of David Stove, an Australian philosopher.

Is atheism the answer to our existential anxieties? No this time.

HT : Eric

Pragmatics and the burden of proof

Cole: To put it another way, what we would need is evidence that is beyond reasonable doubt. Instead what we have is probable evidence for a probable conclusion for someone rising from the dead.

VR: We require evidence beyond a reasonable doubt in court cases because the harm done by a false positive (the conviction of an innocent person) is considered to do more harm than a false negative (letting an innocent person go free). It's a function of the pragmatics of the situation.

Why do we need beyond reasonable doubt for belief in God? Apparently my friend Kelly Clark can make do with less: he's a Christian. Even if we take Pascalian concerns out of the equation (afterlife outcomes), it looks as if there are numerous people for whom the pragmatics work the other way. For example,  they might found the idea of an atheist universe so depressing they don't want to go on, they might receive encouragement from adopting a theistic viewpoint. You might call such people weak, but what do weak people do?
On the face of things "the burden of proof" in these matters might reasonably differ from person to person.

Monday, April 02, 2012

The beginning of my new AFR paper

                C. S. Lewis’s Argument from Reason

            Lewis’s contribution to Christian apologetics is many and varied, but one of his contributions seems to be of great contemporary relevance, and that is his argument from reason. The argument from reason is only indirectly an argument for Christianity or even for theism, but is instead an argument against one of Christian theism’s most popular rivals, and that is a doctrine called metaphysical naturalism.  In recent years, we have seen a very aggressive version of this doctrine propounded by advocates of what is today called “The New Atheism.” Of course, the atheists we have always had with us, but led by popular writers such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett, atheists have made it their goal to eliminate religious belief in general, and Christianity in particular, from the face of the earth. At the same time, these atheists have made if very clear what they want to replace religious belief with. They want to people all over the world reject whatever religions they currently accept and embrace instead a doctrine of scientific naturalism. This effort has found its way onto sign on British buses that say “There is almost certainly no God. Now go on and enjoy your day.” To people like Dawkins, belief in the existence of God, or in Christianity, isn’t just false, it is delusional, which means it believed by its adherents in the teeth of overwhelming evidence that it is not true.  Further, they maintain that religious beliefs are not a benign delusion, it is a delusion that blocks the advancement of science at every turn, and actually leads its followers to resort to violence, as is evidenced by the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers, and George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.
            One of the assumptions made by the New Atheists is that they suppose that religious believers believe as a matter of faith, which to them means that believers believe in spite of the evidence. I do not know what someone like Dawkins would make of Lewis’s famous statement from Mere Christianity, in which he says I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of evidence is against it. That is not the point at which faith comes in.” But they are quite convinced that the weight of the evidence is against religious belief, and that such faith does considerable harm.
            I noted earlier that the New Atheists not only want to make religious belief disappear, they want to replace it with a non-religious doctrine which is called philosophical naturalism. It is expressed in Carl Sagan’s famous pronouncement that “The Cosmos is all the was, or is, or ever will be.” But there is more to it than this. In the book entitled Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, (the book whose title I cannibalized in “C. S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea) Daniel Dennett contrasts two types of explanations, one of which he calls cranes, and the other he calls skyhooks. Cranes are bottom-up explanations, which explain the more intelligent and more complex in terms of the less intelligent and less complex. Where you have a mental explanation, you must explain that mental explanation in terms of something that is non-mental. For example, if you say that the purpose of your eye is to see, that might be an acceptable thing to say, so long as you can cash that explanation out in terms of something that is not so purposive. In Darwinian biology, if you say that the purpose of your eye is to see, what that means is that the function and survival value of the eye is that it enables the one who has it to see. Evolution will select for something that gives its possessor a survival advantage, but will not do so as a matter of a deliberate mental process. If we say that God designed you eye so that you can see, that would be, on Dennett’s view, and unacceptable skyhook, which he describes as a mind-first explanation with no underlying non-mental explanation. However, the Darwinian version of this statement is acceptable, because even though there is a mental explanation on the surface of things, it is merely a stand-in for a proper scientific explanation that excludes the mental. The mental is, according to naturalism, a system by-product of an inherently non-mental universe. It is not literally true that the chicken crossed the road to get to the other side. The history of science, on this view, is the history of displacing mental explanations, at least at the basic level of analysis, with non-mental ones. Every day, in every way, we’re getting closer and close to the time when all the skyhooks are gone, and all we have are cranes.
            The argument from reason essentially says that this can’t be the comprehensive story of the universe.  Remember, atheists say that religious believers believe in spite of the presence of overwhelming evidence against what they believe. What that implies is that there is an alternative to this, namely, believing in accordance with, and because of the evidence. But if everything in the universe has to be explained from the bottom up, then can it be literally true to say “I reject belief in the existence of God because if there were a God, there would be evidence of his existence which we do not find?” In the final analysis, stuff moves not according to the laws of reasoning or logic, but according to the laws of physics, without intention or purpose. If this is so, then how is it possible to believe anything on the basis of evidence? Scientists believe what they do because they evaluate the evidence for scientific hypotheses, and accept the one which has the most evidential support. Thus, Darwin, we are told, found evidence for his theory of natural selection based on evidence taken from his observations of finches on the Galapagos Islands. Science would not exist if it were not possible to give mentalistic explanations for the activities of scientists. Hence, the ban on skyhooks has to stop when we start talking about the rational formation of beliefs, whether this is the formation of scientific beliefs based on evidence, or the mathematical underpinnings of the sciences (as both Lewis and I learned to our chagrin in school, you can’t get very far in the sciences without being good at math), or the rational consideration of the question of whether or not there is a God, or whether Christianity is true. If we explain reason in terms of the non-rational, we invariably end up explaining it away.

The point I've been trying to make

I put this discussion on the DC boards. 

Semantics, not apologetics.

I'm going try one more time to explain my beef. There is a difference between describing something and defining it. Let's go back to when all swans we had ever seen were white. Whiteness was a property that every swan that we had ever seen had, nevertheless, it was not a defining property of swans. At least, when we found black birds that were structurally similar to swans, we called them black swans, as opposed to inventing a new word for swans.
If, on the other hand, whiteness had been part of the definition of swans, then being white would be one of things that would have to be there if we were going to call something a swan. We would have said "yep, that bird looks like a swan, but it's not white, so it's not as swan. Before we found black ones, we thought of whiteness as a universal but not a DEFINING property of swans, and that is why we were able to accept the idea that those silly black birds were swans, as opposed to something else.
Further,  a definition has the job of allowing everyone in the linguistic community to determine whether someone the thing defined is present or not. So, for example, if you define atheism as the belief that the proposition "God does not exist" is true, then we know who is an atheist based on whether or not someone holds that belief.
Now it seems to me a requirement to take the OTF that the person has faith. That means we need some way of deciding who has faith and who does not have faith, and this way has to be available to people of all persuasions. That is what a definition does.
For example, you believe that God does not exist. However, you can't make nonexistence part of the definition of God, and this would be so even if the case for atheism were overwhelming.  Similarly, if you define faith as an irrational leap over the probabilities, then you are going to get people like me saying "By that definition , I have no faith." This is not a result that the OTF advocate wants. Even if you think faith is always irrational, and that the OTF shows this, defining faith as irrational is a bad idea which undermines the OTF.
This has very limited apologetic significance, since you can still maintain that all faith is irrational while at the same time absorbing my point.