Saturday, March 30, 2013

Do you believe in the laws of physics?

I noticed Beingitself claiming that he believes in the laws of physics. Nancy Cartwright's book is an attack on the idea of fundamental laws of physics. See here.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

God, Evil, and Cake-Cramming: An exchange with Keith Parsons

KP: Discussions of the problem of evil, like all philosophical discussions, tend to be conducted at a level of theoretical aridity. When discussing these issues with a class, we first go through all the standard moves and counter-moves. Then, I recommend that they step back from the theoretical for a moment and consider the testimony of those who have actually confronted radical evil. I mention two texts, Elie Wiesel's Night and Corrie Ten Boom's The Hiding Place. Wiesel and Ten Boom, as survivors of Nazi death camps, certainly had experience of the worst that humanity can dish out. Their reactions were totally different. Wiesel says that the experience destroyed his God. Ten Boom said that she had found that God's love is deeper than the deepest evil. I then challenge my class to consider whether anyone who had not been subjected to such experiences has the right to judge those who have. Do any of us have the right to say that either Wiesel's or Ten Boom's response was irrational or perverse? I think not.

Still, I have heard testimonies of those who have encountered great loss or suffering that struck me as cheap and facile, Years ago when I was still a Christian and went to church I heard a preacher talk about a couple whose seven-year-old son had died. The couple dealt with their loss by saying that, as they viewed it, God had lent them their son for seven years and then called him back to his true home. The preacher compared those who express outrage at the loss of a child to those who bitterly complains when the owner asks for a lent item to be returned. That answer made my skin crawl even when I was devout. I cannot help but feel that there is something cheap, facile, and, indeed, callous about that answer.

It seems to me that a far more authentic response was the one of the main character in Peter de Vries' novel The Blood of the Lamb. He takes a cake to his daughter's hospital room to find the bed empty. The nurse tells him that his daughter has died overnight. On the way out he passes the chapel where there is a large crucifix. He takes out the cake and crams it into the face of the Christ on the cross.

Fortunately, I have never had a loss like that, but, if I did, I think I would be one of the cake-in-face crammers.

VR: Facile responses to the problem of evil are problems, for the simple reason that we do not know what the explanation is. What was really wrong in the preacher's comment is the fact that it sound as if the feelings of those who are angry with God for losing a child are illegitimate.

I can surely understand the cake-cramming state of mind. However, whether this grounds a rational argument against belief in God is another matter, and some people act as if that attitude is morally superior to other possible attitudes, and I don't buy it. It's the Ivan Karamazov move: This is evil, God should have done something, and nothing we might find to be true hereafter can render God innocent of allowing this kind of suffering.

I happen to think that an disconfirming argument against theism from evil probably can be made. I think "skeptical theist" responses based on our expected lack of understanding of these things decrease the weight of the argument, but they do not eliminate it entirely. On the other hand, when I think about argument from evil, I find that the very things that generate the argument, such as the capacity to feel pain (as opposed to just having one's c-fibers fire), our conscious minds, our moral awareness, and our ability to think rationally, are all things that make philosophical naturalism, which is typically offered as the alternative to being a theist, implausible to me. What I don't see is an argument from evil that somehow outweighs all the others. It is, at most, something theism can't explain, or can't explain as well as I wish we could. Why this is a more severe explanatory failure that naturalism's failure to explain consciousness has always escaped me.

I mean, people who do believe in an infinite being invariably think that that being is good. Do you know any actual subscribers to Paul Draper's Indifferent Deity Hypothesis? What that expects you to believe is that God controls the universe, and there is a moral standard, which God somehow fails to satisfy. So, I don't see any plausible alternatives if I want to reject naturalism and God both.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Who are you, O man? The eliminativist response to the problem of evil

The idea that we have no duties to that which we create seems counterintuitive to me. That is why I'm not an eliminativist with respect to the problem of evil.
Yet, I sometimes I wonder how to argue with someone who is. And there is a Bible verse to support their view:

Romans 9:20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?'"

Does it follow from this that if A is the creator of B, then B cannot make any moral judgments concerning A's treatment of B?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Peter Singer on infanticide

 The moral philosopher Peter Singer thinks that infanticide can be justified. See a discussion here.  

An exercise for the reader

The Bible is the basis for morality, but in the Bible such heroes as David had many wives. Thus, his affair with Bathsheba was adultery not because he was married (he could have added her to his harem), but because she was married. This was someone who was called "a man after God's own heart." But if so, should we do likewise? Try advocating that in your church. 

What principles should be used to resolve this problem?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Does theism entail the absence of gratuitous evil?

This is from a discussion I was involved with, largely with Keith Parsons, on the Secular Outpost. 

I'd like to start by raising a question about the claim that God has to have a justifying reason for all the evils he permits. How do you know that? Maybe a being can be worthy of worship even if he permits some gratuitous evil, or even a lot of it. 

This is an interesting essay, by Trakakis, who criticizes one attempt to deny that theism entails that there is no gratuitous evil. 

If a woman has the right to do as he chooses with her own body, then maybe God has the right to do as he chooses with his own universe???? I once, in a bad mood, said this: 

"We have to assume that a perfectly good God would want to minimize suffering. Sometimes I think there ought to be more suffering in the world than there really is. But whatever God has chosen to dish out, so long as it doesn't result in anyone being unjustly damned, accords with my conception of perfect goodness."

I don't actually believe this, but I would still be interested in seeing how someone refuted it. 

Of course, how far can we push this? Could we embrace the view by going to a very different theory of the good, a theory in which what is good is the glory of God, not human well-being, and that glory is defined in terms of the number of attributes God is able to express. On this view, if God predestines some for salvation and some for damnation, and then in the case of the redeemed, God's glory is his gracious redemption of sinners who deserve eternal damnation, and in the case of the lost, God's glory is the exercise of wrath against sinners. So, while God may command us not to run a hell for people, he is under no obligation to run one himself, if that brings greater glory to himself. 

I bring this up because this was a position I spent a lot of time arguing against a few years back, when I was arguing against Calvinists. They argue that the only problem with their position was that it was counterintuitive to me, whereas if indeed it was taught by the Bible, (as they claim that it is), then I ought to set my intuitions aside and accept it. 

I'm still convinced that this is a bridge too far, that it disconnects goodness from happiness in a way that makes the concept of goodness simply unrecognizable. 

Still, I do think the relation between the concept of God and gratuitous evil needs to be carefully considered, as opposed to being taken as simply obvious. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Conservatism, Liberalism, and Economic Luck

In understanding the difference between liberals and conservatives, it seems to me that  conservatives have a tendency to explain success in terms of superior merit, while liberals are more inclined to point to luck factors. 

Is this accurate? 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Morality without God?

           If God laid down the correct morals, and part of the morality he laid down involves giving him proper  
           worship, then atheists are going to be lacking in at least some moral categories, almost by definition.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Jerry Coyne on reductionism

Leiter and Weisberg: Nagel opposes two main components of the “materialist” view inspired by Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. The first is what we will call theoretical reductionism, the view that there is an order of priority among the sciences, with all theories ultimately derivable from physics and all phenomena ultimately explicable in physical terms. We believe, along with most philosophers, that Nagel is right to reject theoretical reductionism, because the sciences have not progressed in a way consistent with it. We have not witnessed the reduction of psychology to biology, biology to chemistry, and chemistry to physics, but rather the proliferation of fields like neuroscience and evolutionary biology that explain psychological and biological phenomena in terms unrecognizable by physics. As the philosopher of biology Philip Kitcher pointed out some thirty years ago, even classical genetics has not been fully reduced to molecular genetics, and that reduction would have been wholly within one field. We simply do not see any serious attempts to reduce all the “higher” sciences to the laws of physics.

Coyne: Here all three academics (Weisberg is a philosopher; Leiter a professor of law) make a mistake: the view that all sciences are in principle reducible to the laws of physics, which is materialism, is not identical to an attempt to reduce all sciences to physics. The former must be true unless you’re religious, while the latter is a tactical problem that will be solved to some degree as we understand more about physics and biology, but is unlikely in our lifetime to give a complete explanation for higher-level phenomena. Remember, though, that “emergent phenomena” must be consistent with the laws of physics, even those laws may not be useful for explaining things like natural selection.

VR: Thanks, Jerry, for attacking nonreductive materialism, which is the strongest form of materialism.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Return of the Index of Forbidden Books: Secular Version

“If there were a philosophical Vatican,” Simon Blackburn declared in the New Statesman, “the book would be a good candidate for going on to the Index.” I hope that one day he regrets that sentence. It is not what Bruno, Galileo, Bacon, Descartes, Voltaire, Hume, Locke, Kant, and the other victims of the anti-philosophical Vatican had in mind.

This is from a response to the anti-Nagel mentality in the New Republic. Thomas of Torquemada will not be too far behind. 

The Case Against Cheerful Humanism

I think one very annoying feature of many of the present group of cheerleaders for atheism is the idea that somehow if we get rid of religion as a society we will simply all become cheerful humanists, and take all of what we put into God and put it instead into ourselves, thus being so much the better off.

In fact, I think that while atheism in itself is not a threat to the future of civilization, I think that a belief in what I will call the secular paradise is perhaps the most destructive idea that we can have, and will bring down civilization if people who believe in it have enough political power. The Christian heaven is not of this world, and it can't be achieved by the exercise of political power, although Christians have, throughout history, attempted to use political power for what they have taken to be divine purposes. The results have typically left black marks on the history of Christendom. Nevertheless, if Christianity is true, there are limits on what we humans can do to bring in the Kingdom of God. Religious belief, for many of us, needs to be a choice, and God is ultimately in control, not us. But the secular paradise is to be achieved my man and his own efforts. The end is noble, and it thus justifies whatever means we might use to get there. It is the combination of atheism and belief in the secular paradise that leads to the kinds of horrors we saw from the Communists.

I do not know whether the author of this essay is an atheist, but it is entitled "Where are all the honest atheists."

Redating Lewis's Conversion to Theism?

Perhaps the most famous words in Lewis's Surprised by Joy are these:

"You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England" (Surprised By Joy, ch. 14, p. 266).

Alastair McGrath thinks that Lewis may have wrongly recollected his conversion to theism as Trinity Term of 1929. But I think the objections Forster presents here have to be taken seriously.

HT: Steve Hays

Missing link now supplied.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Justifiable murder and justifiable homicides

I am inclined to think that calling it murder means that you are saying that it's morally wrong. I take it justifiable homicide is not murder. So "Murder is wrong" is true by definition. However, we can imagine a society that considerably expanded the range of justifiable homicide, and the Amazon culture seems to. I can imagine a society that considered it justifiable homicide if you killed a cheating spouse. If relativism is true, then that we could never say that that society was in error for allowing such homicides.

Relativism and Inequality

The big problem I see with relativism that a lot of people can also see, it seems to me, is that a lot of cultures have rules of conduct that presupposes that people are not equal, and that some people are to be treated as inferiors. Relativists want to say that all cultures are created equal, but in order to accept that, you have to accept cultural norms that presuppose that there are superiors and inferiors. 

Friday, March 08, 2013

God and the Big Bang

The Big Bang theory posits a temporal beginning to the universe, and doesn't explain why the Big Bang happened, or why the universe exists at all. Why is there a universe, as opposed to none? Couldn't it just as easily have been the case that nothing existed? Previous theories, like the Steady State or the Oscillating Universe theory, claimed that the universe has always existed. But these theories have been rejected. With the Big Bang, this is not the case. There was a beginning. So, even if you reject the Bible from the fourth word (In the beginning God), you have to say that the first three words are OK and in accordance with science.

If something begins to exist, and nothing caused it to exist, isn't that a strange thing to say? If we are eating lunch, and a bunny rabbit begins to exist and munches on your salad, would it make any sense to say "Oh, that rabbit just popped into existence out of nothing. It didn't have a cause."

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Discovery Institute Opposes Intelligent Design "Equal Time" Bill

That's right. Here.

There are burdens, and there are burdens

There are different burdens of proof, it seems to me. There is the burden of proof that attached to the fact that you are asking someone to change their minds about something. I am not talking about that kind of a burden. I am talking about the burden that attaches to a person in virtue of his continuing to believe it himself, with a threat of irrationality charges if the person continues believing without the requisite proof.

Oxford Study shows that it is natural to believe in God


Why Evolution is......Misunderstood

A response to Jerry Coyne's speaking tour of the Southeast. What I can't figure out is why people think that the progress of science depends upon the acceptance of a "scientific world-view." (i. e. naturalistic atheism). It seems to me that evolutionary biology can be done perfectly well even by people who believe in Young Earth Creationism ,(OK, that's a stretch) or at least intelligent design.