Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A couple of quotes from C. S. Lewis's Miracles, chapter 8

If I put six pennies into a drawer on Monday and six more on Tuesday, the laws decree that – other things being equal – I shall find twelve pennies there on Wednesday. But if the drawer is has been robbed I may in fact find only two. Something will have been broken (the lock of the drawer or the laws of England) but the laws of arithmetic will not have been broken.
Lewis, C. S. (1947) ‘Miracles’ ‘Chapter 8: Miracles and the Laws of Nature’ p 60

This perhaps helps to make a little clearer what the laws of Nature really are. We are in the habit of talking as if they caused events to happen; but they have never caused any event at all. The laws of motion do not set billiard balls moving: they analyse the motion after something else (say, a man with a cue, or a lurch of the liner, or, perhaps, supernatural power) has provided it. They produce no events: they state the pattern to which every event – if only it can be induced to happen – must conform, just as the rules of arithmetic state the pattern to which all transactions with money must conform – if only you can get hold of any money. Thus in one sense the laws of Nature cover the whole field of space and time; in another, what they leave out is precisely the whole real universe – the incessant torrent of actual events which makes up true history. That must come from somewhere else. To think the laws can produce it is like thinking that you can create real money by simply doing sums. For every law, in the last resort, says ‘If you have A, then you will get B’. But first catch your A: the laws won’t do it for you.
Lewis, C. S. (1947) ‘Miracles’ ‘Chapter 8: Miracles and the Laws of Nature’ p 61s 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Francis Beckwith on religious arguments in the public square

Here. Arguments are good or bad, and whether they are religious or not is irrelevant.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Bob Prokop on Skepticism about Extra-Terrestrial Intellgence

If Bob is right, the devotees of SETI can eat their heart out.


Bob, if I recall correctly, you have the support of the late great Joe Sheffer on this one. (Appeal to authority, appeal to authority).

This post has nothing to do with religion that I know of.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

NT allusions in the Ante-Nicene Fathers


Pope John Paul II speaks to astrophysicists

This is a John Paul II speech to a group of astrophysics.

Anti-science? It doesn't sound that way.

Bart Ehrman on textual integrity

There was a debate on this between Ehrman and Daniel Wallace. Here is what Ehrman said: 

To be sure, of all the hundreds of thousands of textual changes found among our manuscripts, most of them are completely insignificant, immaterial, and of no real importance for anything other than showing that scribes could not spell or keep focused any better than the rest of us.

Friday, April 25, 2014

A critique of new atheist evidentialism


Was the Bible lost in translation?

This is a popular position, but the evidence is against it. See here. 

Motives and dialogue between believers and unbelievers

Redating a post on religion and motivation.

When I was in Cambridge, Gary Habermans told me that about the first question he asked Antony Flew as Flew got off the plane from England to engage in the famous (or infamous) "Did Jesus Rise from the Dead" debate with Habermas, was whether Flew thought that everyone wants for theism to be true, and that while theists engage in wishful thinking, nonbelievers are honestly facing the truth. Flew replied that he disagreed with people like Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche in this; that he thought that both believers and unbelievers had non-rational motives for believing what they believed. Well, we know what eventually happened to Flew, but I think this is a profound recognition that people on all sides of these issues need to come to terms with. If you read Bertrand Russell's anti-religious writings, you find the following picture: believers believe for emotional reasons, such as the fear of death, the fear of hell, and the fear that the universe should be meaningless. Nonbelievers, on the other hand, have faced the fact that it is 70 years and out, they wouldn't believe unless the evidence pushed them their, since their position is so contrary to what we humans would like to be true.

Consider what how Russell defines free thought:

'The expression "Free Thought" is often used as if it meant merely opposition to the prevailing orthodoxy. But this is only a symptom of free thought, frequent, but invariable. "Free Thought" means thinking freely - as freely, at least, as is possible for a human being.

The person who is free in any respect is free from something; what is the Free Thinker free from? To be worthy of the name, he must be free of two things; the force of tradition, and the tyranny of his own passions. No one is completely free from either, but in the measure of a man’s emancipation he deserves to be called a Free Thinker.

A man is not to be denied this title because he happens, on some point, to agree with the theologians of his country. An Arab who, starting from the first principles of human reason, is able to deduce that the Koran was not created, but existed eternally in heaven, may be counted as a Free Thinker, provided he is willing to listen to counter arguments and subject his ratiocination to critical scrutiny.

What makes a Free Thinker is not his beliefs, but the way in which he holds them. If he holds them because his elders told him they were true when he was young, or if he holds them because if he did not he would be unhappy, his thought is not free; but if he holds them because, after careful thought, he finds a balance of evidence in their favor, then his thought is free, however odd his conclusions may seem.'
- Bertrand Russell, "The Value of Free Thought"

Notice that while Russell thinks that the class of Christian freethinkers could have members, in fact he thinks the class of actual Christian freethinkers to be empty.

I was myself at one time officially concerned in the appointment of a philosophy
professor in an important American university; all the others agreed that of course he must be a good Christian. Practically all philosophers of any intellectual eminence are openly or secretly freethinkers; the insistence on orthodoxy therefore necessitated the appointment of a nonentity or a humbug.

Couldn't they have gotten one of those Christian freethinkers? Apparently, in actuality he thought there were none. All the irrational motives are on the side of belief, all the rational motives are on the side of nonbelief.

If you defending theism and talking to someone who believes this sort of thing, I can guarantee you that it is going to be extraordinarily difficult to get anywhere. Whatever reason you give them, they are automatically going to assume that whatever "reasons" you give for the hope that is in you are not the real reasons; the real reasons are that you are afraid of death, afraid of hell, afraid that the universe should be meaningless, or maybe afraid of sex (Russell forgot that one, I have no idea why). Now there are theists would talk the same way; they think people are afraid to submit to God and are looking for any possible excuse to avoid believing.

I think that if you are in dialogue about belief and unbelief this is what you ought to get cleared up before the discussion goes any further.

Consider the following passage from C. S. Lewis: “In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed” – perhaps the most reluctant convert in all of England ." Are you inclined to read this and say, naah, it couldn't be true. Lewis had to have really
wanted to believe, or he would never have been able to.

But what about unbeliever Thomas Nagel? Is he telling the truth when he says:

In speaking of the fear of religion, I don't mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper - namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn't just that I don't believe in God, and naturally, hope that I'm right about my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that. (1997)

I think it's almost impossible to get anywhere in a discussion with someone who really thinks that all the irrational motivations are on the other side. But are they all on the side of the theists. Well, let's put it this way. We know that Bertrand Russell was committing adultery at the age of 80. Wouldn't coming to accept Christianity at any point in his adult life require some, well, massive lifestyle changes? Besides, is it very pleasant to believe that there is someone who in existence who has an absolute, non-negotiable right, power, and authority to issue commandments? Did Russell really think that there was only reason underlying his unbelief, and not some very powerful non-rational motives.

Now I'm perfectly happy to see the motive arguments cancel each other out. Then we can start talking about the pros and cons of these matters with a level playing field. But if you are arguing with someone who thinks that all the irrational motives are on the other side, then you are going to face a burden of proof that will be almost impossible to overcome, unless you address the motivational issue first.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Friday, April 18, 2014

If there is no God....

If there's no God, everything is permitted, including hanging onto theism in spite of the evidence. Why not?

What would you do if I could get you to reassess the evidence?

I'm very reticent to say what I would do if I reassessed the evidence in a certain way. Atheists are fond of asking "Well, if I could convince you of this or that, would you deconvert? What would it take?" It's kind of like asking "Would you divorce your wife if she had an affair?," when she isn't having one and I have no reason to believe that she will have one.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

C. S. Lewis's Rejection of Soteriological Exclusivism

But Lewis was no soteriological exclusivist. This is from Man or Rabbit.
The question before each of us is not “Can someone lead a good life without Christianity?” The question is, “Can I?” We all know there have been good men who were not Christians; men like Socrates and Confucius who had never heard of it, or men like J. S. Mill who quite honestly couldn’t believe it. Supposing Christianity to be true, these men were in a state of honest ignorance or honest error. If there intentions were as good as I suppose them to have been (for of course I can’t read their secret hearts) I hope and believe that the skill and mercy of God will remedy the evils which their ignorance, left to itself, would naturally produce both for them and for those whom they influenced.
I would have to admit that had I felt that I had to be an exclusivist, it would have been a lot more difficult for me to remain a Christian. Lewis and others convinced me that I could reject exclusivism and still remain a Christian.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Is the argument for an unmoved mover circular?

I'm Skeptical wrote: 

I realize that classical theists have logical arguments to prove the existence of God. But you don't realize that they all presuppose the existence of God. So yes, they do take God as a brute fact, no matter how much they deny it.

Now, here is presentation of Aristotle's Unmoved Mover. I take it you are implying that this must be a circular argument. How so?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Atheism is unfalsifiable, and it's the theists' fault

According to this post, from the Axis of Jared.

On cosmological arguments

A redated post. 

In making sense of questions concerning cosmological arguments, I think perhaps an important place to begin is to think through what kind of necessity can be attributed to the physical universe. The physical universe, at least if it is beginningless, can be considered to be factually necessary, and perhaps that concept needs to be clarified. I’d like to see a detailed definition of factual necessity.
Once we get this, we then have to ask if we have good reason to think that a universe that possesses factual necessity is unexplained in some important way that could be overcome by accepting theism. Is there a version of the Principle of Sufficient Reason that is rational to accept that gives us reason to think that a theistic explanation is nevertheless needed?
And then we have to ask what reason we have to suppose that the universe had a beginning. If the universe had a temporal beginning, how does that change the situation?

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Witch Hunts, Religious and Secular

I don't know if Christians have any greater record of inquisitions and witch hunts than anyone else does. Christians invariably think that Christianity matters, and that what it has to say is important and worth spreading. But you need something more than that to get witch hunts etc. You need the idea that this end justifies the means used to accomplish it, and that it is appropriate to use the weapons of power to get people to believe the right thing. Most Christians today, I think would say that a forced belief in Christianity isn't real one, and that such actions on behalf of Christianity are inappropriate and self-defeating. The people who brought the idea of a free and democratic society to the Western were mostly Christians. Any democratic society needs religious freedom to survive. For political reasons, autocratic governments pursue religious (or non-religious) uniformity. Democratic ones ordinarily tolerate opposing religious views. Islam is somewhat of a different case, because Islam, is rooted in the idea that the government should be implementing it. That's why it's so hard to get a democracy going in an Islamic country. 
Now Christian autocrats have pursued Christian uniformity, and often pursued Catholic or Protestant uniformity. Atheist autocrats have also pursued atheist uniformity, as in the case of the League of the Militant Godless in Russia. The way this is prevented is not by supporting or opposing religion, it is by saying the governments should stay out of the business of enforcing uniformity in matters of religion. 
People will sometimes say atheism is a non-belief, not a belief, but in the minds of many this non-belief matters. Some, like Dawkins, think that society will either progress or regress depending on whether or not we are successful in ridding ourselves of religion, which they consider to be irrational superstition. So, if you have the power to use force to help eliminate religion, or to force it on others, would you use it? If you were given Tolkien's One Ring, and could use it to make everyone religious or everyone nonreligious would you use it? If religion or lack of it matters, and most of us on both sides think it does,  then it is always possible for anyone to "use the ring" to compel assent, if the power to do so is present. 

Saturday, April 05, 2014

What would science look like in a creationist world?

Let me ask this question. Assume that creationism were true. What would science look like in that possible world? Would it be true that if even if there were no evolution, it would have been necessary to invent it?

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy on The Hard Problem of Consciousness


Tuesday, April 01, 2014

A redated April Fool's Day meditation

April Fool's day is today, but what I have to say is not specific to that day. On AFD, people try to show up the gullibility of their fellows by trying to get them to believe things that aren't true. I think, though, that in many ways Christians have failed to value the virtue of wisdom, and the result has been a kind of gullibility that makes us look as if the charges of credulity that are leveled by unbelievers at believers have some merit to them.

Consider the following passage from C. S. Lewis, where he talks about the virtue of prudence:

He wants a child’s heart but a grown-up’s head. . . . The fact that you are giving money to a charity does not mean that you need not try to find out whether that charity is a fraud or not. . . . It is, of course, quite true that God will not love you any less, or have less use for you, if you happen to have been born with a second-rate brain. He has room for people with little sense, but He wants every one to use what sense they have. . . . God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers. If you are thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you, you are embarking on something which is going to take the whole of you, brains and all. (Mere Christianity pp. 77-78).

In an essay I will be publishing in the upcoming volume on philosophy and the Chronicles of Narnia, I add:

Like many passages in Lewis, this one has tremendous contemporary relevance. Many people in the Christian community (and outside of it) have been slack in their intellectual responsibilities, and the results have been disastrous. The mass suicides in Guyana and the suicide of the Heaven’s Gate cult in California are grim reminders of what happens when religious people give up on thinking critically and simply follow what a leader says. Or to take less dramatic examples, but ones closer to home, think about how millions of Christians get caught up in spiritual fads like the recent “prayer of Jabez” phenomenon or the sensational eschatology of the Left Behind series. How many people have given money they can hardly afford to television evangelists, only to find out that the money went for air-conditioned dog houses and visits to sleazy motel rooms? The Christian community suffers greatly whenever it is intellectually lazy and careless.

But are matters of faith and exception to the policy of prudence? Should we be prudent in the rest of our lives and exercise faith (believe without regard to evidence) in matters of religion? Lewis's answer is emphatically no.

I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of the evidence is against it. That is not the point at which Faith comes in...Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. . . . That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith.

Hence Faith and Prudence are not polar opposites, but are rather two sides of the same coin. The job of Christian apologetics, in my view, is to show that the life of prudence and the life of faith are in harmony with one another, in short to show that Christianity is rational. Much of the world thinks it is not rational, and a lot of things Christians say and do supports them in this, making the task of Christian apologetics more difficult than it would otherwise be.