Monday, February 29, 2016

Three methodological naturalisms

When people talk about methodological naturalism, what do they mean, exactly? I have noticed three different interpretations of it in reading John Lennox's  God's Undertaker. The first comes from Christian de Duve: 

"Scientific enquiry rests upon the notion that all manifestations in the universe are explainable in natural terms, without supernatural intervention. Strictly speaking, this notion is not an a priori philosophical stand or profession of belief. It is a postulate, a working hypothesis that we should be prepared to abandon if faced with facts that defy every attempt at rational explanation. Many scientists, however, do not bother to make this distinction, tacitly extrapolating from hypothesis to affirmation. They are perfectly happy with the explanations provided by science. Like Laplace, they have no need for the 'God hypothesis' and equate the scientific attitude with agnosticism, if not with outright atheism. "

Life Evolving, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002 p. 284.

This version of methodological naturalism is provisional in nature. Lennox notices that de Duve conflates rational explanation with naturalistic explanations, to which he objects. However, for him, science has to try to stay within naturalism, but it is at least possible that it could be given up should the evidence point strongly toward the supernatural. Contrast this with Richard Lewontin: 

‘Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.
It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.
The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that Miracles may happen.

Richard Lewontin, Billions and billions of demons (review of The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan, 1997), The New York Review, p. 31, 9 January 1997. 

If de Duve is an evidentialist naturalist, Lewontin is a presuppositionalist naturalist. Further, his methdological naturalism is absolute, not provisional. We cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. We can call this absolutist methodological naturalism. 

Finally, Methodological Naturalism can be not an absolute principle, but only a defining principle for the sciences. The Catholic philosopher of science Ernan McMullin writes: 

But, of course, methodological naturalism does not restrict our study of nature; it just lays down which sort of study qualifies as scientific. If someone wants to pursue another approach to nature--and there are many others--the methodological naturalist has no reason to object. Scientists have to proceed in this way; the methodology of natural science gives no purchase on the claim that a particular event or type of event is to be explained by invoking God's creative action directly.
 "Plantinga's Defense of Special Creation," Christian Scholar's Review [Sept. 1991], p. 57.

This is echoed in the Jones ruling. 

Expert testimony reveals that since the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, science has been limited to the search for natural causes to explain natural phenomena. …we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science…ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation…While supernatural explanations may be important and have merit, they are not part of science…This rigorous attachment to ‘natural’ explanations is an essential attribute to science by definition and by convention.

So, if you are recommending methodological naturalism, which one are you recommending? 

What if the evidence were different?

A redated post.

“I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”- Stephen Roberts


Suppose archaeologists were to start saying that they had found the Book of Mormon peoples. We translate a bunch of old Native American documents, and, lo and behold, those Native American documents had names, places, magistrates, and other leaders that  corresponded precisely to accounts in the Book of Mormon. Lehi, Nephi, and the rest of them are all there in the Native American documents. Suppose parts of the book of Mormon were confirmed as strongly as, say, oh, say, the New Testament.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/1648...

Suppose, further, that DNA evidence matched Native Americans to Jews to such an extent that this disconfirmation of the Book of Mormon would not exist. If the evidence looked like that, it would radically alter my assessment of Mormonism. I couldn't rule out shopping for sacred underwear if I were to discover that.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Reply to Cal Metzger

Cal Metzger: VR: "It depends on what kind of explanation is needed for the factual information."
It would seem to me that the kind of explanation needed is that the stories were compiled by men who lived in the time and setting in which they wrote. I think that explains things best.
VR: "In the case of the Book of Acts, the author had extensive knowledge of lots and lots of facts concerning locations all over the Empire, from Jerusalem to Rome."
So what? Wouldn't we expect that from literate men who lived in the time and setting in which they wrote? This seems like one of the the most mundane "problems" I can imagine.
VR: "Putting that much accurate detail in an ancient document which also contains a significant amount of supernatural content cries out for explanation."
I can imagine few things less surprising in a document written by religious proselytizers. Truly, this is one of the least remarkable features of the NT.
VR: "The technique of the modern realistic historical novel was not known in that time."
By this logic no literary genre could ever emerge. Cervantes couldn't have written the first novel because the first novel wasn't known at that time. Capote couldn't have written In Cold Blood because non-fiction novels weren't known at that time. Etc.
Also, if you were going to be consistent you should find this equally persuasive (from a Muslim who believes in his book the same way you believe in yours): "When we study the Quran even superficially from the viewpoint of its wording, styles, and meaning, we will certainly conclude that it is completely different from all the other books in the world. So, in rank and worth it is either below all of them-even Satan cannot claim this, nor does he conceive of it-or above them. Since it is above all of them, it must be the Word of God."
Notice how the above paragraph relies on 1) fuzzy and arbitrary standards ("completely different") and 2) flights of logic ("Since it is above all of them, it must be the Word of God.")
Then notice how your words above rely on 1) fuzzy and arbitrary standards ("the amount of factual data") and 2) flights of logic ("It is evidence, and I am tempted to say, it's extraordinary evidence.")
And that is why you are inconsistent, and that is what the OTF reveals. Because the method, the process, the way that you say you are selecting and evaluating your evidence, if applied consistently, should compel you to accept other, competing religious claims (like the common argument for the divine writing of the Koran, based on it's literary qualities and concordance with mundane facts known to the writers of the time).
I assume that you're being honest, and that you can't see how obvious the above is to those of us who see how all religions are similar. So your situation is like that of a man who has a sign pinned to his back. How many people have to point out that you have a sign pinned to your back, and describe it to you in the same, exact detail whenever you ask, in order for you to accept that you have a sign pinned to your back?

VR: I think you are the one who is missing the point. Look once again the the detailed list posted by Jayman, based on Colin Hemer, and simply ask yourself how he could have known all he needed to know in order to write Acts.
Suppose I were to write a story about getting arrested in various countries. Suppose, careful investigation of police procedures in each country, which are varied, showed that for each country I knew exactly how police operated differently in each of those countries. Obviously I am going to be treated somewhat differently whether I am arrested in the New York City, in Mexico, in Boone County, KY, in Thailand, in Tokyo, or in Saigon. Today, I might learn about all these differences in police procedures in all these countries through library research. But how could someone get such information about getting arrested all over the Roman Empire? I can't think of any way of doing that except by, well, getting arrested all over the Roman Empire. It is a story of people who became convinced that they had come to know a world-changing truth. It starts with Peter standing in front of the Beautiful Gate and telling the PEOPLE WHO HAD JESUS KILLED that they guy they crucified was both Lord and Christ, to Paul's arrival in Rome, this is the story of people convinced that this was true and were prepared to put their lives at severe risk to advance the story.
Why should I believe the stories in the Book of Mormon? In spite of the admitted lack of evidence, ultimately the reason why you should believe it is because you feel it in your heart. Why believe the Qu'ran. Because it comes in the just the right form, in the perfect language of Arabic. Why does Luke say that we should accept his claims? Because he has carefully investigated it, and made a serious attempt to get things right.
1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled[a] among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
In short, he made a serious effort to be accurate, and he gets so much right because he, and other biblical writers, worked as hard as he possibly could at being accurate. No competing religious document is built on so much fact.
Recognizing the factual foundation of Christianity is not sufficient to show that Christianity is true. The facts in the foundation are not in themselves supernatural. It is certainly possible that the supernatural elements were got wrong even though so many natural facts were got right. However, even a skeptic should acknowledge:
1) The degree of the factual foundation for Christianity vastly exceeds the factual foundation of all competing religious claims.
2) The factual foundation of Christianity is something that is surprising and stands in need of explanation. Made up supernatural stories usually take off from reality pretty thoroughly, as in Philostratus' account of Apollonius of Tyana. Why didn't that happen in the case of Christ?
3) The reasons why someone might reject these other supernatural claims, namely the lack of a factual foundation, do not apply in the case of Christianity.
“I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”- Stephen Roberts
Suppose archaeologists were to start saying that they had found the Book of Mormon peoples. We translate a bunch of old Native American documents, and, lo and behold, those Native American documents had names, places, magistrates, and other leaders that corresponded precisely to accounts in the Book of Mormon. Lehi, Nephi, and the rest of them are all there in the Native American documents. Suppose parts of the book of Mormon were confirmed as strongly as, say, oh, say, the New Testament.
Suppose, further, that DNA evidence matched Native Americans to Jews to such an extent that this disconfirmation of the Book of Mormon would not exist. If the evidence looked like that, it would radically alter my assessment of Mormonism. I couldn't rule out shopping for sacred underwear if I were to discover that.
These are two major problems I see with Mormonism, and no, Christianity doesn't have those problems. So, sorry,Roberts is wrong. I think it's just plain delusional to think there are no relevant differences between Christianity and other religions.

A critique of pro-gay biblical exegesis

By Daniel Wallace. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

The degree of factual data in Acts cries out for explanation

A lot depends on what kind of explanation is needed for the factual information. In the case of the Book of Acts, the author had extensive knowledge of lots and lots of facts concerning locations all over the Empire, from Jerusalem to Rome. Putting that much accurate detail in an ancient document which also contains a significant amount of supernatural content cries out for explanation. The technique of the modern realistic historical novel was not known in that time. Myths normally had very little factual content. Not none, but normally not a whole lot.
Factual info about Heaven's gate isn't surprising. On the assumption that the central claims of the Book of Acts are made up, the amount of factual data in Acts is amazing. It is evidence, and I am tempted to say, it's extraordinary evidence.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Archaeological Support for Christian claims: Indirect but significant

                The argument from archaeology in support of the claims of Christianity is rather indirect, but still significant. The Book of Acts frequently has the early Christian leaders being brought up before various government potentates, and in many, many, cases, archaeology has confirmed that the city in question had the exact governmental structure that Acts said that it does.
                Now think about this for a moment. I live in the metropolitan Phoenix area, in the city of Glendale. There are five people on our city council, there are, I think nine on Phoenix’s council, but as for Tempe, Mesa, Scottsdale, Peoria, Avondale, Goodyear, and Tolleson I have no idea. I could Google these city’s websites to find out how their governments are run, but the author of Acts didn’t have the Internet. Yet, his reports of what kind of governmental structures existed in lots of cities was invariably accurate. His account of what would have happened on board ship fits with what a land-dwelling person would say about a sea voyage that encountered the kinds of problems they had.
                So how did he know this stuff? I think the sensible explanation was that he was there. There are actually passages in which the author of Acts uses the word “we”, and some scholars think he actually means “we.” Others do not, but I think his knowledge of what went on had to have been either first-hand or nearly so.
                And yet these passages in Acts are just as miracle-laden as the Gospels. Miracle claims were made concerning Paul using his handkerchief to raise the sleeping Eutychus who fell out of a window. What you have are people with lots of access to the information about what happened, who don’t have much motive to lie about it that I can see, (they were putting their lives at risk by continuing to follow someone who the powers that be had put to death) saying that many miracles happened.

                With the story of Apollonius of Tyana, there is no realistic style. Some of the incidents in there are set in Nineveh, which had been destroyed seven centuries before. The Book of Mormon would cause us to expect all sorts of archaeological artifacts from the Book of Mormon peoples near the Hill of Cumorah, which are simply not there. We should expect a close DNA connection between American Indians and Jews, not Orientals, but the reverse is true. With these two cases, when I ask the question “If the story’s not true, then what did happen” seems easy. With the Christian story, the founding of Christianity has to be very puzzling to anyone who wants to reject the Christian story itself. All the theories look very problematic. Now if our methodological naturalism is strong enough we might say “Well, anything but a miracle, so maybe we just have to say we don’t know what happened.” But if we are prepared to give miracles a chance, then I think the Christian account of what happened is very plausible. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

F. F. Bruce's The New Testament Documents Are they Reliable

A classic which provides a lot of the archaeological evidence in support of the New Testament. Here. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Hempel's Dilemma and the Via Negativa

Hempel's dilemma concerns how we define the physical. If you define the physical in terms of current physics, then anything that is not a part of present physics becomes non-physical. If one the other hand, if future physics is needed to give an account of the physical, then future physics might include anything, including God, and calling something physical doesn't exclude anything, and so it doesn't mean anything.
One might object that any formulation of physicalism which utilizes the theory-based conception will be either trivial or false. Carl Hempel (cf. Hempel 1969, see also Crane and Mellor 1990) provided a classic formulation of this problem: if physicalism is defined via reference to contemporary physics, then it is false — after all, who thinks that contemporary physics is complete? — but if physicalism is defined via reference to a future or ideal physics, then it is trivial — after all, who can predict what a future physics contains? Perhaps, for example, it contains even mental items. The conclusion of the dilemma is that one has no clear concept of a physical property, or at least no concept that is clear enough to do the job that philosophers of mind want the physical to play.
http://plato.stanford.edu/entr...
Attempt to solve this problem usually say that a physical property is a property that, at the most basic level, is not mental. If, at the basic level, the mental is there, then it's not physical.

The retail OTF



I actually have a my own version of the OTF, which I call the retail (as opposed to wholesale) version. What you do there is rather than have a outsider test for religious questions in general, what you do is you simply compare religions two by two, and adopt an "undecided" position between those two to start. So, let's do Christianity and Islam. Well, Christianity has archaeological support Islam doesn't, so Christianity wins that one. Mormonism? Same deal. Now, if you want atheism and Christianity to go up against one another, then I have the AFR and a bunch of other arguments which I think outweigh the case for atheism. I think actually deism is the hardest one, but if you make the OTF retail instead of wholesale, Christianity passes.

Apologetics and the public square

Even though I would call myself a Christian apologist, I think there is a prior necessity of maintaining an open public square where religious differences can be discussed in a civilized manner, and I oppose anything Christians might do that undermines that kind of open public square, even if it is helpful to the promotion of Christianity at least in the short run. And I have a profound intellectual sympathy with the many atheists who see the public square in the same way. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Reply to Loftus on the Outsider Test

Loftus' response is here. 

I am afraid your response fails pretty miserably. I said that if you are going to have a test you have to have one that eliminates confirmation bias whether or not it is pro-faith or anti-faith. Faith can cause people to be biased, but so can other things, included bias against religious claims. At least, my experience suggests this to me. When people attack religious beliefs without doing any work on even trying to understand the religious beliefs they are attacking, that is what I call bias.

If you think faith is the only way in which you can have bias, and if you are an atheist, you cannot have bias, then that seems awfully biased to me.

Are all the biasing cultural influences in favor of the religion of one’s society? There is a considerable religious plurality in our society. And even amongst people who are supposedly religious start getting concerned when people get really serious about following their own religion.
This song was written by a couple of country singers from Alabama, the Louvin Brothers. Does this sound like people who are being pressured by their culture to follow Christianity?

My buddies tell me that I should've waited 
They say I'm missing a whole world of fun 
But I still love them and I sing with pride 
I like the Christian life 

I won't lose a friend by heeding God's call
For what is a friend who'd want you to fall 
Others find pleasure in things I despise 
I like the Christian life

My buddies shun me since I turned to Jesus 
They say I'm missing a whole world of fun 
I live without them and walk in the light 
I like the Christian life 

I won't lose a friend by heeding God's call
For what is a friend who'd want you to fall 
Others find pleasure in things I despise 

I like the Christian life
I like the Christian life

So, apparently following the Christian life will cost you friends and cause people to make fun of you. Even if you're a good old boy from Alabama. 

I happen to think that Christianity has evidential support that other religions don’t have. If you could show me another religion that has the kind of support Christianity has, I would have to take it seriously. If the book of Mormon recorded a lot of events that is supported by archaeology, I would have to take it seriously. If Islam had better evidential support than it does, I would have to take it more seriously. Maybe it’s doing better than David Wood thinks it’s doing, but I doubt it.


So, measuring Mormonism and Islam against Christianity by the same standard of evidence, Christianity wins.

In the previous post you wrote:

Vic, there isn't a good reason to reject MN. Why would you ask that we must reject it when the preponderance of evidence supports using it in every area it touches? It's the only reasonable method to use. Your God supposedly created the world such that by using MN we have amassed a great deal of knowledge because of it. We MUST use it if we want knowledge. Science itself is based on it. There isn't any better method for gaining objective knowledge about the world. Your rationalizations that we could overlook the evidence for the supernatural are actually tiring to me. Your God produced the problem you must speak against. What's the best explanation that MN works so well? Given that your God wants us to believe and created the world in such a way that we must use MN to gain knowledge, the best explanation is that your God doesn't exist. You are trying to explain away the evidence once again.
VR: The reason why methodological naturalism works as well as it does is that methodological naturalism and methodological theism get the same results.
Naturalism says:
There are absolute regularities in nature which are just there and that’s all. They are never violated and cannot be violated.
Theism says:

God has created the world in such a way that most events are occur in accordance with them. On certain special occasions, God may act in such a way as to violate those laws, but he does so relatively infrequently, to show things that are of the greatest significance.


God creates the world in such a way that most of what goes on in the world will not be evidently supernatural. If God didn’t do that, we wouldn’t have a stable world about which we can make predictions. So, the people who founded modern science were Christians, and no they weren’t just compartmentalized. They followed methodological naturalism and methodological theism, and got the same result. But if you apply methodological naturalism to theistic claims,  you automatically reject them. As Richard Lewontin puts it:

"Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. "

We’re going to test faith on this basis? What possible answer can we get?




Thursday, February 18, 2016

More Lennox on the role of religion in the development of science: a balanced discussion

Lack of appreciation of the precise point I'm making here can lead to confusion. I am not claiming that all aspects of religion in general and Christianity in particular have contributed to the rise of science. What I'm suggesting is that the doctrine of a unique Creator God who is responsible for the existence and order of the universe has played an important role. I am not suggesting that there never has been religious antagonism to science. Indeed, T.F. Torrance, commenting on Whitehead's analysis, points out that the development of science was often "seriously hindered by the Christian church even when within it the beginnings of modern ideas were taking their rise." As an example he states that Augustinian theology that dominated Europe for 1,000 years had a power and beauty that led to great contributions to the arts in the Middle Ages, but its "eschatology which perpetuated the idea of it, directed attention away from the world to the super-terrestrial, while its conception of the sacramental universe allowed only a symbolic understanding of nature and a religious, illustrative use of it" thus "taking up and sanctifying a cosmological outlook that had to be replaced if scientific progress was to be made." 

Torrance also says that what often seriously discouraged the scientific mind was a "hardened notion of authority and its relation to understanding that went back to Augustine... which first gave rise to bitter complaints against the church." Torrance nevertheless gives strong support to the general tenor of Whitehead's thesis: "In spite of the unfortunate tension that has so often cropped up between the advance of scientific theories and traditional habits of thought in the church, theology can still claim to have mothered throughout long centuries the basic beliefs and impulses which have given rise especially to modern empirical science, if only through its flagging faith in the reliability of God the Creator and the ultimate intelligibility of his creation." 

John Brooke, Oxford's first Professor of Science and Religion, is more cautious than Torrance: "In the past religious beliefs have served as a presupposition of the scientific enterprise insofar as they have underwritten that uniformity... a doctrine of creation could give coherence to scientific endeavor insofar as it implied a dependable order behind the flux of nature... this need not entail the strong claim that without theology, science would never have taken off, but it does mean that the particular conceptions of science held by its pioneers were often informed by theological and metaphysical beliefs." More recently, John Brooke's successor at Oxford, Peter Harrison, has made an impressive case that a dominate feature in the rise of modern science was the Protestant attitude to the interpretation of biblical texts, which spelt an end to the symbolic approach of the Middle Ages. 

It is, of course, notoriously difficult to know 'what would have happened if...,' but it is surely not too much to say that the rise of science would have been seriously retarded if one particular doctrine of theology, the doctrine of creation, had not been present, a doctrine that is common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Brooke issues a healthy warning against overstating the case: Just because a religion has supported science does not prove that the religion is true. Quite so, and the same can, of course, be said of atheism. 

The doctrine of creation was not only important in the rise of science because of its entailment of order in the universe. It was important for another reason. In order for science to develop, thinking had to be freed from hitherto ubiquitous Aristotelian method of deducing from mixed principles how the universe ought to be, to a methodology that allowed the universe to speak directly. That fundamental shift in perspective was made made easier by the notion of a contingent creation, that is, that God the Creator could have created the universe any way he liked. Hence, in order to find out what the universe is really like or how it actually works, there is no alternative to going and looking. You cannot deduce how the universe works simply by reasoning from 'a priori' philosophical principles. That is precisely what Galileo and, later, Kepler and others did: They went and looked, and revolutionized science.

God's Undertaker, pp. 21-23. 

Why reference matters

Graham Oppy writes:

At 368, Reppert argues: If the reference of our terms is indeterminate, then this has the disastrous consequence that we cannot reason to conclusions.
This is surely wrong. Reasoning can be purely formal. (If all flombs are bloops, and all bloops are shimbs, then all flombs are shimbs. The reasoning is impeccable. We can reason even if our terms have no meanings!) Moreover — and perhaps partly in consequence — so long as we restrict ourselves to a single context, and use the same word throughout, we can reason perfectly well even if our meanings are indeterminate. (If this is a rabbit, and that is a distinct rabbit, then there are at least two rabbits. Fine, regardless of Quinean indeterminacy in the meaning of “rabbit”!)

VR: But that's just the problem. Without fixed reference, we don't know whether we have three terms, four terms, five terms, or six terms. 

Let's take the following argument. 
1. All jackrabbits are gavagais. 
2. All gavagais are mammals. 
3. Therefore all jackrabbits are mammals. 

This argument is valid if the reference of gavagai is invariant between premise 1 and premise 2. But what if in premise 1 gavagai means "rabbit", but in the second it means "undetached rabbit part." Then the argument is invalid. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Strictly speaking, there is not such thing as falsification

Strictly speaking, falsification isn't really possible. For any piece of evidence that undermines a theory, it is always possible to add an auxiliary hypothesis to restore the theory. There is no logical point that requires the abandonment of any theory, and this is the case whether the thesis involves the supernatural or does not involve the supernatural. 
“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” 
“Science advances one funeral at a time.”  -also from Planck. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Materialism and its logical conclusions

Someone wrote: Victor wants "mind" to be supernatural, because if it turns out that minds are just extremely complex physical interactions within a living brain, it wipes out a large swath of his religion's basis for belief.

VR: And lots of other stuff besides. If the mind is just a complex interaction of the brain, then I could only be the same person I was when I was in the fourth grade if the physical content of my brain was the same as the physical content of my fourth-grade brain. But I would be surprised to learn if there was a single molecule in my brain today that was in my brain when I was in the fourth grade. So I am, from the standpoint of physics (the true standpoint according to physicalism) a different person from the person who heard in the lunch line the Kennedy had been assassinated, or even who received a Ph.D in 1989, or the one who got married in 1991, or whose shower was interrupted one Tuesday in 2001 to be told the that the World Trade Center buildings had been knocked down by airplanes. 

On the assumption of materialism, the evidence I have for believing anything  has nothing, ever, to do with my actually believing it. If materialism were to just endanger religious beliefs, that would be one thing. But it does a lot more than that, I am afraid. 

Jerry Fodor once wrote: 


"if it isn't literally true that my wanting is causally responsible for my reaching, and my itching is causally responsible for my scratching, and my believing is causally responsible for my saying. ..if none of that is literally true, then practically everything I believe about anything is false and it's the end of the world." ( Fodor, A Theory of Content and Other Essays, Cambridge, Mass, Bradford Book/MIT Press, 1990, p. 156; quoted in Stich, Deconstructing the Mind, New York, 1996, OUP, p. 169)

But that is just what materialism, taken to its logical conclusions, maintains. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Is monotheism the historical foundation of modern science?

From John Lennox's God's Undertaker: 
At the heart of all science lies the conviction that the universe is orderly. Without this deep conviction science would not be possible. So we are entitled to ask: Where does the conviction come from? Melvin Calvin, Nobel Prize-winner in biochemistry, seems in little doubt about its provenance: ‘As I try to discern the origin of that conviction, I seem to find it in a basic notion discovered 2,000 or 3,000 years ago, and enunciated first in the Western world by the ancient Hebrews: namely that the universe is governed by a single God, and is not the product of the whims of many gods, each governing his own province according to his own laws. This monotheistic view seems to be the historical foundation for modern science.’17

Questions for the Outsider Test for Faith

I've always thought that, within limits, the idea of an outsider test is not a bad one. Even if we don't commit ourselves to necessarily giving up any position that every outsider ought to accept, (which to my mind is a bit much), we still need to be aware of biases and be aware of what other people can accept, since we are, after all, talking to other people who do not think as we do. My complaints have always had more to do with what John does with the test than with the test per se. 
The Outsider Test for Faith claims to be able to approach these by identifying biasing factors and factoring them out before investigating. What you learned from mama's knee, or what you prefer to be true are, it is contended, accidental facts about the investigator which don't render your belief more likely to be true, therefore you should try to factor that stuff out before you ask the question of what beliefs are true in the area of religion. But you don't want a method of screening out bias the does only half the job, and screens out only potential biasing factors that tend to lead one in the direction of religious belief. Are there biasing factors which have no epistemic value but lead one in the direction of atheism? Thomas Nagel is a atheist, but he thinks that "fear of religion" is a factor that biases people against positions, such as the idea that mind is fundamental to the universe, that we have good reason to accept.
Even if you don't accept Nagel's conclusions about mind, isn't fear of religion at least a possible biasing factor? And if so, shouldn't any real test concerning religious belief have the capability of counteracting it. If the test only counteracts pro-religious biases but not anti-religious biases, then the test is faulty. 
Loftus maintains that the test commits us to a methodologically naturalistic investigation. Methodological naturalism, if we accept it, as I understand it, makes it methodologically unacceptable to include a supernatural conclusion even if it were to be correct. If our investigation discovers, and does not merely presuppose that the supernatural isn't there, then our methodology would have to have allowed for the possibility of discovering it had it been there.
It's not a test if it can have only one possible outcome.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

From the Bahnsen-Stein debate: The crackers in the pantry fallacy

Although I am not a Bahnsenite by any stretch of the imagination, I think Bahnsen's discussion of the crackers in the pantry fallacy very telling. 

We might ask , "Is there a box of crackers in the pantry?" And we know how we would go about answering that question. But that is a far, far cry from the way we go about answering questions determining the reality of say, barometric pressure, quasars, gravitational attraction, elasticity, radio activity, natural laws, names, grammar, numbers, the university itself that you're now at, past events, categories, future contingencies, laws of thought, political obligations, individual identity over time, causation, memories, dreams, or even love or beauty. In such cases, one does not do anything like walk to the pantry and look inside for the crackers. There are thousands of existence or factual questions, and they are not at all answered in the same way in each case.

Just think of the differences in argumentation and the types of evidences used by biologists, grammarians, physicists, mathematicians, lawyers, magicians, mechanics, merchants, and artists. It should be obvious from this that the types of evidence one looks for in existence or factual claims will be determined by the field of discussion and especially by the metaphysical nature of the entity mentioned in the claim under question.

Dr. Stein's remark that the question of the existence of God is answered in the same way as any other factual question, mistakenly reduces the theistic question to the same level as the box of crackers in the pantry, which we will hereafter call the crackers in the pantry fallacy.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

It's all about faith???

Z: Well with religion it's not about evidence, but faaaaaith....

VR: Oh please. So, the famous book in defense of Christianity was called "Faith that demands a verdict?"

There are Christians out there who really think the evidence supports their position. They are NOT fideists. If people really were thoroughgoing fideists, then most of what atheists say isn't going to get through to them at all. Atheists keep saying that Christians have no interest in evidence, but then they keep arguing that Christians shouldn't be Christians because there isn't any evidence. But in doing so they are presupposing that evidence matters, which, on their own view of Christians, is not true.

Christians often say the opposite of what you are saying here. They say that evidence matters and that the evidence supports, say, the Resurrection. If I thought that I could only be a Christian by being a fideist, I would have left the fold 40 years ago.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Saturday, February 06, 2016

On the history of Greek Science

Here. 

Bringing a rubber chicken to a gunfight: Slagle on Dennett

Here. 

Oh I can hear the response coming: 

Until Dennett has trained in the shops of Paris and Milan, until he has learned to tell the difference between a ruffled flounce and a puffy pantaloon, we should all pretend he has not spoken out against the Emperor’s taste.

Yawn. 

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Alan Shlemon on the core beliefs of Islam

Here. Another conference speaker.

Clay Jones on why God allows evil.

Here.  I saw this presentation at an apologetics conference at a Phoenix area church. In this presentation Jones argues for human depravity, and says that very little distinguishes ordinary humans like ourselves from guards at Auschwitz, unless we are born again.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Marshall and Loftus on the Outsider Test for Faith

David Marshall thinks it passes the test. Loftus, of course, disagrees. The debate, on Brierly's Unbelievable, is here.