Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Supervenience and its discontents

Terence Horgan was one of the original defenders of supervenience as a way of cashing out nonreductive materialism. However, he is one of its critics. See here. 

He now claims to be ambivalent about materialism.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Almeder on the scientific proof of materialism

After all, where in the scientific literature, biological, neurobiological, or otherwise, is it established either by observation or by the methods of testing and experiment, that consciousness is a biological property secreted by the brain in the same way a gland secretes a hormone? Better yet, where in the history of science has it been established that consciousness exists, but cannot be a substance very much unlike any substance we ordinarily deal with in contemporary physics or biology? In short, there is no scientifically well-confirmed (much less robustly confirmed) belief within science that consciousness is a biological product of the brain. We do not see the brain secrete consciousness in the same way we see a gland secrete a hormone. Consciousness is nothing like a hormone.

Almeder's paper is here. 

Threats to religious freedom


Apologetics and the Academy

By Kelly Burton, who teaches philosophy at Paradise Valley Community College in the Phoenix area.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Why the Resurrection wasn't fabricated


Hinman on Carroll on atheist cosmologists


But see also Donald Page's guest post on Carroll's blog.

Do evolution advocates violate the establishment clause?

According to this, yes. 

And please, spare me the "A Discovery Institute person said it, so you know it has to be wrong." That's called, you know, the ad hominem circumstantial fallacy.

NOMA and the Jones decision

The Jones decision absolutely reeks of NOMA, and it only works as an establishment clause case on the assumption of NOMA. Were questions of design refuted by Darwinian biology, or were they set aside as metaphysical issues outside the purview of science per se? Did the methodological assumptions of science change over time to preclude design inferences? Are there weaknesses in the Darwinian story that are constantly being papered over? Is Darwinian theory being protected by leaders in the scientific community, using the phobia of creationism to silence honest, and secular criticism of the standard theory? The guy from China said that while in China you can criticize Darwin but not the government, over here you can criticize the government but not Darwin. 

If you go by the Jones decision, then biology textbooks are going to have to be checked to make sure they don't have antireligious content in them. Otherwise they violate the establishment clause in just the same way that the Dover statement violated it. How much do you want to bet that you could find lots of violations in many biology textbooks? 

What I believe on the other days of the week is that NOMA is true, biology should be metaphysically neutral, and science textbooks should indicate that questions of intelligent design lie outside the purview of science and cannot be settled one way or the other by science. So, evolution is affirmed because science has to work that way, and you can legitimately ask the question of design, but as an extrascientific question that science, per se, cannot answer.

Creationism, Evolutionism, Intelligent Design

When people say that intelligent design is just creationism, it is hard to see what they mean exactly. Meanings of terms like these have a bad habit of sliding around.

Creationism can mean the belief that God created the world, the belief that God created the world in six days, the belief that science can discover that God created the world, or that science can discover that God created the world in seven days.

Evolution can mean that the earth is old, or that there is common ancestry, or that speciation occurred without design, or that life and speciation occurred without design.

Intelligent design means that at least some life on earth was designed (by a nonhuman designer), or that science can discover that life on earth was designed. It typically means at least the second of these things.

All creators are designers, but some designers are not creators. Plato believed in design but not creation. ID advocates say that science can discover design but not creation. But most believe in creation, and hope that those who come to accept design will come to believe in creation. Is this enough to make them creationists, in the perjorative sense?

With respect to the public school controversy, it is true that ID was used by many creationists to bring as much of what they believed into the public school classroom as they could. Insofar as leading ID advocates took an interest in public education, they aroused the ire of the scientific community. But someone could support the idea that, at the higher education and research level,  researchers should be free to pursue design hypotheses, but until those are further developed, they should not attempt to push theories that contradict the consensus of the scientific community in the public school classroom. This is my position, at least on some days of the week.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Jewish philosopher Saul Kripke on materialist prejudice

“I don’t have the prejudices many have today, I don’t believe in a naturalist world view. I don’t base my thinking on prejudices or a world view and do not believe in materialism.”

Saul Kripke. 

Materialism and the Illusion of Following the Evidence

Brain processes are physical events. They occur in accordance with the laws of physics, not the laws of logic or laws of evidence. Our brains follow the laws of physics automatically, we obey the laws of logic or laws of evidence, when we do, only when the laws of physics dictate that they do so. If you think this way, then I fail to see how William Hasker's conclusion is avoidable: the laws of logic and evidence, or as he puts it, the principles of sound reasoning, are inoperative.

Some atheists (Jerry Coyne is a good example) think that the idea of free will is a useful fiction; we should keep it around even though we know it's false. I think that if naturalistic atheists are consistent, they have to say the same thing about their claim that they believe what they do because the evidence is superior. But this would be an awfully damaging admission. They perceive themselves as following the evidence, but if their own world-view is correct, their thoughts are brain processes ultimately subject, not to the rules of evidence, but to the laws of physics. Their beliefs are caused in exactly the same way as a fideistic religionist who believes in God as a matter of faith.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

You are only a Christian because of your birthplace!

Gee, where have we heard that before? Saints and skeptics answer here. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Advice to Christian Apologists, from William Lane Craig


The is part of a paper I am writing to extend the debate with David Kyle Johnson

The debate appears in Gregory Bassham ed. C. S. Lewis's Christian Apologetics: Pro and
. (Brill Rodopi, 2015).

Now I think it important here to point out one very important area of disagreement between myself and Johnson. Johnson firmly accepts supervenience and causal closure, but he thinks that insisting that the supervenience base mechanistic is in fact a non-standard definition of naturalism. He writes:
In reply, Reppert might insist that property dualism is not a naturalistic theory because it is also violates his first tenet of naturalism by including mental properties at the basic level of analysis. But this simply reveals that he has chosen a (non-standard) definition of naturalism to load the dice in his favor—to preclude naturalism from doing the one thing he says it must do. In reality, this tenet does not actually express a necessary component of naturalism (which is that nothing exists beyond the natural world). Not only is naturalism not necessarily mechanistic (a possible world of chaotic matter would still be naturalistic), but neither a mechanistic world nor a naturalistic would preclude mentality existing at the basic level of analysis—as property dualism and the identity theory reveal. Simply put, the mental is not necessarily supernatural, as Reppert seems to assume.
            Well, I would simply have to ask how mental causes came to start operating in a naturalistic world. Given theism, minds operate in the world because they are products of divine creation (even if there was an evolutionary process involved). Or perhaps there is an Absolute Mind that is not distinct from the physical world, so that what appears to be nonmental really is not nonmental. This is the perspective of Absolute Idealism which Lewis embraced when he was first persuaded by Owen Barfield of the difficulties the Argument from Reason poses for naturalism. Or mind might be fundamental to the universe in some other way, and Thomas Nagel in Mind and Cosmos and elsewhere has been casting about for how that might be. But it should be noted that, while being very explicit about avoiding supernaturalism, he is being ferociously attacked by advocates of standard naturalism, precisely for trying to fit mind into the foundation of his view of the universe. As one commentator points out,
The critics have focused much of their ire on what Nagel calls "natural teleology," the hypothesis that the universe has an internal logic that inevitably drives matter from nonliving to living, from simple to complex, from chemistry to consciousness, from instinctual to intellectual.
In short Nagel is upbraided by many of his collegues for his failure to adhere to the what I am calling the doctrine of mechanism, the doctrine that the mental must be excluded from the suprervenience base.
Or, perhaps there are emergent laws, such that, once biological systems get complicated enough to produce brains, the matter in those brains stop acting like the matter in the rocks flying down the hill toward my head, and instead start acting as if they had purposes they were fulfilling. But the individual parts of my brain don’t obey logical laws, so it looks like this form of emergentism not only involves emergent properties and emergent laws, it also seems to include emergent substances. This certainly is going to be regarded as blazing heresy by the mainstream naturalists, who agree with Francis Crick:
 ‘You,’ your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. Who you are is nothing but a pack of neurons.” 
            The mainstream naturalistic position is that mentalistic explanations are not allowed in the supervenience base. That is the essence of Darwin’s dangerous idea. Long before writing Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, Daniel Dennett spelled out the fundamental commitments of naturalism when he wrote:
Psychology of course must not be question-begging. It must not explain intelligence in terms of intelligence, for, instance by assigning responsibility for the existence of intelligence to the munificence of an intelligent creator, or by putting clever homunculi at the control panels of the nervous system. If that were the best psychology could do, then psychology could not do the job assigned to it.[10]
And again:
Darwin explains a world of final causes and teleological laws with a principle that is entirely independent of "meaning" or "purpose." It assumes a world that is absurd in the existentialist's sense of the term: not ludicrous or pointless, and this assumption is a necessary condition of any non-question-begging account of purpose.[11]
In fact, in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, he explains the difference between cranes and skyhooks as follows:
"Let us understand that a skyhook is a "mind-first" force or power or process, an exception to the principle that all design, and apparent design, is ultimately the result of mindless, motiveless mechanicity. A crane, in contrast, is a subprocess or special feature of a design process that can be demonstrated to permit the local speeding up of the basic, slow process of natural selection, and that can be demonstrated to be itself the predictable (or retrospectively explicable) product of the basic process."
In fact most of the book is spent upbraiding not religious believers, (who he probably considers marginalized anyway)  but thinkers who say they are naturalists but have not fully and completely applied the dangerous idea, such as Chomsky, Penrose, Searle, and Gould.
            If we think about it, if we are naturalists, how did things happen in the world before brains came on the scene? What principles of causation were operative? Presumably nonmental ones. Wouldn’t it take a miracle for brand new principles of causation to enter the universe? And miracles are, of course, anathema to the naturalistic mind.

What the argument from reason criticizes

The viewpoints that the argument from reason criticizes are variously called naturalism, materialism, and physicalism. The idea is that nature, or matter, or physics, is all there is. Behind all of this is the attempt to exclude the supernatural, such entities as God, angels, or the soul. But in order to know what supernatural is, you need to know what natural is, so that supernatural can be “super” that. But what is naturalism more precisely? After all, I could attempt to qualify as a naturalist, or even a materialist or a physicalist. I could say to my materialist friend that we are both materialists, only I believe in some different kinds of material entities than he does. I believe in psychons, which used to be called souls, angelons, which used to be called angels, and one triune theon, who used to be called God. I suspect that any materialist worth his salt is going to point out that I am misusing words here, and that whatever we mean by material has to exclude God, angels, and souls. Bu this means that we need a principled analysis of these concepts in order to get them to work, and we need to keep them from sliding around when it is convenient for them to do a little sliding. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Belief without evidence is crucial for knowledge


The key quote is from Swinburne:

n the introduction of his book The Evolution of the Soul, Philosopher Richard Swinburne lays out some key principles we all use in our reasoning. The first is the Principle of Credulity. Swinburne defines it as "in the absence of counter-evidence probably things are as they seem to be."1 This principle holds that we should basically trust what our senses tell us. While sometimes our sense can be wrong, we trust them to tell us true things about the world, for that's simply how we observe the world. As Swinburne points out:
Without this principle, there can be no knowledge at all. If you cannot suppose things are as they seem to be unless further evidence is brought forward—e.g. that in the past in certain respects things were as they seemed to be, the question will arise as to why you should suppose the latter evidence to be reliable. If ‘it seems to be' is good enough evidence in the latter case, it ought to be good reason to start with. And if ‘it seems to be' is not good enough reason in the latter case, we are embarked on an infinite regress and no claim to believe anything with justification will be correct.2

Believing in God for pragmatic reasons

What would you say to people, for example, who say that if there is no life beyond this one, there is really no hope for human existence, and it is vain to continue. In answering this question, it is important to realize that many of us are members of the educated class, and our lives probably have more creature comforts than most people in the world have. Most people cannot afford to be part of the great brave new world of science or philosophy like Dawkins or Dennett. Can you really object to people who say, quite honestly, that they believe in God because it makes them happy? What are you going to give them, some altruistic argument?

I would have to say that I could never do it this way. But I think it is vain to just say that these people are weak. I don't live under their circumstances. That is why I don't think Bertrand Russell's answer works.

“To refuse to face facts merely because they are unpleasant is considered the mark of a weak character, except in the sphere of religion. I do not see how it can be ignoble to yield to the tyranny of fear in all ordinary terrestrial matters, but noble and virtuous to do exactly the same thing when God and the future life are concerned. There is to my mind something pusillanimous and sniveling about this point of view, which makes me scarcely able to consider it with patience.”
― Bertrand Russell, The Value of Free Thought: How to Become a Truth Seeker and Break the Chain of Mental Slavery (1944).

Friday, July 14, 2017

Richard Bauckham on Lewis's Fernseeds and Elephants

Summarized here.  Bauckham is a leading biblical scholar, who sees a great deal of value in Lewis's criticism of his discipline in an essay I know as "Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism."

Culpably Ignorant? In a deterministic universe?

I presented some arguments on Debunking Christianity a few weeks back and got identified as the 
Gullible Person of the day. Since I consider it a major step toward an unproductive discussion when the focus of discussions switch from subject matter to the intellectual viability of persons. I interact in the blogosphere under my own name, and my institutional affiliations are also known, so I find it offensive to be attacked personally, not just by Loftus, who also writes under his own name, but many of his commenters, who write under pseudonyms. Which is why, for the most part, I now avoid his site. 

But he said it was nothing personal against me. Well, why isn't it personal, I asked. He said it had nothing to do with my likability as a person, but as a Christian apologist I was culpably ignorant.. 

The attitude here seems typical amongst atheists. They act as if it is our fault that we believe what they consider to be nonsense, since we exercise faith and don't apportion our beliefs to the evidence and recognize the evidential vacuity of Christianity. They are moralistic about rationality, as is explained here.

But can they really say that we are culpably ignorant? On their own view, evolution spit some of us up as atheists, and others as Christians.. And deterministic brain processes determined that he should lose his faith and I keep mine. No one could possibly be culpable.

Consider Richard Dawkins

But doesn't a truly scientific, mechanistic view of the nervous system make nonsense of the very idea of responsibility, whether diminished or not? Any crime, however heinous, is in principle to be blamed on antecedent conditions acting through the accused's physiology, heredity and environment. Don't judicial hearings to decide questions of blame or diminished responsibility make as little sense for a faulty man as for a Fawlty car?

Now, surely it would be inconsistent to apply Dawkins' logic to murderers but not to Christians. 

Jerry Coyne is also an opponent of moral responsibility.

Sorry, atheists, but on your own view, everyone is doing what they have to do. You can't blame us believers from believing in God, even if we were delusional. (Which we're not, but that's the other debate). 

Ockham's Razor and Ockham's Lobotomy

Now, the principle of explanatory exclusion is very popular amongst atheists and naturalists. It is simply a form of Ockham’s Razor. Atheists are happy to point out that the electrical explanation of electricity makes Thor’s hammer unnecessary, and that the Blind Watchmaker of evolution replaces the divine watchmaker. But in the case of the mental and physical explanations for, say, the mental events that produced Godel’s Theorem or even Darwin’s theory of evolution, they insist that while the thoughts of Godel and Darwin have a physical explanation, they also have a mental explanation. Otherwise, Ockham’s Razor becomes Ockham’s Lobotomy (thanks, William!), and the scientific thought processes that produced these beautiful theories and theorems could not have existed.

What to do when someone challenges your faith

Just say it's a matter of faith and by definition it can't be challenged? No. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Kim's Principle of Explanatory Exclusion

Jaegwon Kim has argued that in order for there to be a workable account of mental causation, reductionism has to be true. According to his principle of explanatory exclusion: 

An event cannot have two separate and complete* explanations.
Take any human behavioral event M (A person decides to change seats, comes to understand a principle of physics,feels sorry for her little sister, etc.) For every M, there can be only one complete explanation. There cannot be two explanations which
a). individually provide a complete explanation of M, and
b). are unconnected to each other.
*An explanation is complete if the events or properties that it specifies are the only ones that need to be mentioned in order to fully explain the occurrence of that event.

Explained here. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Anscombe's commentary on her exchange with Lewis

In 1948, Elizabeth Anscombe, then a student of Wittgenstein and a research fellow at Oxford, publicly challenged C. S. Lewis’s central argument against naturalism. In response to her criticisms, Lewis rewrote the relevant chapter of his book Miracles. Anscombe briefly acknowledged the revision in print as an improvement, but never wrote more extensively about it. In 1985, however, she gave a talk about Lewis’s revised version to the C. S. Lewis Society, discussing its strengths and remaining weaknesses. This chapter is a transcript of that talk.

Here.  I wish this transcript had been available back when I was writing my dissertation chapter on the Lewis-Anscombe Controversy. Now if I can just get my hands on it!

This is Gregory Bassham's summary of Anscombe's discussion. from Church History. 

One reading that will be of special interest to Lewis scholars is Elizabeth Anscombe’s talk on “C. s. Lewis’s Rewrite of Chapter III of MiraclesAs is well-known, Lewis and Anscombe engaged in a famous debate in 1948 over Lewis’s claim that naturalism is self-refeting (his so-called "argument from reason”). Confroversy has swirled over who won the debate and whether Lewis largely abandoned rational apologetics as a result of his perceived defeat. What we know for sure is that Lewis substantially revised and expanded his original argument in the second edition of Miracles (London: Collins-Fontana, 1960), and that Anscombe stated in the early 1980s that Lewis’s revised argument was a substantial improvement over the original formulation, iat we have not known until now is whether Anscombe believed that Lewis’s revised argument was substantially correct. We can now see that she did not. Anscombe examines Lewis’s argument in detail, and finds it to be rife with confiisions, ambiguities, and false assertions (16-22). Lewis argues that naturalism undermines itself, because naturalism can only be justifiably believed if it can be rationally inferred from good evidence, and naturalism excludes the possibility of rational inference by claiming that all human mental processes are wholly determined by nonrational causes. In other words, naturalism can be rationally believed only if reasoning is possible. But if naturalism is true, then reasoning is impossible. So if naturalism is true, it cannot be rationally believed (and neither can much else). Anscombe suggests that this argument rests on a confiision. The fact that a beliefor statement is felly determined by non-rational causes has no bearing on whether it is true or rationally justified. Consider, she says, the analogy of a printed book. Every word in such a book is wholly determined by the machinery that printed the book. Yet no one would suppose that this casts any doubt on whether the things said in the book are true or rationally defensible (16). As Anscombe sees it, the whole issue of causal determination is a red herring؛ even strict, reductionistic naturalists can consistently recognize the existence of reasoning and the possibility of rational beliefs. But Anscombe does find something of real value in Lewis’s discussion. Lewis raises the important and deeply puzzling question of how logical grounds can cause a conclusion to be drawn (18). As Anscombe sees it, Lewis’s “damnably obscure” claim that an inferred conclusion can be "determined only by the truth it knows” (22) does not do much to solve this problem, but Lewis was right in pointing to the deeply puzzling nature of mental causation.

As I noted in the first essay I wrote on Lewis-Anscombe, Anscombe is committed to a divorce between rational justification and the causation of belief that strikes me as implausibly strong, and one that would not have be embraced by most naturalists today, who would follow Donald Davidson in rejecting a strict divorce between reasons and causes (see his essay "Actions, Reasons, and Causes" in which he criticizes the standard Wittgensteinian position on this). Anscombe also has to deal with the ontological restrictiveness of naturalism. Whether an explanation is causal or not, it still has an ontology, and most philosophical materialists and naturalists will not accept reasons into their ontology without some kind of intertheoretic reduction or supervenience relation, and this is not part of Anscombe's critique at all. 

Laplace's demon and Godel's Theorem

I think we need to pause for a moment and reflect upon what mechanistic means here. Consider what happens as I discover, at the foot of a mountain, that I am about to be caught in an avalanche. Rocks are falling down, and to avoid being hit, I run. But before I can escape, a large boulder comes crashing down in the direction of my head. It will either hit me or not hit me, depending upon what? Depending on whether it thinks I should suffer a concussion or not? Of course not. It blindly does what the laws of nature say it will do. If we think about how events happened before the advent of life, this is how things happened in the world.  Even though the indeterminism of quantum mechanics complicates things somewhat, it does not really add anything conducive to rationality. Therefore, it is helpful to look at a naturalistic picture of the world from the point of view of Laplace’s demon:
"We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes."
The point that has to be stressed here is the information Laplace’s demon has when he knows conditions, say, concerning conditions prior to the formation of planets. The physical information the demon has says nothing about purposes, nothing about a first-person perspective, nothing having to do with what anybody’s thoughts are about, and knows nothing about what his normative in any sense.
            Now consider the mind of Kurt Godel as he proves the incompleteness of arithmetic. The Laplacian demon knows the state of the physical prior to the formation of stars and planets, and therefore knows the positions of the material particles in Godel’s brain when the developed his Incompleteness Theorem. According to the naturalistic view, the positions of the material particles in Godel’s brain determine what mental states he is in, and those brain states are caused by a chain of prior physical states going back to a time when there were no brains, and therefore, according to naturalism, no mental states whatsoever.  So his act of knowing that arithmetic is incomplete can be comprehensively explained by factors that contain reference to no mathematical truths that Godel perceived, and could have occurred whether arithmetic was really complete or really incomplete. When a complete set of causes is adduced, the state of Godel’s brain can be explained without reference to any mathematical truths that Godel knows, at all.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

What Lewis did to Miracles

Arend Smilde chronicles the post-Anscombe changes in Lewis's Miracles here and here. 

Friday, July 07, 2017

C. S. Lewis's revised chapter 3 of Miracles.


Steps to marriage in the time of Jesus, with some reflections on our Valentine's Day culture

From William Barclay's commentary on Matthew: 

(i) There was the engagement. The engagement was often made when the couple were only children. It was usually made through the parents, or through a professional match-maker. And it was often made without the couple involved ever having seen each other. Marriage was held to be far too serious a step to be left to the dictates of the human heart.
(ii) There was the betrothal. The betrothal was what we might call the ratification of the engagement into which the couple had previously entered. At this point the engagement, entered into by the parents or the match-maker, could be broken if the girl was unwilling to go on with it. But once the betrothal was entered into, it was absolutely binding. It lasted for one year. During that year the couple were known as man and wife, although they had not the rights of man and wife. It could not be terminated in any other way than by divorce. In the Jewish law we frequently find what is to us a curious phrase. A girl whose fiance had died during the year of betrothal is called "a virgin who is a widow". It was at this stage that Joseph and Mary were. They were betrothed, and if Joseph wished to end the betrothal, he could do so in no other way than by divorce; and in that year of betrothal Mary was legally known as his wife.
(iii) The third stage was the marriage proper, which took place at the end of the year of betrothal.

This is how marriage was done back then. No dating, or even courtship. Throughout most of history this is how it has been done. That is why, in India, Valentine's day is such a controversial holiday. On Valentine's day we celebrate falling in love,  since that determines the course of our relationships. In India, it is a family decision, sometimes done with the primary participation of the actual couple, but in other cases not. 

The same-sex marriage issue can only arise in a Valentine's Day culture. Can you imagine Tzeitel (in Fiddler on the Roof) telling the matchmaker she's a lesbian, and wants to be matched with a woman? 

Christianity, Islam, and Hermeneutics

How you go from texts to application is a big issue, and it was recognized in the Islamic tradition as early as the 8th Century. The violent texts seem to presuppose a context of open battle where Islamic soldiers are fighting against pagan soldiers, as in the Battle of Mecca.To use those text to justify attacking a standing target like the World Trade Centers is to take those texts out of context. 

In the Christian tradition, people who get different messages from the same Scripture are operating with different hermeneutics. Let's take "Women should be silent in church." Most conservative Christians realize that the contingencies of the time and situation led Paul to make that statement, and that it would be a mistake to apply it literally to the church in the present day. But some are literal about it. Both of them can read, but they use different principles of application. 

To take another example, it can easily be argued that given the way homosexuality was practiced in the Greco-Roman world, Paul had ample reason to condemn what he saw going on around him. But Christian differ as to whether these condemnations should be applied to homosexuality in general in the present day, or whether they are bound to their time and place. 

There were four different schools of thought in the Sunni tradition as to how you apply the Qur'an to a different situation. One school, the Hanbalite school, was very strict and literal, but there were three others. Muslims lived in different places than Arabia, and some saw rules made for Arabia that they thought might not straightforwardly apply in, say Baghdad. But others thought this this freedom of application led to loose morals, and different Muslim came down in different places on this. But they weren't just uneducated about what their texts said.

Hitler's anti-Catholicism

“We are the joyous Hitler Youth. We need no stinkin’ Christian virtue. Our F├╝hrer is our savior and future. The Pope and Rabbi shall be gone. We wish to be pagans once again.” It’s a safe bet that few have heard this line from the Hitler Youth’s anthem; far more have heard that Pope Pius XII was callously indifferent to the victims of Nazi Germany. Indeed, the Third Reich’s persecution of the Catholic Church is one of the most overlooked threads in the otherwise widely documented history of Nazism. It is to be hoped that French journalist Guillaume Zeller’s The Priest Barracks, now available in English, will increase awareness of Hitler’s hatred of the Catholic faith.


When the monotheistic tradition is rejected and overthrown, this is one way you can go. Why do people assume that as soon as the Judeo-Christian-Islamic monotheistic tradition is rejected, people will settle down to a nice, common humanistic moral core which preserves all the good that has come from those traditions but dumps all the irrational taboos?


Thursday, July 06, 2017

What is secular privilege?


Also from Chesterton in "The Future of Democracy"

There is no basis for democracy except in a dogma about the divine origin of man. That is a perfectly simple fact which the modern world will find out more and more to be a fact. Every other basis is a sort of sentimental confusion, full of merely verbal echoes of the older creeds. Those verbal associations are always vain for the vital purpose of constraining the tyrant. An idealist may say to a capitalist, 'Don't you sometimes feel in the rich twilight, when the lights twinkle from the distant hamlet in the hills, that all humanity is a holy family?' But it is equally possible for the capitalist to reply with brevity and decision, 'No, I don't,' and there is no more disputing about it further than about the beauty of a fading cloud. And the modern world of moods is a world of clouds, even if some of them are thunderclouds.


Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Chesterton on America

It may have seemed something less than a compliment to compare the American Constitution to the Spanish Inquisition. But oddly enough, it does involve a truth, and still more oddly perhaps, it does involve a compliment. The American Constitution does resemble the Spanish Inquisition in this: that it is founded on a creed. America is the only nation in the world that is founded on creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature. It enunciates that all men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give them that justice, and that their authority is for that reason just. It certainly does condemn anarchism. and it does also by inference condemn atheism, since it clearly names the Creator as the ultimate authority from whom these equal rights are derived. Nobody expects a modern political system to proceed logically in the application of such dogmas, and in the matter of God and Government it is naturally God whose claim is taken more lightly. The point is that there is a creed, if not about divine, at least about human things. 

The essay is found here. 

The argument from reason and four categories of statements

The argument from reason, which I have defended, essentially maintains that if you maintain a consistently naturalistic view of human thought, you end up not describing our thought processes in a way that renders our belief in naturalism, or even the thought processes of natural scientists, justified. For any proposition, there are four possibilities.
                A) It is true, and we can have a justified belief that it is true. We believe, for example, that the world is round, and we have good reason to think so.
                B) It is true, but we cannot have a justified belief that it is true. Consider the proposition “No one believes anything for a reason.” If could be true, but if it were, you couldn’t possibly provide an argument that it is true, because if you did so, there would be no one could possibly be persuaded by your argument. If you did persuade someone, it would falsify your position. The self-refuting character of this position, is, therefore a good reason to believe that it is false.
                C) It is false, but we can have a justified belief that it is true. We had a justified belief that all swans were white, before they found a black one in Western Australia.
                D) It is false, and we cannot have a justified belief that it is true. The claim the universe is nothing but a turnip with whipped cream on top is not only observationally false, but if it were true, neither the turnip nor the whipped cream could infer that the universe contains nothing but a turnip and whipped cream.
Naturalists obviously want to claim that their belief that naturalism is true falls into category A. Naturalism is true, they say, because the natural sciences provide us with a great way of knowing things, (though theory formation, observation, experimentation, and mathematical calculation). But this involves inferring one thing from another. The reason is that the base level, which is typically called the physical, is mechanistic, meaning that it proceeds without reference to the mental. On a deterministic form of naturalism, at the basic level, given the condition of the basic particles at a time when no minds even existed, and given the laws governing those basic particles, every event that follows, including all the discoveries of Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Albert Einstein, as well as the arguments of J. L. Mackie and John Rawls, are all inevitable results of a process that is, at the fundamental level, nonrational or even, at least in the dictionary sense of the term irrational. The indeterminism of quantum mechanics doesn’t really add anything rational, by itself if merely adds a factor of random chance. Causation on the naturalistic view is a mechanistic process that takes place at the physical level. Thus we have an apparent incompatibility between the claim that, say, Charles Darwin inferred natural selection from observations about finches in the Galapagos islands, and that Charles Darwin’s went from one brain state to another brain state, not because of the evidence, but because of the laws of nature and previous facts concerning Darwin’s brain and his environment. In defending the argument from reason, I have been arguing that this conflict isn’t just apparent, it’s real. If there is justified belief, then naturalism has to be false. Naturalism might fall into category B, that is, it could be true but no one knows that it is.  But any proposition that is a bad candidate for category A is best rejected as false.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Is science the solution to man's problems?

May I point out that nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons are products of science?

Monday, June 26, 2017

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Religion plus leads to violence. So does atheism plus.

I don't mean atheism plus as it was defined by some atheists a few years back. I mean atheism plus some further ideology.

Religion needs a lot of stuff added to it to support violence. You only get that path if you claim that the state should advance the interests of religion. The state, by definition, operates by force.

But you could have versions of atheism in which the state is called upon to use force to promote atheism. The argument I make on this issue is that neither atheism nor religion by itself are sufficient to promote violence, other things have to be added.

Communism was an ideology of which atheism was an essential component. It claimed that political power had to be used to achieve the revolutionary goals of communism, and the abandonment of religion was a necessary component of this purpose. It wasn't just the badness of people like Stalin or Mao as persons, their ideologies justified, in their minds, mass killings of those who opposed their political ambitions.

My argument was that religion plus a commitment to the use of the state to advance its goals leads at least potentially to violence. Religion in itself does not do that, you need a "plus." Atheism plus some other things built into an atheistic ideology also leads to violence. And if you just compare death tolls, atheism actually comes out a whole lot higher.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Evidence vs. Proof

A piece of evidence is an item that, taken by itself, is more likely to exist if the hypothesis is true, than if it is not true. As I see it, there are piece of evidence on both sides of the God question. People sometimes confuse evidence with proof. Proof actually demonstrates that something is true, evidence just, by itself, supports the claim. As I see it, there is evidence for a lot of things that are really false, and for which the preponderance of the evidence supports its denial. 

What science can't do (because it isn't trying)

What science does is tell us how things work, and it is darn good at it. It doesn't tell us what we should do. We could  develop a virus to kill millions of people at a stroke through recombinant DNA. In that respect, science has great power. But can it tell us if we ought to do so or not? Science isn't capable of even asking that question, so it can't answer it one way or the other. If our human race is not a positive species, then, hey, maybe that might not be such a bad idea, get rid of a bunch of pestilent humans. Albert Camus said that the most significant question in philosophy is the question of suicide. What does science have to say to someone who is contemplating that drastic decision?

So while we can see the science is moving very fast, speed of motion does not tell us whether it is getting to the right place. If we want to know how the rocks got here, or what the makeup of the human cell is,  God did it won't give us any information that could possible make it easier to keep viruses out of our cells or how to manage our climate. But this is after we have decided that it is a good thing to keep viruses our of our cells or that we ought to combat global warming.

One one view, science answer the God question, negatively. On another view, science operates by setting aside questions like the God question. But it also sets aside the moral question. Scientific explanations essentially appeal to laws of nature, but this guarantees that science will never explain why laws of nature exist at all. Or why matter exists at all.

You can set these kinds of questions aside by saying with Bertrand Russell, "What science cannot discover, mankind cannot know." But then you need to tell me what scientific experiment demonstrated that what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know, otherwise, Russell's statement is, by his own reckoning, unknowable. And in order to answer the question of suicide, we need answers, at least for ourselves, to questions that science by definition cannot solve.

None of this is slamming science. Quite the contrary. I am not slamming Paul Goldschmidt if I say he probably can't shoot a basketball like Michael Jordan, nor do I slam Jordan if I point out that his foray into baseball was a failure.

Faith and confusion

What we mean by faith might well be nothing more than confidence in something. There is nothing in the idea of religious faith that requires that it be against reason. Unless, of course, reason turns out to be against it. But many people, and probably the mainstream Christian tradition, has held historically that faith is reasonable. Dawkins is just misinterpreting religion when he suggests otherwise.  Of course, it may not be, but it is a mistake to use the employment of the word "faith" as proof that religious people have deliberately given up reason. At worst, you have to argue that they have used reason in a mistaken manner.

Hasn't gay marriage been legal for a long time?

It's interesting that people think that same sex marriage was permitted only in 2015. The first gay wedding took place in 1969, in a church. The church was permitted to do that, so gay marriage was really legal in 1969, at least in Huntington Beach, CA.

What the Obergefell case was about was not the legality of gay marriage, but the government recognition of gay marriage.

In the Loving case, there was a criminal law preventing the Lovings from living together in Virginia as husband and wife. No law of this sort was struck down in Obergefell.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The "no evidence" charge revisited

It seems to me that the universe could have gone a lot of different ways, and life would never have emerged, not simply  at the beginning, but later. 
DNA mutates, but slowly. Why does it mutate slowly? If it mutated quickly, then evolution would be too crazy to lead to anything positive like humans, or even dogs. If it didn't mutate at all, then there would be no evolution, because nothing changes. But it happens to mutate slowly, so evolution at least looks possible. It's easy to look at what happened and say it was inevitable, since, after all, it did happen.
I find the "no-evidence" position intriguing because to me, there is lots of stuff pulling both ways, which to my mind counts as evidence. The evidence can always be absorbed into the other world view (atheism or theism), but for that side it feels like their side is absorbing a foreign object, something that fits better with the other world-view. And some things, I think, we don't notice or pay attention to, when we could ask "Why did THAT happen, of all things." How is it that we live in a universe in which mathematics fits the physical world? In science it's an article of faith, but how do we explain it. 
On the other hand, the existence of suffering, and moral difficulties within all of the world's scriptures can't be taken lightly either. That's why, in reflecting on the world, I can see how reasonable people can be theists or atheists. And leading physicists, chemists, biologists, and philosophers, are both. 

Christianity, gay rights, and human rights

Many churches are speaking out for the gays. But not all of them. 

Demographic tendencies don't prove what most people think they do. Not everyone is able to see the full implications of their position. I presented the "Where's your evidence" argument that atheists use on God to the question of human rights. Instead of getting stout defenses of human rights on secular grounds, the first two responses I got were two atheists who immediately said that the argument works against human rights: there is no evidence that they exist. Governments may protect them or not protect them, but there is no justification for arguing that people just have human rights if the people with the biggest guns keep them from exercising them. The existence of human rights entails the existence of objectively binding moral obligations on the part of the powerful to allow people to exercise those rights. What it means to say that a Jew has the right to life in a Nazi concentration camp is not to say that the Jew will survive the camp. It means that regardless of what Hitler says, they ought not to be taken to the gas chambers. In fact, since they have the right to liberty, they ought never have been put in the camps in the first place. If morals are subjective in the final analysis, then the doctrine of human rights becomes untenable. I can't make the least bit of sense out of human rights apart from moral objectivity. But moral facts fit like a hand in a glove in the Christian worldview, but really don't go very well with atheism. In a materialistic atheist world-view, where do objective moral facts fit? Are they physical facts? Where are they located in time and space? 

I have a sneaking suspicion that secularists like gay rights because this is a way of taking Christians down a peg. On the other hand, the most homophobic people I have ever met have not been Christians. Christians, unless they accept the "God hates fags" ideology that says that God makes you gay so he can send you to hell more readily, believe that people, regardless of sexual orientation, are loved and valued by God. Regardless of who someone happens to be, God created you and has a profound interest in your salvation. There is no such thing as human refuse. This is the basis of which women, slaves, and the poor came to be treated better under the influence of the Church than they were treated in the Roman Empire. 

I looked at a list of anti-gay violence incidents, and with maybe one exception, none of the perpetrators were strongly religious or even claimed to have done it for Jesus. This is a fact that no one ever seems to mention. 

Hitler turned against homosexuals, and the Soviet Union, probably the first great experiment in secularist statecraft, did not permit same-sex marriage. Lenin decriminalized homosexuality, and the Stalin recriminalized it. What if you have a secularist political leader who "just doesn't like queers" and wants to kill them all? What argument can be made that he has an objectively binding moral obligation not to do that?

Monday, June 19, 2017

Evidence and fine tuning

Evidence, at least to me, would be a fact of experience that is more likely to exist if there is a God than if there is no God. Even if the such facts are outweighed by other facts, isn't it pretty cleat that such facts exist? One of them would be the fine-tuning of the universe, the fact that only because the universe began with cosmic constants that fall within some very narrow specifications did life emerge. We might have discovered the life could have emerged on many possible initial cosmic constants, but we didn't discover this. 

Are gay rights based on religion?

What about religious argument that says that we were endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. If, as atheists believe, there is no creator, the creator could not have endowed us with inalienable rights, since he does not exist. But human rights is the basis for gay rights, but if the basis for human rights in undermined, then so is the basis for gay rights. A thoroughgoing secularism doesn't support gay rights, it undermines them.

The first gay wedding in America took place at the Metropolitan Community Church at Huntington Beach, CA, 1969.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Religion and indoctrination

I think it is a mistake to think of what churches do as some kind of forcible indoctrination. I've  never seen anything wrong with a parent presenting as true what the parent believes about religion, or politics, or any other controversial issue. Prior to adolescence, children will believe what their parents tell them. Then, guess what? They reach adolescence. They hang out with people outside their religious cocoon. They even go to college. The beliefs they learned as children will act as a template which they will test against what they are experiencing in peer relationships and from their teachers. 
Now some people teach religions in ways that make children afraid of questioning.  But that is not universal in religious education, and it was not my experience. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Could God be wrong about homosexuality?

For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. Rom 1: 26-27.

If this passage is inspired by God, and it really means that God opposes gay relationships (there is a serious interpretation issue here), could God be wrong about this?

I suppose on a very strong version of process theology, God could condemn something and then realize he made a mistake later.

But I still use this as a reduction ad absurdum.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Atheist talking points that don't mix

There are two atheist talking points that don't mix. Here they are:
1) Look, guys, if God would just give us evidence of his existence, we'd believe in him. The only reason we don't believe is because he hasn't provided evidence of his existence.
2) God of the gaps arguments are always wrong. Any gap in our naturalistic understanding of the world should be dealt with by waiting for science to produce a naturalistic explanation, not by appealing to God.
But anything God might do to reveal his existence could be dismissed as a gap, thus leaving the atheist unaffected. The ban on god of the gaps arguments would allow the atheist to escape no matter what God did to convince us of his existence.
Look, when I raise this kind of question, I mean show us by providing evidence. Yes, God could sovereignly perform the act of causing Loftus to believe by going "Loftus, believe," and the next Sunday, Loftus will show up in church on his knees praying to God. But providing evidence is by definition not coercive. Of course God could shove belief in his existence down your throat if he wanted to. But could he give us a good reason to believe in his existence, such that no matter how disinclined we were to want to believe in a being greater than ourselves (so that we would have to admit we were not the supreme beings) whose commandments to us are our moral duties (however much we would like to avoid performing them). Woudn't there be an escape clause available, no matter what we did? The so-called refutation of God of the Gaps reasoning provides this, it seems to me. It says we should always prefer and unknown naturalistic explanation to saying godidit, NO MATTER WHAT. This not only could be applied to our present scientific situation, but it could be used in response to every scenario that atheists come of with concerning what it would take for them to believe. "Turn or burn, Parsons This Means You," N. R. Hanson's Michelangeloid face, answer the prayers of all Christians and give them all exactly what they want, have Bibles that give electric shocks to unbelievers and only unbelievers, etc. If God were to cause any or all of these things, the skeptic could still say that saying godidit for any and all of these things would be to commit the god of the gaps fallacy, and that we should always, always, always, prefer an unknown naturalistic explanation to a known supernatural one. Shoot, there's a guy in Dante's inferno who remains a materialist and doesn't believe he's been damned.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Intuitive and counterintuitive moral principles

No one can help being white or being black, and so it seems to follow that it
is wicked, unfair, and unreasonable to disqualify a person from any consideration just because he is white or black.” 

This seems strongly intuitive as an ethical principle. 

But what on earth do we do with this one?

No one can help being a psychopath, and so it seems to follow that it is wicked, unfair, and unreasonable to disqualify a person from any consideration just because he is a psychopath.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Party changes

America usually considers 8 years to the time to make a party change. Since WWII, we had Eisenhower (R) for two terms, and then Kennedy won a close race over Nixon. Kennedy and Johnson for two terms, and then Nixon won a close race over Humphrey. Nixon and Ford had it for 8 years, and then Carter got in for 4 years, when he lost to Reagan. Reagan was the only President to not only win twice, but successfully turn the Presidency over to his vice-President, George H. W. Bush.  Bill Clinton beat Bush in 1992, held it for 8  years, and then George W. Bush won an election despite losing the popular vote. He also had two terms, but McCain, who tried to succeed him. lost to Obama. Obama won two terms, but Hillary won the popular vote but lost the election to Trump. 
The funny thing is that evangelicals will consider correct positions on issues like abortion more important than whether the candidate's personal life fits the evangelical mold. Hillary would in some circles be viewed as a marital saint for taking her straying husband back. Trump, on the other hand, brags about lust and greed and treats them as good things. But he is on the right side on abortion (in spite of having called himself "totally pro-choice" in 1999), so a high percentage of them voted for him. 

Thursday, June 08, 2017

More on god of the gaps

When I take my car to a mechanic, I expect that a good enough mechanic will be able to find out what is wrong with it. There is a lot about how the universe works that we do understand very well, and something could happen that messes with pretty well-understood processes. Is there some point at which the scientific community could end up scratching their heads saying "We've tried every way to account for this naturalistically, and it's not happening."
Atheists are often asked if their atheism is falsifiable. Many of them will respond, as did my good friend Keith Parsons, when he said that if the galaxies in the Virgo cluster were to spell out the words "Turn or burn, Parsons this means you," he would turn.  But if someone were to go from spelling stars to a theological explanation, they could be immediately accused of committing the god of the gaps fallacy. If we, on principle, have to prefer an unknown naturalistic explanation over a theological one in every case, then we ought to follow that rule even in this case. If that is true, then saying "you don't have any evidence" takes on a different flavor than we would ordinarily think. The complaint usually sounds like "God could do something to give us adequate evidence for his existence, so why doesn't he?" But if we follow a strict ban on gap arguments, then there is nothing God can do to give us adequate evidence of his existence. Poor guy, he's omnipotent, but he can't prove his existence to us to save his life. It isn't that there isn't enough evidence, it's that, by the very nature of the idea of God, God cannot give us enough evidence if he tried his very hardest. I find this to be an extremely paradoxical position, though apparently Dawkins has embraced it.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Hitler? A Christian? You're Kidding, Right?

May I kindly point out that this discussion of whether Hitler was a Christian invariably gets weird. What kind of Christianity is it that allows you to hate, persecute, and kill people in virtue of being racially Jewish??? I know Christians have treated Jews poorly in their history because they failed to accept their Messiah, but at the very least, if you accept the Messiah, you are OK. But if you hate Jews because they are racially Jewish, this has, uh, er, some pretty serious Christological consequences, doesn't it?

This is from Timothy Snyder, who recently wrote a book on Hitler. 

Timothy Snyder: So what Hitler does is he inverts; he reverses the whole way we think about ethics, and for that matter the whole way we think about science. What Hitler says is that abstract thought—whether it’s normative or whether it’s scientific—is inherently Jewish. There is in fact no way of thinking about the world, says Hitler, which allows us to see human beings as human beings. Any idea which allows us to see each other as human beings—whether it’s a social contract; whether it’s a legal contract; whether it’s working-class solidarity; whether it’s Christianity—all these ideas come from Jews. And so for people to be people, for people to return to their essence, for them to represent their race, as Hitler sees things, you have to strip away all those ideas. And the only way to strip away all those ideas is to eradicate the Jews. And if you eradicate the Jews, then the world snaps back into what Hitler sees as its primeval, correct state: Races struggles against each other, kill each other, starve each other to death, and try and take land.

Monday, June 05, 2017

The atheism of Marx and Mao

Karl Marx thought it important for people not to believe in God, because he thought that it was being used to make workers complacent with being exploited and not want to rise up against their oppressors. I think that in many cases, Marx had a point. 
Mao Tse-tung, who was a follower of Marx, wanted people to reject God for the opposite reason. if there is a God, there is some being above Mao to whom Mao would have to be accountable.

What was the greatest Witch Trial of all time?

Many people complain about the Salem Witch Trials as an example of the effect of religion on human life.  would respond to the greatest witch trial in the history of the human race, the Party Purges under Stalin. 
The death toll in these made the Salem Witch trials look like small potatoes. But the perpetrators of those purges were all atheists, presumably having no religion. 

“Taken together, the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the witch burnings killed approximately 200,000 people. Adjusting for the increase in population, that’s the equivalent of one million deaths today. Even so, these deaths caused by Christian rulers over a five-hundred year period amount to only 1 percent of the deaths caused by Stalin, Hitler and Mao in the space of a few decades.”3
Dinesh D'souza

God as a scientific hypothesis

It's quite true that many scientists, in the past, and today, believe in God, and for some of them God is an important background belief in their scientific investigations. Yet, the commitments of the sciences provide a large barrier to making God an actual scientific hypothesis. 
This is a statement of Methodological Naturalism made by the National Academy of Sciences:
Science is a particular way of knowing about the world. In science, explanations are restricted to those that can be inferred from the confirmable data – the results obtained through observations and experiments that can be substantiated by other scientists. Anything that can be observed or measured is amenable to scientific investigation. Explanations that cannot be based upon empirical evidence are not part of science. (in Jones 2005, 66)
As result, a court determined that Intelligent Design could not be presented as a scientific hypothesis in biology class because it violated the standard of methodological naturalism. If science is constrained by the rule stated above, then our failure to find God in the universe through science in not terribly surprising,  because if someone claimed, as some have, that science had found strong positive evidence in favor of God, then that would be dismissed by definition as not science. 
What you can't do is both of the following: Claim, on the one hand, as Richard Dawkins does, that the evidence of evolution reveals a world without design, but, whenever someone claims that scientific evidence supports the reality of design, say that you aren't doing science, since you are bringing in a designer. That is to play a "heads I win, tails you lose" game.