Tuesday, March 24, 2020

How many abortion question are there? Actually five

I actually think there isn’t one question of abortion (are you pro-life or pro-choice. There’s five (!). 

Here are the theses at issue:
1) Is abortion bad? That is, to it cost something from a moral standpoint that should require serious moral considerations in order to justify it? (I think obviously yes, but not everyone on the pro-choice side agrees).

2) Are abortions wrong? Here we are looking at it from the standpoint of moral decision-making. Under what circumstances, if there are any, are abortions justified from a moral standpoint.

3) Is anti-abortion legislation morally appropriate? In particular, should we be putting people in jail to prevent abortions? This issue determines whether the pro-life or pro-choice label can be applied, as I understand it.

4) Is anti-abortion legislation constitutionally feasible? You can give pro-life answers to 1-3, but then say that since Roe was rightly decided as a matter of Constitutional law, we would need an amendment to overturn it. Of course, pro-lifers typically think that Roe was the product of a departure from the One True Jurisprudential Theory, which is Scalia-style originalism. So if we get enough Scalia-style originalists on the Court, we should be able to get Roe overturned and then abortion legislation will be determined by democratic choice on a state-by-state basis.

5) Should we prioritize abortion as a reason for voting? I have heard the argument that even if I agree with the Democrats on all other policy questions, even if I think that the Democratic candidate is a decent guy (or gal), and I think the Republican candidate is the biggest jerk that ever walked this earth, I ought to vote for the Republican candidate in order to save those babies.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Just the facts, ma'am

At a time when we need facts the most, we have a President who has yet to affirm three indisputable facts: 1)  that he did not get the turnout for his inauguration that his predecessor Obama did when he was elected, 2) that Hillary beat him fair and square in the Popular Vote (even if you think the Electoral College is just great, claiming that Hillary only won the popular vote because of illegals voting is a refusal to come to terms with indisputable facts), and 3) am that illegal Russian interference in the US election took place, and was aimed at enhancing his election prospects against Hillary in hopes of either putting him in office or undermining the legitimacy of a Hillary Clinton presidency. Facts matter, and they matter now more than ever. And having a President who is not on speaking terms with facts is one of the most devastating features of the present crisis.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Daniel Dennett and the Skyhook ban

In an exchange on the Argument from Reason between myself atheist philosopher David Kyle Johnson, both in the volume C. S. Lewis’s Christian Apologetics: Pro and Con, and in a subsequent exchange I had with him in Philosophia Christi; there emerges a significant issue as to exactly what the argument from reason targets. In Lewis’s book Miracles he calls the target position naturalism, and he contrasts that with supernaturalism. For Johnson, naturalism is the view that the natural world is whatever makes up the universe. Hence, he says, “if a person believes that the mental is a fundamental element or property of that which makes up the universe, and believes that the mental is causally operating at the basic level, then that person is a naturalist.”
But I think there is more to it than that.  There is a significant viewpoint in philosophy and science which is very insistent on denying that the mental operates at the basic level. As I have indicated earlier, this thrust is largely responsible for the increased popularity of atheism since the publication of Origin of Species. The problem is, as I pointed out with the example of the rocks falling down on my head, for most of nature the mental is not thought to be anything that operates at the physical level, and it is widely held that nothing other than the initial position of the basic particles, whatever they and the laws that govern those basic particles, constitute a closed system of causation, and nothing other than these can determine where, for example, the particles in my left arm will be on Sunday morning. Thus even if I could truly say “I went to church on Sunday because I believe the teachings of Christianity and wanted to worship God,” I cannot explain the presence of the atoms and molecules in my body in ways that do not, in the last analysis, reduce down to the mindless movements of fundamental particles in accordance with the laws of physics. In the last analysis, the laws of physics, not the rules of conduct by which I live my life, govern the actions of the basic particles of my body.
When I wrote my book defending the Argument from Reason, I entitled it C. S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea, obviously in response to Daniel Dennett’s book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. Interestingly enough, Jim Slagle entitled his book about arguments of this sort The Epistemological Skyhook, which again makes reference to Dennett’s book. The reason for this is not hard to understand. For Dennett, Darwin’s dangerous idea is that in explaining the world, we must operate from the ground up, not from the top down, using cranes instead of skyhooks. As he explains:
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.
On the other hand,
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, (p. 76, italics in original)
              Now, I was very surprised to see Johnson, in our most recent exchange, characterize Dennett’s resistance to skyhooks as an argument that divine minds are not causally operative. He writes:
For example, he takes naturalists’ arguments that divine minds are not causally operative to be arguments that human minds are not causally operative. This is especially clear when he quotes Dennett talking about Darwin. Reppert thinks that his skepticism about “meaning” entails that he is eliminating human mentality from the natural world; but Dennett makes I absolutely clear that he is talking about meaning “in the existentialist sense” (as in “the meaning of life,” or “the purpose of the world”). Darwin argues that the world was not designed for a purpose (like the creation of intelligent life) by an intelligent designer—not that it lacks mentality at the basic level.
            Dennett is an atheist, and of course a member of the “four horsemen,” of New Atheists: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens being the others, but Darwin’s Dangerous Idea is not primarily an atheist polemic. The Darwinian critique of divine design is for the most part presupposed throughout the book. Instead, Dennett spends most of the book criticizing people who aren’t religious believers, but somehow are shy about applying the Dangerous Idea; people like Searle, Gould, Penrose, and Chomsky. They may be philosophical naturalists, but they fall into viewpoints that involve skyhooks, and thus they are inconsistent naturalists whose nerve has failed.Most importantly, Dennett insists on applying the Skyhook Ban to every area, including our understanding of mind.
            Long before Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, explicates the Skyhook Ban in an essay entitled “Why the Law of Effect Will Not Go Away,” where is explicitly applies the Ban to our account of the mind.
Psychology of course must not be question-begging. It must not explain intelligence in terms of intelligence, for instance by assuming 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.
            Well, what “job” is Dennett assigning to psychology? He claims that the social sciences, which are intentional in nature, depend on the science of psychology. But the task of psychology is to explain intelligence, and it has to explain in terms of a universe which at its base lacks intelligence. Whether we explain intelligence in terms of intelligent design, or by putting homunculi in the nervous system, (that is, providing a ground-level intentional explanation that does not appeal to a transcendent being), we would be committing what Dennett would later deride as a skyhook.
            What I have called C. S. Lewis’s dangerous idea, by contrast, is the idea that a consistent application of the Skyhook Ban to the mind undermines the very explanations that thinkers need to apply to their own reasoning in order for it to provide a rational foundation for what they believe. If none of our beliefs can be traced back to skyhooks, then reason is explained away. Thus, if the watchmaker is really blind, then Dawkins wouldn’t know that it. But since we do have knowledge, (a claim you can’t abandon without undercutting science) and we do form beliefs based on reasons, the skyhook ban cannot be fully and completely implemented.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Against the blind watchmaker

The title of one of Richard Dawkins’s books is entitled The Blind Watchmaker, but its subtitle is How the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a World without Design. The subtitle, it seems to me, makes a paradoxical claim. On the one hand, it maintains we ought to draw the conclusion that the world lacks design. On the other hand, the subtitle suggests that he has reached this conclusion through examining the evidence of evolution, but examining the evidence is a process designed to discover the truth. In fact, Dawkins is fond of contrasting his own methods for reaching conclusions with methods based on faith, which to his mind involve a lack of design. But if the world really is without design, how is this possible? Of course, it could turn out that the paradox is resolvable. But the attempt to ban teleology from the bioverse, but then to insist that one’s own convictions are justified because a kind of teleological explanation can be given for these convictions, is a fact that, at the very least stands in need of explanation.
The paradox is certainly not Dawkins’s alone. Bertrand Russell maintained that we were products of forces that had no prevision of the end they were achieving, and that we were accidental collocations of atoms, yet insisted that, if it were to turn out that God did exist, God was in fact remiss for providing us insufficient evidence for his existence, again implying that human beings are the sorts of beings who can choose one belief over another believe because the evidence for one is better than the evidence for the other.
One apparent resolution to this paradox is to make the point that the design Dawkins professes to be absent from the world is divine design, coming from a being transcendent to the universe. What he does not intend to deny, perhaps, is human design, functioning within the physical universe and having no transcendent source. 
However, this response is not sufficient. To understand why, we have to look at what causation looks like in a world without design. Consider what happens when I am at the bottom of a mountain and rocks are falling down the mountain in an avalanche. Will the rocks avoid my head because they want to spare me, or hit me because they think I deserve to get my head smashed in? No, they will blindly follow what the laws of physics require that they do, given their trajectory and velocity. If physical determinism is true, the laws and facts, which are blind to purposes of any kind, guarantee all future states. Any even that occurs other than those which the laws and facts require would be, in fact, in a significant sense, miraculous. But what if the physical level is not deterministic, on the basis of some quantum mechanical indeterminism? Even there, a cause which introduces design at the basic level of analysis still introduces a miracle to the blind universe.
One could reply that one pattern of movement on the part of basic particles is the acceptance of evidence, while another pattern of movement of basic particles is the rejection of evidence. But evidence is not a fundamental force in the universe, at least as understood by science. The basic causes of the universe operative in the universe, at least according to standard science, operate blindly, with to quote Russell, no prevision of the end they are achieving.
Indeed the impetus toward atheism in over the past 160 years has been powered by Darwin’s theory of evolution and the plausibility of replacing explanations in terms of design with design-free explanations, the idea that time, chance variation, and natural selection can produce results that might appear on the face of things to be the result of intelligent design. Indeed, Dawkins remarked, reportedly, remarked to A. J. Ayer that “although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” In the intellectually fulfilled atheist world, it is still possible to talk about “design” in the biosphere, but that design-talk is not literally true, since such design claims are merely placeholders for an account in terms of blind forces such as random variation and natural selection.
Darwinian biology replaces or promises to replace design explanations with non-design explanations in it diachronic explanations of how rational agents come into existence, going from no life at all, to one-celled living things, to animal life, and finally to the transition from animal life to humans with the mental capacities we possess. But this leaves us with a puzzle. It looks as if evolution has brought into being creatures who act for reasons. But does that mean that natural selection and random variation have brought into existence a kind of causation that is not blind? Prior to the arrival of humans, or whoever the first beings in the universe are who act for reasons, causation in the universe was blind, according to the standard model. But new kinds of causation do not just pop into existence. So, the materialist picture has to be that, in the final analysis, no one really acts, or thinks, or believes anything for a reason. Hence the process that produced the mind of Richard Dawkins, and the atoms and molecules in Dawkins’s brain when he concludes that everything is the work of a “blind watchmaker” are equally blind. On the face of things, this would tend to undercut the claims of people like Dawkins that their scientific beliefs, unlike the beliefs of, say, creationists, are formed by evidence and therefore are more justified than those of their opponents. If they are really consistent in their understanding of the world, they have to conclude that their own beliefs are caused in the same blind way as those of the creationists. Just as claims about the design of, say, the human eye are not literally true, claims that an agent has concluded anything based on evidence, should, if people like Dawkins and Russell are right, are also not literally true.
There is at least an apparent conflict between the claim that the world proceeds, at its base, in a non-purposive manner, and the claim that there are rational agents who form beliefs on the basis of rational evidence. Arguments that attempt to show that a) this conflict is real and not merely apparent, and b) it constitutes a reason for rejecting in which all causation is ultimately blind, can be regarded as versions of the argument from reason.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Hard Determinism

The hard determinist doesn't say we don't make choices, but they just say that we don't know the causes of our actions, and if we knew them, we would realize that the ultimate reason why we did this and not that had to do not so much with a choice of our own, but instead has to do with a series of events going back to, say, the Big Bang. Once the Big Bang banged, whatever happened after that had to happen, given the laws of physics. If that is really true, are people still responsible for their actions? 

Sunday, February 09, 2020

No more punting to impeachment!

Unfortunately, the Justice Department punts to impeachment as a reason why a President can't be indicted. Given the partisan nature of the last two impeachments, I think this punt is a mistake. A free and independent Justice Department is our best defense against a truly rogue President (had Spiro Agnew become President, that would be an example we could all agree on). If there's a case to be made against a President, he should be indicted and go through the court system like any other citizen. It would be hard even for partisans in the House and Senate to avoid removing an indicted and convicted President.

The autonomy objection to religious morality

The autonomy objection to religious morality puzzles me. If you think there is a perfect being who loves you, and who has some clues as to how to live a better, more moral life, would you be foolish not to take them? On the other hand, if no such being exists, that would be another matter.

On hypocrisy

If there are high moral expectations on people, and people think they can benefit from appearing to others as if they meet those high expectations (whether they do or not), that of course opens the door for hypocrisy. The only sure cure for hypocrisy is to lower your standards to such an extent that most people meet the standard easily. But then, you have low moral standards. Is that a good thing?

Saturday, February 08, 2020

Nonconsequentialist moral theories

I think there is some connection to consequences in many nonconsequentialist ethical theories. For example, people who look to God's commandments typically think that God is pretty smart, and that the reason God commands what he does it that the consequences will be the best in the long (eternal) run.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Support for Trump: The Conservative Shibboleth

Nowadays, the shibboleth for conservatism is support for Trump.

Judges 12: 1-15 12, 4 Then Jephthah gathered together all the men of Gilead, and fought with Ephraim: and the men of Gilead smote Ephraim, because they said, Ye Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites, and among the Manassites.

5 And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites: and it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, art thou an Ephraimite? If he say Nay;

6 Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Any real convictions?

Does anyone doubt that Trump would support abortion on demand, open borders, and socialism if it benefited him personally to do so?

The simplest explanation for everything Trump does is in terms of his ego. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Are morals objective?

The question is whether, if you are asking whether something is right or wrong, whether claims about that can be correct or incorrect. It is true that everyone has their own views about what is moral and what is not. But people have their own views about things like whether there was really a moon landing, or about whether vaccines should be avoided because they cause autism, or whether Trump withheld aid to Ukraine because he was trying to obtain and advantage against Biden in  his re-election campaign. Nevertheless, i think we would all agree that some has to be right about these claims, and someone has to be mistaken. The same is true about the question of whether an omnipotent being actually exists. Some very reasonable and intelligent people take opposite positions on this question, but I think most of us would say that either there is one or there isn't. 
But what about questions of what is right or wrong. This can include vexed questions about whether abortion is justified, and under what circumstances, whether we ought to have the death penalty or not, whether animals have rights which give  us a reason to stop eating meat, whether premarital sex, or  homosexual sex, or extramarital sex is wrong, etc. But is also a moral question as to whether it is acceptable, was the case in America before the civil war, to bring people over to our country and keep them as slaves, or whether it is acceptable to allow discrimination in the area of restaurants or housing, or whether is acceptable to use sexual harassment as a way of maintaining male domination in the workplace, or indeed whether it is acceptable to invite someone over for dinner, shove them in the oven, and cook them as dinner. Unless moral objectivity is true, then all of these concerns are simply relative to individual preference of societal preference. 

Monday, January 20, 2020

How would you answer someone who questions the heart of ethics?

 According to the BBC guide to ethics, "At the heart of ethics is a concern about something or someone other than ourselves and our own desires and self-interest. Ethics is concerned with other people's interests, with the interests of society, with God's interests, with "ultimate goods", and so on. So when a person 'thinks ethically' they are giving at least some thought to something beyond themselves." But someone might question why we ought to give any consideration to anything beyond ourselves. How would you reply to someone who raises that question about ethics? 

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Explaining reasoning away

People rightly fear that we will interpose a God-explanation where a scientific explanation might be provided which would provide us with more prediction and control over the event in question. But in reasoning, if we interpose nonrational explanations to account for our reasoning, we are in fact explaining reasoning away. If we say that I believe in evolution because of the evidence, but then the explanation I provide for coming to hold this belief is a bunch of irrational neurons blindly following the laws of physics or acting on blind and brute quantum-mechanical chance, I am saying that in the last analysis I didn't really come to believe that evolution is true because there is good evidence that evolution is true. I cannot really say "I followed the evidence, and those creationists didn't." Both of our beliefs were caused in the same irrational way.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Need to impeach

The Democrats want impeachment, but the Republicans need it.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

The paradox of Dawkins' title

The title of one of Richard Dawkins’ books is entitled The Blind Watchmaker, but its subtitle is How the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a World Without Design. The subtitle, it seems to me, makes a paradoxical claim. On the one hand, it maintains we ought to draw the conclusion that the world lacks design. On the other hand, the subtitle suggests that he has reached this conclusion through examining the evidence of evolution, but examining the evidence is a process designed to discover the truth. In fact, Dawkins is fond of contrasting his own methods for reaching conclusions with methods based on faith, which to his mind involve a lack of design. But if the world really is without design, how is this possible? Of course, it could turn out that the paradox is resolvable. But the attempt to ban teleology from the bioverse, but then to insist that one’s own convictions are justified because a kind of teleological explanation can be given for these convictions, is a fact that, at the very least stands in need of explanation.