Thursday, December 29, 2005

Some comments on "ID is just disguised creationism"

1) I don't know if ID is vaguer that C, it's just a weaker claim. It could turn out that ID is supportable by scientific evidence while C is not.

2) I saw a DI post that claimed that Creation was understood differently by the authors of "Of Pandas and People" than it was in the Edwards decision.

3) I always thought that it didn't follow from the fact that creationists were advocating an unbelievable theory that the criticisms and difficulties they raised for evolution were worthless. In other words, if you raise all sorts of serious problems for a theory, these problems cane be serious indeed, but without an alternative, theory change is not called for. Changing from C to ID changes the alternative. The change may not be an adequate or acceptable change, but the claims are different, and the "disguised creationism" charge obscures this obvious fact.

4) Behe, I thought, accepts Common Ancestry, which, last I checked, was an absolute no-no in creationist circles.

5) We are taught in introductory logic classes to distinguish between claims about propositions from claims about people who hold those propositions. Failure to do that is called the ad hominem fallacy.

Evolutionists really dislike their ID opponents, apparently. But it's important not to defend a position you think true with bad arguments. I thought Overton's decision was based on a highly questionable philosophy of science. I suspect the same of Judge Jones.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The history of intelligent design

I am concerned about the use of the history of intelligent design in the judge's decision. I have not read Creationism's Trojan Horse, but I did read what I thought was a balanced review of it in Christian Scholar's Review (the reviewer was clearly not an ID advocate), and it seemed to me based on that that the book had an extremely tendentious interpretation of the movement's history. It seemed to be portraying ID as part of a vast right-wing conspiiracy to set up a Christian Reconstructionist theocracy in America, and that, it seems to me, was just over-the-top scare tactics and arrant nonsense.

A key clarification in the ID debate

I think it's important to note that the Dover school board went far beyond even what the Discovery Institute was prepared to advocate. In other words, they got greedy.

Ok IDers. Indicate some areas of scientific research you would like to explore, make some predictions about what we should expect to find if you are right, and then we'll see if the results match your expectations. As I see it, if you do that, you're doing science, regardless of your ontological commitments.

On design

This is an interesting article on the use of the design debate in school.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Lippard links to the decision text

This entry on Jim's blog links to the text of the Kitzmiller decision. If you want to follow h is advice and read the whole decision, this is how you do it.

A Bayesian argument against atheism

Since I don't believe there are any ways of getting objective antecedent probabilities, I guess I have to be counted among the skeptics concerning this argument. But it is interesting.

Angus Menuge on Dover

Victor, I did a radio interview on this for the LC-MS radio channel

My main concerns are that Judge Jones uses throughout an argument from motive of the form:
*(P1) Person A has a religious motive in proposing educational policy P
(C) P is a religious policy, and so allowing P in the public schools would be an establishment of religion.

One cannot infer the religious nature of a proposal from the religious motives of the proposer, and in fact, as constitutional lawyers have pointed out to me, it is illegal to dismiss evidence because of the religious convictions of the person giving that evidence. (If it weren't, then, given the ubiquity of religiosity, albeit unrecognized by many
secularists, then no-one could give evidence.)

The argument (*) is (1) patently invalid, and (2) is also used only selectively.

1. The argument is invalid because an intelligent, religious person, knows full well that their policy P must not be inherently religious, even if it is in some sense more compatible with a religious perspective than current policies.

Justice Jones' also uses horribly quotation out of context to twist the ID claim that a scientific design inference allows one to infer a directed cause, but not the identity of the designer, which is a matter for philosophy and religion, into the claim that ID itself is not scientific, but only philosophy or theology. He also tries to claim that because many proponents of ID have religious beliefs about a designer, that is what their scientific proposals are really claiming, which doesn't follow at all. If that were a good argument, then those Christian scientists of the early modern period who believed that the laws of nature they discovered (Kepler's laws or Boyle's law, for example) were part of God's providential design, should not be listened to: Kepler's and Boyle's laws are thinly disguised religious propaganda, and should not be studied in public schools (!)

2. The argument above (*) is also used only selectively, since secular humanism and atheism in general are both religious, but no-one proposes that we should not hear about the views of Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan or Steven Weinberg.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that, as John Calvert has said, the Dover decision, while pretending to remove religion from educational policy, actually establishes a bias toward those views whose implications favor humanism. While Darwinism is not inherently religious, it has consequences that are clearly friendly to humanist religions. Likewise, while ID is not inherently religious, it has consequences that are clearly friendly to theism. The Dover decision says that students may only hear humanist friendly ideas, and therefore, in my view, does not uphold, but contradicts the Establishment clause.

In many ways Jones' decision may turn out to be a good thing. It is such an outrageous over-reach and abuse of power, it should create more interest in the uncovering the flaws of scientific materialism. People always want to read banned books.

A A radio intreview with Menuge is here:


Clarification for Jim Lippard

What I was talking about was strong forms of methodological naturalism, the kind of MN that is supported by Hume's essay on miracles. You need a strong form of methodological naturalism to rule out ID in principle.

Lewis's book on miracles has the AFR in chapter 3, but it actually is there to set the table for reading the NT open to the possibility that there are real supernatural interventions. It is a case against the kind of MN we find in Bultmann.

I think MN needs some unpacking here. Obviously Jim, your understanding of MN is open to the possibility of discovering at the end of the day that there is evidence of design (even though, contingently, the evidence goes the other way). That's not what this passage is complaining about.

Just so you know, I would not have supported the Dover school board in its school curriculum decision. Nor would I have supported the silly sticker in (I think, Georgia). I would not have made the far-reaching statement that Judge Jones made, and I certainly would have been a pretty skeptical of the Barbara Forrest-style arguments that the judge accepted. I think even the Discovery Institute thinks the old Dover school board overreached. Evolution is the predominant paradigm in biology and ID simply has not, at this point in time, done the kind of science necessary to be going to public schools and saying there is anything more than a minority report that stands against it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

From the beginning of my paper on miracles

Bertrand Russell was reportedly once asked what he would say to God if he were to find himself confronted by the Almighty about why he had not believed in God's existence. He said that he would tell God "Not enough evidence, God, not enough evidence!"[1] But perhaps, if God failed to give Russell enough evidence, it was not God's fault. We are inclined to suppose that God could satisfy Russell by performing a spectacular miracle for Russell's benefit. But if the reasoning in David Hume's epistemological argument against belief in miracles [2] is correct, then no matter how hard God tries, God cannot give Russell an evidentially justified belief in Himself by performing miracles. According to Hume, no matter what miracles God performs, it is always more reasonable to believe that the event in question has a natural cause and is not miraculous. Hence, if Russell needs a miracle to believe reasonably in God, then Russell is out of luck. Russell cannot complain about God's failure to provide evidence, since none would be sufficient. But God cannot complain about Russell's failure to believe.

VR: Here's the problem. You can't help yourself to some strong version of methological naturalism and them say that the evidence you have based on those presuppositions support naturalism. If the methodology says we are going to come up with naturalistic explanations no mjtter what, then you can't say that it is at all significant that the results you come upw ith are naturalistic. Of course they're going to be naturalistic; how could they be anything else.

Could there be scientific evidence for the existence of a ghost? or God?

Amstar: As for your ghost bites, absence of any evidence what is wrong with saying "We don't know what happened”?

So if there were evidence that a ghost bit you on the nose, science would have to take it seriously? Could such evidence exist?

Suppose the stars in the Virgo cluster were to spell out the words "TURN OR BURN, AMSTAR THIS MEANS YOU." Could science come to the conclusion that the message came from God?

Reply to amstar

The question of whether there is evidence of a designer is hotly debated. There are some people who think there is evidence of a designer but that qua science we can't determine that there was (Swinburne, Gingerich), and some who say that science really has evidence of a designer (ID, advocates of the Fine Tuning Argument), and some who say the evidence points the other way. Some say that science is completely neutral on the matter and can't address the issue (C. S. Lewis). The first question to ask is whether science can address the question. On that question, Dawkins and Dembski are equally on the yes side, unless Dawkins is prepared to admit that he goes beyond what he can say as a scientist when he says the evidence of evolution reveals a world without design.

Reply to Greg

You seem eager to include the supernatural into science.
Isn't it incumbent upon you to define what you think the term supernatural means?

No I'm not. I'd like to think that if there is such a thing as the supernatural, sooner or later science would be able to figure out if it was there. If it turns out that indeed, in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, science has to say "Look, we're science here. We can't say that." And people in science have compromised the religious neutrality of science from the negative side, when the argue that the evidence of evolution shows us a world without design.

I am inclined to think there's some merit in the "in fact" arguments against ID. In fact, they are a long way from establishing their claims, and should probably stop blowing the public relations trumpet so loud and come up with some results. I know that the Dover people were trying to get a stronger ID presence in their science curriculum than even the DI was ready to endorse, and that has a lot to do with why they lost.

But to argue that ID claims are "in principle" pseudoscientific means that we know what it is for something to be supernatural and that whatever that is, it can't be included within science. So if a ghost bites you on the nose, science has to say "We don't know what happened." That's a bit much for me.

On defining the supernatural

Is everything that doesn't have a location in space and time supernatural? If so, that makes the number two supernatural. Does everything that cannot be subsumed under deterministic laws supernatural? That would make quanta supernatural, and human agents, on the libertarian view of free will. Does unobservability make something supernatural? That would make electrons, quarks and strings supernatural.

If you say "something like God, or the soul, or a ghost," then I maintain your definition is question-beggingly trying to include what you want it to include, and is not a principled definition.

J P Holding on the trilemma

The irrepressible J. P. Holding defends the trilemma.

Ray Schneider of Spare Oom on ID

Ray Schneider, of the newsgroup Spare Oom that I subscribe to, has some comments about the ID controversy:

This morning's paper in Harrisonburg has the headline: 'Intelligent
Design' Blocked.  U.S. District Judge John E. Jones, a Republican and
churchgoer (the paper goes on to point out) delivered a stinging
attack on the Dover Area School Board decision in October 2004 to
insert intelligent design into the science curriculum saying that it
violated the separation of church-and-state.

I'm not sure which part violated church-and-state, 'intelligent' or
'design' -- maybe it has to be a juxtaposition since apparently
evolution which is unintelligent design (i.e. the same result) -- so
ascribing intelligence to nature must be the offense.  That would at
least be pantheism and of course design rather suggests a designer
which starts to particularize things a bit too much.

Manuel selected two questions for some further comment:

a) Can we prove God's existence by means of science? and

b) How can God interact with the world so as to direct evolution
(or whatever process) in the direction He wants it to follow?

a) Can we prove God's existence by means of science?

Manuel says "I think not."  My answer is the universal answer "It
depends."  It depends on what you mean by science and what
intellectual operations you admit into the mix.  Science commonly
accepts the need for some kind of causality: if this then that.  It
also admits of the principle of sufficient reason -- i.e. an effect
must be fully explained by the cause.  They discovered neutrinos for
example by noting that there was missing energy and so postulated the
existence of the neutrino to explain the missing energy.  That's a
direct application of the principle of sufficient reason.

In the case of a personal God, I tend to agree with Manuel.  But to
prove that God exists it seems to me sufficient to point out that:I.
First Point: 1) if nothing had ever existed then nothing would ever
have come to be (that's a tautological statement since understanding
the terms makes it clear that the statement is true.)-- so 2)Something
has always existed. II. Second Point: 1) All things that come into
existence come into existence through something else already existing.
[Cause and Effect] 2) These causes of those things that come into
existence have sufficient reason in themselves to cause the existence
of the succeeding thing. [Principle of Sufficient Reason.] 3)
Therefore, there has always been a cause with sufficient explanatory
power to explain matter, life, and reason. [Current observables.]
III. This sufficient cause must be eternal, living [in the sense of
being able to cause life] and rational.  IV. 1) Matter is mutable and
apparently not eternal since it can be destroyed by reducing it to
energy. [See matter/anti-matter reactions. -- note while there are
also energy to matter reactions these are a bit more like the billard
balls coming together to form the break -- more improbable.] 2) The
mutability of matter suggests that it is not eternal. In
thermodynamics we see that systems of energy have a bias in the
direction of disorder.  Systems become more disordered in time.  This
is only reversed in systems with external sources of energy (sic the
sun)-- in such cases one can have local increases in order.  But
overall, in closed systems, disorder increases.  This also points to
matter not being eternal. 3) If matter is not eternal then the
principle or aspect or reality that possesses the characteristics that
explain everything must also be immaterial but capable of generating
material. V. If we need a name for this principle, God is as good a
name as any. [Danger of importing other connotations such as
Judeo-Christian religious predicates.  We might say God Of First
Principles as opposed to Personal God.]

Is this scientific?  I think so.  But it also is philosophical in that
it appeals to philosophical principles like causality and the
principle of sufficient reason -- but then so does science.

b) How can God interact with the world so as to direct evolution
(or whatever process) in the direction He wants it to follow?

I suppose that the short answer to this question is that we really
don't know. Manuel and I agree on this. I don't think it can be in the
starting conditions -- that is the deistic view.  If the God answer of
part (a) is true then there is no reason to believe that this
principle ceases ever to be operative.  Thus there are perpetual
interactions, not necessarily visible, between the principle (God),
the cause, and the myriad of effects.  We really don't know, but
perhaps all the forces that seem to have immaterial causes that we
explain with all sorts of mathematical equations are supplied by this
immaterial being -- thus gravity, electromagnetic forces, the strong
and weak force -- perhaps these are all supplied continuously by this
being.  That's a bit too pantheistic for me, but I do believe that
there is some cogency in it.

What about Divine Providence?  We've all, I think, had those "wierd"
experiences that things just fell together in a way that makes you
want to look over your shoulder.  Maybe not all the time, but almost
always some of the time.  "God's middle name is coincidence" my mother
used to say.

There is more to existence than we can know.  Intelligent Design seems
to me to point to these things we do not, and perhaps cannot know.
How is it that such exotic, massively complex, micro-beings that we
know exist came into existence?  Was it blind random chance?  Why
would we think so?

In view of these things, I am inclined to believe that those who
insist on not believing in at least this principle, God Of First
Principles, are simply blind or have an ulterior motive they may not
even be fully aware of.  Perhaps it is that if they do not believe
then they cannot be held to account for any entailments that such
belief may involve.  The Hound of Heaven is not so easily deflected.
Lewis felt hunted -- so are we all!  It is appropriate that Aslan is a

Cheers, Ray

DI replies to the Dover Decision

Evangellical Outpost on methodological naturalism

There are 87 comments on this!

Further notes on "the supernatural"' and testability

In the Elijah case the result came out positive. Of course we can ask whether it happened that way. And we can ask what would happen if we tried to do the same thing ourselves. But the claim is about testability, not the result of the test.

In 1993 the minister Harold Camping predicted that the world would end in 1994. That's a testable claim. When I was young there was a very popular Christian book by Hal Lindsey called The Late Great Planet Earth. It claim that Jesus would return in "this generation" and that a generation is about 40 years, and the clock for that started when Israel became a nation. That's a testable claim. Of course, Lindsey changed is concept of a "generation" and still has a show on TBN. Jesus didn't rapture the Church in 1981 and didn't return in 1988 or anytime close to 1988. If Christ had returned, it would be ridiculous for someone in the fires of hell to say that there is no scientifically verifiable evidence of God's existence.

Do we have a clear enough concept of "the supernatural" to identify ID as committed to the supernatural? That's the question I should have asked first. Are all unobservables supernatural? Philosophies of science have historically limited science to the observable, taking only an instrumentalist view of unobservables. But except for van Fraassen this position has been abandoned.

If "supernatural" just means kind of weird, quantum mechanics and string theory are a whole lot weirder than theism.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Are supernatural claims testable? You bet

Anonymous: No one has ever been able to devise a test that provides evidence that there is such a thing as the supernatural.
Do you know of one?

VR: Yes.

On ID and testability

I am troubled by the claim that all intelligent design claims are untestable. Look, if I could believe that Elvis was raised from the dead by God, but also be prepared to give up my belief if we exhumed the guy and I could see that he was dead. I could hold to my belief that Elvis was alive as an untestable thesis, by saying that Satan had faked the exhumation evidence, but I don't have to. The fact that I could do this doesn't make my claim untestable, so long as I don't in fact make it untestable. It seems perfectly possible to produce a testable intelligent design thesis, with falsification requirements built in. In fact, I think Dembski has indicated what it would take to falsify an ID claim about the bacterial flagellum.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Jonathan Witt at idthefuture replies to Morgan

An Interview of me by Steve Thomas

Here's an interview Steve Thomas did with me a few years back, before my book came out.

Insanity, deception, and moral greatness

Some have argued, in response to the LLL argument, that Jesus may have been a "lunatic" in some benign sense that is compatible with his being a great moral teacher and, just as important, a great moral leader while at the same time thinking himself to be God. I don't think this has a ghost of a chance of being correct, and here's why. To have the sorts of false beliefs that are necessary to make the relevant claims involves a degree of narcissism which is completely absent in the portraits of Jesus found in any of the Gospels. So we can concede that, for example, Kurt Godel had some severe eccentricities which nonetheless did not prevent him from being a great mathematician and scientist.

Again this goes for deceivers. The kind of deception Jesus would have to have been guilty of if he was a deceiver was that of persuading followers that they could receive eternal life through him, when in fact he could guarantee them no such thing. Is Jesus's moral presence in the New Testament compatible with deception on this level. And then he was stupid enough to get crucified when all he had to do was say he was just a Jewish carpenter and teacher and that people had made up stories about him that weren't true, and he could have walked away? When you start trying to tell the story of Jesus whie rejecting the claims of Christianity, you end up replacing a supernaturalist account with some documentary support with a naturalistic story with no documentary support whatsoever.

I once was overheard a conversation with
someone who thought he was God, or Christ, or
something like that. The person kept talking with a
pastor I was working with about his interpretation of
such things as the Septuagint and kept interrupting
and refusing to listen to the pastor's responses to
what he had to say. Finally the pastor hung up on him,
and he kept calling back to talk about his view. The
pastor told me he thought that the person was probably
on his way to identifying himself as the true Christ,
if he had been given a chance.

What is interesting here is narcissism of those who
have the sorts of delusions Jesus would have had to
have in order to falsely claim to be God, or the son
of God, etc. My claim is that the kind of
lunacy Jesus would have to have to falsely claim deity
involves just the kind of narcissism that is
conspicuous by its absence in Jesus, as he is portrayed in the Gospels.

The Sternberg Debate goes on

Tom Gilson sees some problems with the use of the Sternberg case as an instance of mistreatment of an ID defender.

ID is an amazingly emotional issue. Sometimes I think that the hard-core advocates on both sides of the issue are yelling so loudly (rhetorically speaking) that I can't hear a word they're saying.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

An atheist appreciation of Narnia

Hat tip: Jim Lippard. Notice the contrast between this atheist author's response to Narnia and that of Polly Toynbee. Like Christians, some atheists are more mature than others.

A Dave Armstrong dialogue on the trilemma

Friday, December 16, 2005

An article by Jarrod Cochran

Jarrod Cochran, who has been a commenter here a few times, published his first online article here.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

My interview on the Jerry Bowyer show

I'm going to be interviewed tomorrow on the Jerry Bowyer show on WORD-FM in Pittsburgh. I think it will be 4 their time. But the podcast will appear at this link as soon as the interview is "in the can." It hasn't come up yet. But you can hear the interviews of Anne Rice and Douglas Gresham here.

On Sternberg

This is from Daniel Morgan's blog. Hat tip: Jim Lippard.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

C. S. Lewis replies to Ed Babinski on the trilemma

Last month I got this reply on the comment line from Ed Babinski.

Lewis fleshed out Chesterton's previously fallacious argument that Jesus was divine because he said so in the Gospel John, and hence Jesus would have been a liar, a madman or "worse" [Chesteron] to have lied about such a thing. False trilemma. Both Chesterton and Lewis skipped right over any and all specific questions that theologians have regarding whether Jesus ever said such things. Have you read Is John's Gospel True? by Maurice Casey; or Howard Teeple's The Literary Origin of the Gospel of John? Or take James D. G. Dunn's latest two works on Jesus in which he likewise comes down against Jesus having said the things found in the fourth Gospel. Dunn is a well known theologian (and a moderate with some liberal tendencies) who concludes with other moderate and liberal scholars that Jesus never said a word in the Gospel of John. There are many specific arguments, but one thing to note is that Jesus in the fourth Gospel doesn't utter a single parable and speaks to people constantly about himself, using an "I am" formula time and again, and even disagrees with what he said in the other three Gospels about direct forgiveness in the Our Father, and about how to inherit eternal life. Instead, in the fourth Gospel Jesus changes his tune in a secret nightime meeting with Nicodemus, and introduces a new word about the absolute necessity of having to be "born again" and to believe such and such about Jesus, or be "damned already." Chesteron and Lewis were both ignorant of such questions, and and simply assumed the fourth Gospel picture of Jesus of Nazareth was true, even central! Thus they ignored the questions that even in their day were being asked, and that continue being asked today. See Peter Amue's list of theological works on the Gospel of John from major university presses:

Interestingly enough, this is one of Pittenger's complaints against Lewis, and Lewis answered it as follows in God in the Dock (Eerdmans) p. 180. He was aware of higher-critical views on the Fourth Gospel and he offered reasons for why those reasons were inadequate. He didn't just assume that the Fourth Gospel is reliable, as Babinski claims. He also points out that the case for the trilemma does not rest exclusively on the Fourth Gospel. He writes:

I confess, however, that the problem of the Fourth Gospel raises in me a conflict between authority and private judgment: the authority of all those learned men who think that Gospel unhistorical, and my judgment as a literary critic whcih constrains me to think it at least as close to the facts as Boswell's Johnson
. If I venture here to follow judgment in the teeth of authority, this is partly because I could never see how one escaped the dilemma aut deus aut malus homo by confining himself to the Synoptics. Moderns do not seem started, as his contemporaries were, by the claim Jesus makes to forgive sins; not sins against Himself, just sins. If Dr. Pittenger told me that two of his colleagues had lost him a professorship by telling lies about his character and I replied, "I freely forgive them both', would he not think this an impertinence (both in the old and the modern sense) bordering on insanity? And of course all three Synoptics tell the story of One who, at his trial, sealed His fate by saying He was the Son of God.

Athanasius's On The Incarnation

I was looking for the trilemma argument in this book. It doesn't seem to be here. Hat tip: Ray Schneider.

Christ and the Vampire Woman

This is about Anne Rice's return to faith. She goes rather further than Flew.

Peter Kreeft's Between Heaven and Hell

This is Kreeft's development of the MBG argument, using a dialogue between Lewis, Kennedy and Aldous Huxley as its medium.

And this is John DePoe 's reply

A Christian philosopher's critique of MBG on C. S. Lewis

This link is interesting for its list of options besides the three Lewis presents.

From the link:

The term "trilemma" actually comes from Christian apologist Josh McDowell, who based it on one of Lewis's best-known arguments in favor of Christianity from his book Mere Christianity.

The trilemma argument is as follows:

Most people are willing to accept Jesus Christ as a great moral teacher. However, the Gospels record that Jesus made many claims to divinity, either explicitly ("I and the Father are one") or implicitly, by assuming authority only God had ("The Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins"). Assuming that the Gospels are accurate, we are thus left with three options.

1. Jesus was telling falsehoods and knew it; so He was a liar.
2. Jesus was telling falsehoods, but believed he was telling the truth; so He was insane.
3. Jesus was telling the truth; so He is divine.

Thus one cannot argue Jesus is only a great moral teacher. If He was a liar or insane, this would invalidate His moral teachings. If He was divine, He is more than just a great moral teacher.

The trilemma argument presumes there are only three options. In logic, dilemmas are countered by proving that it is a false dilemma – that there are more options than the two presented. Skeptics can easily argue that there are several other options available:

1. Jesus's divinity was exaggerated by his disciples.
2. Jesus was misunderstood by His disciples and improperly recorded.
3. Jesus was divine; but as the Hindus point out, there have been many incarnations of God.
4. Jesus was made divine by the developing theology of the Church.
5. Jesus never literally said He was divine; we are misinterpreting those proof-texts.
6. Jesus was a great moral teacher, despite being partly insane.
7. Jesus never existed: the gospels are simply fictions.

Since many of these counter-options deal with the validity of the Gospels, apologists then turn to a defense of Scripture, which Lewis never personally got into. But Lewis's writings indicate that he rejected all the options listed above.

VR: It's simply false to say that Lewis doesn't defend the reliability of Scripture, as I have pointed out earlier.

Stephen Davis's formulation of the MBG argument

I added a recommendation of this essay to my discussion so I am updating it to today.

From p. 224 of Davis, Kendall and O'Collins' book "The Incarnation." (Oxford University Press, 2002). The essay is entitled "Was Jesus Mad, Bad, or God."

I highly recommend Davis's essay. He presents evidence based on the passages that even the Jesus Seminar is willing to accept as genuine and argues, based on those, that Jesus is making implicit deity claims.

1. Jesus claimed either explicitly or implicitly, to be divine.
2. Jesus was either right or wrong in claiming to be divine.
3. If Jesus was wrong in claiming to be divine, then Jesus was either mad or bad.
4. Jesus was not bad.
5. Jesus was not mad.
6. Therefore Jesus was not wrong in claiming to be divine.
7. Therefore Jesus was right in claiming to be divine.
8. Therefore, Jesus was divine.

An interesting issue that I think no one to my knowledge has talked about. Of course the argument didn't originate with Lewis, it is the theme of Chesterton's The Everlasting Man. And Lewis refers to the argument by its Latin title, aut deus aut homo malus, in many of his letters. Now if you think about it, if an argument has a Latin name, you'd think its goes way way back. So where did it come from. It looks like an argument tailor-made for the Arian controversy, and I recall reading something in Lewis that suggests that it was used in Athanasius' "On the Incarnation," which as we know, his friend Sister Penelope translated and he wrote the introduction for. Does anyone know this argument's history?

Andrew Rilstone on the Trilemma

If Rilstone is right, the ambitions of the trilemma are rather limited.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Passion of P Z Meyers

From Robert Crowther

Nature Magazine's Choice Blogger Has Heaps of Fun with the Crucifixion
University of Minnesota (Morris) biology prof P.Z. Myers is hailed by Nature magazine as a serious blogger on evolution issues, and he certainly is prominent on Panda's Thumb and Pharyngula. He not only urges his fellow professors to get tough with any ID-friendly colleagues, but he reveals the face of the Darwinists that the media never show.

The media endlessly inspect the religious affiliations of Darwin critics, of course, supposedly because a scientist's religious views can be used to discount his scientific views. But, in contrast, they do not show us the views of the proselytizing atheists who host so many of the Darwinist organizations and websites, leading so much of the the Darwinist campaign against ID.

If you do watch their websites, read their commentaries, and see what groups are most ardently involved with promoting their cause, you'll get a glimpse of their motivations--the ones the media sedulously ignore. This is the media's idea of "religious neutrality."

But not to worry--P.Z. Myers makes his religious motivations painfully clear in this invitation to watch a new version of The Passion of the Christ (December 11, 2005) on


Read Evolution News & Views, a website analyzing media coverage of the debate over evolution at

Intelligent Design: The Future, a blog about the science behind intelligent design at:

Monday, December 12, 2005

Infidel in Exile's Critique of the Lewis argument

There was an exchange on Fides Quaerens Intellectum on the MBG argument, but all the links to the opponent, Infidel in Exile's critique, could not be linked to. But I found the discussion on the IIE blog, which I reproduce here: (I will have to say that I am not thrilled with the tone of this discussion; if your case is a really good one you don't need to remind your opponent at every turn that if he/she disagrees with you he/she just don't know anything.)

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Fides Quaerens Intellectum and the Trilemma

The Trilemma is one of those arguments that takes two hours and five minutes to handle: two hours laughing, and five minutes to rip apart. A friend of mine pointed me to this example at Fides Quaerens Intellectum of a philosophy grad student whose thinking on this issue lacks both depth and knowledge. He writes:

The argument can be waged with success using probabilities, though. So, unless he can show that it is somehow likely that Jesus could mistakenly believe he is God without being cognitively dysfunctional, I think the L3 argument still works.It's hard for me to imagine that in this day and age anyone could take this argument seriously, but it remains a great favorite among believers, indicating that basically Lewis wrote it, like all apologetics, to re-assure believers rather than convince skeptics. I'll discuss this by adapting something I wrote earlier, with quotes from the website above.
Here is Lewis' original presentation:

"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God."That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic--on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg--or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."Type this in Google you'll find thousands of Christian websites that apparently feel this is a high point of Christian apologetics. It's actually illogical and uninformed, and it does not reflect well on people who accept it as serious thinking.
The first problem is very basic. Lewis writes "A man who said the sort of things Jesus said...." However, accepting this premise first requires that we establish what Jesus said. But it is not easy to separate what Jesus said from what was added to his sayings later by Christians, who told and retold the many tales of Jesus. There is widespread disagreement among scholars on what goes back to Jesus -- and further, as Crossan pointed out in The Birth of Christianity, there is no widely accepted method for going back into the Jesus material and separating the wheat from the chaff. Many scholars believe, for example, that nothing in John goes back to Jesus. Others argue that anything about Gentiles or food laws is a later addition. Still others point out that Jesus' sayings closely resemble popular philosophical sayings of his time. What arguments or evidence does Lewis offer about what Jesus said? Well, I've read Mere Christianity, and I didn't see any. So unless Lewis can tell me how he knows what Jesus intended, I don't see that there is any support for his claim from that direction. In fact Lewis even writes that Jesus claimed to be God, but nowhere is there a clear statement of that in the Synoptic Gospels, which are usually seen as closer to the original sayings of Jesus (even a statement like "I and the Father are one"can be interpreted in many ways). Many, many scholars would dispute that historical Jesus ever made such a claim.
It is obvious that the writers mentioned in the post at Fides Quaerens Intellectum have erred by not exploring the issue of what Jesus said, and taking everything in the Gospel texts at face value, something no serious historian or New Testament scholar would ever do (Lewis, needless to say, was neither).
But it gets worse, because in addition to lacking textual support, Lewis' position is a string of logical fallacies, and that is something that any philosophy major worth his salt should spot right away. First, he offers you three choices. Either Jesus was really God, or he was a devil, or he was crazy. Any time someone gives you violently opposed choices you should start becoming suspicious about his arguments. Think about it. Could a liar be a great moral teacher? Of course! All the great moral teachers of history were human beings, and like all humans, must have been liars. Martin Luther King plagiarized his doctoral thesis and cheated on his wife. His "I have a dream"is taken unacknowledged from a speech written by a friend of his. Does that mean he wasn't a great moral teacher and leader? Of course not! Just imagine all the great moral leaders and teachers you know - didn't they all have human failings? So with Jesus. There is no reason to imagine that simply because he was a great moral teacher, he must be divine. The greatness lies in the message, not in who brings it.
But further, there is no reason to imagine that Jesus had to have been a liar to make the claims that he did. He might have sincerely believed in what he said. He might even have sincerely believed he was God. His followers might have believed it too. That sort of thing has happened before as well. But even if he were crazy, would that invalidate him as a great moral teacher? Crazy people are as likely to say intelligent and insightful things as anybody. After all, saying Jesus was a nut doesn't really say anything about what kind of nut he was. He might have been a nut like Kurt Godel, one of the great philosophers of all time, who in his later years insisted on communicating with everyone by phone even if they were in the same room. Yet his social strangenesses did not prevent him from being a truly great thinker and teacher.
Another problem with this point of view is that in fact there is nothing particularly divine about his teachings in any case; they can be found in the popular philosophy, Cynic and Stoic, of his day, and in the Old Testament. When Jesus cites the famous Shema in Mark 12:29-31, as Jim Perry points out, he is citing a bit of Jewish moral teaching. So should we then regard all the Jewish teachers who taught this as divine too? The Golden Rule, found in many cultures, is another example of this. Were all those teachers divine too? When Jesus says that physicians heal the sick he is citing a commonplace in Cynic philosophy. Do we then claim that the Cynic philosopher who first thought that up was divine? Probably most people would not.
And here's yet another thing to think about. In antiquity "Son of God"and "God"were royal titles. Consider the Prienne Inscription. Here's an excerpt:

"...surpassing all previous benefactors, and not even leaving to posterity any hope of surpassing what he has done, and since the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning of the good tidings for the world that came by reason of him..."
Here Augustus is referred to as "God"and "Savior" (benefactor). His birthday is the "beginning of the good tidings". The Greek word for "good tidings" is euangelion, which readers might recognize as the word "gospel." Similarly Livy notes that Romulus was taken up to heaven as "Son of God."(Incidentally, when Romulus ascended to heaven, those around him fled. Does any of this sound familiar?) In other words, Jesus might well have claimed himself to be "God" or "Son of God"and done so with full knowledge that it was a Royal title. He may have been making a claim to the throne - in many fictional reconstructions of the Jesus story, such as Robert Graves' beautiful King Jesus, Jesus is made a descendent of Herod and claimant to the throne of Judea. There are possible meanings here that Lewis has not considered (not surprising as he made very little attempt to inquire into history, like our philosopher friend at Fides Quaerens Intellectum). And further, since some Roman emperors after Augustus claimed to be a God and a Son of a God, can we apply the Trilemma to them?
In fact, Lewis' argument only becomes coherent if you simply suspend all knowledge of history and historical methodology, as our philosopher friend at Fides Quaerens Intellectum actually did, and operate in a vaccuum. Consider this remark:

I would dare to say that anyone who is aware of the kind of cultural assumptions behind first century Palestinian Judaism would not be so quick to endorse the "just-so" story Howard-Snyder gives to explain how Jesus could make grandiose leaps to believe (falsely) that he was the Messiah, to the belief that the Messiah is divine, to the belief that the Hebrew God is plural in persons, and finally to the (false) belief that he was a person of God.
There are, of course, massive historical problems here. First, there is no such thing as "first century Palestinian Judaism" because Judaism was not a cultural monolith in the first century. There might well have been several routes by which a Jew might have come to believe himself the actual Son of God. First, and by far the most likely, is that it is a later addition in the Jesus tradition. Theissen and Merz' The Historical Jesus, a fabulous encyclopedia of scholarly arguments and evidence from two German Christian scholars, explains why this must be so beginning on page 553. The second route is that Jesus did what other historical individuals who have seen themselves as Sons of the Christian God (and the Brother of the Lord) did -- he had a vision. It is extremely improbable that a Chinese Hakka with no background in Christianity save for half-read missionary tracts in Chinese would title himself Brother of Jesus -- and therefore Son of God. But that is exactly what happened, and the rest was the history of the Taiping Rebellion (though in the end Hong finally went insane). The Zulu Nxele did pretty much the same thing. Culture is not destiny. Further, first century Palestinian Judaism was heavily Hellenized, and split into many sects. It is not difficult to imagine that any of the numerous variations on Judaism could have produced a maverick thinker -- such thinking is inherent in the tradition of Two Powers in Heaven and Divine Mediators that grew up in Judaism. And finally, according to Gospel legend, Jesus was from the least Judaized part of Palestine, Galilee. He must have been explosed to a swirl of cultural and intellectual influences. There's simply no telling what he might have said or done.
Speaking of the Gospels, it is also important to point out that the first Gospel was Mark, and in Mark, Jesus is portrayed as a human being possessed by God. This Christology is called Adoptionism, and was considered heretical in the later Church, which may explain why Mark was rewritten and incorporated into Luke and Matthew. In Mark no human recognizes Jesus as Son of God during his own lifetime. And there are at least two ways the Centurion's Declaration in 15:39 can be read. It is clear from Mark that there are several ways to think about what "Son of God" might mean in early Christianity, a clue that the title was added later and was part of a developing tradition. But I digress
Trivial point: Jesus may well have started out sane, and gradually gone insane. Seeing himself as God may have been the endpoint of a long process. It's not as if there are only two possible states, sanity and not-sanity. One grades into the other, and further, they can come intermittently. Indeed, it is easy to see someone given to intermittent insanity as being seen by others as a Divine Personage -- such was common in antiquity.
In fact, there are many more than the three dramatic choices - God, Devil, or Nutcase - that Lewis offers us. Maybe Jesus was just a human like you and me. Maybe he was misunderstood. Maybe the things he said were made up, or spoken by others and then attributed to Jesus. So next time someone says "Lord, liar, or lunatic?"You can respond by thoughtfully saying, "No, more like man, myth, or misunderstood."
I responded to a response from another poster:
It is sad to imagine that anyone could buy the kind of argument Infidel presents. Merely note the multiple vague and mere appeals to 'many scholars' and diversity of opinion:
If you want citations, I am happy to provide them. But anyone familiar with the scholarship -- and it is clear that neither the OP nor Lewis was -- knows that disagreement on any of the major issues is widespread. Did Jesus cause a ruckus in the Temple? Fredriksen says no, it's all fiction, Sanders yes but it is fictionalized, Gundry yes and word for word reporting is true. Crossan says no but he did speak against the Temple. Brown says yes but fictionalized. Etc. Would you like more names?
"There is widespread disagreement among scholars on what goes back to Jesus" - the critical questions aren't being asked here, WHAT is the reasoning of these scholars? I'm content to believe that Infidel's not wanting to cite since he's probably done so many times, and his entry isn't intended to be an overarching survey--but at least point to more than one scholar.
I'm very sorry. In the future I'll will try to recall that my audience does not know much about the issues that it believes in passionately and writes on regularly. Wait -- how's that again?
As for scholarly reasoning, I have already cited THE major figure in the historical Jesus studies, John D. Crossan, in _The Birth of Christianity_, on that very issue. There is no accepted methodology, and no criteria has withstood criticism. Another good view is in Porter's book on Criteria in Historical Jesus research. Theissen and Merz also have a good overview. But I recommend _The Birth of Christianity_ as a fabulous introduction to the problems.
"Many scholars believe, for example, that nothing in John goes back to Jesus." "Still others point out that Jesus' sayings closely resemble popular philosophical sayings of his time."
I'm hearing Jesus Seminar, but...

"In fact Lewis even writes that Jesus claimed to be God, but nowhere is there a clear statement of that in the Synoptic Gospels, which are usually seen as closer to the original sayings of Jesus (even a statement like "I and the Father are one" can be interpreted in many ways). Many, many scholars would dispute that historical Jesus ever made such a claim." -
Likewise, "many scholars" such as?, and upon stricter investigation saying that "there is no clear statement" is actually ignorant and lacking ground. Start with this--

Actually, none of this is Jesus Seminar. The links between the sayings of Jesus and Cynicism are laid out by F. Gerald Downing, a British cleric and scholar, in a series of works. They are well known to scholars. Here are the refs:
Downing, F. Gerald. 2001. The Jewish Cynic Jesus. In Labahn, Michael, and Schmidt, Andreas, eds. 2001. Jesus, Mark, and Q. Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 214. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press. pp184-215.
Downing, Gerald F. 1998. Cynics, Paul, and the Pauline Churches. London: Routledge.
Downing, F. Gerald. 1988. Christ and the Cynics: Jesus and other Radical Preachers in First-Century Tradition. Sheffield UK: JSOT Press
As for Tektonics, Holding reads only conservatives, doesn't stay with the scholarship, hasn't a clue about scholarly methodology, and in any case, has decided a priori what the case is (thinks Paul really wrote the Pastorals and Deutero-Paulines, for example). Plus, I have had the joy of interacting with him on many forums...when beaten, as is usual, he retreats into unseemly abuse and insults.
In any case, as Holding admits, nowhere in the Synoptics does Jesus say "I am God" so the whole red herring you've dragged in here is moot and my point stands.
If you want a good review of the issues, I have already pointed you to Theissen and Merz, whom no one would ever mistake for liberals. _The Historical Jesus_ should be on everyone's shelf. There are numerous discussions in T&M, but a major overview begins on p553.
It is true, however, that Lewis was not a NT scholar. But such cheap discussion about his writings is, I would find, quite odd, for someone who attacks as deep as this:
Why is it cheap to point out that sad fact that Lewis' knowledge of the New Testament was incompetent even for his own day, let alone ours? Many people who read Lewis think he actually knows what he is talking about. He doesn't.
Lewis' position is a string of logical fallacies, and that is something that any philosophy major worth his salt should spot right away. ."
In other words, if DePoe does not agree with Infidel's observations, he is not 'worth his salt', irregardless of his grounds for disagreement. Sound like rhetoric to you?

That's what we call an introductory remark, to tell the reader exactly what I am going to show -- that Lewis logical fallacies and poor argumentation is the kind that should be instantly spotted by any thoughtful reader. Like a philosophy grad student, for example.
--"There are possible meanings here that Lewis has not considered (not surprising as he made very little attempt to inquire into history, like our philosopher friend at Fides Quaerens Intellectum)."

And once again, another "if you disagree you are ignoring all history" type assertion:
Beg your pardon. Perhaps you can show me where the OP showed even the slightest hint of a whiff of the issues I have raised? Where is the knowledge of the historical methodology and the problems with the claims Lewis raises? None. Zip. Nada.
"In fact, Lewis' argument only becomes coherent if you simply suspend all knowledge of history and historical methodology, as our philosopher friend at Fides Quaerens Intellectum actually did, and operate in a vaccuum."
Well, DePoe, if you want some insights from an educated layman, email J. P. Holding of -- you might merely ask for specific links.
ROFL. Again, please show where DePoe displays any knowledge of the issues of history and methodology he is raising.
Of course, I note that your own response consists of asking for information, such as the widespread disagreement among scholars on what goes back to Jesus, and what methodologies should be used in determining that, that is known to anyone who has made a study of the issues. I pointed you to at least two important works in the piece. If you would like more references, I'd be happy to oblige.
Give me a few years until I get a MA in Classics (and on to doctorate); then we'll see what I can say after a long, long day.
Hopefully it will show more sensitivity to the problems of historical methodology than Lewis does. And actually deal with the points raised.....
The owner of the blog chimed in, so I responded
As for the dispute raised by the exiled infidel (what a lonely sounding name!), he is questioning the historical grounds of the premises that make up the LLL argument. I, of course, don't engage in that matter in this post.
So, the mention of "first century Judaism" was just for fun? And you didn't really mean this comment...
I think the strength of the L3 argument can be seen at its full strength, and many people with non-Christian presuppositions may weigh the evidence and see that it is rational to believe Jesus is who he claimed to be: the Son of God.
...then. And when you say Jesus claimed to be the Son of God" you mean he claimed to be what your particular doctrine intreprets him to be saying, although you weren't "making a historical argument." Somehow you are able to affirm and interpret the words of Jesus without making an historical argument! Right.
The reality is that anyone with sound scholarly methodology can see why the Trilemma is joke, while anyone operating on conservative Christian assumptions doesn't need it. Lewis' argument was never meant for skeptics, but for believers, generally in the formative phases of their belief, who need reassurance that they haven't gone 'round the bend. That is why it is so popular with adolescents.
More comments:
What would be interesting would be any attempt by this crowd to make a purely textual argument for the inauthenticity of specific passages, an argument that does not rest explicitly or implicitly on anti-supernaturalistic assumptions derived from folks like Spinoza or Hume.

You do not seem very familiar with "this crowd". Few, if any of the major Gospel scholars rely explicitly or implicitly on methodological naturalism to investigate the major Gospel claims; the vast majority of bible scholars are Christians who believe in the supernatural, after all. Most such critiques rely on the basic understandings of historical scholarship -- for example, that Jesus could not have left any such sweeping proclamations on food laws or else it would not have been an issue for his later followers, meaning that the Gospel stories are in a probability anachronistic and accretions to the tradition. Or else they use forms of literary analysis, noting the paralleling of the Old Testament, Josephus, and Greek and Roman literature, literary conventions, and mythology in the Gospel tales. Or they use various forms of sociological/comparative analysis. Except for Gerd Ludemann, I cannot offhand think of any historical Jesus scholar who uses an explicit criteria of methodological naturalism in assessing the historicity of sayings and events in the Gospel stories, as virtually all of them are believers of one flavor or another. But I would welcome some examples of scholars who have explicitly defined criteria and incorporated that particular one (I do know of one other, but he hasn't published yet).
John is quite right that the only serious considerations relevant to the success of the argument are those relevant to any dilemma or trilemma: the probabilities of the horns of the argument and the probabilities of the ways to jump through the horns.
Then my discussion was quite relevant, for how can you assess the probability of anything without an evaluation of real-world possibilities? On that score all horns of the dilemma are colossal failures, for Jesus need not have been a lord, liar, or lunatic to call himself "Son of God" (even assuming that he actually did so). The L3 doesn't begin to address the possibilities, hence those of us who are not Christians cannot weigh the evidence and consider it rational to believe that Jesus was implanted in the womb by the intervention of a Canaanite Sky Deity, as John asserts.
Atheism, Christianity

The Narnian trilemma

This is Lewis's trilemma argument as it appears in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Lucy, who has a far better reputation for truthfulness than Edmund, claims that she has been though a wardrobe into a strange land called Narnia. She claims Edmund has been there too, but Edmund denies it.

"How do you know," he asked, "that your sister's story is not true?"

  "Oh, but -" began Susan, and then stopped.  Anyone could see from the old man's face that he was perfectly serious.  Then Susan pulled herself together and said, "But Edmund said they had only been pretending." 

  "That is a point," said the Professor, "which certainly deserves consideration; very careful consideration.  For instance - if you will excuse me for asking the question - does your experience lead you to regard your brother or your sister as the more reliable?  I mean, which is the more truthful?"

  "That's just the funny thing about it, Sir," said Peter.  "Up till now, I'd have said Lucy every time."

  "And what do you think, my dear?" said the professor, turning to Susan.

  "Well," said Susan, "in general, I'd say the same as Peter, but this couldn't be true. . ."

  "That's more than I know," said the Professor, "and a charge of lying against someone whom you have always found truthful is a very serious thing; a very serious thing indeed."

  "We were afraid it mightn't even be lying," said Susan, "we thought there might be something wrong with Lucy."

  "Madness, you mean?" said the Professor quite cooly.  "Oh, you can make your minds easy about that.  One has only to look at her to see that she is not mad. . . Logic! . . .Why don't they teach logic at these schools?  There are only three possibilities.  Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth.  You know she doesn't tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad.  For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth." 

The link is to Peter Williams' discussion of the issue of incarnation.

Bah! Humbug! Part II: A Christian attack on Christmas

A series on the MBG argument

This is going to he the first in a series of posts on the Mad Bad or God argument from Mere Christianity. This is perhaps the most famous paragraph in all of Christian apologetics:

"I am trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him [Jesus Christ]: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic -- on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg -- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse .... You can shut him up for fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any  patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that option open to us. He did not intend to.”

This google search links to the arguments by Canon John Redford, a Catholic Bible scholar, of the claim that Jesus claimed to be God, which of course is at the heart of the controversy surrounding Lewis's argument

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Friday, December 09, 2005

A Letter from Will Martin

Mr. Reppert:

I was led to your blog by a Google search for "moral objectivity," and enjoyed what I read very much.

A couple questions, which you are free to ignore or answer at time and inclincation permits. First, as a fan of C.S. Lewis, is it safe to conclude you are also a Christian?

Perfectly safe.

Second, as one who knows much of C.S. Lewis (having written a book and named a blog centered on his thinking), do you know of any philosophers/writers who weren't believers in a religion per se who advocated a moral objectivism?

I'm a budding student of intellectual history and I'm thinking of focusing my master's thesis on this very topic - moral objectivity outside of revealed religion.

Anyway, if you have any insight where I might find more about this topic, I will be grateful for your input.

Thanks again for the great blog.

Will Martin
Alexandria, VA

The tradition of moral objectivity goes all the way back to Plato. Plato's Greece did not possess the idea of monotheism, and so Plato's commitment to moral objectivity involves a belief in the Form of the Good and then our having somehow perceived the form of the good in a prior existence. So his version of moral objectivism involves some metaphysics that modern naturalists would not be happy with, but it does not entail theism. Arisotle, who altered the doctrine of Forms but did not abandon it, certainly believed in objective moral values. Hume, it can be argued, is actually a moral objectivist, because although he thinks we get our ethics from sentiment rather than reason, he also seems to think that sympathy gives us a connection to moral truth that, say, sadism does not. G. E. Moore would have to have been a moral objectivists, as would Bertrand Russell in the early days (though he of course became an ethical subjectivist later one). In the debate between William Lane Craig and Douglas Jesseph Jesseph, the atheist in the debate, accepted moral objectivity and thought it could be given a secular foundation.

I think Christianity requires moral objectivity, and I think theism makes more sense of it than atheism does. But atheists are really divided on the issue. If you are a moral objectivist, you are ontologically committed to two types of truths; truths about what is, and truths about what ought to be. Even if an atheist has no trouble accounting for the first class of truths, how the second class of truths can exist if the world is, say, the way the materialist says that it is; it gets even more serious when we realize that somehow this second set of truths has to be relevant to moral behavior. I think God is the best explanation of all of that, but if I were to become an atheist, I think I would still believe in moral objectivity.

Lewis wrote a whole book in defense of moral objectivity, The Abolition of Man, without talking in any way about its foundations in revealed religion. Here's a link to it on Amazon.

Michael Medved weighs in on the Narnia controversy

Michael Medved thinks that there is no problem with Narnia.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

An interview with Bono

This is the interview in which Bono used the famous Lewis trilemma.

On the Florida Narnia Contest

Here's the Court TV item about the Narnia contest in Florida. Although I was initially mistaken in claiming that lawsuits had been filed, it certainly looks as if the language used by the AUSCS implies that lawsuits could be filed. The Toynbee articles reports that the AU is accusing the Florida contest of violating the estabishment clause of the First Amendment. Do organizations like that really say "Well, OK, you're violating the First Amendment, but if you keep on doing it, we'll just let it go?" And the AU demanded that Gov. Bush expand the contest. Note the word "demanded", not "requested." The ADF is certainly taking this as a threat to sue, and no wonder.

But is it reasonable to ask that the contest be expanded. I don't see why. I wonder if AU would be protesting if the book were The Diary of Anne Frank? I don't think so. How about Heather Has Two Mommies? (Never mind.) The fact is literature has religious, and sometimes anti-religious overtones. It's a fact that has to be faced if you are going to teach literature and get people to read.

I think one thing that everybody can learn from C. S. Lewis is that he loved many types of literature, including much literature that opposed his own world-view. Maybe next year they can have a contest about another book.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Book II What Christians Believe-Ch. 1 The Rival Conceptions of God

I. Chapter 1: The Rival Conceptions of God
A. If atheism is true all religions are wrong, but if theism is true they all contain some truth. So the Christian view is more liberal than an atheist view.
1. VR: I have a problem with Lewis's claim here. Not all religions are theistic, as Lewis surely knew. Buddhism, at least as originally propounded by the Buddha, has nothing corresponding to the conception of God.
B. Pantheism vs. Theism
1. Pantheists say that God is identical to the universe and is beyond good and evil.
2. Theists say the universe is created by God, and that God is good; that is, he takes sides, some things are good and others are not.
C. VR: Lewis doesn't seem to give an argument for accepting theism and rejecting pantheism, although at one point in his life he accepted a philosophical theory, Absolute Idealism, which is a whole lot like pantheism. But presumably he could give one. If we are aware of an objectively binding moral law, then it is plausible to suppose that the power behind it prefers one thing to another, and not plausible to suggest that Power that undergirds the standard of right and wrong is somehow "beyond" the standard. But Lewis never gets around to giving that argument.
D. The Problem of Evil
1. As an atheist he had little patience with theistic attempts to solve the problem because "whatever you say, and however clever your arguments are, isn;t it much simpler and easier to say that the world was not made by an intelligent power?
2. However, the argument from evil presupposes that we know good from evil soas to be able to judge the universe unjust. In other words, it presupposes that we know that there is a moral law. On the other hand, this "moral law" is just an evolutionary byproduct. It would be just my private idea (or some society's idea) of justice, and there would be no reason to trust that standard as a basis for judging the universe to be unjust. If the world were so bad and senseless, how would we know it? We have to trust the universe in one aspect in order to condemn it in every other.
3. (VR) We have discussed this issue on this blog in the past. An atheist can respond by saying that Christian theism entails that there is an objective standard of justice, and the universe stands condemned as unjust by that standard, in which case the atheist can maintain that Christian theism is inconsistent with its own standard of justice without embracing that standard of justice as true oneself.

Joe Gardjola answers Polly Toynbee

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

More Narnia-bashing from Polly Toynbee

Lewis: I was at that time living like many atheists; in a whirl of contradictions. I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing. I was equally angry with him for creating a world. Why should creatures have the burden of existence forced on them without their consent?

I know atheists don't like this description. But what accounts for the incredible anger that comes from so many atheists?

Mere Christianity: Book I Ch. 5 We Have Cause to Be Uneasy

I. Book I Ch.5 We Have Cause to be Uneasy
A. Is the idea of objective moral values “putting the clock back?”
1. If the clock is wrong, we ought to put the clock back
2. Implied denial of the “doctrine of intellectual progress,” or “chronological snobbery,” the idea that if a belief was popular in a previous age but is generally rejected today, this is good reason to suppose that the belief is false and that we know better now. But, Lewis (in other works) argues that this often leads to false conclusions. The world of thought is subject to fashion; ideas are the hottest thing one season and go the way of bell-bottom pants in the next season.
B. Is positing a moral law and a power behind it “religious jaw.”
1. It is what we are trying to discover on our own steam, not something from the Bible and the churches.
2. Two clues about the power behind the moral law
a. the universe-shows that the Power is an artist but does not show the Power to be a friend of man
b. the moral law within us, shows that the Power is interested in right conduct-hence it does show that God is good, but not necessarily nice. The Moral Law is hard as nails. The argument so far has not shown the Power to be a person.
C. Christianity does not make sense unless you face the facts that have been described here. It has nothing to say to people who think they have nothing to repent of.
1. Christianity is in the long run a religion of unspeakable comfort
2. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end, if you look for comfort, you will not get either comfort or truth—only soft soap and wishful thinking to being with and, in the end, despair.

Bah! Humbug!

An attack on Christmas from atheists. The anti-Claus.

An inquiry about the original edition of Lewis's Miracles

Dr. Reppert,
I have just read your book on C. S. Lewis and really appreciated it.  I am currently earning an MA in Philosophy, and my project for the year is Lewis' book on miracles.  Do you know any way I could obtain a copy of the first edition, or at least of chapter three, before he responded to Anscombe's criticisms?
Jim Slagle

Jim: You can find copies of the old edition in libraries. Just check to see that it is indeed the 1947 edition (usually hardback). Also, a yellow paperback edition from the 1960s and 1970s is of the old edition.

Monday, December 05, 2005

A reply to Bill Vallicella on political conservatism

BV: Reppert Explains Why He Is Not a Political Conservative

See here. Unfortunately, Victor makes two elementary mistakes in his post.

The first is that of confusing conservatives with Republicans. Although these two classes enjoy a non-null intersection, they are not the same. There are plenty of conservatives who are not Republicans --I am a registered Independent, for instance -- and there are numerous Republicans who could be called conservative only by a serious semantic stretch, as witness Arizona senator John McCain. George Bush, too, is not much of a conservative: on the issue of illegal immigration he is arguably a libertarian, and on education and other issues he is a liberal.

The second mistake is that of confusing a movement with its adherents. Just as Christianity cannot be condemned on the basis of the bad behavior of Christians -- e.g., pedophile priests on the 'Roman' side, greedy televangelist hustlers on the 'evangelical' side -- so too one cannot condemn political conservativsm because of the (alleged) bad behavior of Tom DeLay, et al.

Actually, Victor has given us no good reason at all for not being a political conservative. He didn't even discuss the question. Conservatism is a set of principles and proposals, and Victor said not one word about them.

So I invite Victor to write a second post, one in which he explains what he objects to in conservative ideas, as opposed to explaining why he doesn't want to be associated with certain unsavory characters.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: It is about ideas, not people.

Posted by William F. Vallicella on Monday December 5, 2005 at 12:04pm

I think the succeeding post, on A Day in the Life of Joe Republican, gives a better account of the problems I have with conservatism. The post you reference, more accurately, explains why I cannot support the present Republican leadership, which claims to be operating on conservative principles.

And I think the current Republican crew really do practice bad conservatism. I wonder what the Mr. Conservative of my youth (Goldwater) would say about a so-called conservative President who runs up record deficits.

You will notice, too, that DeLay uses free enterprise arguments to support the Saipan sweatshops. What Murkowski, (who is a conservative Republican) was advocating was government interference in the workplace, or rather, the extension of the kind of intrusive government legal interference that is already going on in America to the island of Saipan.

It is interesting that the Republican leadership is eager to "save" Social Security and Medicare, institutions that they opposed when they were initially introduced. If they were bad ideas to begin with, why not abolish them? (Of course some would argue that the private accounts plan does precisely that, but if that is what you're doing, why not say so?)

Paul Campos on materialism

Paul Campos of the Rocky Mountain News makes some intersting comments on the materialist leap of faith. Hat tip: Doug Groothuis.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Why I am not a political conservative

I wish I could be a political conservative. I grew up in Arizona, the home of Barry Goldwater, the first political candidate I ever rooted for when he ran for President in 1964. (I was ten.) My book was at one time #1 on the website, ahead of Hannity, Thatcher, Buckley and Coulter. (For one week). I don't think that abortion is the way to deal with a problem pregnancy. I am a Christian of broadly evangelical leanings, and a fan of C. S. Lewis, who is far better liked by conservatives than by liberals (though his essay "Meditation on the Third Commandment" is a pre-emptive strike, written decades earlier, against the "Christian Coalition" mentality we find so prevalent today).

But I can't. This is the party that promised to "restore honor and integrity to the Presidency of the United States." Instead they tolerate this kind of corruption in one of their leaders, corruption that makes the famous zipper malfunction in the Oval Office (and the falsehoods told to cover it up) that led to impeachment small potatoes. I've heard it gets worse; the women workers in Saipan are forced into prostitution and forced to get abortions when they get pregnant. Oh well, at least they aren't given the right to choose.

Is there another side to this story? The total heartlessness of these people just galls me. Compassionate conservatism? It's starting to sound like military intelligence, business ethics, and jumbo shrimp.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Book I Chapter 3-4 of Mere Christianity

I. Book I Chapter 3- The Reality of the Law
A. The Law of Human nature is an odd sort of fact; it is not a truth about the way things are, but a truth about the way things ought to be.
1. Is this law of nature a fact about what is helpful for human beings? No, someone sitting in the seat I would like to sit in is not breaking any rules, but is inconveniencing me. Someone who tries to trip me but fails is doing something wrong, but does no harm to me.
2. Is decent behavior the behavior that pays? No, it may pay people as a whole, but does not pay people individually. It may require me to do things which are not in our own self-interest.
II. Conculsion: The Law of human nature is real, and its claims cannot be reduced to claims about what serves my interests, or what is helpful to me.
II. Book I Chapter 4-What Lies behind the law
A. Two types of world view
1. The materialist world view-everything happened by chance or fluke. This is sometimes misinterpreted; what he means is that the characteristics of the universe arose without intelligent design. The ultimate causes at work in the world possess no intelligence. This is what scientist Richard Dawkins has in mind when he talks about the Blind Watchmaker. That blind watchmaker is the evolutionary process, which has no purposes, but simulates purpose through trial and error.
2. The Religious View: the ultimate causes of the universe are "more like a mind than anything else we know. That is to say, it is conscious, it has purposes, and prefers one thing to another."
3. Science cannot decide which of these views is true. Science analyzes what is observable; whether or not there is something "beyond" or "behind" the observable world is not something that science can decide.
I (VR) think that this greatly oversimplifies the situation with respect to science. It does seem to me that scientific evidence can provide inductive support, or may inductively undermine, religious claims.
4. If God were to make himself aware of his existence, it would have to be through an inner law, not through some observable facts. We know, from the inside, that we are under a law, and that law was not created by ourselves. Looking at this moral law, we can see that it makes sense on the religious view, but does not make sense on the materialist view. Therefore we have good reason to believe that the religious view is true.

In other writings, Lewis appeals to other considerations than just a moral law to determine whether or not there is a power behind the universe; so I have some objection to this way of framing the argument.

However, perhaps we can frame the argument in terms of Bayesian confirmation. Well, I don't think I can very well go into Bayesian theory in this post (though you might look at this from Fides Quaerens Intellecutm But here's the idea. Suppose you are thinking about the question of God, and you haven't thought carefully about the idea of moral phenomena as it relates to theism. Suppose, just for the sake of argument, you are a pure agnostic about God, thinking that God's existence is about as unlikely as it is likely. Suppose we now start considering Lewis's three phenomena, that virtually eveyone in actual practice presupposes that there is a moral law, that there is an underlying agreement on moral prinicple even in the face of differing normative conclusions, and that there we are inclined to think a society's moral standards can get better, or get worse.

How likely are these moral phenomena to occur in a theistic universe? Are they what you should expect? I think so? Are they possible in a naturalistic universe? Well, maye, at least the naturalist is certainly going to bring out the tools offered by evolutionary psychology to explain all of this. But I'm still reasonably sure that the probability of our having a sense of moral law given theism is greater than the probability of having a sense of moral law on the assumption that God does not exist. So I think that Lewis's moral argument shows a way to confirm theism, even though he did not fully develop the argument himself.

For another treatment of Bayes' theorem as it applies to miracles, see this paper I did on Internet Infidels.

A critique of the anti-Narnia comments of Philip Pullman

Internet Encyclopedia entry on Hume on religion

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

An evangelical critique of the pro-war position

Hat tip: Jarrod Cochran.

by Samuel J. Ross

In February of 2003, shortly before the U.S. declared war on Iraq, I asked my pastor if I could make a one-minute announcement from the pulpit about a letter I wrote to President Bush opposing the imminent U.S. invasion of Iraq, giving congregants the opportunity to respond. As a Christian, I opposed the war on many grounds, and was concerned with the reflexive response of many of my fellow Christians to stand with President Bush and the current administration without critically thinking through what a Christian response might look like. My motivation was to give those in my local church the opportunity to sign the letter if they wished, to begin thinking soberly about their specific response, with the promise of sending it on to Washington the next day.

My request was flatly denied, despite having preached many times from this same pulpit (thirteen times in all!). A year earlier, a complete stranger had been granted unquestioned access to this same pulpit to make a lengthy announcement promoting a “God and Country” rally shortly after the tragic events of September 11th. One of the concerns the pastor and elders had with my peace-promoting announcement was that our particular church had no policy or stance on the topic of war. Is this to suggest that if they did have a policy, it might read, “No member of this congregation shall promote peace from the pulpit”? Furthermore, why was I not afforded at least equal access as the stranger who was permitted to speak for nearly 10 minutes on the merits of wedding God with country? I’ve discovered three reasons why my pro-peace announcement was so unpopular. Ironically, one of these reasons was revealed by the stranger who was permitted unbridled access to the pulpit that day to promote God and Country.

I’ve discovered many strangers in the pulpits of evangelical churches in this post-9/11 era. Some of the names of these strangers are nationalism, populism, corporatism, and patriotism. Many of these strangers are given unquestioned access to American pulpits. These strangers aren’t required to submit their sermons for review, won’t appear in the church bulletin, on church marquees, or in the Saturday church section of your local newspaper. These strangers don’t request the pulpit to make one-minute announcements, paid-political advertisements, or special guest appearances. Instead, they receive unrestricted, voluntary, and unexamined access to America’s pulpits. Why?

Many Christians in the American evangelical church have made a practice of defaulting to the right-wing political position that Republican politics provides. In recent decades, the evangelical church has become a spawning ground for a popular, pervasive, and unexamined Christian nationalism, despite plentiful biblical evidence opposing that position. This is nothing new. This penchant for power has been alive throughout the history of the church. Since Constantine made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire in the early 4th century, the Catholic Church has made an art form of being on the power side of politics, from the inquisitions to the reformation age, and more recently during the Nazi era from 1930 to 1945. During the early 1940s the Nazis were fond of saying, “Deutschland uber alles!” which translated means “Germany over all!” There is a striking similarity of this popular Nazi chant and the desire that many evangelicals possess today to make the rest of American culture conform to their moral template of success for America. This reflexive posture is promulgated by many prominent Christian television and radio personalities and largely disseminated to the culture through the pulpits of America’s local evangelical churches.

After the stranger had finished his unabashed promotion of church and state, I had the opportunity to approach him and ask him what biblical basis existed for uniting God and country. He had no response to this, choosing instead to launch into a rant about the dangers of abortion. Many evangelicals, like this man, have a deep-seated desire to impact the political process through legislating their own beliefs on the country. As a Christian, I oppose abortion too, but ironically, making abortion a crime again won’t make America a more “Christian” country. What it will do, however, is broadcast to the culture at large that Christians in general and evangelicals in particular are more interested in law than grace.  Civil laws may change behavior, but only God can truly change people’s desire, their motivation, or why they believe what they believe. Most Christians are very comfortable with their pro-life position, but they are often guilty of making it the ONLY issue. They are not unlike single-issue politicians. Since Roe v. Wade was enacted in 1973, an inordinate amount of time, money, and energy, and manpower has gone into overturning this political mandate (it is still law, by the way). The opportunity costs, that is, what could have been done with that same time, money, energy, and manpower, have been nothing short of astronomical. All other issues, including the death penalty and war (issues which also involve death) have taken a very deep backseat to the issue of abortion. The culture knows where evangelicals stand on the abortion issue, but it sees them taking a stand for little else. Like one-issue candidates, they are seen as unworthy of serious reflection and consideration. This was the problem with the stranger in the pulpit. His agenda was not really wedding God with country for its own sake (as unbiblical as that is). His real goal, and that of many evangelical Christians, is to attain a Christian majority and overthrow Roe v. Wade once and for all. The question that begs to be asked if this ultimately became reality is: In what would Christians invest their time, money, talents, and energy next?

While a Christian majority might seem like a desirable goal (especially if you are a Christian), it reveals a fundamental flaw in the thinking and theology of evangelicals. Often, their thoughts and subsequent actions reveal a God who is too small. Isaiah 50:2 contrasts the disobedient young nation of Israel with the true servant. Isaiah asks, “Is my hand so short that it cannot ransom (save)? Or have I no power to deliver?”  The big flaw in the American evangelical church is that it erroneously believes it must be a majority to impact the culture. God’s arm is already plenty long enough without a Christian majority to change people’s lives. Indeed, history confirms the power and potential of minority groups and their life-altering character. Several pivotal historical events over the past five centuries testify to this truth. From the Reformation in 1533, to the founding of this country in 1776, to civil rights gains in the 1960s, the power and potential of minority groups have been clearly demonstrated. Clearly, Christianity works better as a minority movement than a monolithic majority. Biblical history is replete with the underdog rising up and overwhelming the powerful majority. The story of Israel rising up over the Egyptians, David defeating Goliath, the vindication of the prophets’ message, the incarnation of Christ and his ultimate victory at the Cross, and the spread of Christianity across the globe all demonstrate the power and potential of minority movements overcoming the entrenched majority.

Finally, and the reason why I was not allowed to make a one-minute announcement about promoting peace on the eve of war is that many evangelical Christians have little appreciation for disagreement of any kind. Like the stranger in the pulpit, many evangelical Christians have a very narrow tolerance for dissent as well as dissonance. Dissent can simply be defined as disagreement with the majority opinion. By dissonance, I’m referring to the level at which dialogue of an issue quickly reaches a harsh, discordant, and disharmonic pitch. Unresolved dissonance prevents us from reaching out in tangible ways to others who may be hurting, extending grace to the needy, clarifying differences, moving toward the middle to gain perspective, consciously becoming vulnerable, or offering forgiveness or confession. My dissent (on the war) created a level of dissonance (bolstered by the currently popular political position) that was not easily overcome. Because many evangelicals believe that they must be a majority to impact the culture, they have not thought through what life as a minority might look or feel like. Nor have they given serious consideration to the impact they might have on issues other than abortion. Perhaps this is one reason why my church had no policy on war. Not only was it a convenient first-line excuse, sadly it was true. There are many more questions the American evangelical church must ask itself and work through if it wishes to impact its culture in a way which creates curiosity rather than confusion, intrigue rather than interrogation, dialogue rather than dissonance, and leaves in its wake grace rather than legalism.

If evangelical Christians in America want to have a voice in the culture, they must accept their minority role and accept and work through the dissent and dissonance (even amongst their own) that naturally result when wrestling with issues that matter. Lastly, they must do this by resisting the temptation to default to the popular majority political position (be it Democratic or Republican). This reflexive default to power will not gain them a wide hearing, but will render their message more difficult to hear and relegate them further to the margins of American society. And that just might be a fate worse than hell for most American evangelical Christians.

(S. J. Ross is a freelance writer who lives in central Ohio. He is a doctoral student at Ashland Theological Seminary in Ashland, OH. His thesis attempts to impact evangelical churches toward considering an anti-war position.)

A note from Mr. Schellack

Mr. Reppert,
I write to you on an impulse, and I hope you will forgive any  incoherence on my part.  I have appreciated your work on Mr. Lewis'  argument from reason.  I actually used something like it a few weeks  back at a debate held by the Vanderbilt Socratic Club.  Oddly enough  the response by my interlocutor was "Of course, I accept all your  arguments.  My thoughts are merely functions of my brain and are  neither rational nor reliable sources of knowledge, reason, or sound  beliefs."  He was OK with that.  Does not all communication break  down at that point!!

VR: Aristotle responded to this kind of position this way. He said "Either you are saying something or you're not. If you are, then the rules of logic and reasoning apply. If you're not, then we should treat you as a plant, because you don't really have a statement to be considered.

S: I have been pondering that point, as well as a good many other  thoughts deriving from my prayer time and Scripture reading on how  Agape should look in daily life of a Christian, and I am hard pressed  to believe that rational arguments hold much sway these days.  They  are very important for me, but it seems for a great many, if not the  majority of people my age are not at all interested in whether or not  Christianity is true.  Rrather they are interested in whether or not  they need it.  The logical response is "Of course you need it!  If  its true, you will have to face it!  Not to mention you will be  living your life in spite and contraposed to the fabric and flow of  the universe."  But their response is, "I get along just fine without  believing; why does it matter?"  Once again, they are not interested  in truth or falsehood.  Even when proved they shrug it off.  The  modern post-Enlightenment period benefited a good bit from rational  argument--people understood the rules and could generally recognize  (as I think Lewis says in the Screwtape Letters somewhere) when an  argument had been defeated.  So I am beginning to believe that the  power and relevance of Christ these days must be demonstrated in and  through our actions.  The message of Jesus is the 'transvaluation of  all ideals", and I am beginning to think that is the only thing that  will wake people up to the truth of who God is.

Grace and Peace,
Benjamin Schellack

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Mea Culpa

Mike at rereason takes me to task for a misleading post about reading Narnia in Florida. He's right of course (though I'm not sure I agree with AU's position).

Monday, November 28, 2005

Here we go again with Anscombe nonsense

Nuff said. No, let me repeat what I posted back on June 28:

My researches into the Anscombe exchange show pretty clearly 1) Anscombe provided some legitimate objections to the formulation of the argument against naturalism as found in the first edition of Miracles. 2) Lewis seems to have felt discouraged in the immediate aftermath of the exchange, as shown by comments he made to literary friends. 3) Lewis did not think that Anscombe’s considerations put the naturalist in the clear; in fact, Lewis employs Anscombe’s distinctions in the response that appears in the very issue of the Socratic Digest in which Anscombe’s paper appeared. 4) Anscombe considered the revised argument much more serious than the first edition, although she did not endorse it. 5) Lewis's revisions, along with other philosophical considerations, show that Lewis's argument, properly reformulated, can survive Anscombe's objections. 6) Although Lewis published no more books about apologetics after the Anscombe exchange, he did write many articles devoted to apologetics, revising and expanding the controversial chapter of Miracles for the Fontana edition. You don't expand a chapter you think has been proven wrong. 7) Attempts by A. N. Wilson and others to identify the Green Witch in Narnia (who attempt to persuade the children that the Overworld does not exist) with Anscombe are complete and utter nonsense.

A list of logical fallacies

Mike Darus wanted to know where you can get a list of logical fallacies. Well, this is it, from Wikipedia, with links to other sources on fallacies.

An atheist perspective on Mere Christianity

This is an attack on C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity I found on the Internet Infidels discussion board. And then there's a link to another piece of Jack-hammering.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Notes on The First Two Chapters of Mere Christianity

Book I: Right and Wrong as the Clue to the Meaning of the Universe

I. General Considerations:
A. Mere Christianity is a work in Christian apologetics. It attempts to show that a rational person can and should be a Christian believer. In response to the view that Christianity requires “blind faith” Lewis responds by saying “I am not asking anyone to believe in Christianity if his best reason tells him the weight of the evidence is against it. This is not where faith comes in.”
B. This is not a book for experts. Lewis says that he is attempting to “translate” Christian theology into the language of non-specialists. In fact he says that if you can’t explain it in terms that non-specialists can understand, you don’t really understand it yourself. This book, in fact, was a series of talks given over the radio during WWII.
C. Lewis is concerned that modern people, coming to Christianity, very often lack much of any idea of what it is they need to be saved from. He thinks Christianity does not make sense unless people have a sense of themselves as sinners.
D. Although what he presents is known as the moral argument for belief in the existence of God, its goal is also directed not so much toward atheists as common people who may have some belief in God but do not think that they need to be saved by Christ.
II. Chapter 1: The Law of Human Nature
A. What is “The Law of Human Nature?” How does it differ from a) the speed limit, and b) the law of gravity?
B. Lewis says the phenomenon of quarreling implies that people implicitly believe in the Law of Human Nature, whether they think they do or not. That is, they criticize others for acting wrongly, and when they are themselves criticized for acting wrongly, they respond in ways that acknowledge the standard of right and wrong. That is, either they excuse their actions, or they say that their actions really meet the standards set by the law, etc. They do not typically refuse to acknowledge the law itself.
C. At this point Lewis poses the question of moral relativism. What Lewis is defending here is a doctrine opposed to the doctrine of moral relativism, or moral subjectivism, according to which something is right or wrong not absolutely, but only relative to a particular individual or culture’s preference. Depending on what version of relativism you are talking about, moral judgments are not simply true or false, they are true or false relative to what some individual or society prefers. The relativist position goes back to Protagoras from Ancient Greece, who said, “Man is the measure of all things." Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle opposed relativism, and said that moral judgments can be objectively true or false.
1. Is this relativist point of view something you hear a lot in today’s world? Do you have any tendency in your own mind to accept it yourself? I find that people will defend this position in the interests of tolerance. But, of course, tolerance is a true value only if there are objective moral values.
D. Do people have different moralities, which are true for them? Yes, but a study of different moral codes from different times and countries show an underlying similarity.
E. Consider, for example the abortion controversy. (The example is mine, not Lewis’s) This seems on the face of things to show how deep and irresolvable our ethical differences are, but really this is false. You never hear pro-life people saying that the quality of life is not a value, and you never hear pro-choice people saying that human life is not valuable. The combatants in this controversy agree on the basic values; what they disagree about is how they apply to the case of human fetuses, and whether quality of life considerations ever “trump” the value of life.
F. The second claim Lewis makes is that human beings do not live up to the moral standards that they themselves believe in.
III. Chapter 2: Some Objections:
A. Is the moral law just herd instinct?
1. Lewis says that the moral law is not just an instinct, it is something that adjudicates between instincts and tells us which one to obey.
B. Isn’t the Law of Human Nature just social convention?
1. The differences of morality are not all that great
2. When we think of moral differences, we think that the morality of one people is better than another.
3. Some people are “pioneers” who have a better sense of the moral law than other people
a. Examples (mine, not his) Gandhi, King, Wilberforce, etc.
b. To say that laws are most just today with regard to race than they were 50 years ago implies that there is a standard of right and wrong according to which both today’s laws and laws 50 years ago are to be judged.