Monday, September 26, 2005

Out of the e-mail archives: some comments by Steve Thomas on Parsons's critique of my argument

This is some comments by Steve Thomas in response to Keith Parsons' Philosophia Christi response to my presentation of the argument from Reason. He wrote this in 2003, but I think the points are still interesting.

Dear Victor,

I just received my copy of the latest Philosophia Christi with the symposium on the Argument from Reason.  Congratulations!  Its great to see the issues you raise get this sort of attention in print.

I haven't read the whole thing yet -- I've only skimmed over some of it at this point -- but I wanted to comment on something Parsons said, to complement your response.  He writes

    "Consider the interaction problem... Descartes took this criticism very seriously, and he should have.  Surely dualists owe the rest of us some sort of account.  After all, they posit an entity that has no physical properties..."

First, I would like to see Parsons (or any naturalist, for that matter) give an account of *physical causation*.  For example, what does it mean to say that one billard ball "made contact with" another billard ball and caused the second to move?  Perhaps the initial response would cite the molecular structure of billard balls.  Eventually, I think, it would turn to descriptions of *forces* at the atomic or subatomic level, employing terms like "push", "repel", and so on.  Now, just what are those forces?  How do they do what they do?  Do physicalists owe some account of the "what"s and "how"s here, or are we just supposed to buy into the idea that they understand what is going on at fundamental levels of causation?  For Parsons to suggest that dualists "owe the rest of us some sort of account" suggests to me that he has an overly inflated view of scientific knowledge, and perhaps "the rest of us" (non-dualists?) do as well.

Second, from the fact that dualism posits "an entity that has no physical properties", it does not follow that there are no properties in common between material and immaterial substances -- unless by "no physical properties" Parson means that immaterial substances have no properties whatsoever.  Material and immaterial objects may share a host of properties on the one hand, and still differ from one another qualitatively in ways that justify a different classification of substances on the other.

Just a couple of thoughts.  I welcome your reflections, as you have time.

Take care,

Who moved the stone

At 1:49 PM, Giordano Sagredo said…

The post said:
You think questions like, "Can God create a rock so big that He cannot lift it?" and, "Can God will Himself out of existence?" are perfect examples of how to disprove God's omnipotence and ultimately how to disprove God. When someone proves to you the false logic behind the questions (i.e. pitting God's omnipotence against itself), you desperately try to defend the questions, but then give up and go to a different Christian site to ask them.
Saying it is 'false logic' to pit omnipotence against itself does nothing to dispel the logical problems. Why is this false logic? What definition of omnipotence is being used from which it follows that the logic of the question is wrong?
This person is angrily dismissing a beautiful question, one a child can ask and understand, about an omnipotent being. The question leads to a host of interesting philosophical issues about the meaning of 'all powerful'. Could God not make the law of noncontradiction false? Could God make immoral things moral? What are the limits of God's power? They clearly exist, and hence the logical conclusion seems to be that God is not omnipotent. There are moral and logical constraints on God's powers.


As I indicated, the "fundy atheist" list is full of misfires, but I'm not sure this is one. There is nothing wrong with the question, surely, but I think what Holding is parodying here is the use of the argument to refute the concept of omnipotence. It looks like a slam dunk against theism at first, but most philosophers, including atheists, do not regard it as a serious objection. It's kind of like going on talkorigins and arguing that evolution can't be true because it conflicts with the second law of thermodynamics.

The problem is that this paradox has a standard solution in the philosophical literature. It involves defining omnipotence as not involving contradictions. God has, according to the standard definition, the power to do everything that constitutes a coherent possibility. It does not imply that every statement of the form "God can X" is true. So we can say that God cannot bring it about that Floyd the barber shaves everyone who does not shave himself in Mayberry, because this is logically impossible. A stone that an omnipotent being can't lift is not a possible object, and therefore the statement "God cannot make a stone he can't lift" and "God is omnipotent" are perfectly compatible, once you understand the standard definition of omnipotence.

The chapter on Omnipotence in C. S. Lewis's The Problem of Pain is helpful in this regard. See also this from the Stanford Encyclopeda of Philosophy:

BonJour's argument from intentionality

Bill Vallicella has linked to an argument from intentionality against materialism by Lawrence BonJour.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Jason Pratt on Lewis and getting high

Hey, Victor!

I don't know if anyone ever bothered to look up the fundy anti-Lewis
reference to Sheldon Vanauken's _A Severe Mercy_; but I finally got around
to doing so last night.

The phrase _is_ there. ("We must have some good, long talks together [if
you come to England], and perhaps we shall both get high.")

There is no specific contextual reference to what Lewis meant, either in
the letter, or in Van's text preceding it for several pages (back through
another letter from Lewis.) The only certain inference that can be drawn,
is that Lewis is responding to something Van had written in the
(unpublished) letter to which Lewis is here replying.

Taking the actual _story_ (and _history_) of the situation into account,
however, there are two explanations which would fit to a lesser or greater
degree (respectively).

a.) Neither Lewis nor Vanauken was much for 'high church', though both were
very much fond of the sort of intense aesthetic experiences which 'high
church' rituals tend to communicate. They just both preferred to receive
such aesthetic experiences from a different route. Studying the overt
history of both of them (the positive evidence actually available,
including in ASM itself), it's obvious that they sought this aesthetic
experience in a mystical appreciation of Nature (especially if that
experience could be shared with a friend), and also in intellectual
contemplation of principles of truth. At the same time, Lewis certainly
believed (and so did Van in his own way) that they were being priggish
about not appreciating high church, especially in such a way; and
considered a certain amount of submission to this to be a healthy
mortification of their natural tastes. So,

a1.) Lewis could be referring to the possibility that, between the two of
them, they might finally be able to come to a better acceptance of 'high
church' ritual (i.e. _perhaps_ they shall both "get high");

a2.) Lewis could be referring to the shared aesthetic experiences both of
them actually did treasure (appreciation of Nature and intellectual

If one wonders why two men so strongly inclined to appreciate such things
would _perhaps_ "get high" on such a visit, instead of it being an expected
given, then we only need look at Van's current emotional situation to
understand that at _that_ time such a result would _not_ be such a given;
leading to:

b.) Van was, at that time, grieving horribly for the death of his beloved
wife (with whom he had spent some years previously in sharing the sort of
aesthetic experiences they both appreciated along with Lewis, btw.) This is
what the story in his book has been leading up to (in his authorship of
hindsight), and would soon be recognized by him (thanks to Lewis' help) as
being "a severe mercy" (thus the title he chose for the book): because
before Jean's ("Davy's") death, she had become a considerably more devoted
Christian than Van in some ways, and Van had become somewhat jealous of God
about this--enough so that he had developed an infatuation with a mutual
friend of theirs (named Jane) who reminded him of how Davy _used_ to be.

Not long before writing the letter to which Lewis was replying in the quote
excerpted by the anti-Lewis fundamentalists, Van had (in his grief)
attempted to renounce his Christianity in vengeance against God--and had
failed. (Not many years later, Lewis would do something almost as strong in
his grief over the death of _his_ wife, too.) It is this attempt and
failure and its implications which Lewis spends most of his letter (printed
by Van in the book) addressing; obviously, Lewis would now have an even
clearer idea than before how horribly depressed Vanauken must be.

I expect, then, that Lewis was most probably hoping (by means of a2 above)
to help Van get over his _depression_; the "get high" being a slang
shorthand for this.

Admittedly, none of this logically excludes the possibility that Lewis
would be offering to do drugs of some sort with Van during their trip (one
could even tease a path of temptation toward that from a2); but... well,
damn... {snorf!} What the hell kind of people would imagine, given all this
situation, that Lewis and/or Vanauken would _mean_ that??? It would
actually make more sense (as little as _that_ would nevertheless be) to
imagine them having a tacit homosexual relationship with each other. (There
_is_ at least overt correspondence between them on the topic of
homosexuality--though not in _that_ regard.)

There are some 'Christians' whom I wish I could backhand into eternity.

Then I recall that God is the one Who will certainly be doing that.

(And _then_ I recall that _I_ had better watch out, not to be such a
'Christian' myself... {self-critical grimace} And that if God has to do it,
it's _for_ their sakes, not against them. Whereas I, the sinner, would
honestly prefer to flush and forget them. It's a good thing God is better
than I am. {s})


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

An exercise for participants in the ID debate

This is a 1982 book defending evolution against ICR-style creationism. I read a lot of this literature back when I was in graduate school and this was the book on the evolutionist side that I thought didn't use bad arguments against creationism. He doesn't seem to imply that no non-naturalistic theory could be scientific, (Creationists of the last century did real science), but the ICR people escape problems by appealing to the mysterious nature of God, and creationism becomes pseudoscientific at that point. It also exposes misrepresentations of evolution by Morris, Gish, etc. It also gives a lot of good Darwinian theory, in language that we nonspecialists can understand.

Whether you think the case against ICR works or not, (I'm pretty convinced, myself) this provides the reader with a lot of pitfalls to avoid on both sides of the issue. What I like is that it isn't aimed at the ID issue at all, yet its arguments are clearly relevant to the ID debate.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy

Open Court's book, on The Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy, is being advertised on Amazon, though it should hit the stores next month. I have an essay in it entitled "The Green Witch and the Great Debate: Freeing Narnia from the Spell of the Lewis-Anscombe Legend.

Evolution and Certainty

Is there any area in science other than evolutionary biology where people are so fond of certainty claims? It seems like in every other discipline certainty claims are actively discouraged by the leading scientists; here there is a hankering after it. Or do I just not understand because I don't know enough science? I used to be told that the need for certainty is something religious people hang onto but scientific types learn to get over.

OTOH, I once heard a geologist call Darwin's theory of evolution the Greatest Story Ever Told.

Menuge clarifies

I don't understand the context regarding the age of the Earth issue. If this concerns my remarks in Kansas then they were as I maintain now, that I do not KNOW the age of the eartth. This does not mean that there is no good evidence for an ancient Earth, but that I have little respect for the view that the Earth's antiquity is obvious when all dating techinques depend on many layers of assumptions and inferences that could be mistaken. My brother, Julian Menuge is a geo-chronoligist, and this is the case where knowing more about the issues does NOT make it more certain. Too many people confess far too much certainty about a very difficult issue. Remember that in the 19th century materialist dogma led to the majority position that the univers was INFINITELY old, which no-one now believes.

3 points:
(1) Do not be decieved by the appearance that typical Darwinists are experts on the age of the Earth---they are not. Geo-chronology, my brother's discipline, is a highly specialized technical discipline, and most biologists know no more about it than a typical bank-manager, however much they may accept on authority.
(2) I testified as a mere philosopher and so of course did not claim scientific knowledge in the area. My reservations arise because geo-chronology inevitably depends on extrapolating presently observable processes into the past in ways that might be wrong. IF you make certain assumptions, then conventional assumptions of the age of the Earth and universe are perfectly reasonable and intellectually honest--but the assumptions could still be wrong.
(3) NONE of our case in Kansas depended on the age of the Earth, [not a single sentence in our report] so focusing on this is a disingenuous Red Herring which avoids our actual testimony. Beware of the "it's always something else tactic."

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The Evidential Argument from Evil

This anthology, edited by Daniel Howard-Snyder, is pretty much required reading when it comes to present-day discussions of the problem of evil. It contains an important essay by Plantinga and some critical dialogue on both sides.

On the credibility of ID

I think my interest in the question of the icons has gotten obscured. I'm not trying to get people to accept ID. In my present state of knowledge I don't consider myself competent to determine whether ID is correct or not.

The question at hand is whether the textbooks present an overblown case for evolution based on the "icons." When I went to the DI website, I didn't see them claiming that we should teach ID and evolution, didn't see them even use the phrase "teach the controversy," all I saw was an insistence that evolution not be supported by faulty evidence. If that's what they're asking, then isn't that kind of a fair request? If the evolutionists are right, then why should they even want their position defended by bad arguments in textbooks?

The scientific consensus on evolution seems to me to be less than absolute; I take it Michael Behe's scientific credentials are superior to everyone posting on this blog, with maybe the exception of Meyers. In my view, it's going to take years before ID is developed in its strongest form.

At one time the climate in philosophy in favor of atheism was one of almost total domination. There were few Christian philosophers working, and it was thought to be commonplace that intelligent philosophers rejected theism as a matter of course. Now, since the Society of Christian Philosophers was founded, we know that this picture of academic philosophy is false.

Evolution is the paradigm people work with. So even if it suffers from a all sorts of anomalies, there's plenty of normal science to be done within that paradigm, and I don't blame anyone for not taking a serious look at ID. Academic inertia is understandable.

There are certifiable cases of academic hardball that have been played. Can some good evolutionists please remonstrate with the people who play this kind of hardball and let them know that it doesn't help Darwin's cause any? Darwinist Michael Ruse is doing it, bless his heart. He also wrote the preface to Menuge's Agents Under Fire. Now whatever you think of his Kansas testimony, AUF is a tremendous challenge to philosophical naturalism, in many ways better developed than my own book, containing serious arguments which cannot be dismissed as quackery even if you disagree with them. This I can say based on my own expertise in the same field.

I never said that the academic hardball cases prove that there is a conspiracy of silence. What I said is that these cases make it harder to make the case based on academic consensus. If I had a lot at stake on the naturalistic evolutionist side I would be telling my own side "Please, if it's really wrong we don't need to declare academic war on it."

What I think I do know how to do is separate issues and keep confusions from getting in our way. If a defender of ID (or an opponent of ID) thinks that evolution entails atheism, then we need to point out that that confuses issues. Conflating ID with creationism is, I think, a big mistake even if ID advocates really believe in Young Earth Creationism.

The central claim of ID is not simply that intelligent design exists. You can believe, as many Christians working in the field believe, that there the universe was intelligently designed, but at the same time believe that the design is invisible to science and its methods. That's the real issue. We don't even need to say that the designer has to be God. Perhaps what science has to say is that there was a designer, but that we do not know who or what the designer is.

SETI seems to assume that we can discover design without observing the designers, although the kinds of design they look for give us a high antecedent probability that the designers are finite, evolved beings, but at least we don't have to have the evolved beings on hand to make the design inferences, and they could turn out not to be evolved beings.

ID theory, as I understand it, helps me, at least identify some important questions. I have always thought of myself as pretty evolution-friendly, but I have always wondered "Couldn't science figure out that that there was design behind speciation, if the design was there?" I've never wanted to defend a young earth or even attack common ancestry. (I'm just not going to get dismissive of people who do).

If you have an established paradigm, the question is how much tension is it working under. How many anomalies are underneath the surface of the theory. I think attacks on the part of YEC advocates have caused a problem, because it used to be that frank admissions of difficulties with the theory, (which go all the way to Darwin's own chapter of Origin by that very title), are often used to argue that the evolutionists themselves don't really believe in evolution. So I get the impression that evolutionary biologists sometimes engage in more triumphalistic descriptions of their work than is really warranted.

When Jason made a statement in an exchange with BDK that evolutionists were exercising faith at a certain point, I think he was misunderstood. Faith, as Jason was using the term, isn't an irrational leap in the dark, it is facing up to a difficulty with one's own overall convictions without abandoning ship, because of one's overall confidence in the strength of the belief system. I'm sure evolutionists do it, Christians do it, anyone who has a world-view has to engage in faith in just this sense.

I'm thoroughly convinced that ID theory will eventually make a very significant and interesting contribution to our understanding of the world. And they can do this even if there is no designer, or that designer is scientifically invisible.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Angus Menuge on Wells and Ncse

Wells himself has responded to Gishlick at:

There are other relevant papers at Wells' personal site:

What NCSE does not admit is the horrible job the textbooks have done of
mentioning the limitations of the examples they cite, thus giving the
student the impression of far greater certainty than is warranted by the


NCSE on Wells

This is the response from the National Center on Science Education to Wells' Icons of Evolution. It looks reasonable on the face of things. Can anyone provide a response on Wells' behalf?

A debate on Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism on iidb

This is a debate on the Internet Infidels discussion forum on Plantinga's anti-naturalism argument.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Plantinga on evolution

This is Plantinga's discussion of the issues concerning evolution; he clearly does not think that theism rules out evolution; he just thinks that if you are a theist you ought to consider other possibilities.

Judgements here, of course, may differ widely between believer in God and non-believers in God. What for the former is at best a methodological restriction is for the latter the sober metaphysical truth: her naturalism is not merely provisional and methodological, but, as she sees it, settled and fundamental. But believers in God see the matter differently. The believer in God, unlike her naturalistic counterpart, is free to look at the evidence for the Grand Evolutionary Scheme and follows it where it leads, revising that scheme if the evidence is insufficient. She has a freedom not available to the naturalist. The latter accepts the Grand Evolutionary Scheme because from a naturalistic point of view this scheme is the only visible answer to the question what is the explanation of the presence of all these marvelously multifarious forms of life? The Christian, on the other hand, knows that creation is the Lord's; and she isn't blinkered by a priori dogmas as to how the Lord must have accomplished it. Perhaps it was by broadly evolutionary means, but then again perhaps not. At the moment, 'perhaps not' seems the better answer.

The Lippard blog

This is a link to Jim Lippard's blog. Jim is an atheist and responded to my original Argument from Reason paper in Philo a few years back. He has an MA in philosophy but works on internet security for a internet service provider.

On the intellectual vice of fundamentalism

Originally, a fundamentalist was someone who believed in the "five fundamentals" which I indicated earlier. Such Christians were reacting against modernism or liberal theology's tendency to deny what they thought were the essentials of Christian doctrine. In more recent parlance, it has simply become a term of abuse for those more theologically conservative than oneself, as Plantinga points out. But I think fundmantalism also can be a term for a kind of intellectual vice: the vice of being controlled by, and locked into, a system of beliefs, such that anything from outside that system has to be rejected, however insightful it may be. The "fundamentalist" critics of C. S. Lewis are guilty of this; Lewis agrees with them on several important points and has numerous valuable apologetical and spiritucal insights, but, because he doesn't fully agree with them, he is to be denounced. Intellectual opponents aren't just mistaken, there is something really wrong with them, they are enemies, intellectual frauds to be demolished at all costs. When you encounter someone guilty of the vice of fundamentalism, what they want to know from you is "Are you for us or against us. Do you believe all of the Bible (or evolution) or do you believe none of it."

This is a link to "You might be a fundamentalist atheist if" from the Tektonics website. I don't endorse all the content here, and I find Holding to be too much of an ideologue for my taste. All I am saying is that it is possible to be guilty of the intellectual vice of fundamentalism without being a Christian or even a theist.

More on Warfield and Evolution from an ID defender

Who are you calling an evolutionist? Babinski on fundamentalist history

Here is a nice bit of history from Ed Babinski from the talkorigins archive on this history of fundamentalism and the evolution controversy. I would just add the caveat that without further explication, the terms "creationist" and "evolutionist" don't really mean much of anything.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The History of Creationism

A review of Ronald Numbers' book on the history of creationism, detailing how the early fundamentalists did not endorse the Gish-Morris brand of creationism, and how that tradition comes to a very large extent from Seventh-Day Adventists, thought of in many Christian circles as being cultists.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Wells response to criticisms

Wells has responded to several of his critics here:

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Hugh Chandler on the Lewis-Anscombe exchange

I mentioned after returning from Cambridge the fact that at the Oxford half of the meeting (which I did not personally attend), they had an actors' re-enactment of the Lewis-Anscombe exchange, incorporating material from Lewis's original argument, Anscombe's criticisms, Lewis's revision(s), and Anscombe's final comments in the book of her papers. I also pointed out that Anscombe's husband, Peter Geach, was concerned about how his wife would be portrayed. Now in one respect I really do think the dramatization did realize what Geach feared. The presentation ended with a spotlight on Anscombe taking a cigar out of her mouth and saying "I won." I remember expressing some concerns about this to the people who wrote the re-enactment (who for the most part did an outstanding job) because I think philosophy is not mainly about winning and losing. I told my dissertation advisor Hugh Chandler, with whom I spent a long time talking about Lewis v. Anscombe while I was a graduate student at the University of Illinois, and he shared my concerns about it.

I don't think that "I won" ending is fair to Anscombe, or to the discussion.
It is true that she thought that her criticisms of that first version had been just. Presumably Lewis himself took at least some of her objections to heart. His re-working of the first edition argument shows awareness of "the depth and difficulty of the questions being discussed" (Anscombe's generous words).

Both of them, presumably, showed 'honesty and seriousness' in the exchange and afterwards. It wasn't a game. Winning or losing wasn't the point.

The cigar incident was reported by Walter Hooper, and I think is one of the things that has led to a deep misunderstanding of the exchange between the two. It does not reflect Anscombe's mature, reflective understanding of what really happened. I suppose, however, that it did make good drama, but I for one wish it had been omitted.

Has philosophy told us nothing about how we think?

Ahab wrote:

After centuries of theorizing, philosophy has told us virtually zilch about how the mind operates. In fact, much of what it claimed to tell us is now being shown wrong through neuroscientific studies. And as neuroscience advances, the study of mind is going to incrasingly become a scientific matter, just like evolution and gravity are now.

Beg to differ. Philosophy has told us how to distinguish between questions of formal validity and the truths of the premises, and has the familiar list of fallacies was invented by philosophers long before the Scientific Revolution.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Vallicella on God of the Gaps reasoning

This is a a discussion from Vallicella on God of the Gaps reasoning. Check out his critique of Dawkins as well.

C . S. Lewis and marijuana

The following passage, from one of the fundamentalist essays on Lewis, is hilarous.

"In the book A Severe Mercy by Sheldon VanAuken a personal letter is reproduced on page 191 in which Lewis suggests to VanAuken that upon his next visit to England that the two of them “must have some good, long talks together and perhaps we shall both get high.” In light of this, it is interesting that in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lewis’s fantasy children’s tale, a hero named Edmund meets a magical witch who conjures up for him a box of Turkish Delight, which Edmund devours and begs for more. Turkish Delight is a name for hashish."

Of course the Turkish Delight was a candy used by the evil White Witch to entice Edmund to betray his brother and sisters. But let's not allow facts to get in the way of a really good piece of slander.

"I tried it but I didn't inhale." - Bill Clinton

C S Lewis and fundamentalism

We have to be clear on how we're going to use the word fundamentalist. These guys are calling theselves fundamentalists; the term is frequently just a term of abuse applied to people whose religious views are more conservative than one's own, as Alvin Plantinga famously and hilariously points out in Warranted Christian Belief:

"I fully realize that the dreaded f-word will be trotted out to stigmatize [my view]. Before responding, however, we must first look into the use of this term 'fundamentalist'. On the most common contemporary academic use of the term, it is a term of abuse or disapprobation, rather like 'son of a bitch', more exactly 'sonovabitch', or perhaps still more exactly (at least according to those authorities who look to the Old West as normative on matters of pronunciation) 'sumbitch'...

"In addition to its emotive force, it does have some cognitive content, and ordinarily denotes relatively conservative theological views. That makes it more like 'stupid sumbitch' (or maybe 'fascist sumbitch'?) than 'sumbitch' simpliciter. It isn't exactly like that term either, however, because its cognitive content can expand and contract on demand; its content seems to depend on who is using it. In the mouths of certain liberal theologians, for example, it tends to denote any who accept traditional Christianity, including Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Barth; in the mouths of devout secularists like Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett, it tends to denote anyone who believes there is such a person as God...[The term's] cognitive content is given by the phrase 'considerably to the right, theologically speaking, of me and my enlightened friends.' The full meaning of the term, therefore (in this use), can be given by something like 'stupid sumbitch whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of mine'" (Warranted Christian Belief, pp. 244-245).

However, Fundamentalism was originally the defense of five fundamental claims which were defended in a set of pamphlets called The Fundamentals. The Five Fundamentals were initially:

1. The Verbal Inspiration of Scripture
2. The Virgin Birth of Christ
3. The Substitutionary Atonement of Christ
4. The Bodily Resurrection of Christ
5. The Second Coming of Christ.

Lewis staunchly defended 2, 4, and 5. He did not defend 1 or 3. So I guess Lewis is a three-point fundamentalist.

Interestingly there is nothing about denying evolution in the fundamentals, and some of the Fundamentals pamphlets were actually evolution-friendly. So initially, you didn't have to oppose evolution in order to be a fundamentalist!

The Icons of Evolution

Going to the page to find out what they said about the teaching of evolution in schools, I find that some of the complaints have to do with the fact that the textbooks teach myths of "icons" of evolution which have been provide incorrect. Are the claims made about these icons by incorrect?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

A poem about Katrina

This is a poem written by a college student from the University of New Orleans that someone sent me.

Hello my name is Kalli,

And for the time I am 19,

And this may sound alarming,

But I am a refugee.

I lived in Katrina's path.

New Orleans, LA.

And while I've got the world's attention.

I have something I'd like to say.

Let's stop the pointing fingers.

Let's stop saying who's to blame.

Because half my city's under water

And parts are up in flames.

My home maybe crumbling

And some possessions I have lost.

But I do not reproach anyone,

For it is no one's fault.

Now's the time to band together;

To help those who are in need.

Please just stop all this bickering,

And help us refugees.

Now, it's quite true that no human caused the hurricane. Bill Clinton, for example, said that while he had some very strong opinions about how FEMA should be organized, that he would reserve them until the relief efforts were further along.

However, we do elect political leaders, and when we elect them we have to ask who is sufficiently in touch with "the least of our brethren" to preside over those who have been victimized. We also have to ask whether the wind and rain have not the mask of the ugly face of racism in America. We have to ask if we were battling against the last tragedy when we were fighting this one (Bush made FEMA a sub-department of Homeland Security, even though there is an obvious difference between securing oursevles against an enemy and helping those suffering from a natural catastrophe). And did it also tear the mask off of condescending attitutes toward the poorest classes that we have been carrying around? My family and I are involved in the relief effort, but it's not an either-or between helping out on the one hand and asking how we can make our culture and government better able to assist when these situations arise in the future.

C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Theology

Apparently some Fundamental Baptists are warning people about C. S. Lewis.

Is methodological naturalism relevant to intelligent design?

If an earlier post about this is on target, the answer may very well be no. It looks as if if we develop a scientific method for detecting design, then there is no reason based on methodological naturalism not to use the method and accept the claim that a designer is responsible. The identification of the designer as outside of space and time, or in space and time, can be done independently from the detection of design itself, and will probably have to be based on the antecedent credence function of the individual scientist. That is, the scientist who says that speciation on earth is the result of intelligent design may believe that the designer is the Abrahamic God, but perhaps should not include that as a part of the actual scientific theory.

Apparently the scientists responsible for SETI are prepared to determine what messages were designed without knowing (but only surmising) that they are products of extraterrestrial evolution. It would take an implausibly strong version of methodological naturalism to claim that we cannot infer design unless we are now in a position to explain the existence of the designers natuarlistically. But you need a version of methodolgical naturalism that strong to rule out intelligent design.

By the way, wouldn't it greatly help the intelligent design debate if people would refrain from using terms like "supernatural," "God", "religion," and "creationism". The central theses of ID can be states without reference to any of these, and using them invariably confuses the issue. Design inferences can establish a designer, they need not necessarily establish God. You can believe that the designer is God without making that a part of your theory.

Let them eat cake

A fundamental problem for Christians who are also political conservatives is reconciling the biblical requirements to be compassionate toward the poor with conservative reluctance to involve the government in social welfare. The standard conservative response is to say that conservatives can be as compassionate as liberals, they just don't want the federal government leading the charge to help the poor. It is true that liberals and conservatives alike are giving of themselves to help the displaced citizens of New Orleans who, for the most part, were to impoverished to leave town. However if when the head of FEMA says he was surprised at how many people stayed behind, we get a sense that the leaders of the administration are out of touch. And this comment, by "Queen Mother" Barbara Bush, reinforces that impression:

"And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this (she chuckled slightly)--this is working very well for them."

Monday, September 05, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

I've said nothing so far about Hurricane Katrina. I am simply stunned that the infrastucture of one of America's great cities has collapsed. The winds and the sea have done what bin Laden could not do.

The response on the part of our leaders seems to be underwhelming. FEMA in particular seems to be hung up on bureaucracy when people are dying. Although I share his Christian faith, I have never been a fan of George W. Bush, and I've seen nothing in the past few days that inspires confidence in his administration. I can't help remembering that he responded well to the four hurricanes in his brother's home state of Florida, which was a swing state in the upcoming election. Am I being cynical in thinking that the response would have been better if there were presidential votes at stake?

Rather than being a tragedy that unites us as Americans, like 9/11, this is a tragedy that accentuates the differences between rich and poor, black and white. There is no outisde enemy who did this to us, there is no one to whom we can sing, "We'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American way."

I do not know if this will shake faith in God, or strengthen it. If we have been sustaining our faith in God by believing that whatever is wrong in the rest of the world, it can't happen here, then our faith has been a faith worth shaking.

This column, by George Will, is worth reading.


One claim we often hear from advocates of ID is that scientists do seem willing to make inferences to designers when it is thought that the existence of those designers can be explained naturalistically. For example, thoroughgoing naturalists such as the late Carl Sagan was a leader in the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, checking messages from outer space for signs of intelligence, and using the criteria we ordinarily use to figure out whether something was designed to determine the possible presence of intelligence in outer space.

Now admittedly we do frequently make design inference in human affairs when we human designers are available to explain the presence of design. Thus if I am playing poker, I ought to use the best reasoning I can to determine whether the dealer is dealing hands randomly, or whether those hands reflect an intelligent design to affect the outcome of the game and take home the lion's share of the cash. But in these cases the designers well known, and there is scientific work taking place which attempts to account for human action naturalistically.

Now I pointed out in chapter 6 of my book that these teleological explanations work, allow us to make predictions and form expectations, with or without either an actual naturalistic reduction of human action or even the potential for such a reduction. If someone says "Reppert goes to church on Sunday morning because he is a Christian who believes in public worship," and it turns out that this teleological explanation cannot be analysed in terms of the activities of more basic stuff that is explained in some mechanistic way, this in no way invalidates the explanation. In fact, if you want to know why I go to church, my beliefs and desires will go a lot further toward providing an adequate explanation than a comprehensive neurophysiological map. Denigrating such explanations as "skyhooks" does nothing to undermine their explanatory power.

Now, as I pointed out, naturalistic scientists are willing to accept "design" explanations for messages from space without any worry about their methodological naturalism because of the potential for a naturalistic analysis of the intelligence once its source is discovered. Evolution by random variation and natural selection could have take place on another planets, if there is life on other planets. To deny this would be to be either stupid, ignorant, insane or wicked.

But what if we get messages from outer space, and we use those messages to cure cancer, find peace in the Middle East, put an end to terrorism, etc. Suppose we then get a message from space that says "Here is how you build a spacecraft to get to where these message come from. I want you to know who I am." We build the ships, go to the source planet, and find the place to be lifeless. There is no evidence that there has ever been life on this planet. No signs of evolution whatsoever. However, there we find one stone tablet with one word: YHWH in Hebrew, I am who I am.

This scenario is a little different from the one I had discussed once with atheist philosopher Keith Parsons years ago. I had told Keith his views on miracles made it impossible for God to reasonably persuade him that He exists, and Keith said,"No, if the stars in the Virgo cluster were to spell out the words "Turn or Burn, This Means You Parsons," he would turn. This case is different in that we have been making inferences to a designer all along, thinking that the designer must no doubt be a naturalistically evolved designer. Then we discover that we were wrong, and that the designers are not natural entities.

Shouldn't naturalists and anti-naturalists be making the same design inferences, and pushing the dispute back to the question of who or what the designers are?