Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The stats on abortion

This post, from Evangelical Outpost, explains the data that I think Doug Gresham was referring to, a little better.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Alan Rhoda's blog

This is a link to Alan Rhoda's blog, a visiting assistant professor at University of Nevada at Las Vegas.

Ruse against Dennett

Apparently there is a denominational dispute amongst Darwin's bulldogs.

Lewis and demons

Here's something I wrote on a usenet in response to an inquiry by Steven about Lewis and demons.

How did Lewis think he could trust his senses or his reasoning that
materialism was false, when he believed demons could attack his senses
and his reasoning?

Steven: I'll take a shot at this one. I take it from your website that
you are an admirer of Carl Sagan, who is, among other things, one of
the founding fathers of SETI or the Search for Extra-Terrestrial
Intelligence. But believing in the mere possibility of demonic attack
doesn't do a whole lot to undermine belief in one's reasoning, any
more than admitting the possibility that one's senses or one's
reasoning might possible, after all, be tampered with by ETs. And you
don't get terribly concerned because the principle that the future
will resemble the past cannot be proved beyond all possible doubt,
which means that the laws of physics might change tomorrow. Even if
you admit that it *might* happen, we have every reason to ignore the
possibility that it *will* happen.

Demons, according to Christianity, are finite beings in a world in which God is sovereign,
and so the powers of demons will be limited to what God permits.

Actually, Lewis did use a version of the Argument from Reason to
criticize one form of theism, the theological voluntarist view that
our concept of goodness, when it is applied to God, cannot in any way
be commensurated with our concept of goodness when applied to, say,
human beings. If for example, you are a Calvinist and say that God has
predestined most people to Hell, and I reply that that would be unjust
for God to effective damn people and then to determine the choices
that get them damned, then if you are a TV you will say that the fact
that these actions don't fit with the ordinary conception of human
goodness only shows that you are totally depraved, and that what we
mean when we say "God is good" just means "God does what God does." If
that's so, God's being good wouldn't prevent God from damning all the
Christians, or breaking all His promises, or putting us in the grip of
some massive delusion. If that's the case then we have no reason to
heed God even when he tells us to turn or burn, because for all we
know he could burn us after we turned, just for fun. The existence of
theological voluntarist God, if He were to exist, would, on Lewis's
view be just as incompatible with the validity of reasoning as
naturalism is. (The argument is in A Grief Observed, and I discuss it
in the opening chapter of *C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea.*)

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Doug Gresham on abortion

Doug Gresham, C. S. Lewis's stepson, reported this on abortion.

To anyone interested :

The Researches of various entities, collated by the International
Institute of Pregnancy Loss and Child Abuse Research and Recovery,
which finished its preliminary work a couple of years ago, indicated
that the differential in suicide numbers in young mothers who
aborted their infants and those who carried to term and delivered
their babies and kept them is 75%. In other words carrying to term
and keeping your baby would be a sort of anti-psychotic treatment in
prevention of suicide in young mothers with a 75% success rate.
Pretty darn good I reckon.

On the other hand, abortion would carry a 75% higher risk of causing
abortion in the young mothers who suffer it. Can't really see the FDA
authorising a so-called treatment with that kind of result, can you?

Blessings all,

Doug (G) (Travelling currently as usual).

Saturday, February 25, 2006

An interesting essay on Darwin

From American Enterprise Institute online.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Hear C. S. Lewis's voice here

This is a link to the only surviving portion of Lewis's broadcasts that eventually became Mere Christianity. It is from the final book, Beyond Personality. HT: Andrew from Spare Oom.

The History of Open Theism

Apparently Open theism has been around awhile, and was not invented by William Hasker.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

A Quotation from Plato's Phaedo

A quotation from Socrates' Phaedo 90b-e, which provides an interesting preface to arguments from reason.

"We should not allow into our minds the conviction that argumentation has nothing sound about it ..."

HT: Matt Paulson

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

New C. S. Lewis blog

This is a new C. S. Lewis blog, featuring an interview with Bruce Edwards.

John Wesley's classic attack on Calvinism

I read "Free Grace" when I was 19. It's still the classic critique of Calvinism.

An excellent piece on verificationism from Michael Sudduth

Sean Choi's blog

Sean Choi has has own blog, here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

New York Times' Review of Dennett

Appparently the reviewer for the NYT is not overly impressed with Dennett. Bill Vallicella, over at http://maverickphilsopher.powerblogs.com, is not overly impressed with Dennett either.

Donald Williams from SpareOom comments on ID

DW: I finally got around to reading the article someone
(Mary?) posted on evolution from the Washington Post.
The author tries to present a balanced view of the
controversy, but fails miserably to do so, presenting
a horribly unfair caricature of the Intelligent Design
(ID) argument.

ID is presented as an argument from silence,
equivalent to the mere claim that science has not yet
explained organs like the rotifer or the eye, as if
that were evidence against naturalistic evolution. But
this completely misrepresents Michael Behe's argument
in Darwin's Black Box. Behe does not simply claim
that Science has not explained irreducible complexity;
he argues that Natural Selection CANNOT explain it.
Since organs consisting of many coordinated parts
impart no survival advantage until they are complete
because they cannot work at all until they are
complete, natural selection provides no mechanism
whereby the many random mutations allegedly leading to
such organs could be preserved until they are all
ready to work together. Behe and other ID theorists
hope science will in fact explain such organs, but
they argue that natural selection by its very nature
will not and cannot be that explanation. And
evolutionists simply dismiss their argument without
responding to it.

I find it difficult to understand how anyone committed
to honesty and fairness could actually have read
Darwin's Black Box, which is not the least bit unclear
about this, and then misrepresent it so badly. It
tempts one to fling back in the face of the
evolutionist camp Dawkins' claim that anyone who
disbelieves evolution is either ignorant or stupid.
Anyone who could characterize ID as badly as this
article does either has not bothered to read the ID
material and hence is therefore ignorant, or is being
blantantly dishonest and deliberately unfair (I
eliminate stupidity as an explanation based on the
rest of the article). The argument that critics of
evolution are being treated very badly by the
establishment is upheld, if you actually know anything
about ID, in ways that simply do not comport with the
author's deceptively evenhanded tone.

If evolutionists want to convince us that Lewis was
right to refer to evolution as a "great myth," they
are surely going about it the right way. Science as
such has nothing to do with the way Darwin's critics
are being treated.

Depoe on Internalism and the AFR

This is in response to Depoe's recent blog post on the AFR.

I don't have Hasker's book with me at the moment, but Hasker does say that a thoroughgoing externalism would be incompatible with his version of the AFR. Though on my multi-track model Plantinga's argument would be a way to get the argument going if you were an externalist.

Still, the argument is not about general theories of epistemic justification, but is rather about the fact when an atheist uses the argument from evil, or a scientist uses a mathematical equation to support a thesis in math, in order for it to be what the arguer from evil says it is, or in order for it to be the kind of mathematical inference the scientist says it is, there has to be an understanding of the propositions, a perception of a logical rule, and the reaching of the conclusion through a process of inference, the perception of what Lewis calls a ground-consequent relationship. Simply having a "black-box" reliable belief-producing mechanism is not enough to make these processes "as advertised." Internalists are good at these kinds of inferences. What they are not so good at are cases like, well, Steven Nash knowing when to pass the ball to Shawn Marion to get a dunk against the Spurs. :)

I'm not sure I have a general theory of epistemic justification that covers all cases. But reliabilism doesn't cut the mustard in the cases of scientific and philosophical inference.

Testimonies of a Former Presuppositionalist

The comments of Sean Choi, AKA the metaphysician, on this blog, are very interesting.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Mere Christianity Book III Chapter 7

Mere Christianity
Book III, Ch. 7
In a previous chapter Lewis had said that chastity was the most unpopular Christian virtue.
But he is not sure he was right. The rule he wants to talk about today, forgiving our neighbors, is even more unpopular.
We are to love our neighbors as ourselves, and that means our enemies.
“Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until there is something to forgive, as we had during the war.”( Remember, Lewis is writing from England, which suffered through bombings against its civilian population. The broadcasts were done during the war, the book was put together later, which is why he is talking about the war is if it were past.)
How would you like it if you were a Pole of a Jew suffering at the hands of the Nazis?
The closest thing that we Americans can come to something comparable is al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks.
Forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Forgiveness is offered to us in no other grounds.
Two things make it easier.
1) Start with the people nearest us—your husband, your wife, etc.
2) Understand exactly what loving and forgiving our neighbor is.
It is not feeling fond of people who do wrong.
Do I think of myself as a nice chap?
Well, sometimes I do, but those are my worst moments. Yet even when I realize that I am not good I still love myself. So loving my enemies does not mean thinking them nice either.
Christian teaches say you must hate a bad man’s sin but love the sinner.
I used to think that this was a silly, straw-splitting distinction.
But then he realized he had been doing this all his life to himself. He hated his own sin but loved the sinner, himself.
We are not to reduce by one atom the hatred that we feel toward, say, treachery.
The test is this. Suppose we hear that our enemy has done a lot of terrible things. Then we get the news that it might not be so bad. Do we hope that our enemy is really as bad as we thought they were, and are disappointed that there it really wasn’t so bad.
If you are a Christian and guilty of a capital crime you must turn yourself in and be hanged.
It is perfectly just for a Christian judge to sentence a man to death and perfectly just for a Christian soldier to kill the enemy.
(Unlike Lewis, I have real problems with the death penalty. We had someone released from prison in Arizona who had been convicted of murder because DNA evidence showed that he wasn’t guilty. If he had been executed, what could the state have done, put flowers on the grave?)
But, in any event, a Christian judge can be justified in giving a severe sentence to a guilty person.
Lewis (a WWI veteran) also defends Christians fighting in war. He says that the John the Baptist and Jesus did not tell soldiers to leave the military, and mentions the Christian knight, who fights for good causes.
(Again, I am a good deal less sanguine about war than is Lewis. I believe in the just war theory, but what Lewis doesn’t tell you is that before Constantine Christians did not believe that that combat service was not something that a Christian was obligated to render unto Caesar. He also does not mention (although he does mention it in other places) the blood shed by Christians in the name of God, most notably the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Wars of Religion. On the other hand, Lewis did think that Christians should refuse to bomb civilian populations as members of the military).
But the main point is that loving one’s neighbor does not exclude very severe action against other persons, up to and including killing.
He even thinks that Christian soldiers should engage in combat with joyousness. (Though I don’t see how this harmonizes with what he says later about not enjoying punishing others).
If I act against my enemy, how can I still love him? Christians believe that the human creature lives forever, and that it is gradually becoming either a heavenly creature or a hellish creature. “We may kill if necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy hating. We must punish if necessary, but we must not enjoy it. The feeling of resentment…must simply be killed.”
You must love those who are not lovable. But then you love yourself, and you’re not lovable.

The latest on presuppositionalism

Actually, I was holding it up as an example of how NOT to do presuppositional apologetics. Wilson makes the mistake of emphasizing presuppositionalist distinctives when he should have been simply debating.

First of all, it is really important for a presuppositional apologist to do his or her homework on epistemic circularity. Van Til's writings on this matter have apparently confused not only his enemies (ro whom it looks as if they can easily refute him) but his followers as well.

Second, I am not sure that the transcendental argument from reason supports specifically Christian theism, or whether if your opponent is, say, a unitarian theist of some kind, there is some other transcendental argument that applies. If that's true, you should probably avoid saying that the TA from reason actually establishes trinitarian theism.

It may be that Lewis's apologetics as a whole supports an Anglican-Arminian understanding of Christianity, but that AFR strikes me as pretty neutral between that view and the classical Reformed theology that underwrites presuppositional apologetics.

I also think that the Van Tilian emphasis on suppressing the truth is a respectable and intelligent position for which biblical support can be given. I do not think that the rhetorical statement that there are really no atheists is equally respectable. I think people who say the latter are really trying to say the former; if so, just say the former and avoid embarrassing your own message by saying the latter.

A Calvinist dating service-From John Depoe's site. And a couple of slogans from me

From John's site: I received the following entertaining e-mail from a close source who wishes to remain anonymous. The writer is responding to yesterday's post on the Calvinist dating service. This comes from a friend with whom I regularly correspond, so don't get any funny ideas about sending me hilarious rants.
I wanted to email you anyway, so I thought I'd use a slice of the Calvinist dating service as a segue. I found especially ironic the following line:

"The first 300 members to join will be totally free. After that, you may still join free but to contact others one must be a subscriber. Join us, won't you??"

If I were pitching the service, I wouldn't be able to resist including the tag line: "Well, maybe not TOTALLY free..." Or better yet, instead of the second sentence, you could include: "After that, you may still join free but in a qualified, compatibilist sense that is still fully consistent with divine justness!"

No matter. I think my Molinist-Calvinist hybrid view disqualifies me from being involved. That and the fact that I'm married.

I added: Hey John, a Calvinist dating service sounds like a good idea, but they need a couple of good slogans. How about

You can't say no to Irresistible Grace!

Don't give her roses, give her TULIPs!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Reply to Randy

Randy said...
Looks to me like you've missed Mr. Carr's point completely.
Non-rational causes are quite capable of generating rational effects.
Ergo, simply because the brain is a physical entity, one cannot in principle exclude it's ability to reason.
You seem to have a phobia of physicality. What difference, other than apologetical, does it make if the mind is based on physical processes?

By the way, you analogy of the scrambled sentence is not at all to the point.
An alien who had no idea of the rules of chess would, after watching a computer chess program, come to recognize the patterns inherent in it. She might give different names to the chess pieces and their moves, but she would have a pretty good idea of what a knight or a rook was capable of doing, for example.

And it seems sort of meaningless to point out the obvious fact that the computer is not aware it is playing chess. Is anyone here really arguing for that silly claim?

Also, if you can find a chance to respond to the question I posted just before Mr. Carr's, regarding reason and basic explanations, I'd much appreciate it. I still am unable to make heads or tails of it. Thanks.

4:56 PM

It all depends on what you mean by "physical." If all something has to do to be physical is to occupy space, then I have no argument against the existence of a "physical" mind in that sense. If what is required for something to be physical is that reasons explanations cannot be fundamental explanations, then I think there is a problem, because I don't think the idea of ratiomality emerging from a system of events which is non-rational at its core is, on my view, incoherent.

The non-rational properties of matter, on the materialist view, are sufficient to guarantee that the atoms and molecules in the brain go where they go. (Unless there's brute chance involved, and that's not rationality either).

The computer story really doesn't help because we really don't look at a computer as a computer unless we presuppose that it was designed by someone, and if some rational being provides a context of meaning in which the activities of the computer make sense.

The point about the computer is that meaning is only meaning for someone. An alien might conclude that there was a game going on in the computer on the assumption that there was someone for whom that pieces in the game had meaning. And the alien would be wrong about that. What the alien took to be meaningful would in fact lack meaning, except for the meaning that the alien would invent for himself.

Even if we explain the mental in terms of the biological, the biological in terms of the chemcial, and the chemical in terms of the physical, we have to wonder why the laws of physics are the way they are and not some other way. And a materialist will have to answer that this is an ultimate brute fact about the way things are. It is a brute fact, however, that is completely non-mental. There are no intentions at the bottom of everything. That is, I take it, what Dennett means when he says "no skyhooks." It's my argument that there have to be intentions at the bottom of everything in order for reasoning to be possible.

The letter I posted from Darek Barefoot a few posts back might be helpful in this regard.

More on Computers

Steven wrote: 'Imagine a possible world just like ours, except that in that world chess is never invented.'

What is the point of this thought experiment?

That the laws of chess are not causally relevant to machines if there are no laws of chess?

True, but trivial.

I don't understand Victor's point.

It seems as pointless as claiming that if money had not been invented, and we saw people exchanging pieces of paper with pictures of human beings on it in return for services, then they are not using money.

Is Victor really claiming that if we see a computer program we don't understand, we can guarantee that the computer is not manipulating higher level concepts than the atoms and molecules that he insists are the only things materialists cna use in there explanations.

Computers are not sources of meaning. They are "meant meaners" and not "unmeant meaners." The words I'm typing right now are physically different in shape from the nonsense. But the fact that these sentences are meaningful and other arrangements of letter are not, say like "wkrti gnytre hbsotu auoe" are not, has to do with rational human beings and their decision processes. Even if that statement above means "White mates in three" in some language, it means nothing either to me or to you.

The last time Fritz waxed my tail end in chess (a depressingly frequent occurrence) it was not a chess victory from Fritz's point of view. Fritz has no point of view, and neither does the Compaq Presario I run it on. It was a defeat from my point of view, and if anyone who knew chess was watching, from their point of view.

An old post on the argument from computers

the argument from computers

I did this post back in May on the argument from computers, and since Steven has brought this up again. I have also included two comments that were included at the time. And like David, I don't offhand see how this is a problem for Calvinists. I should point out that I have had to make this clarification because of critics like Steven.

Perhaps one of the most frequently used arguments against the various arguments from reason is that computers are undeniably physical systems, computers reason, and therefore physical systems reason. Now it is not enough to respond to this argument by saying that human beings, who according to the arguments, are not purely physical systems, created the computers. Of course they did, but the naturalist might respond by saying that regardless of how the computers got there, they reason. But it isn't just that humans made the computers, they also provide the framework of meaning in which the activity of the computer can be regarded as "reasoning." The intentionality found in the computer is derived intentionality, not original intentionality.

Consider the following. Imagine a possible world just like ours, except that in that world chess is never invented. Along with my fellow card-carrying members of the Guild of Chess-Playing Philosophers I call this world I for Impovershed. In I, a pair of computers, connected to one another, miraculously appears in the Gobi desert and goes through all the physical states which, in our world, occurred in a chess game between Fritz and Shredder in the World Computer Championship. The question is, did these computers play chess? Since chess was never invented in I, since no terms in the world refer to "rook," "bishop," "king" "exchange sac" "en passant" or "Dragon Variation," I suggest that these "computers" did not play a chess game.

posted by Victor Reppert @ 8:19 AM     


At 10:21 AM, Brandon said…

yes, exactly. I never understood how a set of neurons firing could express intent. What causes the brain to intend? If physicalism is true it must be some state machine, perhaps built from conception and conditioned by environmental inputs to run the way it does. If it is a state machine then it is not, by definition, intent. It is merely the illusion of intent, or emulated intent.
This then narrows the definition of intent to be the appearance of self-actuation (rather than actual self-actuation) Which means of course that I can do whatever I want since responsibility doesn't exist. In it's place is neuro-chemical fate set in motion by stardust of ages gone by.
Incidentally, this problem provides difficulty not only for physicalists, but also calvinists.

At 1:47 PM, David said…

How is this a problem for Calvinists?


Paul Manata wrote:
I defend and explain Van Tilian circularity here:


VR: So Paul, can you see that Wilson has misapplied the Van Tillian understanding of circularity?

At best, we would have to say that Van Til has set himself up for serious misunderstandings, deceiving even the very elect (Wilson).

I have argued in a 1992 paper that the argument that eliminative materialism is self-refuting does not viciously beg the question, as the Churchlands had charged, and in the process I developed an analysis of vicious circularity.

Reppert, V. (1992). Eliminative Materialism, Cognitive Suicide, and Begging the Question. Metaphilosophy 23: 378-92.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Summary of the discussion with Steve Hays

I maintained that even if the self-deception theory goes through, then we still should say that there are atheists, however self-deceived they may be. I don't think Hays responded to that beyond saying that it was a boring semantical issue. I just think that Christian apologists should not be making absurd claims (even if it turns out the obvious meaning is not what is intended).

I posed some questions about exegetical basis for the self-deception claims, asking, for example, if they are really meant to be applied to individuals as opposed to pagans as a whole. I was told that these passages refer to "the unregenerate," which of course merely asserts the standard Reformed exegesis of the relevant passage, which I was calling into question. Hays pointed out that there are relevant passages, which I am sure there is, but we have to focus somewhere, and I wanted to point out that there is more than one way to interpret the relevant passages.

I also indicated being closer to C. S. Lewis than to Francis Schaeffer on inerrancy (the difference between these two views on inerrancy is laid out in Burson and Walls' book on those two apologists).

I also argued that my study of the reasons for believing and denying belief in God convinced me that reasons could be given both for and against the existence of God, and that based on my study of the reasons on both sides I could not see why one would have to be in self-deception to be a non-believer. It is possible to honestly hold the view that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq even if there were none, and it is possible to honestly hold the view that God does not exist even though God does exist. I can sympathise with someone who rejects theism based on, say, the problem of evil. I have seen plenty of intellectual dishonesty in the atheist camp, but not enough to make a sweeping judgment.

Now, if I could be convinced that God was telling me that these people are really self-deceived and that I am wrong in my assessment of the evidence for and against God, then that would be another matter, but my reading of the relevant passages and my understanding of Scripture permit me to go with my common sense on this matter.

Manata vs. Loftus on Calvinism

From The Daily Show on the Cheney shooting

Jon Stewart: "I'm joined now by our own vice-presidential firearms mishap analyst, Rob Corddry. Rob, obviously a very unfortunate situation. How is the vice president handling it?

Rob Corddry: "Jon, tonight the vice president is standing by his decision to shoot Harry Wittington. According to the best intelligence available, there were quail hidden in the brush. Everyone believed at the time there were quail in the brush.

My paper on miracles from Internet Infidels

Monday, February 13, 2006

Phil Steiger reviews my book

See also the comments.

Fernandes on Van Til

This is Phil Fernandes' summary of Van Til, with some fair and balanced responses.

Friday, February 10, 2006

More Darek Barefoot on the AFr

Darek Barefoot has put a lot of effort into making sense of the Argument from Reason. Here's what he sent me a couple of years ago.

A general observation about AfR:  In popular and semi-popular
treatments of the mind/brain problem I notice the persistent appeal
to "emergent properties."  Two such features I have seen cited more
than once are heat and liquidity.  Neither quality has any descriptive
relevance to a single atom, which is another way of saying that the
emergence of heat and liquidity in aggregates of atoms are not
predictably related to its individual constituents.  The same is true,
so the argument goes, of consciousness and conscious attributes of
mind such as rationality.  Rationality is just another emergent propery that
we cannot hope to relate to its individualized material

The way I would prefer to attack this facile strategy is to point out
that system features such as heat and liquidity are natural because
they are sensible (here meaning "available to the senses," of
course).  They therefore lie beyond the same unbridgeable gulf that
separates consciousness and rationality from the rest of nature.

It is hard to conceive of a definition of "nature" that is not somehow
grounded in sensory experience.  Only through my senses do I
learn that two elements with certain characteristics may combine
to form a compound that has yet a third set of characteristics, and
only by further sensory exploration do I learn more about the
chemical process by which this occurs.  But it is not by the same
sensory means that I learn that two thoughts may be combined to
yield a third thought that constitutes a rational insight.  It is
inconceivable that scientific study of brain chemistry will give me
an enhanced understanding of logic, since my analysis of brain
function will be wholly dependent upon the understanding of rational
inquiry I bring to such analysis in the first place.  True, my
sense of sight allows me to read a book on applied logic, but that
hardly qualifies as sensory exploration of the physical brain
states/events that occur during rational thought.

Yet another line of attack this opens up has to do with the tentative
status of facts that are based on sensory data.  All such facts are
potentially disconfirmable by further sensory data (again, Hume gets
some credit for the clarity with which he addressed this), although
the index of probability for many of these facts is extraordinarily
high.  But consciousness and rationality are clearly distinguished by
this test.  No data received through my senses could conceivably
put me in doubt about my own consciousness or my own rationality--
at least not at the time such data is received.  If I understand a
doctor's report to say that my mental state is hopelessly demented,
then either I am experiencing an exceptional moment of lucidity or,
alternatively, I am hallucinating, in which case the report is not
actually sensory data.  It is not that the receipt of such genuinely
sensory information as would put me in doubt about my
consciousness or rationality is imaginable but monumentally
unlikely, the way it would be unlikely for a space alien to suddenly
appear and explain to me that the four walls of this room are some
kind of energetic projection rather than wood and plasterboard.  It is
rather that the receipt of such doubt-inducing data about my
consciousness and rationality is utterly unimaginable.  Descartes,
for all his failings, did get a few things right.


Thursday, February 09, 2006

More on inalienable rights

Another redated post on inalienable rights.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005
The Argument from Inalienable Rights
In the series on inalienable human rights, I have been working on the possibility of a moral argument for theism based on the idea that we have inalienable human rights. The argument is a spinoff of a more typical type of moral argument, found in people like C. S. Lewis and C. Stephen Evans, which goes as follows:

1. (Probably) unless there is a God, there cannot be objectively binding moral obligations.
2. But there are objectively binding moral obligations.
3. Therefore (probably) there is a God.

Now, why do I introduce the idea of inalienable rights? Because I think some people who might be inclined to deny premise 2 in the argument might be strongly inclined to accept the idea that we have inalienable rights. And because the Declaration of Independence says that we have these rights in virtue of our having been created equal.

Now I think I can use successfully argue that someone who rejects 2 must reject Jefferson's statement that we have inalienable rights. What Jefferson is claiming is that is that if the King deprives a citizen of life, liberty, or the opportunity to pursue happiness, if the laws of the State permit the king to do this, and the king gets away with it and goes unpunished, the king nevertheless has acted wrongly. It implies that there is a "natural law" over and above the laws of the state or the decrees of the king.

Perhaps the first time we see this kind of a claim made is in story of David and Bathsheba. David impregnates Bathsheba, arranges her husband Uriah's death in battle, and then admits Bathsheba to his harem. The prophet Nathan gets David to admit that he violated Uriah's rights and therefore deserved to die, based on the claim that the law of God stands above the acts of the king. In polytheistic countries, no such Divine law would have been recognized. The king would have arranged a neck operation for Nathan's foolish effrontery, and that would have been the end of it. What sets David apart from other kings of the time is not the fact that he took the woman he wanted, but that he recognized a law above his own decrees.

Do natural inalienable rights exist if atheism is true? To borrow J. L. Mackie's terminology, this seems to be a queer kind of fact to exist in a naturalistic universe. Typically naturalists claim that what is true about the world can be discovered by some variant of the natural sciences. Physics looks at the really basic stuff, chemistry looks at chemically bonded physical stuff, biology looks at living systems of matter, psychology looks at living systems when they have mental states, sociology looks at systems of creatures with mental states as the relate to one another socially. It's hard to see how anything discoverable by any of these sciences entails the claim that we have inalienable human rights.

So it seems to be that a theistic argument could be forumated as follows;

1. (Probably) unless there is a God, there cannot be inalienable human rights.
2. There are inalienable human rights.
Therefore 3. (Probably) there is a God.

But of course the argument can go the other way. Someone could use the following argument:
1. same as above
2. There is not God.
Therefore 3. Probably there are no inalienable human rights. See the Wallace article I reference in the previous post.
posted by Victor Reppert @ 12:30 PM

At 6:38 PM, Playwrighter said…

One other point regarding David & God. God wanted David to steal Bathsheeba. After all, his son by her was his heir.....

Dale Andersen

At 7:21 PM, Rakshasas said…

I'm simply confused by the entire argument that rights must require a God.

You can argue that God is the uncaused source of moral rights, but then will reject the atheist claim that moral rights can be properly basic.

Why must the source of morality be God and not morality itself?

At 8:31 AM, Victor Reppert said…

Rakshasas: I suppose you could have a metaphysics that isn't specifically theistic that in which objects with moral properties can be fundamental entities. Most versions of naturalism reject this; for the naturalist the universe, at its base, is closed, mechanistic (non-purposive) and everything in it is there because that mechanistic substrate is the way it is. The fundamental causes at work in the universe, if naturalism is true, are amoral; morality "emerges" through evolution as a set of rules that people make up to get along. There is a lack of fit between the fundamental objects of the univese and the existence of inalienable rights. I don't see how the argument works from any physicalistically acceptable description of me as a person to the statement that I have inalienable rights.

God, on the other hand, accoding to the tradition, has moral essential properties. God does't just happen to love, God is love. I suppose you could argue that the universe has moral characteristics essentially, but that would be to give the universe at least one God-like characteristic.

With respect to David and God, the point I was making was that Nathan was insisting that even as king, David could not rightfully deprive him of his life and his property (I think that's how they would have thought of it in those days; feminism was still centuries away)
And Scripture teaches very clearly that God can use bad things for good; that doesn't make them any less bad.

Championing the rights of the weaker against the stronger is a characteristic of the Jewish-Christian-Islam tradition that we don't find in the ancient world outside those traditions, at least not as a rule. For example, the rights of infants not to suffer infanticide was unheard of in the Roman Empire apart from the Christian community.

At 11:48 AM, Rakshasas said…

Championing the rights of the weaker against the stronger is a characteristic of the Jewish-Christian-Islam tradition that we don't find in the ancient world outside those traditions, at least not as a rule.Please. It's a component of several Buddhist texts, of several Hindi texts, and is present in a multitude of more primative religions.

And while it's present in Christianity, it's regularly ignored.

Let' see . ..

Constantine had several hundred Christian families executed (totalling over 3000 victimes, mostly women and children) because he felt they were heretical in their beliefs.

Charlemagne had 4500 Saxon men women and children beheaded in one morning because they wouldn't convert.

In the 600's, the Jews were banished from Spain, those that didn't wish to leave were enslaved, women and children alike, and given by the governing lords to Christians.

In 1122 Christian crusaders slaughtered women and children in Jerusalem until, by one account, "their horses were knee deep in blood. We then went to the church to thank the Lord for his mercy."

The Spanish Inquisition of Isabella's time tortured and exectued numerous women and children as well as Men.

In England, we have a lovely history of women being burned at the stake for witchcraft, and beheaded for being Catholic.

Across Christiandom you have the slaughter of entire families for heresy, a practice nearly as old as Christiandom itself.

So yeah, maybe it's a big part of the religous doctrine, but it doesn't stop the priests from sodomizing little boys and then suing the US government claiming they have first ammendment protections because they're a religious body so they shouldn't have to pay for it.

At 12:56 PM, Victor Reppert said…

I'm quite sure Christians exploit others. Of course the Hindu and Buddhist teachings come out of non-naturalistic world-views, even though they aren't theistic, but I should have qualified my statement further. Though of course you have the practice of encouraging suttee, etc, in the Hindu traditions.

As for Christian atrocities, of course. People fail to live up to their principles. Does the name Sally Hemmings ring a bell, so to speak? But it is perfectly possible that someone can believe, and have the metaphysical basis for believing, that people should be treated in one way, and then treat them in another way.

On the other hand, the only time atheism was the state ideology was under communism in the Soviet bloc. That is what atheists have done with political power, so far. That is why I don't like political movements in the name of Christ. If Christian faith is the way to get political power, then people will use the religion to exercise power, or misuse the political power they have to advance their religion. And it doesn't matter one bit whether or not the religion is theistic or atheistic.

In fact, if you don't have hypocrites, it's a bad thing, it means your moral standard are too low.

But this is a different issue: does theism provide metaphysical grounds for the idea of inalienable rights which atheism does not?

At 2:09 PM, Rakshasas said…


I don't disagree that States regularly abuse political power for various reasons. Christian states do this (witness the Spanish Inquisition), and atheists states do this.

My problem with your comment was the unqualified claim that the notion of compassion for those with less power is unique to the Judaic/Islam roots of theistic religions. That claim as stated doesn't hold water.

My other point is that the claims of the religion really don't matter, the practice does.

If more Christians were Francis of Assissi and fewer were Torquamada then the real issues many folks have with Christians wouldn't exist. Sadly, at least in the USA today, the prevailing view of Christians is not compassionate people giving charity to widows and orphans. It's "compasionate conservatism," championed by the likes of Pat Robertson, which is clearly less than compassionate.

Your statement about hypocrites applies to atheists as well, and is one I entirely endorse. Far too many people contend that because one can't live up to standards, that they shouldn't have them. A view that leads directly to social decline.

At 5:32 AM, Rasmus Møller said…

Comment on rakshasas quote:
> My other point is that the claims of the religion really don't matter, the practice does.

Truly when judging someones character, practice matters more.

However "The argument from inalienable rights", as I understand it, relies on the fact that that certain moral obligations are actually derived from a source external to us, and cannot have any absolute authority over us, if they are just what most of us happen to agree upon.

I have followed the now extinct "argument from ..." debate last year on alt.books.cs-lewis with great interest and I am new to posting...

At 12:15 PM, psuche said…

Morality exists objectively without a God and some of the morality practiced under a God can actually be immoral. See Ethics of Liberty by Murray Rothbard on the objective reasons why this is the case and judge for yourself:


At 1:28 AM, Rasmus Møller said…

> Morality exists objectively without a God

I shall read the book before commenting...

>and some of the morality practiced under a >God can actually be immoral.

Hard to disagree.

On the offensive cartoons

This was sent to me by Tim Boyle, a missionary in Japan. It was written by the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

FEBRUARY 9, 2006
1:01 PM

CONTACT: Fellowship of Reconciliation
Virginia Wilber, vwilber@forusa.org, (845) 358-4601

Offensive Cartoons: Respecting What Is Sacred

NYACK, New York - February 9 - The response in parts of the Muslim world to publication of crude and deeply offensive cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad is shocking and distressing. Yet the pain felt by Muslims is real and understandable. By insulting the core of their religion, the cartoons constitute a vile attack on Muslims everywhere. But despite the egregious nature of the insult, it cannot not justify mass violence, arson and death threats.

The cartoons, which depict Muhammad as a violent, degenerate criminal, were first published in a Danish newspaper last September, in an act of extraordinary insensitivity and poor judgment. (Interestingly, the editor who commissioned them now admits to his own ignorance of Islam and of the way Muslims feel about the Prophet Muhammad.)

But ignorance is only part of it. There is clearly a certain malice involved, if not in the first Danish publication of the cartoons, then in their repeated publication in newspapers around the world. No longer can editors claim ignorance. The whole world now knows that the Prophet Muhammad is not supposed to be depicted at all, let alone in a disparaging manner.

Nor can offending newspapers claim that this is valid political or social satire, protected by free speech. These cartoons of the Prophet do nothing but ridicule the core idea of an entire religion. They attack what is sacred. And there is no deeper wound, no deeper fury, than that.

Many Muslims feel an intimate, personal connection to the Prophet Muhammad. When they think of divine mercy, kindness and integrity, they think of the Prophet. He is the embodiment of every virtuous ideal. In fact, the ideal of every Muslim is to become as much like the Prophet as possible. He is regarded as the best of human beings, the exemplar of humanity.

In short, the Prophet Muhammad is sacred to Muslims.

Westerners understand the concept of the sacred. Christians have been hurt and outraged by disrespectful and blasphemous depictions of Jesus. Jews feel pain when the holy Torah, the word of God, is ridiculed, vilified, or desecrated. In this country, burning of the flag – near-sacred to many – gives similar offense.

The emotional wound caused by the cartoons can’t be undone, but there is plenty that can be done. After 9/11, a great effort was made in the West to learn about Islam and to understand Muslims. That effort should be stepped up.

The incident also provides an opportunity for people of all faiths to recognize and acknowledge that which is sacred in other religions, even if it is not sacred to them personally.

For Muslims, this is an opportunity to examine the issue of how to respond to what offends them. Retaliating with a call for a Holocaust cartoon contest, as an Iranian newspaper has done, is to fall to the same level of ignorance, bigotry and malice that the original cartoons represent. Instead, Muslims should transform the incident into an opportunity for dialogue, education, and understanding.

There is a story in the Hadith (sayings and doings of the Prophet Muhammad) that Muhammad was with his companions in the simple mosque of Medina. The mosque had an earthen floor and was open on all sides. A Bedouin man walked in and began to urinate in the corner. Muhammad’s companions were incensed, yelling at him to stop and threatening to assault him. “No,” the Prophet told his followers. “Let him be. He does not know any better.” When the man had finished, Muhammad addressed him gently: “This place is not meant for urine, but only for prayer and the remembrance of Allah.” Then he told his followers to get water to wash the floor.

Burning embassies and demanding that editors be executed is not an Islamic response to insult. That response lies in the nonviolent actions of the Prophet Muhammad, as illustrated above. Educate those who have offended by violating what is sacred to you. Reach out to them. Teach them so they may know better.

This statement was written by a team of FOR staff representing the Muslim, Christian and Jewish faiths.

Jennifer Hyman, Communications Coordinator
Ibrahim M. Abdil-Mu'id Ramey, Disarmament Coordinator
Rabia Harris, FOR Chaplain
Ethan Vesely-Flad, Editor, Fellowship magazine

More clarification for Clayton

Clayton said: I apologize if I ascribed to you the wrong view, but I don't think it was the mistake of ascribing the view you were arguing against to you. You were arguing against those who thought there were no atheists and I took exception to the claim that owing to human irrationality, there are. I'm still uncertain as to whether you do think that all atheism is due to the irrational suppression of truth OR whether the possibility of such a thing would be enough to seriously undermine the idea that no one in the world is an atheist. If I go by what I know with respect to the reasons why someone might be an atheist or a theist, I would have to say that I know of no proof that atheism is irrational or that all atheists are suppressing the truth. I can imagine having different life experiences from the experiences I in fact had, and had those experiences been different, I can easily see myself being an atheist. I see all sorts of intellectual dishonesty and ideological thinking in atheists, but that is not sufficient to defend the kinds of blanket assertions that presuppositionalists want to make.

Defenders of the opposing view appeal to biblical revelation to argue that all atheists are suppressing the truth. If I could be persauded that God had revealed that claim unequivocably, then I would, as a matter of faith, accept their view. But my theory of biblical inerrancy is not strong enough to warrant that kind
of inference, and I think there are alternative ways of interpreting the relevant passages. (I'm closer to C. S. Lewis than Francis Schaeffer on biblical inspiration).

Now mind you, I am a theist and a Christian, and I think there are good reasons for being both of these, and I have defended them in print. But when I reflect and ask "Could there be rational people who disagree with me about God," going by my present understanding, the answer has to be "yes."

Evolution Sunday

From Discovery Institute's Robert Crowther. When I was about 10 years old the minister of my Methodist church gave a sermon opposing an anti-evolution petition. Excerpts from it were broadcast on the Huntley-Brinkley Report on NBC television.

On Evolution Sunday It’s Give Me That Old Time Darwinist Religion



Press Contact: Robert Crowther

Discovery Institute

(206) 292-0401 x.107



Seattle – “Evolution Sunday is the height of hypocrisy,” says Bruce Chapman, president of Discovery Institute the nation’s leading think tank researching scientific challenges to Darwinian evolution. “Why do Darwinists think it is not okay for people to criticize Darwin on religious grounds, but it is just fine to defend him on religious grounds?”


Sunday marks the 197th birthday of Charles Darwin and to celebrate 400 ministers have announced they will deliver pro-evolution sermons in conjunction with “Evolution Sunday.”


“Our view is not that pastors should speak out against evolution, but that the Darwinists are hypocrites for claiming--falsely--that opposition to Darwinism is merely faith based, and then turning around and trying to make the case that Darwinism itself is faith based,” added Chapman.


Chapman pointed out that the only time religion is brought up in the debate over how to teach evolution is when Darwinists bring it up and falsely charge that anyone criticizing Darwin’s theory is religiously motivated. 


“We maintain a list of hundreds of scientists who are skeptical of Darwinian evolution because of the unresolved scientific problems with the theory, not because of any so-called religious motivation,” said Chapman. The Scientific Dissent From Darwinism is available on the Institute’s website at www.discovery.org.


“This isn’t science versus religion, it’s science versus science,” added Chapman. “It’s a standard part of science to raise evidence critical of an existing scientific theory or paradigm. That’s what good science is about—analyzing evidence and asking tough questions. Scientists have a duty to raise critical questions about existing scientific theories.”


Discovery Institute, the nation’s leading think tank dealing with scientific challenges to Darwinian evolution, seeks to increase the teaching of evolution. It believes that evolution should be fully and completely presented to students, and they should learn more about evolutionary theory, including its unresolved issues. The Institute opposes any effort to mandate or require the teaching of intelligent design by school districts or state boards of education.


Robert L. Crowther

Director of Communications

Center for Science & Culture

(206) 292-0401 x107

Read Evolution News & Views, our blog on media coverage of the debate over evolution at www.evolutionnews.org

Intelligent Design: The Future, a daily blog about the science behind intelligent design at: www.idthefuture.com

Clearing up a misunderstanding with Clayton

A response from an atheist who confused my position with the position I was arguing against.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A question for presuppositional apologists

What happened here? I read this debate and thought that Wilson was exposed as someone who, in the last analysis, had no arguments whatsoever.

Now I realize that the Clint Eastwood of presuppositional apologetics, Dr. Greg Bahnsen, had at this point passed on to his eternal reward. But Wilson was not facing Gordon Stein, he was facing a fully-credentialed philosopher.

So did something go wrong here, and if so what? Did Wilson press the antithesis the way he ought to have? Did his strategy fail? Or should I have drawn a different conclusion about the ourcome of this debate. Maybe he won after all, and I just didn't realize it.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Robin Collins' take on ID

HT: Tom Gilson

Meditation on the Third Commandment

Some time ago I recommended Lewis's essay "Meditation on the Third Commandment" as a pre-emptive attack on the marriage of religion and politics on the part of people like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, not to mention political candidates who might as well use as their slogan, "A vote for me is a vote for Jesus." In fact, I remember working in a church in 1980 and having a church newsletter column in which I pretty much cribbed Lewis's entire essay as a basis for criticizing the Moral Majority, which was just getting going at the time. Anyway, my former student Dan Schlung pointed out to me that the whole book can be booted up from Google Books, at the link I provide here.

A note from Darek Barefoot

I find the discussion of Methodological Naturalism to be intriguing,
although I just have not had time to pursue the various links.  It
prompts the question, Is there a bright dividing line between science
and philosophy?  Science is notoriously difficult to define, and
scientific inquiry always takes place against the backdrop of
philosophical presuppositions--such as the assumption of the
uniformity, or more properly, intelligibility, of nature.

The obvious place to uncover the paradox of MD is in cognitive
science.  Cogsci is beyond rational doubt a purposive enterprise, yet
by restricting its inquiry to physical phenomena in the brain--as
methodologically it must do--it necessarily will observe nothing but
nonpurposive processes at work there.  Which is more ridiculous,
expecting beliefs and purposes to show up on EEGs and
neurotransmitter scans or doubting their existence because they fail
to show up there?  (We won't pose that question to the
Churchlands.)  The paradox may be unresolvable, but is it really
outside the purview of science to acknowledge that the paradox

Darek Barefoot

C. S. Lewis and the problem of war

This is an interesting piece on Lewis's understanding of war and peace.

C. S. Lewis and Cornelius Van Til

The following is from Scott Burson and Jerry Walls' C. S. Lewis and Francis Scheffer's C. S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer: Lessons for a New Centurty from the Most Influential Apologists Of Our Time: (IVP, 1998) P. 157

Os Guinness recalls an encounter with Van Til that illustrates this claiim. Guinness had just finished delivering a lecture at Westminister when an elderly gentleman accused him of making "a bad mistake." This elderly man turned out to be Van Til, who accused Guinness of making numerous references to C. S. Lewis during the course of the lecture. Van Til chided Guinness for his carelessness, then marched him off to his office, where he produced a stack of his own books about presuppositional apologetics and piled them into the reluctant arms of the visiting lecturer.

Preumably, on eo f those books was Van Til's apologetic treatise The Defense of the Faith. In this work Van Til leaves little doubt about his disdain for Lewisian methodology: "One can only rejoice in the fact that Lewis is heard the world around, but one can only grieve that he so largely follows the method of Thomas Aquinas in calling men back to the gospel. the 'gospel according to St. Lewis ' is too much a compromise with the ideas of natural man to constitute a clear challenge in our day.

VR: I heard that someone was in a class with VT and heard him say that no one first becomes a theist and then a Christian. When someone brought up the obvious counterexample of C. S. Lewis, VT replied that he was not at all sure that Lewis was a Christian. "Where is the gospel of grace in that man's writings?' he asked. I can't remember if the person who related the story actually said "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" in reply, and I know that person did not report a respone to that by Van Til.

Gay Civil Unions: What do they want?

mjwatson said...

"Can anyone give me a good reason to believe that the state should refrain from holding couples to Christian standards in cases of heterosexual adultery, but insist on Christian standards when it comes to homosexual relationships?"

It's a tricky business to predict what Lewis would have said. I agree the state should have stricter divorce standards if it is in the marriage business.

But the best answer to your question, and I think it's an answer Lewis would have sympathy with, is that one need not apply "Christian standards" to withhold state recognition to homosexual relationships. We can believe that homosexual relationships are not morally ideal and deserving of state sanction through means other than Christian revelation. Both the Dalai Lama and the Cherokee Nation have come out strongly against homosexuality. Neither quotes Romans.

VR: I don't know that the authority of the Cherokee Nation or the Dalai Lama amounts to much of anything here. I'd be a good deal more interested in scientific evidence concerning the causes and effects of homosexuality.

I guess the problem of gay civil unions has to do with what we suppose that the recognition is providing to the gay couple. Is it a way of allowing a gay partner to make medical decisions on behalf of a partner? Is it a question of smoothing the way for inheritance to be transferred to a partner as opposed to blood relatives? Is it to permit the partner to control funeral arrangements for a partner? Does it have to do with "spousal" medical benefits? Or is it the first step in the direction of persecuting any expressed belief that active homosexuality is sinful as hate speech? At least some of the above purposes seem perfectly acceptable to me.

The latter, however, is an assault on something I support very strongly: defending the right to disapprove a behavior against misguided attacks based on "tolerance." Tolerance is not refusing to believe that anyone else's beliefs are false (that would result in a self-refuting relativism) and it is not a matter of refusing to believe that some else's lifestyle is morally wrong. It is a matter of not treating others as second-class citizens because the have false beliefs or engage in morally wrong lifestyles. To hear some gay advocates talk, it seems to be implied that a Christian who believes active homosexuality to be sinful is something like a racist.

"Racism, sexism, homophobia" is a litany that covers a multitude of conceptual confusions.

Rom 1:18-21 and the NA thesis

This is the scripture passage used to defend the claim that there are no atheists.

The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven against every impiety and wickedness of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them.
Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse;
for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened.

Some key questions about this passage:
1) The passage does not say that there are no atheists. That result would have be inferred exegetically. I've never heard it claimed that exegesis by human beings possesses inerrancy.

2) Is this about the human race individually or collectively? It seems to me to be more defensible as a claim about the human race collectively than it is about each person individually.

3) If we are saying that this is true of individuals, what is says is that every individual at one point in their life knew God. It does not follow from that they these persons now know God. There is such a thing as forgetting.

4) We need an analysis of what the term "knew" means in the context of the passage. Does it mean that at some point in their life they formed the belief that God exists? Or that they had an awareness of something which, had they followed up on it, would have resulted in the belief that God exists?

5) The awareness of God is presumably to be found in the things God has made. From this it would seem that the passage is implying that the design argument is obviously a good one.

From this I conclude that this passage in Romans falls far short of supporting the claim that there are no atheists. Even if all atheists are suppressing the truth, it is still a mistake to say that they really believe that God exists.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Are there any atheists?

Some Response to Triablogue:

I want to first focus on the issue of whether, based on the Bad Faith Theory of atheism, we can reasonably say that there are no atheists. In other words, let me concede for the sake of argument, that all atheism stems from a suppression of the truth, by that meaning that if the atheist formed beliefs in the way that he ought rationally to form beliefs, he would be a believer and not an atheist.

In other words we ought to distinguish the question of whether or not someone is an atheist from the question of whether that person has become an atheist in an intellectually honest way. It may be a nice rhetorical flourish for presuppositionalist to say that there are not atheists, but it is linguistically inaccurate and highly misleading. Vantillianism is better off without it.

After all the Bible does not directly say that there are no atheists. But maybe I should type the phrase into a Bible program to see if maybe I missed a verse somewhere. Maybe it's hidden away somewhere in the Book of Hezekiah. On the assumption that Ps 14:1 is talking about atheists, it seems pretty clear that the Bible teaches that there are fools who say in their hearts that there is no God.

Nevertheless, if that is the case, you still have to say that these self-deceived people are atheists, by any reasonable analysis of "S believes that P." You can't say that a person doesn't really believe something if he professes and acts on the belief.

I am a little bit concerned by Gene's implied claim that there cannot be evidence against a claim clearly taught by Scripture. By his account, nothing could count as evidence against any biblical claim, because all experience must be interpreted by Scripture and not vice versa. At this point you are running afoul of what I think is right in Flew's falsification challenge. An atheist can just as easily say that his experience must be judged in light of atheism, in which case nothing we can say can possibly count as evidence against it. This is why Vantillianism is often perceived as a form of fideism.

There are serious and difficult objections to Christianity. There are Scripture passages that are hard to reconcile with one another, we lack overwhelmingly strong arguments for theism (including the ones that I've defended in print), why God permits evil is difficult to understand, etc. There are also sinful motivations for not wanting to be a Christian, and there is plenty of evidence that these are at work (Oedipal hatred, desire for sexual freedom, an unwillingness to submit to a supreme being, etc) in many cases, surely, but I know other atheists with stable marriages and good father-relationships.

There is a further problem with this "hermeneutic of suspicion" directed toward the unbeliever. According to logic, once an argument is on the table, it is the subject of discussion, not the reason why someone might be putting the argument forward. Once you say "I don't believe in God for such and such a reason," it commits the ad hominem fallacy to say "You're only saying that because you don't want to submit to a supreme being."

A response to Manata that I had on the comments line on this blog:

We need to decide the question "What does Loftus believe about God" in the same way that we decide the question "What does Reppert believe about the Suns' chances in the NBA playoffs?" We can't be using cooked criteria to make our interpretation of Scripture come out true. We have to do honest philosophy of language. If the evidence suggests there are people who do not believe in God, and we are interpreting Scripture to say that everyone believes in God, then either there's something wrong with our Bible interpretation or we have evidence against the inerrancy of Scripture. If the latter we are left with a choice of exercising "faith" in Scripture in the teeth of strong evidence to the contrary, or not. But if it comes down to that, we no longer would have a defensible apologetic position.

Suppose the following were true: everyone would come to know God if they would set aside their attitude of "I will not serve" and open their minds to the possibility of a Lord over their life. If that were true, then we would still have to say that apparent atheists are atheists. If we introspect and report certain beliefs when asked, and if our conduct is consistent (for the most part) with those beliefs, then the person in question has those beliefs.

To say that someone is not an atheist on the grounds that, according to the Bible, deep down inside there is an awareness of God which is clearly being completely rejected by the people who have that awareness, seems, well, silly. By our normal means of deciding what a person believes, that person believes that God does not exist.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

C. S. Lewis on Christian Marriage

Lewis on Christian Marriage
Says he doesn’t want to deal with marriage
1) Christian doctrines are very unpopular
2) He’s not married,(at the time) so he can only speak secondhand.

Man and wife are a single organism, one flesh
Christians say that Christ was not speaking a sentiment but rather was stating a fact
Lock and key, violin and bow

Monstrosity of intercourse outside of marriage is that one is trying to have one kind of union, the physical, while isolating it from all the other types of union that go along with it. It is like chewing food and spitting it out. (Keith Parsons, in “Why I am not a Christian,” complains that this example is refuted by chewing gum).

Some Christian denominations do not permit divorce at all
Others permit it reluctantly in special cases
Those that permit it regard divorce as cutting up a living body; like an amputation
(Lewis’s eventual marriage to Joy Davidman was to someone who had been divorced, but this is over a decade in the future).
Modern view: it’s just a readjustment of partners
You should be able to get divorced when you are no longer in love
Faithfulness in marriage is not just a matter of chastity it is a matter of justice
Justice is the keeping of promises
Everyone who marries in a church has made a solemn promise to stick to it until death
If the sexual impulse is like our other impulses, then of course we should allow that impulse to be constrained by the duty to keep promises
If it s morbidly inflamed, as Lewis believes, then we should be especially careful not to allow it to lead us into dishonesty
Some people make the promise in church without intending to keep it? Who are these people trying to fool? God? Themselves? Probably the public. People want the respectability that goes with marriage without intending to pay the price.
Who would urge the hard duty of chastity on those who are unwilling simply to be honest?
If people really don’t believe in marriage they should just live together. Then they will be fornicating, but at least they won’t be making their fornication worse by making promises they have no intention of keeping.
Is “being in love” the only reason for marriage? People in love tend to make promises.
No one can promise to go on feeling the way that they did when they first fell in love.
But why should people stay together who are no longer in love?
Being in love is a good thing, but you can’t make it the basis of your whole life.
Principles last, habits last, feeling come and go.
“A quieter kind of love takes over, not the intense feeling you might have had at the beginning, but a firm resolve to stand by a partner even in the face of conflict between the two, remains. It is a deep unity, maintained by will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both parents ask and receive, from God.”
People who don’t realize this keep seeking after that feeling of “being in love” with new people.
Let the thrill go, seek the quieter kind of love, and the thrills will come along to go with it. Keep seeking thrills, and you will get bored and disillusioned.
Are passions for people irresistible? People break their marriages because they think that their love for someone else is inevitable and irresistible.
We do have a choice as to whether the new attraction turns into “being in love.”

To what extent should Christians, if they are voters, should try to make the Christian concept of marriage normative.
Christians should frankly recognize that most British people are not Christians. There should be two kinds of marriage, one conceived by the Church the other by the State. The distinction should be sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.

(Arizona, I believe, has covenant marriages which are harder to get our of than ordinary marriages. Though why do you need the state to create that kind of marriage. Lewis is suggesting that it’s a Church thing).

Would Lewis oppose civil gay marriage? The state already sanctions marriages which are by all Christian accounts blatantly adulterous. (No-fault divorce) Can anyone give me a good reason to believe that the state should refrain from holding couples to Christian standards in cases of heterosexual adultery, but insist on Christian standards when it comes to homosexual relationships? If you say that the State should be the guardian of marriage, shouldn’t you insist on strict divorce laws as well as prohibiting gay marriage?

Lewis defends the idea that men should be the head of the household. There has to be a head because in cases of unresolvable conflict there has to be a head-someone has to have the last word. (Do there have to be unresolvable conflicts? I’m not convinced).

It has to be the man, because in relations between the man and the outside world, the woman will protect the family, while the man can be counted on to be more fair to the outsiders.

Lewis on sexual morality

Book 3 Chapter 5
Sexual Morality
Lewis distinguishes between the social rule of modesty and the Christian rule of chastity.
“The social rule of propriety lays down how much of the human body should be displayed and what subjects can be referred to, and in what words, according to the custom of a given social circle.

The rule of chastity applies in all times and all places, rules of modesty may differ from culture to culture. A girl in the Pacific islands wearing nearly no clothes, and fully covered Victorian lady, may be equally chaste (or unchaste). Those who break the rule of propriety with the intent to incite lust are offending against chastity.

The most unpopular of all Christian virtues (though he is going to take that back in a subsequent chapter; you may be surprised at what supplants it).

Lewis defends the traditional position: “Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence.”

This goes against our instinct, so either the rule is wrong, or our instinct have gone wrong.

The biological purpose of sex is children. If we eat every time we feel inclined and as much as we want, we will eat too much. If someone had sex anytime they wanted and it always produced a baby, in ten years it would populate a small village. (I’m not sure this argument gets us where we need to go).

Suppose we were in a country where people brought a covered plate of food and slowly removed the cover from it—a culinary strip-tease. If that were to happen, would that perhaps suggest that something had gone wrong with our appetite for food.

Would we conclude that the people were starving? But we can see that lots of food was being consumed.

Our appetite for food doesn’t involve doing strange things with it. But there are perversions of sex.

We have been told that our sexual desires are normal and if we stop hushing it up. But if hushing it up were the problem then chattering about it all day long would cure it. But it hasn’t. (Interesting that Lewis writes this in the 1940s,. before the “sexual revolution.”

Sex is nothing to be ashamed of can mean
1) The fact that we reproduce ourselves sexually and enjoy sexual acts in nothing to be ashamed of. That’s true.
2) The condition sex has gotten into in our fallen world is nothing to be ashamed of. That’s false.

We have to want to practice this virtue. Augustine said that he prayed for God to give him chastity, just not yet.

We must not believe the propaganda that it is all perfectly normal and healthy. Lewis thought there was a media blitz to that effect back in the 1940s. (And you thought the sexual revolution took place in the 1960s).

We must not believe that we shouldn’t attempt chastity because we can’t do it. You may fail over and over, but if you ask for God’s help, the help you need will be given. (Lewis contrasts with many Christians, who assume that difficulties in this area can be cured in short order by the Holy Spirit, and if they aren’t then there’s something wrong with you.

Repression is not disciplining one’s desire, repression is thrusting something into the subconscious. There is a difference between resisting sexual temptation and resisting sexual desire. Repressed sexuality does not appear to the patient to be sexuality at all.

This is not the center of Christian morality, If anyone thinks that Christians think that unchastity is the supreme vice, he is quite wrong.

“The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasure are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and partonising and spoiling sport, and backbiting; the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the humans self, which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That’s why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.”

(Note prescient comment on 1990s American politics).

Speaking for myself, I have always been able to see the point of people who object to Christian sexual morality. In Bible times a person who wanted to practice chastity could marry if they were burning with passion, in today’s society early marriage is counterproductive. But suppose you reject it, what are you going to replace it with?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

A Dialogue with Triablogue

Steve: 3.It is needlessly provocative to introduce the issue by insisting that the atheist lying to us or to himself. Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t, but it’s prejudicial to cast the question in such sweeping and exclusive terms. VR: The claim is that the atheist is engaged in self-deception. Care to distinguish between self-deception and lying to oneself?

4.It also carries the smarmy insinuation that a Christian apologist or theologian who takes this position is slandering the atheist by automatically imputing to him the worst possible motives. The debate needn’t be that emotionally charged.
VR: You are making a charge of intellectual dishonesty. Why not own up to the fact?

5.To some extent, the idea that unbelievers are repressed believers, or believers are repressed unbelievers, depending on which side you take, is inevitable on either score.

Atheism tries to harmonize two propositions:

i) There is not God

ii) Many men believe in God

These two propositions are stand in apparent tension to each other. If (i) is true, how is (ii) true as well?

If there is no God, then theistic belief must be accounted for by some naturalistic mechanism.

Atheism harmonizes the two propositions by assigning the source of faith in God to a naturalistic factor, commonly supplied by psychology (e.g. Feuerbach, Freud), or sociology (e.g. Marx, Durkheim).

VR: Nevertheless, even if atheists appeal to some cognitive pathology to explain theism, I'd want to say that someone who went to church every Sunday, thought of himself as a believer, did his or her best to live the Christian life, is a believer. The fact that their belief is in the last analysis the result of, say, wishful thinking is not the same as saying that they don't believe at all.

You have a parallel situation in Christianity:

Christian theology tries to harmonize two propositions:

i) There is a God

ii) Many men disbelieve in God.

For its own part, Christian theology harmonizes the apparent tension by a parallel, but opposing move. In Calvinism, infidelity is attributed to the noetic effects of original sin.

There’s nothing inherently offensive about ascribing belief or unbelief to an ulterior motive since the opposing positions are, in fact, logically committed to some indirect explanation.

If there is no God, then you could explain unbelief on the simple grounds that there’s no God to believe in.

Yet if many men believe in God, although there is no object answering to their faith, then an atheist must account for theistic belief by seeking the source of origin outside of God. And Christian theology makes the same move in reverse.

Hence, there’s no reason to take this analysis so personally. Both sides do it because both sides must account for an apparent disconnect between what there is, and what people believe there is.

On one view (atheism), there is often a belief without a corresponding extramental object; on another view (theism), there is an extramental object, but often absent a corresponding belief.

VR: With respect to every disagreement about beliefs, do we need to explain the other side away in some way? If I think string theory is a good physics, and you think it is bad science, to we have to explain our difference in terms of some mechanism of self-deception?

6.From a Christian standpoint, does this make an atheist a liar? There are a couple of problems with framing the issue that broadly:

a) Maybe there is no general answer to that question. Maybe some are liars and some are not. Must we characterize every unbeliever the same way to characterize any unbeliever in a certain way?

b) At the risk of stating the obvious, deception and self-deception range along a continuum with many levels and degrees.

We all hold inconsistent beliefs. We all compartmentalize our beliefs in some measure.

VR: I think that everyone is caught up in self-deception to some extent. To say, in the face of the fact that there exists some kind of self-deception, that a person doesn't really possess the relevant belief that that person seems to have seems to be a big mistake.

Every time I turn away from God and sin, I act as if God does not exist. Does that mean that I am self-deceived that I am a theist. I am afraid that the criteria you are using to try to get to the conclusion that there are no atheists will get you the conclusion that there are not theists. Which is the tack people like Babinski and Loftus seem to be taking.

7.Reppert says: “you have to assess what someone really believes based on what they say and how they act.”

Why do we have to do that? Is this a proposition that Reppert would care to universalize? I hardly think so. Counterexamples leap to mind from every direction.

I'd like to see the counterexamples. Maybe I spent to much time hanging out with Wittgensteinians when I was in gradaute school. If it walks like an atheist, and talks like an atheist, and quacks like an atheist, it's an atheist.

8.Suppose you are a Bible-believing Christian. Suppose the Bible says there’s no such thing as innocent unbelief. If the Bible says an unbeliever is a fool, then isn’t the unbeliever fooling himself?

Should that information not figure in whether you take the unbeliever’s claim at face value or not?

The exegesis of Ps 14:1 is a complex matter. Some can believe something foolishly and at the same time actually believe what he believes. If atheism is folly, the folly is real, not imaginary. I have also heard the interpretation that the word for fool in Hebrew is "Godless one," making the statement a tautology.

9.As to judging an unbeliever by what he says and does, many unbelievers look like fugitives from divine justice.

And believers often look like wishful thinkers to unbelievers. Looking at the overall evidence based on what I have seen and experienced, I would have to say that it does not look as if Christians (or Calvinists) have a monopoly on intellectual honesty. The noetic effects of sin are so pervasive and widespread that it important not to see them only in the minds of the other guys. Nobody is completely intellectualy honest. Intellectual honesty is a full-time job. I can see believing that all atheism results from the unrighteous suppression of the truth by faith on the basis of Scripture, but my best reasoning tells me the weight of the evidence is against it. That means I will much prefer an interpretation of the relevant passages that is more in line with my experience.

10.In addition, the diagnosis of an unbeliever as a repressed believer is not limited to an outsider’s perspective. Believers and unbelievers are not static categories. Many of us have made the transition from infidelity to faith. So we know both states from mind from the inside out.

We know a rebel when we see one, because we were once on the run ourselves. Our own face was up on God’s ten most wanted.

I'm not even trying to argue that there aren't ulterior motives behind the unbelief of atheists. But I'm too busy trying to get the log out of my own eye to remove the speck in my atheist neighbor's eye.

11.What are we to make of Reppert’s stark disjunction between the Bible and “real” evidence?

The Bible is not authoritative for atheists. If there's no God, the Bible was written by humans, and gets it wrong on the most fundamental of issues. In order to get the atheist to acknowledge the authority of the Bible, the atheist needs to believe in God first. I was referring to evidence that an atheist ought reasonably to accept.

12.To discuss or dismiss the awareness of God in terms of “innate” knowledge is too narrow. That suggests a particular theory of knowledge.

It would be better to speak of the natural knowledge of God. Whether we account for this knowledge according to rationalism, empiricism, or some synthesis thereof, is a separate issue.

VR: My point would only be that even if people had some kind of a natural knowledge of God which they were suppressing due to an attitude of non serviam, the fact is that by any reasonable mehtod of determining what someone believes you would have to say that that person believes that God does not exist.

Similarly, a theist whose belief in God is completely the result of wishful thinking nevertheless believes in God.

13.In addition, to discount an appeal to the natural knowledge of God on the grounds that no theistic argument rises to the level of apodictic proof is a category mistake.

The natural knowledge of God need not be the result of a formal theistic proof.

And even if it were the result of a formal theistic proof, the theistic proof need to be absolutely certain for the unbeliever to be fooling himself if he denies the existence of God.

Again, would Reppert really want to universalize this rule of evidence or burden of proof?

Even if van Til et al. are right that nonbelievers are not intellectually honest, any method of belief-ascription that I know of has people like Carr, Loftus, Lippard, Parsons, and our other friends on www.infidels.org coming out as atheists.

14.Perhaps the larger point which Reppert is laboring to make, however inchoately, is that appeal to what the unbeliever “really” believes is strategically futile. For the unbeliever would deny the charge if it were false, and he’d deny the charge if it were true.

My main point is, and always has been, that in order to make statements like "There are no atheists" we need some criteria for determining what a person believes. Using those criteria, even if you accept van Tillian presuppositionalism, I can't see how you can get to the claim that the denizens of Internet Infidels are not exactly what they say they are: atheists. It would be more reasonable to just say there are no intellectually honest atheists, as Jason has pointed out. I personally don't care to get into the game of challenging the intellectual honesty of my intellectual opponents, even though I suspect it at various times. I think that these charges of intellectual dishonesty make it hard to follow Peter's prescription of "gentleness and respect" in the doing of apologetics. But that's just me.

Miracles and the Laws of Nature

I had written:
"The laws of nature tell us what happens when nothing outside the system interferes."
Randy said:
How do you know that? Why are you assuming there is something outside of the world that can interfere with it? And even if that assumption should be correct, why are you then assuming that this interference wouldn't have to act in accordance with natural laws?

The laws of nature help to explain the phenomena we experience in the world. I see no justification for adding the qualifier "when nothing outside the system interferes".

Suppose I were to get up on the Leaning Tower of Pisa and propose a theory about what would happen if balls were dropped from the tower. However, someone on a floor below me reaches out with a net and catches the balls, and then pronounces my theory refuted, because what I predicted was supposed to happen did not happen. This would clearly not be a legitimate argument because, in dropping the balls off the tower, I am trying to determine what will happen if no outside force interferes.

I don't have to assume that something exists outside nature in order to insist that laws of nature not be question-beggingly described in such a way as to presuppose naturalism, and be false if naturalism is false. Remember that many of the great scientists of history, and some in the present day, are orthodox Christians who believe in the possibility and actuality of the miraculous.

What could science tell us about the properties of water that could possibly prove that not even God, or God's Son, could turn it into wine?

Dangerous Idea is one year old

Although there is one post that I have redated to January of 2005 by mistake. It's been interesting and fun so far.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Are there any atheists? Are Carr, Loftus and Lippard just lying to us? Or themselves?

Hello Dr. Reppert,

I ntoiced that you had said that the claim by presuppositionalists that "there are no atheists" was "silly."

I was wondering why you thought so? Certainly, though I could use more modern terms, the doctrine of the innate knowledge or, natural knowledge of God that all men posses is a robust view with a long and distinguished pedigree. Are you calling calvin, Hodge, Murray, Van Til, Bahnsen, et al. all "silly?"

I wrote a critique of the paper you site, as well. http://presstheantithesis.blogspot.com/2005/09/are-there-really-atheists_10.html

It's silly to me not because I am prepared to deny the claim that there is some innate knowledge of God. It is silly because I think you have to assess what someone really believes based on what they say and how they act. It could be that they have an awareness of God that they are suppressing. But when I look beyond Scripture to what I can give any real evidence for, I find that I don't have any argument that proves the existence of God with such certainty that anyone who rejects it has to be fooling himself or herself in some way. And that includes all the versions of the argument from reason that I defend in my book, and every other argument that Lewis, Craig, Plantinga, Swinburne, and the rest defend. So if someone says that God does not exist, and they sleep in on Sunday and save ten percent, I figure they're atheists. But if any atheists want to tell me that they aren't really atheists, but have been fooling themselves all this time, I'll take their word for it.

Bultmann and miracles

Randy: Seems to me he is saying that anyone who understands the principles of electricity, the electromagnetic spectrum and biology would not believe in demons and spirits in the same way that people in the New Testament did. I see no fallacy or snobbery here. One could, still believe in a demon or a spirit, but I doubt they would be like the demons/spirits they imagined back in the first century C.E.
You argue for critics to read Lewis with a generous spirit, yet you are so miserly with thinkers you disagree with.

VR: But why? Why does nonbelief about spirits and miracles follow from scientific truth? In fact, in order for there to be miracles, there has to be a lawful nature in order for there to be a contrast between the expectations generated by the laws of nature and God's (or whatever other supernatural being's) direct activity.

There are real arguments to the effect that people who accept science and miracles are being inconsistent; Hume's argument against miracles and other arguments that have been spun off of that. It's possible that Bultmann just figured that one or more of those arguments worked, and his comment was a cryptic reference to those arguments. But he never says so. I have analyzed those arguments, once in a peer-review paper, and once in a paper on the Secular Web, and find all those arguments to be bad arguments. And it's not just me, the Univeristy of Pittsburgh philosopher of science John Earman agrees.

What it does is offer people a sort of satisfaction that goes with having up-to-date ideas without going to the bother of defending the up-to-date view with any real arguments. I think it betrays the fact that Bultmann has an insufficiently examined presupposition.