Friday, September 29, 2006

Gareth McCaughan and the Problem of Evil

read Gareth's account of his own deconversion. Of courses, he and I
locked horns a couple of years ago on my book. Since that time I
started my blog,, and haven't been here.
On my site I issued this challenge, and got devoted several posts to
it, mostly last summer. Here's the challenge I gave:

A Challenge to Advocates of the Argument from Evil
I'd like to make an methodological point in discussions of the problem
of evil, a part of the Plantingian legacy. If the theist begins by
offering explanations of the existence of evil, and the discussion
focuses on the adequacy of these explanations, the theist puts himself
at an unfair disadvantage. If I as a defender of the argument from
reason were to say that since we don't now have a detailed explanation
of the evolution of the brain, the argument from reason succeeds, I
would be rightly criticized. I would be accused of the God the the Gaps
fallacy. The same principle applies here to the argument from evil. The
correct procedure, it seems to me, is to ask the atheist to present
his/her argument against theism. Is it a logical argument, a
probabilistic argument, or some other kind of argument. Show me the
argument, let me see what the premises are and what the conclusion is.
Then an explanation, or a possible explanation, for evil might be
required. Or not, depending on the structure of the argument. So I'm
going to issue a challenge to atheists. Give me your version of the
argument from evil. Numbered premises please.
And, of course, I want to be given some good reasons why I should
accept all the premises.

Here's what I am getting at. The argument from evil is supposed to have
a special pride of place amongst arguments concerning theism, both pro
and con. Every version of the argument from evil that I saw put on my
blog seemed to me to have questionable premises which
indicated to me that the argument was inadequate, even absent any throughgoing
across-the-board explanation for some particular evils, such as the
Asian tsunami in 2004. To make matters worse for the atheological
argument, the atheist has to appeal to some moral premise (A perfectly
good being eliminates evil as far as possible) which he must either
contend is objectively true (which in my view compromises naturalism)
or appeals to a value that all theists, or maybe all Christians accept.
Some people think that this sort of thing is true by definition, but I
am unpersauded of those claims.

Now I am not at all sure that a good version of the argument from evil
can't be developed that doesn't have some disconfirmatory impact on
theism. It's just a whole heck of a lot harder than it looks. I think
if you greet the problem of evil with the type of skepticism that I
have every right to expect that my own favorite argument will receive
from its critics, it proves to be overrated.

A good volume of essays on the evidential argument from evil came out
in the 90s, edited by Daniel Howard-Snyder.

But I think the idea that the AFE is really powerful, unlike your
average theistic argument, or even just your average philosophical
argument (like Wittgenstein's private language argument), is generated
by the idea that somehow, if the theist can't explain all of human
suffering and give God's reason for permitting it, theism is thought to
be deficient.

A link to Gareth's deconversion story is here.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Presidential ambiguities

Ben Z. suggests that there is no ambiguity in the terms "sexual relations" and "is," while torture is really hard to define. I think in the case of sex and the case of torture there are unambiguous paradigm cases, and then there are ambiguous cases. As I showed in this previous post, there is an ambiguity related to the word "is." A critic of Clinton should not say that there are no ambiguities in the uses of these terms, what the critic should say, with some justification, is that he is using the ambiguity in the use of the term in general to mask the fact that in the relevant case, the ambiguity is nonexistent. But can't the same thing be said about Bush and the secret prisons?

A column by Ben Stein that undergirds what Socrates says about success

Ben Stein's Last Column... HT: Jarrod Cochran
How Can Someone Who Lives in Insane Luxury Be a Star in Today's World?
As I begin to write this, I "slug" it, as we writers say, which means I put a heading on top of the document to identify it. This heading is "eonlineFINAL," and it gives me a shiver to write it. I have been doing this column for so long that I cannot even recall when I started. I loved writing this column so much for so long I came to believe it would never end.
It worked well for a long time, but gradually, my changing as a person and the world's change have overtaken it. On a small scale, Morton's, while better than ever, no longer attracts as many stars as it used to. It still brings in the rich people in droves and definitely some stars. I saw Samuel L. Jackson there a few days ago, and we had a nice visit, and right before that, I saw and had a splendid talk with Warren Beatty in an elevator, in which we agreed that Splendor in the Grass was a super movie. But Morton's is not the star galaxy it once was, though it probably will be again.
Beyond that, a bigger change has happened. I no longer think Hollywood stars are terribly important. They are uniformly pleasant, friendly people, and they treat me better than I deserve to be treated. But a man or woman who makes a huge wage for memorizing lines and reciting them in front of a camera is no longer my idea of a shining star we should all look up to.
How can a man or woman who makes an eight-figure wage and lives in insane luxury really be a star in today's world, if by a "star" we mean someone bright and powerful and attractive as a role model? Real stars are not riding around in the backs of limousines or in Porsches or getting trained in yoga or Pilates and eating only raw fruit while they have Vietnamese girls do their nails.
They can be interesting, nice people, but they are not heroes to me any longer. A real star is the soldier of the 4th Infantry Division who poked his head into a hole on a farm near Tikrit, Iraq. He could have been met by a bomb or a hail of AK-47 bullets. Instead, he faced an abject Saddam Hussein and the gratitude of all of the decent people of the world.
A real star is the US soldier who was sent to disarm a bomb next to a road north of Baghdad. He approached it, and the bomb went off and killed him.
A real star, the kind who haunts my memory night and day, is the US soldier in Baghdad who saw a little girl playing with a piece of unexploded ordnance on a street near where he was guarding a station. He pushed her aside and threw himself on it just as it exploded. He left a family desolate in California and a little girl alive in Baghdad.
The stars who deserve media attention are not the ones who have lavish weddings on TV but the ones who patrol the streets of Mosul even after two of their buddies were murdered and their bodies battered and stripped for the sin of trying to protect Iraqis from terrorists.
We put couples with incomes of $100 million a year on the covers of our magazines. The noncoms and officers who barely scrape by on military pay but stand on guard in Afghanistan and Iraq and on ships and in submarines and near the Arctic Circle are anonymous as they live and die.
I am no longer comfortable being a part of the system that has such poor values, and I do not want to perpetuate those values by pretending that who is eating at Morton's is a big subject.
There are plenty of other stars in the American firmament...the policemen and women who go off on patrol in South Central and have no idea if they will return alive; the orderlies and paramedics who bring in people who have been in terrible accidents and prepare them for surgery; the teachers and nurses who throw their whole spirits into caring for autistic children; the kind men and women who work in hospices and in cancer wards.
Think of each and every fireman who was running up the stairs at the World Trade Center as the towers began to collapse. Now you have my idea of a real hero.
I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that matters. This is my highest and best use as a human. I can put it another way. Years ago, I realized I could never be as great an actor as Olivier or as good a comic as Steve Martin...or Martin Mull or Fred Willard--or as good an economist as Samuelson or Friedman or as good a writer as Fitzgerald. Or even remotely close to any of them.
But I could be a devoted father to my son, husband to my wife and, above all, a good son to the parents who had done so much for me. This came to be my main task in life. I did it moderately well with my son, pretty well with my wife and well indeed with my parents (with my sister's help). I cared for and paid attention to them in their declining years. I stayed with my father as he got sick, went into extremis and then into a coma and then entered immortality with my sister and me reading him the Psalms.
This was the only point at which my life touched the lives of the soldiers in Iraq or the firefighters in New York. I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that matters and that it is my duty, in return for the lavish life God has devolved upon me, to help others He has placed in my path. This is my highest and best use as a human.
Faith is not believing that God can. It is knowing that God will.
By Ben Stein

I did not have torturous relations with that prisoner

So President Bush says that torture as defined by the Geneva Convention is a vague concept that is open to a variety of interpretations. Hm. I seem to recall another President using an argument of that form. As I recall, it was about the term "sexual relations." Or was it the word "is?"

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Chandler versus Monokroussos round 2

The Monokroussos Argument:

1. We ought to seek moral perfection.
2. Ought implies can.
3. Therefore, we can achieve moral perfection.
4. But this is possible only if there is a God (or something near enough).

Just for a start, the argument, as it stands, won't work. Given that we ought to seek moral perfection and that ought implies can, it does NOT follow that we can achieve moral perfection.

One can imagine some alchemist claiming that his students ought to seek the Philosopher's Stone. Ought implies can, so they CAN seek the stone; but it doesn't follow that the alchemist must think that  his students can find the stone, or that it can be found, or even that it exists. Nor does it follow that any of these things are true.

Let's try this:

1. We ought to be morally perfect.
2. Ought implies can.
3. Therefore, we can achieve moral perfection.
4. But this is possible only if there is a God (or something near enough).
(5. Therefore, there really is a God (or something near enough)).

I think Kant accepts something like 1 and 2. But I don't think he holds that we (wicked sinners) can actually achieve moral perfection at any point in time (with or without God's help). At best, on his view, we are engaged in an infinite approximation process. Given this, perhaps we should modify 1. Let's say 'We ought to strive towards moral perfection.'  But, of course, we CAN strive towards moral perfection whether or not there is a God - can't we?


More on Monokroussos

Here is a nice quote from Kant:

."..our faith is not knowledge, and thank heaven it is not! For
divine wisdom is apparent in the very fact that WE DO NOT KNOW BUT
attain to knowledge of God's existence through our experience or in
some other way (although the possibility of this knowledge cannot
immediately be thought); suppose further that we could really reach
as much certainty through this knowledge as we do in intuition; then
all morality would break down. In his every action the human being
would represent God to himself as a rewarder or avenger; this image
would force itself involuntarily on his soul, and his hope for reward
and fear of punishment would take the place of moral motives; the
[Kant, 28:1084, Lectures on the Philosophical Doctrine of Religion.]

For Kant, a proof (even a 'moral proof') of God's existence would a
(paradoxical) moral disaster.

His moral argument is meant to lead us to certainty that God exists
based on 'moral faith.' The alleged 'proof' is proof that we ought to
adopt that faith - ought to believe in God. It is not, and is not
intended to be, a proof of God's existence. Or so it seems to me.


VR: I think it has to be pointed out that the argument Monokroussos advanced is one that he attributes to Kant, not one that he himself endorses. But I would like to see Dennis's take on "denying knowledge to make room for faith," for which Kant is justly famous.

But I am also wondering what kind of ought implies can principle is at work here. I think Chandler is suggesting that a literal OIC principle is implausibly strong, so therefore Kant must have had in mind "Ought imples we can strive for it." And I'm wondering if that is faithful to Kant. Isn't it "We ought to be morally perfect, ought implies can, therefore the metaphysical conditions exist for us to eventuallly become morally perfect. Since this is going to require a God and an infinite lifetime to get it done, so be it. These things must exist." However, the status of the OIC principle needs to then be considered. Do we know this as a truth of theoretical reason? Is that principle, as Kant is construing it, knowable?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Timeless at heart, or just up to date?

From C. S. Lewis's essay "Christian Apologetics" from God in the Dock p. 93-4.

Our business is to present that which is timeless (the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow) in the particular language of our onw age. The bad preacher does exactly the opposite: he takes ideas of our onw age and tricks the out in the traditional language of Christianity. Thus, for example, he may think about the Beveridge Report and talk about the coming of the Kingdom. The core of his thought is merely contemporary; only the superficies is traditional. But your teaching must be timeless at heart and wear a modern dress.

How are we doing on this these days? Read this essay by Douglas Groothuis and see what you think.

More Chandler on Plantinga's God

HC: (to carry on the discussion)

By a 'person' I mean an entity that has beliefs, makes decisions,
remembers past events, has various feelings (misery, joy, etc.), and,
typically, has some notion of moral rightness and wrongness, sees the
point of jokes, can recognize beauty, etc. etc.

Anselm's God does not fit this description at all. Just for starters,
Anselm's God is non-temporal non-spacial, cannot feel misery (or joy,
I guess), etc. etc. In fact, 'He' is not even an individual 'entity'
(i.e. 'substance'), nor is 'He' a property, or relation.

Augustinian's God and Aquinas's God are, I think, like Anselm's God
in this regard. And, if I remember correctly, this is true of C. S.
Lewis too. According to my recollection, Lewis claims that God is as
far 'above' (ordinary) personhood as a rock, or a number, is
'beneath' it. Lewis' God is not a 'person' in any ordinary sense of
the term.

On the other hand, I have the impression that Plantinga's God IS
temporal -- (no?) has beliefs, makes decisions, hopes that things
will turn out well, is sometimes unhappy, etc. etc. In short, really
IS a 'person' in the ordinary sense of the term.

Have I got this right?

VR: I think the relevant work on this is Does God Have a Nature, which I don't have easy access to. Plantinga is not what would be called an "open theist," who thinks that God lacks comprehensive foreknowledge (Hasker's God, Time and Knowledge is the philosophical locus classicus for this) but I don't think his God is outside of time. Lewis, on the other hand, goes for the outside of time concept of God. I was surprised when I reread him a few month ago that this isn't primarily to solve the foreknowledge problem but also is used to explain how God can answer everyone's prayers at once. That struck me as puzzling: I would have thought a simple definition of "omnipotent" would have been sufficient.

His exposition of atemporalism is one of the things addressed on the Mere Christianity taped discussions that I linked to: the ones a few posts back that came from Mere Christianity and were found in the BBC vaults (see "link to Lewis's voice").

Monday, September 25, 2006

Chandler on Plantinga on morality

Hugh Chandler writes:
In his recent sketch of his personal history Plantinga says:
> But naturalism cannot make room for that kind of normativity; that requires a divine lawgiver, one whose very nature it is to abhor wickedness.

For Plantinga, the 'main options' are naturalism (on the one hand) and personal-god type Theism (or, perhaps, that kind of Christianity) on the other. This is difficult for some of us to swallow. I believe the first sentence in the quotation is true. Real moral obligations, if there are such things, are irreducible and non-natural - and consequently, if believed in, force us outside naturalism. But what on earth leads Plantinga to think that belief in real moral obligations requires belief in a person-type God (as opposed to the traditional Catholic God, Anselm's God, Platonic Justice itself (so to speak), or even, perhaps, no God-like thing at all? Hugh

I think the Anselmian or Catholic God is probably personal enough; that God is at least personal enough to become incarnate in Christ. Demographically a lot of people gravitate toward either naturalism or theism, so it is understandable to treat these as the "main options." But one feature of Lewis's apologetics, one that doesn't get a whole lot of airplay these days, is that Lewis talks about alternatives like Absolute Idealism, Pantheism, and Bergsonian Creative Evolution, all of which have sort of fallen off the map in the present day discussion. These options are not recognizably naturalistic but neither are they theistic. Lewis became convinced of the arguments that he later defended against naturalism and became not a theist but an absolute idealist. Then he had to be persuaded by other considerations to become a theist.

Robert M. Adams in his essay on moral arguments for God (in The Virtue of Faith, Oxford 1987) gives some reasons why theism might be preferable to other sorts of non-naturalistic world-views in connection with moral arguments, so I will try to look that up.

There are still sure enough honest to goodness absolute idealists walking around these days, such as this guy, Dan Hutto.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Chandler replies to Monokroussos

Monokroussos: "A side point about HC's comment about Kant: it's false, taken unconditionally. While Kant denies the existence of good arguments from the realm of pure reason (leaving aside the antinomies, which are undermined by their counter-antinomies), he does think taking the moral stance transcendentally implies the existence of God."

Chandler: How can Reppert's 'taking the moral stance' imply that there really is a God? At best, it might imply that Reppert believes that there is a God.
As I understand it, Kant holds that 'taking the moral stance' requires BELIEF in God, faith that there is a God (or at least that God is possible), but it does not offer us (or Reppert) any proof that there is a God, or even (I think) any evidence that there is one.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Hugh Chandler responds to the puzzle about Puddlglum

In the passage you quote, Puddleglum doesn't say that he is going to BELIEVE that there is an Aslan, etc. or that he is going to have faith that there really IS grass, etc. He simply announces that he is going to live AS IF those things were real (whether they are or not).

I have often thought something similar. I mean that we ought to live as if there were a God -whether or not there really is one. Is that foolish?

Kant, as opposed to Puddleglum (apparently), urges us to BELIEVE in God, even though there is no good argument for the claim that there really is one.


How does one, in practice living as if P is true while at the same time believing not-P?

Men, Rabbits and Marsh-wiggles: C. S. Lewis on pragmatic arguments

An interesting question that has concerned me of late is how Lewis viewed pragmatic arguments. Pragmatic arguments provide practical reasons for believing the theism or Christianity without in any way showing that Christianity is more likely to be true than its rivals. A good example would be Pascal's wager, or James' argument from the Will to Believe. I think Kant's moral argument fits into this category, as does one of Robert Merrihew Adams' arguments for theism from morality. The idea in Kant and Adams is that one should select theism or atheism because theism better supports the moral life than atheism. Steve Lovell's defense of the argument from desire seems to go down this road, and that is how this issue connects to some of the earlier posts.

Lewis in many places seems pretty cold to pragmatic arguments for religious belief. In responding the the quesiton "Can't you lead a good life without believing in Christianity?" Lewis says:

CSL: More probably, foolish preachers, by always telling you how much Christianity will help you and how good it is for society, have actually led you to forget that Christiantiy is not a patent medicine. Christianity claims to give an account of the *facts*--to tell you what the real universe is like. Its account of the universe may be true, or it may not, and once the question is really before you, then you natural inquisitiveness must make you want to know the answer. If Christianity is untrue, then no honest man will want to believe it, however helpful it might be: if it is true, every honest man will wawnt to believe it, even if it gives him no help at all. (C. S. Lewis, "Man or Rabbit," in God in the Dock, pp. 108-9.)

However, in the Silver Chair, we find Lewis putting this argument into the mouth of Puddleglum the Marsh-Wiggle.

"One word. All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder... But there's one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we *have* only dreamed, or made up, all these things--trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself...Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones....That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So...we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for the Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's a small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."

SC Chapter 12, p. 633.

Now, isn't this a pragmatic argument of the type Lewis objected to in "Man or Rabbit?" How do we reconcile these passages/

Further (and final?) thoughts on the argument from desire

Of course, I would be very surprised if someone with entrenched naturalist convictions like BDK were to lose sleep over the argument from desire. I did a Bayesian calculation awhile ago in the combox about what the Bayesian AFD would do for someone whose prior for theism was 0.01 and the result was, well, pretty underwhelming. In spite of what a lot of people seem to assume, a surprisingly small percentage of Lewis's own apologetical writigns are about the existence of God, and when the existence of God does come up, I don't see Lewis using the AFD. It comes up in Lewis's treatment of hope in Mere Christianity and his treatment of Heaven in The Problem of Pain. The Weight of Glory was preached in a church. In Surprised by joy Lewis seems to have lost his faith in naturalism for reasons completely independent of Joy (his discussions with Owen Barfield seem to have caused that, based on a combination of the Argument from Reason and the Moral Argument). As a result, some Lewis students wonder whether there is an Argument from Desire in Lewis at all.

At the same time Lewis seems to have a good "in-house" argument for a desire for heaven on the part of Christians; a way of telling Christians how have trouble visualizing their future hope (and there are Christians in the predicament), that we have reason to believe that humans were really made for heaven. And Lewis did seem to think that the fact that his beliefs as a theist and a Christian made more sense of his "joy" experiences (which he certainly had and which were important to him) than his previous atheistic perspective. The fact that Joy "fits in" with his Christian perspective seemed in his mind to provide confirmation that the other lines of thought leading toward theism and ultimately Christianity were correct. Was he wrong in so thinking?

Hence my interest in developing this argument in Bayesian confirmationist terms, a suggestion first made by Thomas V. Morris in his critique of Beversluis's book, a critique that is reproduced in full in Richard Purtill's essay "Did C. S. Lewis Lose His Faith" in A Christian for All Christians.

I do think the arguments for reason and morality are more challenging to evolutionary naturalism than is the argument from desire.

Link to the C. S. Lewis voice recordings

The link to the C. S. Lewis voice recordings has changed.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Coulter on Evolution

Well, I asked what Infidels had done in response to Ann Coulter on evolution. They finally came through.

Chandler on the God probability calculator

My dissertation advisor, in response to the Unwin probability calculator:
Ah, just as I suspected:

Someone reviewing the book writes:

Furthermore, the most difficult issue of all problems with the bayesian approach to probability, the initial a priori probability, he skips over facilely by declaring it to be 1/2. This may perhaps be better defended than any other number, but the explanation here is lacking.

Presumably that is his subjective prior probability for there being a God (of some particular sort? Or any sort that might be given that name?)

And what about there being 2 beings who,together, create and govern things? Does he count that as 'God' too? Or does that get assigned a different and distinct prior probability? How about 12 such beings?

For myself, the prior probability of there being a single 'personal' [Plantinga type] God is quite low, and, consequently, the bayesian reasoning doesn't get me anywhere near 50/50 for the existence of a personal God.

(You can post this on your discussion page if you want to.)


VR: Of course, Chandler is ruining all the fun. To make matters more complicated, my guess is that Chandler's assessment of the sorts of evidence that is presented in Unwin's book has already helped to form his current antecedent probability for theism.

Another problem has to do with how arguments get weighted. In my book I turned Lewis's one argument into six. Did I thereby make his argument six times more powerful? Is inability to explain evil a more serious fault than inability to explain miracle claims (assuming that these inabilities do obtain, as the author suggests that it does)? I'll bet there aren't going to be a lot of problem of evil atheists who would agree to that. And then what miracle evidence are we counting. Good evidence that God delivered the Qu'ran in Arabic to Muhammad, if we had it, would I think diminish my probability for the claim that an omniscient, omnipotent, all-powerful God exists.

Still, I wonder what adjustments could be made to the calculator so that someone could do a Bayesian calculation on their own assessment of how likely it is that God exists. I'll stick with my initial claim that this is a pretty cool concept, however much it may need to be debugged.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Probability of God Calculator

I actually like this. But of course, I would include stuff like intentionality, truth, mental causation, the psychological relevance of logical laws, identity of a thinker through time, and the reliability of our rational faculties.

Plantinga on being unawed by secularist arguments

Also from Philosophers who Believe, from Plantinga's "A Christian Life Partly Lived, p. 53.

About his teacher from Calvin Harry Jellema, Plantinga wrote:

Clearly he (Jellema) was profoundly familiar iwth the doubts and objections and alternative ways of thought cast up by modernity; indeed he seemed to undertand them better than those who offered them. But (and this is what Ifound enormously impressive) he was totally unawed. What especially struck me then in what he said (partly because it put into words something I felt at Harvard but couldn't articulate) was much of the intellectual opposition to Christianity and theism was really a sort of intellectual imperialism with very little basis. Wea re told that humankind come of age has got beyond such primitive ways of thinking, that they are outmoded, or incompatible with a scientific mindset, or made irrelevant by the march of history or maybe by something else lurking in the neighborhood. (In the age of the wireless, Bultmann quaintly asks, who can accept them?) But why should a Christian believe any of these things? Are they more than mere claims?

Chesterton's chapter on maniacs

This is the second chapter of G. K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy, which is a personal favorite of mine, in spite of some not-so-nice comments about chessplayers.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Do you have to be gullible to be a humanist

It is interesting how people who are "from Missouri" when it comes to claims about God are amazingly gullible when it comes to their understanding of human nature. In fact, when it comes to human ambitions, they seem willing to buy bridges in California and New York and oceanfront property in Arizona. As George Strait sings:

I got some oceanfront property in Arizona
From my front porch you can see the sea
I got some oceanfront property in Arizona
If you'll buy that I'll throw the Golden Gate in free

Passage from The Weight of Glory related to the argument from desire

“A man’s physical hunger does not prove that man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist. In the same way, though I do not believe (I wish I did) that my desire for Paradise proves that I shall enjoy it, I think it a pretty good indication that such a thing exists and that some men will. A man may love a woman and not win her; but it would be very odd if the phenomenon called “falling in love” occurred in a sexless world.”

[CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory (1949)]

What's interesting here is two things. One is that one of the argument's most dramatic presentations is given in a sermon, presumable addressed to believers. In another place in the sermon he writes:

"Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need for the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years. Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modem philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth. And yet it is a remarkable thing that such philosophies of Progress or Creative Evolution themselves bear reluctant witness to the truth that our real goal is elsewhere. When they want to convince you that earth is your home, notice how they set about it. They begin by trying to persuade you that earth can be made into heaven, thus giving a sop to your sense of exile in earth as it is. Next, they tell you that this fortunate event is still a good way off in the future, thus giving a sop to your knowledge that the fatherland is not here and now. Finally, lest your longing for the transtemporal should awake and spoil the whole affair, they use any rhetoric that comes to hand to keep out of your mind the recollection that even if all the happiness they promised could come to man on earth, yet still each generation would lose it by death, including the last generation of all, and the whole story would be nothing, not even a story, for ever and ever. Hence all the nonsense that Mr. Shaw puts into the final speech of Lilith, and Bergson’s remark that the √©lan vital is capable of surmounting all obstacles, perhaps even death—as if we could believe that any social or biological development on this planet will delay the senility of the sun or reverse the second law of thermodynamics."

So Lewis thinks that not just philosophical naturalists, but Christians need to be persauded of their own desire for communion with God.

My second point is that the passage about falling in love arising in a sexless world, which is often left out of the quote, seems essential to his argument, since presumably even a naturalist, who think the watchmaker is blind, is still going to agree that this would be a very anomalous development.

C. S. Lewis's Description of Rational Inference

Although C. S. Lewis criticized naturalism by arguing that it is inconsistent with the possibility of rational inference, he didn't give the kind of full description of rational inference that he gives in an essay entitled "Why I am Not a Pacifist," which contains no argument against naturalism at all. It is found in The Weight of Glory, p. 34.

"Now any concrete train of reasoning involves three elements: Firstly, there is the reception of facts to reason about. These facts are received either from our own senses, or from the report of other minds; that is, either experience or authority supplies us with our material. But each man’s experience is so limited that the second source is the more usual; of every hundred facts upon which to reason, ninety-nine depend on authority. Secondly, there is the direct, simple act of the mind perceiving self-evident truth, as when we see that if A and B both equal C, then they equal each other. This act I call intuition. Thirdly, there is an art or skill of arranging the facts so as to yield a series of such intuitions, which linked together produce, a proof of the truth of the propositions we are considering. This in a geometrical proof each step is seen by intuition, and to fail to see it is to be not a bad geometrician but an idiot. The skill comes in arranging the material into a series of intuitable “steps”. Failure to do this does not mean idiocy, but only lack of ingenuity or invention. Failure to follow it need not mean idiocy, but either inattention or a defect of memory which forbids us to hold all the intuitions together.”

The power of intuition, the second step, seems to be the most difficult to account for in naturalistic terms.

Friday, September 15, 2006

I'm going to be on Infidelguy

I got a call from James Lazarus of the Infidelguy show, and they're going to have Reginald Finley interview me, at least if it goes as planned, on Wed. Sept. 27.

More notes on Inerrancy in Response to Steve Hays

My claim was twofold. First, the word "inerrancy" conjures up in the minds a kind of lead-footed literalism that would force us to accept Young Earth Creationism, etc. It would also, for example, force us into the hands of the universalists in response to such passages as "Every knee shall bow," etc. What any interpreter will do at that point is to supply "context" into which the passage fits. They will argue that the error emerges from reading the passage to narrowly and not adding in the context. (I want to point out that there is a danger that what we call "context" is simply the whole boatload of preconceived theology and Sunday School lessons that we brought to the text in the first place). So a "lead-footed" inerrancy proves too much, but a more sensible inerrancy might not in fact do enough work. Exactly what does it take to make out the claim that so-and-so is really making an error attribution to Scripture? Augustine is the classic example of someone who would if asked have affirmed "inerrancy" in a heartbeat, and yet developed a theory of origins that, if anything, looks more like Darwinian evolution than Young Earth Creationism. Was Gundry attributing error to Matthew when he analyzed it in terms of midrash? Is Pinnock an inerrantist or not.

The Chicago Statement, which has been touted as the locus classicus for inerrancy, seems to back away from drawing out all the hermeneutical implications that many advocates of the doctrine have defended. The book that spelled all this stuff out, ironically enough, is Pinnock's early book Biblical Revelation. There, he claims Ruth cannot be fictional, since for it to be fictional would be to attribute a deceitful literary form to Scripture. But there are plenty of people who would continue to use the word inerrancy who would deny that Pinnock drew all the correct consequences of inerrancy, including a guy by the name of Clark Pinnock.

I think everyone, including C. S. Lewis and myself, or Pinnock for that matter, who thinks of Scripture as special revelation, also accepts some version of the doctrine of inerrancy. I mean God can't be sitting up in heaven saying "Darn that guy I'm inspiring to write I Samuel. He's saying I wanted all the Amalekites killed!"

However, Steve seems to think that all beliefs on matters of faith should be determined simply on an analysis of what we find in the biblical text, without asking any further questions of whether that is plausible on other grounds, such as scientific ones. One must sign oneself to believe whatever we find through a grammatical analysis of Scripture.

But what I would say is that I don't accept the complete subordination of all other forms of knowledge to the knowledge gathered through bibical exegesis. We know that pi is 3.1416... not 3, there is good reason to believe in an ancient earth, and God has provided us with minds to discover some truths in methods that are not simple a matter of Bible study. Even if the Scripture is inerrant in some important way, Scripture readers and students are quite errant. We do have more knowledge and understanding which may conflict with a straightforward acceptance of actions attributed to God as good. No one should be expected to come to Scripture with a blank slate for a mind to be written upon by the text, and no one ever does. I know, about as well as I know anything, that an omnipotent being who condemns people to everlasting punishment who he could just as easily have saved without endangering anyone else's salvation is not a good being, much less a perfectly good being. So, a the end of all the verse wars about Calvinism, I'm just going to put my hand up in front of my face and do what William Rowe calls the G. E. Moore shift.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Lovell and the argument from desire

Steve Lovell wrote: Like many people, I think the difficult premise is "The world, including anything supernatural, is such that all natural desires can be satisfied" (or however we want to phrase it).

We could certainly substitute this with "Either life is absurd or the world is such that all natural desires can be satisfied".

Correctly read this is analytic. Of course the atheist may just shrug his shoulders and accept the absurdity ... but what about the agnostic?

I'd be interested in seeing anyone's justifications for the non-analytic versions of the premise.

VR: Steve: Nonbelivers are famous for being highly absurdity-tolerant; in fact our lack of absurdity-tolerance is often attributed to the baneful influence of Christian theism. Of course, there is a sort of Pascalian or pragmatic argument for accepting a world that is not absurd in this sense. But Lewis is famously lukewarm to apologetical arguments that give us a practical reason for being a Christian but don't really support the truth of theism.

The question is whether it is reasonable to suppose that, on an evolutionary scenario, we should expect the kind of desire-life that we actually do find. If the evolutionary scenario that the naturalist gives us is a scenario that makes the emergence of transcendent natural desires possible, answering the question "How possibly?", then a version of the AFD is still going to be a confirming argument. In order to completely stop the confirmatory impact of the argument, the naturalist is going have to argue that transcendent desire are as likely to arise in a naturalistic universe as in a theistic one, or else deny the phenomenology and say that we have no transcendent desires, as es does in the prior discussion. When I plugged my numbers into the Bayesian argument I assumed that there was a bit below a 50-50 likelihood that these desires would arise in an atheistic universe, and still the confirmation went through. The point is that if there is a God, then natural desires that are unfulfillable on earth is precisely what you should expect. We could predict this aspect of our experience from the point of view of theism, I seriously doubt that we can do this from the point of view of atheism, even if a halfway-decent-looking evolutionary explanation of how such desires could arise were forthcoming from the naturalist.

And by the way, confirmation in confirmation theory implies that something in our experience supports the conclusion, not that the conclusion is proved beyond a shadow of a doubt. If this needs to be clarified, I suppose one could google "Bayesian confirmation theory" and something will come up that explains it.

Would Kant have accepted the argument from desire?

Probably not, since he almost certainly would have regarded the desire as an inclination.

From Kant's Critique of Practical Reason:

*(2) In the Deutsches Museum, February, 1787, there is a dissertation by a very subtle and clear-headed man, the late Wizenmann, whose early death is to be lamented, in which he disputes the right to argue from a want to the objective reality of its object, and illustrates the point by the example of a man in love, who having fooled himself into an idea of beauty, which is merely a chimera of his own brain, would fain conclude that such an object really exists somewhere. I quite agree with him in this, in all cases where the want is founded on inclination, which cannot necessarily postulate the existence of its object even for the man that is affected by it, much less can it contain a demand valid for everyone, and therefore it is merely a subjective ground of the wish. But in the present case we have a want of reason springing from an objective determining principle of the will, namely, the moral law, which necessarily binds every rational being, and therefore justifies him in assuming a priori in nature the conditions proper for it, and makes the latter inseparable from the complete practical use of reason It is a duty to realize the summum bonum to the utmost of our power, therefore it must be possible, consequently it is unavoidable for every rational being in the world to assume what is necessary for its objective possibility. The assumption is as necessary as the moral law, in connection with which alone it is valid. -

Can anybody win a verse war

Tom Talbott here argues that while there is prima facie support for Calvinism, Arminianism, and universalism, we should at least affirm that universalism is not patently heretical. It also raises some interesting questions about how, if we accept biblical authority, we go from the relevant Scriptures to our doctrinal conclusions.

Liar, Lunatic, or Lord

Further notes on the argument from desire

What the argument does is point to desires within us that cannot be fulfilled in this world but may be fulfilled in a future life. It isn't a desire for God per se at all, it is just that it is doomed to permanent frustration if this is the only life and there is not God. A person might be strongly affected by this desire and at the same time say that an everalsting heavenly life is not appealing. C. S. Lewis himself described himself as the most reluctant convert in all England. The satisfaction of this desire within us comes at a price, we must admit that we are not the supreme beings, we must acknowledge the moral authority of our creator, we must submit to having our characters fundamentally altered in order to enjoy a life in heaven.

You have to admit that typical Christian descriptions of the future life are not especially appealing. Now Islamic accounts, that's another matter! But the Christian idea is that literal descriptions of heaven don't come anywhere near to capturing how good it is supposed to be, nor should we expect them to.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Maverick Philosopher's dialogue on the inerrancy issue

He has 34 comments over there!


Pinnock's Journey

Clark Pinnock's name has been mentioned in the context of the discussion of inerrancy. Ironically, in an early book written in 1971, entitled Biblical Revelation, Pinnock not only defended inerrancy, but also explicitly drew out a number of hermeneutical implications for inerrancy. For example, if a work appears historic then it must be historic; the appearnce of historic status in a nonhistoric work would be a deceitful literary form that would be unworthy of inspired Scripture. It is ironic that the understanding of inerrancy that was used to try to get him out of the Evangelical Theololgical Society is precisely the one that he himself developed in his earlier book.

Struggling with the argument from desire

Here's the picture defenders of the argument from desire are trying to paint:

1) Natural desires with known earthly satisfactions: food, clothing, shelter, sex, safety, etc. Things that contribute to the Four F's (fighting, feeding, fleeing and reproducing).

2) Natural desires with no known earthly satisfaction: a desire we have trouble identifying in ordinary experience, but it turns out to be a desire for something eternal.

3) Artficial desires which are satisfied sometime somwhere (Red Sox world championship.

4) Artifical desire which are not satisfied. (Phoenix Suns world championship, permanent peace in the Middle East).

The idea here is that the desire for the eternal sticks out like a sore thumb. But does it? What about the desire for one's natural life to go on forever? What about the desire to be (or look) eternally 22? What about the fear of ghosts? Can the argument from desire be hit with Gaunilo-type objections.

The link below is to an excellent Argument from Desire resource page.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Applied Inerrancy

Apparently, the Evangelical Theological Society, at one point, excluded one of its members for failing to draw the proper implications from the doctrine of inerrancy. HT: Steve Hays.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Francis Beckwith Story

From the Chronicle of Higher Education
Baylor Professors Criticize Denial of Tenure to Conservative Colleague
STILL FIGHTING: An already divisive controversy over a tenure denial at Baylor University appears to be getting even uglier.

Last spring Francis J. Beckwith, 45, an associate professor of church-state studies, was denied tenure despite a long list of publications and a recent teaching honor. Some saw the professor as a casualty in a battle between conservatives and liberals at the Baptist university. Now Mr. Beckwith is alleging that the former chairman of his department, who resigned under a cloud, worked to undermine his tenure application.

Mr. Beckwith, who is appealing the tenure decision, is a conservative Christian who has often written on hot-button issues like gay marriage and abortion. He is also a fellow at the Discovery Institute, which promotes the intelligent- design movement. A legal scholar, Mr. Beckwith says that he is not a supporter of intelligent design but that teaching it in public schools is legally permissible.

It was Mr. Beckwith's teaching, not his scholarship, that was criticized in his tenure denial. He was accused of disregarding the curriculum and using the classroom to spread his Christian views — a charge he denies. Some of his colleagues were outraged by the university's decision. C. Stephen Evans, a professor of philosophy and humanities, says he will consider resigning if the decision is not reversed. Mr. Evans, who calls himself a liberal democrat, says Mr. Beckwith is being "railroaded for his conservative views, even though he clearly merits tenure on the basis of his scholarly work and teaching."

In a new twist, Mr. Beckwith alleges that the then-chairman of the church-state-studies department, Derek H. Davis, never provided him with its tenure guidelines and encouraged colleagues to vote against his tenure. Mr. Davis denies this.

Mr. Davis is involved in a controversy of his own. He resigned from the university at the end of the spring semester following allegations that he neglected to properly cite sources for two of his articles. In one case, Mr. Davis closely paraphrased passages from a 1986 book by Ronald L. Numbers, a professor of the history of science and of medicine at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Mr. Davis acknowledges the improper citation, calling it "human error," not plagiarism. Mr. Numbers, who notified Baylor officials about the passages and later exchanged e-mail messages with Mr. Davis, says he is not satisfied with that explanation.

Mr. Davis says he was not forced to resign from Baylor but chose to do so after university officials discussed the allegations with him. "I resigned because I told people 'If you consider this a problem, then I will resign,'" he says. "They said they weren't sure if it was a problem or not." Mr. Davis is now dean of humanities at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, which is not affiliated with Baylor University.

Baylor's provost, J. Randall O'Brien, would not comment on the circumstances of Mr. Davis's resignation or on Mr. Beckwith's tenure case, citing privacy restrictions. He did say that he expected a decision on Mr. Beckwith's appeal this month. Thomas Bartlett

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Prosblogion on the argument from desire

This is a very interesting discussion.

Ed Babinski, C. S. Lewis, and the Bible

This is a response to Ed Babinski, who accused C. S. Lewis of simply ignoring morally flawed passages in Scripture.

It's not that Christians like Lewis or myself want to ignore this stuff. In many cases, Lewis is the one that calls it to our attention. But of course if you believe that God is morally perfect, then something other than God must explain moral weaknesses in the text. We don't need smoke in his eyes to explain that. Lewis maintained that the idea of a cosmic sadist who created the world was incoherent. Not emotionally repugnant, he found it *logically incherent*. I chronicle his arguments in the first chapter of my book. So why would he accept an incoherent positon?

Do you believe that there is an evil God who inspired the Bible? If not, then you explain the moral flaws of Scripture in terms of the flawed moral perceptions of the human authors. And if you can do that, then why can't Lewis do the same thing?

Lewis wrote a chapter in Reflections on the Psalms entitled Scripture where he discussed his understanding of what it was for Scripture to be inspired. He for example read Ecclesiastes as the cold hard picture of man's life without God, and he maintained that it was something we needed to hear, even though it was far from being the full literal truth. In other words, things that by themselves are scientifically, historically, or morally incorrect my be, he thought, part of a broader truth that is inspired. What is by itself a blemish may be part of the moral and spiritual education of a barbaric people which conveys an important truth.

As for biblical inerrancy, I am not so much inclined to deny it as I am to be unclear on what it means. Consider the following.

Every word of the Bible is true.
Every sentence of the Bible is true.
Every verse of the Bible is true.
Every paragraph of the Bible is true.
Every chapter of the Bible is true.
Every book of the Bible is true.
The Bible is true as a whole.

The bearers of truth and falsity, as I understand it, are sentences. So it is logically possible for 2 to be true, but we know it isn't, because if it were, then the sentence "Ye shall surely not die," said by the serpent to Eve, would also be true, but it isn't. If however, what we mean by the inerrancy of Scripture is that everything in it participates in some wider truth that God intended to convey, then I have no problem with it, but then I don't see why, for example, this would exclude a fictionalist account of Ruth or Jonah, positions that are anathema to inerrantists. I am inclined to argue, for example, when it comes to Gen 1, that it intended to convey a monotheistic as opposed to a polytheistic story of origins to the Hebrew people. In other words, it should be read in contrast to the Enuma Elish, not the Origin of Species. Hence if you are a monotheist, it conveys the truth of monotheism as opposed to polytheism, and why should it be expected to be loaded up with science. That's not its job. The passage participated in the broad conveyance of truth without being narrowly true in every detail.

If you think there is something incoherent about Lewis's position, then you have to show me that a Christian ought to accept some version of narrow inerrancy (as opposed to the broad inerrancy that he actually adopted), which is coherent and somehow more consistent or more Christian than his own view. Perhaps some of my inerrantist brethren can help Babinski with this.

On Beer, dualism, and Hivemaker

I think Hivemaker's point is that whatever the "soul" might be, it hsa to be something that has a close relationship to the physical system we call the brain, so that what happens in the physical world is closely related to what happens in the nonphysical mind. This is something that dualist philosophers such as Hasker and Taliaferro agree on. It is necessary to tell something like the story HM refers to in accounting for how beer works.

At the same time, in asking how beer works, part of what we want accounted for is the slightly tipsy feeling we get if the beer we drink actually does work, and that introduces what Chalmers calls the "hard problem" of consciousness which is a persistent difficulty that bedevils physicalism. Simply calling a conscious state a brain state does not resolve the issue of physicalism. The question is how something that is physical can also have conscoius properties. Can something that we describe in third-person terms have first-person characteristics? How beer causes tipsy behavior is one thing, how it causes the inner state of tipsiness is another

Sometimes these points are used as quick and easy "refutations" of dualism, and I consider such quick and easy refutations to be fallacious. Some of us who have responded to all of this have thought that this is what you were up to. Apparently not, however.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Is belief in God properly basic?

This links to an essay in which Plantinga argued that it is perfectly rational to believe in the existence of God without being able to provide an argument for the existence of God. The burden of proof, for Plantinga, does not automatically rest with the believer.