Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A deity's right to choose

I wonder if there really is a problem of evil. Isn't the pro-choice slogan "A woman has the right to do as she pleases with her own body?" Well, how about "God has the right to do as He pleases with his own universe." But I suppose it's a bad idea to try to pull good theology out of bad rhetoric.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Getting bashed in good company

From Internet Infidels Discussion Board

Johan wrote: The problem is that the plausible-sounding-ness of this line of thought is dependent on selective omission of evidence (or, if you are a professional apologist like Plantinga or Reppert, willful ignorance of evidence coupled with the intent to withhold this fact from the flock).

Being put in the same sentence with Al Plantinga more than makes up for getting bashed!

Against Divine Timelessness from Alan Rhoda

Can a timeless God freely create? Alan Rhoda thinks not.

The numbers say it all on the Bush budget

HT: Celal

Middle Knowledge; From the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

This is the material on integrative dualism

I think when I tried to put a link in explaining integrative dualism it didn't work, so I provide it here.

From "Transposition" on the mind-body relation

I am not going to maintain that what I call Transposition is the only possible mode whereby a poorer medium can respond to a richer, but I claim that it is very hard to imagine any other. It is therefore, at the very least, not improbable that Transposition occurs whenever the higher reproduces itself in the lower. Thus, to digress for a moment, it seems to me very likely that the real relation between the mind and body is one of Transposition. We are certain that, in this like at any rate, thought is intimately connected with the brain. The theory that thought therefore is merely a movement in the brain is, in my opinion, nonsense, for if so, that theory itself would be merely a movement, an event among atoms, which may have speed and direction, but of which it would be meaningless to use the words “true” or “false.” We are driven then to some kind of correspondence. But if we assume a one-for-one correspondence, this means that we have to attribute an almost unbelievable complexity and variety to events in the brain. But I submit that a one-for-one relation is probably quite unnecessary. All our examples suggest that the brain can respond—in a sense, adequately and exquisitely respond—to the seemingly infinite variety of consciousness without providing one singly physical modification for each single modification of consciousness.

C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, Transposition, pp. 63-4.

The doglike mind

I have tried to stress throughout the inevitableness of the error made about every transposition by one who approaches it from the lower medium only. The strength of the critic lies in the words "merely" or "nothing but. He sees all the facts but not the meaning. Quite truly, therefore, he claims to have seen all the facts. there is nothing else there, except the meaning. He is therefore, as regards the matter at hand, in the position of an animal. You will have noticed that most dogs cannot understand pointing. You point to a bit of food on the floor; the dog, instead of looking at the floor, sniffs at your finger. A finger is a finger to him, and that is all. His world is all afct and no meaning. And in a period in when factual realism is dominant we shall find people deliberately inducing upon themselves this doglike mind. A man who has experienced love from within will deliberately go about to inspect in analytically from outside and regard the results of this analysis as truer than his experience. The extreme limits of this self-binding is seen in those who, like the rest of us, have consciousness, yet go about the study of the human organism as if they did not know it was conscious. As long as this deliberate refusal to understand things from above, even where such understanding is possible, continues, it is idle to talk of any final victory over materialism. The critique of every experience from below, the voluntary ignoring of meaning and concentration on fact, will always have the same plausibility. There will always be evidence, and every month fresh evidence, to show that religion is only psychological, justice only self-protection, politics only economics, love only lust, and thought itself only cerebral bio-chemistry.

From "Transposition" in The Weight of Glory, pp. 71-72.

An interview with William Hasker on Emergnet Dualism

It's outcast #12.

A Jim Lazarus paper on atheist arguments

Jim Lazarus put a draft of an interesting paper on the Infidels discussion board. And, someone wondered if he was a real atheist. Kind of reminds me of what happens in some Christian circles when you doubt the Archbishop Ussher chronology, or the literal truth of the Balaam's ass story.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Friday, October 27, 2006

Why even conservatives need a Democratic victory in Congress this year

The Republican majority in congress has to go. (The fact that Republicans exploit my religion for their own political ends does not endear me to them. Quite the reverse). I don't even think it's a liberal versus conservative issue anymore. I think it's a question of what happens when one group of people gets too much power and there is no oversight. If you really think that the government that governs least governs best, then, paradoxically, you want Democrats to win the 2006 congressional election.

Ed Babinski on the Argument from Evil

The whole defensive operation against the argument from evil is an attempt to who the limits of a philosophical argument and the difficulty it faces in proving the nonexistence of God. Whenever the people you don't like are making arguments, you love to point out our cognitive limitations. When we try to do it to the argument from evil, you object.

Atheists are attempting to prove that God does not exist using the argument from evil. So which is it Ed? Can atheists prove that the tri-omni God does not exist, or not? Does the argument from evil, a philosophical argument if there ever was one, really prove that God does not exist? If it does, then you must maintain that philosophy is not just one big IF, and that it really can prove a significant philosophical result. If, on the other hand, you maintain that the argument doesn't prove the non-existence of God, then you agree with me about the argument from evil. There's no middle ground Ed. It's yes or no. Please resist the temptation to elaborate.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Gale, Adams, and universal salvation

This is Gale's critique of Adams' response to the problem of evil.

Gale writes:

With this concept of middle knowledge in mind, a dilemma argument can be constructed to show that that God cannot bestow salvific grace in advance.

Either God has middle knowledge or he does not.
If God does not have middle knowledge, then God cannot grant salvific grace in advance. first horn
If God does have middle knowledge, then God cannot bestow salvific grace in advance. second horn
God cannot bestow salvific grace in advance. From 1-3
On either horn, Adams's theodicy of grace does not work. Each horn will now be argued for separately.

Argument for the First Horn

In "Middle Knowledge and the Problem of Evil," Adams argued at length that it is impossible that God create free persons and also have middle knowledge of what they will freely do. Thus, Adams is personally committed to attacking the first horn of the dilemma argument. This, of course, is only of ad hominem interest since it concerns internal consistency within Adams's philosophy. Unfortunately, it looks very much like God must have middle knowledge in order to be able to bestow salvific grace in advance upon the free people he creates. For God cannot bestow salvific grace in advance unless he knows at the time of his creative act that he is doing so. But he cannot know that he is doing so unless he knows that the free persons he creates will prove themselves morally unmeritorius by their subsequent free actions. This requires that God have middle knowledge prior to his act of actualizing a possible free person, that is, he must know that if he were to actualize this possible free person's diminished possible free person, the instantiator would freely perform at least one morally wrong action. In other words, he must know the relevant F-conditionals predicting how the instantiator of this diminished possible free person would freely act if it were to be created. Without the requisite middle knowledge, God's creation of free persons is a gamble, since he cannot have any prior assurance that these persons will come through for him and freely do the morally right thing. This makes availble (sic) to God the morally exonerating excuse for permitting moral evil of unavoidable ignorance. But whatever merit this might have in providing a theodicy for God's permitting moral evil, it precludes his granting salvific grace in his very act of creating free persons.

VR: But since Adams is a card-carrying universalist, it looks like he can dodge this objection. Everyone gets saving grace.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Can We Trust the Voting Machines?

HT: Hell's Handmaiden

An atheist critical of fundy atheism

A breath of fresh air from Jim Lazarus. Atheists, like Christians, vary in maturity.

Reply to an anonymous commentator

Anonymous has commented on the presentation of the argument from evil that Jason was kind enough to post, from The Problem of Pain.

Anon: Sounds like the typical Christian portrayal of what an atheistic outlook leads to. Supposedly, all is doom and gloom unless one buys into the idea of a supernatural being in the heavens.

VR: Where does he say this?

Anon: It's hard not to giggle when seeing how much Lewis anthropomorphized nature.

VR: Even Daniel Dennett talks about Mother Nature, (though I think he does anthropomorphize nature in a misleading way). But Lewis is just putting the case dramatically. And he is pointing to suffering as a reason for thinking that the universe is not intelligently designed by an omnipotent and perfectly good being. Similar dramatizations appear in the presentations of the argument from evil by David Hume and Bertrand Russell.

Anon: Lewis' argument falls apart here. He's made the unsupported assumption the the "world was really unjust." The problem of evil does not require such an assumption.

VR: We've been covering this issue quite a lot here. It requires some assumption about what God ought to do, which God is not doing. It presupposes an idea of what kinds of universes a perfectly good God should permit. It has, in short, a moral premise. But if the proposition "God ought to minimize suffering" is a private fancy of one's own on a level with a liking for pancakes or a dislike for Spam, we have severely weakened the argument from evil. Unless one happens to be arguing with someone with the same private fancy.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Worldviews and Arguments

It's certainly implied in the framing of the question, which is a classic tu quoque attempt to deflect discussion away from weaknesses in one's own position. It's a "what about" argument. ("It's immoral to randomly fire rockets into civilian areas." "Oh yeah, well what about the illegal settlements!?"; "It is overwhelmingly certain that humans evolved from earlier species of primates." "Oh yeah, well what about the origin of life?")

But the framing of the OP rests on a deeper fallacy, for lack of a better word call it "worldviewism". Modern apologetics has been extremely succesful in convincing people that no challenge to any individual proposition of their faith can possibly be legitimate unless absolutely every element in their "worldview" can be given a full and complete accounting for by some rival "worldview". So no matter how overwhelming the evidence that this or that proposition of Christianity -- immaculate conception, intelligent design, zombie rabbis -- is false, they can always brush the argument aside and say "ok, that's a 'problem for my worldview', but I'm not going to accept the conclusion of the argument unless you offer a complete alternative worldview that explains the origin of life, the universe, and everything. What about consciousness?"

The atheological argument from evil against contemporary Abrahamic monotheism works if you believe in samsara, or in the Greek pantheon, or in the Aztec pantheon, or in some kooky New Age Crystal magic, or nonreductive physicalism, or reductive physicalism. "Worldviews" are not some sort of impregnable wholes that can indefinitely stave off challenges to individual tenets (like omnibenevolence, or the resurrection of the dead, or the age of the earth) by demanding that the challenger not only supply evidence and arguments that the tenet is false, but that the challenger has an entire worldview and an answer to every question about everything.

OK, I think this is based on a misunderstanding of what I said. I argued that while the argument from evil, properly developed, might provide some evidence against theism, advocates of the argument very often claim more for it. They actually think it decisively refutes theism. And I argued that this sort of a claim on behalf of any philosophical argument is rarely defensible, and that recent work on the problem seems to show that this kind of a claim is too strong. Nothing I have said could be construed as a refutation of a William Rowe or Paul Draper-style inductive argument. I also argued that I did not see why the argument from evil can be regarded as decisive and overwhelming while the argument from consciousness against naturalism (all forms of naturalism by the way, reductive or non-reductive) is not.

If we're going to have world-views, then we are going to have world-views that have problems. What I was arguing is that even if the argument from evil shows that theists have something they have trouble explaining, one can still continue to be a theist unless it is shown that other world-views have fewer or less-serious problems. That is why nice, neat, clean "refutations" in philosophy are hard to come by, (and why I like Bayesian models in which prior probabilities are subjective).

Monday, October 23, 2006

A post from last summer on subjectivism and evil

More on Clayton and evil

The problem here, Clayton, is that we aren't getting the logically conclusive argument that there couldn't be justifying reasons for God to permit horrific suffering. I admit that there is a pull on my moral intuitions to say that God should intervene in such situations, but when this is spelled out in more detail this is not so clear. There is a special burden that falls on people who claim a silver bullet. And I can see how God's intervening in too many cases might result in our not taking responsibility for doing what is right in the world as we find it. My moral intuitions are exactly the opposite of those of Ivan Karamazov: if God can make it the case so that even the most horrific and senseless-seeming suffering can work out the best in the long run, then more power to God for doing so. Further, I can even see the sufferer in eternity thanking God for the privilege of being allowed to suffer so much on earth. If you don't like my moral intuitions, I don't know how to argue with you.

In order for the reductio to go through, you have to be sure that I really have the moral beliefs in question, and that I feel confident in applying them in the way that you insist that I must. The mere fact that theism entails that there are objective moral values (and I think that it does imply that) does not tell you what objective moral values the theist believes in. God has many more things to take into consideration than does a human being in deciding what ought to be done. Humans invariably truncate our thinking, confining ourselves to the realtively short-term temporal consequences of our own actions. God, on the other hand, has eternal consequences to consider as well as temporal ones.

I would not consider allowing terrible pain and suffering in order to achieve a good final outcome. But I have a limited understanding which makes it wicked for me to play God. On the other hand, God is supposed to be up to the challenge of playing that role, since He (she) is God. If God exists, of course.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

More on the problem of evil

I can't for the life of me see why the Christian theist's inability to explain some evils is more damaging to theism than the naturalist's inability to explain consciousness is for naturalism. If anything, the theist at least can, in broad outline, show how in many cases suffering can work redemptively. I would admit that in other cases it's far more mysterious. To say that we know for sure that God ought to intervene in some horrific case is to make moral-theoretic assumptions, and you have no reason to believe that the theist you are arguing with accepts those moral-theoretic assumptions or that they ought to. If you look back at Clayton's reasons why he thinks a hidden good argument won't work, you will find him appealing to Kantian moral principles and moral principles based on a "respect-for-persons" ethic. To get the silver bullet he wants, he either has to argue that these principle hold true objectively and that everyone ought to accept them even if they don't, or else he has to argue that all Christians either accept them or ought to accept them. I think that puts an intolerable burden on his argument.

A Christian moral subjectivist can dodge the argument from evil completely by simply saying that they, subjectively, can look at everything and say that the Omnipotent on is good according to their own feelings. End of argument. I have it tougher; I'm not a moral subjectivist.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Plantinga and the logical problem of evil

Arguments in philosophy rarely achieve the status of full proofs, arguments that begin from premises known to be true and advancing by impeccable logic to a philosophically significant conclusion. Anyone familiar with my book on the argument from reason realizes that I do not make that kind of a claim on behalf of my own arguments against naturalism. Most of us think that it is a good day's work for a philosopher to provide a cumulative-case role-player, something that might "break the tie" if someone is on the fence between two positions, and in combination with other reasons, might provide a good reason for, say, believing in God or not believing in God.

The argument from evil seems to have a different status, at least in many minds. Many advocates of the argument from evil suppose that that argument, unlike your typical theistic on atheistic argument, really can stand on its own as a disproof of the existence of God, showing that all who believe in God are just being irrational. Plantinga is widely credited by both theists and atheists with showing that the argument does not achieve this goal.

Yet, I get the impression from some people that they really think that the argument from evil is something more than a cumulative case role-player, and I do not think that this claim is defensible. I am unsure as to whether the argument from evil can successfully play a role as a cumulative-case role-player, but I do not think it can do more than this.

At least what is known is the logical argument from evil (as opposed to the evidential argument from evil) was supposed to do.

Would anyone like to argue that it really is stronger than your average cumulative-case role player? That, virtually alone of all philosophical arguments, and regardless of all other considerations both pro and con, really provides beyond a reasonable doubt that God does not exist.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Lewis and Anscombe on distinguishing "irrational" from "nonrational"

In my book and in my 1989 essay, "The Lewis-Anscombe Controversy: A Discussion of the Issues," I discussed Anscombe's insistence that Lewis distinguish between irrational causes and non-rational causes. Irrational causes would be things like being bitten by a black dog as a child gives you a complex and causes you to believe that all black dogs are dangerous. Nonrational causes are physical events or physical causes. Now interestingly enough, when I wrote a paper on Lewis on ethical subjectivism back in grad school I noticed this passage from Part I of The Abolition of Man:

Now the emotion, thus considered by itself, cannot be either in agreement or disagreement with Reason. It is irrational not as a paralogism is irrational, but as a physical event is irrational: it does not rise even to the dignity of error.

Now, in this passage doesn't Lewis draw the exact distinction on which Anscombe insisted? The only difference here is that Lewis distinguishes two senses of the term "irrational" instead of distinguishing between irrational and nonrational. But was Lewis's usage of the term "irrational" wrong? Going to a dictionary definition of "irrational" (see link below) I think not. Nevetheless, Lewis changed from "irrational" to "nonrational" to accomodate Anscombe's criticism.

This is the dictionary entry:

Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.0.1) - Cite This Source
ir‧ra‧tion‧al  /ɪˈræʃənl/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[i-rash-uh-nl] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation

–adjective 1. without the faculty of reason; deprived of reason.
2. without or deprived of normal mental clarity or sound judgment.
3. not in accordance with reason; utterly illogical: irrational arguments.
4. not endowed with the faculty of reason: irrational animals.
5. Mathematics. a. (of a number) not capable of being expressed exactly as a ratio of two integers.
b. (of a function) not capable of being expressed exactly as a ratio of two polynomials.

6. Algebra. (of an equation) having an unknown under a radical sign or, alternately, with a fractional exponent.
7. Greek and Latin Prosody. a. of or pertaining to a substitution in the normal metrical pattern, esp. a long syllable for a short one.
b. noting a foot or meter containing such a substitution.

–noun 8. Mathematics. irrational number.


[Origin: 1425–75; late ME < L irratiōnālis. See ir-2, rational]

—Related forms
ir‧ra‧tion‧al‧ly, adverb
ir‧ra‧tion‧al‧ness, noun

—Synonyms 3. unreasonable, ridiculous; insensate.
Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.0.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006

In writing about this in my 1989 paper "The Lewis-Anscombe Controversy: A Discussion of the Issues," I conceded Anscombe's point but argued that since scientific knowledge depends crucially on our having knowledge that is inferred from other things we know, the distinction hardly sinks Lewis's argument. But I should have gone futher. The dictionary definition clearly shows that the word "irrational" can be used in both senses. Therefore any claim that Anscombe exposed a blunder on Lewis's part is clearly incorrect.

I am grateful to Jim Slagle for pointing this out.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A Critique of Evolutionary Psychology

HT: J. D. Walters

From Jarrod Cochran on Bush's exploitation of Christian faith

To those of my friends and family who voted for Bush because he is "A Christian President", then this article is a very sad "I told you so". To those of my friends who realized just what a liar this man is, we have the sad knowledge that we were right all along (I have always hoped and wished that I was wrong on this one). Here's the transcript from the Oct. 11, 2006 edition of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Oblermann where he discusses the new book by a former White House employee that worked for Bush's Faith-Based Initiative Office. Below the article is the link to the actual MSNBC TV footage. I wish I could say "enjoy the article," but hopefully all of us will be grabbing for the Maalox and asking God to keep us from cursing under our breath.

- Jarrod


From the October 11, 2006 edition of “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” on MSNBC TV

George W. Bush, in a recent televised conference stated that, “The stakes couldn’t be any higher, as I said earlier, in the world in which we live. There are…there are…there are extreme elements that use religion to achieve objectives.”

He was talking, of course, about extreme elements using religion in Iraq. But an hour later, Mr. Bush posed with officials from the Southern Baptist Convention. It is described as the largest, most influential Evangelical denomination in a new book by the former number two man in Bush‘s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. The book, “Tempting Faith,” not out until Monday.

In our third story tonight, a COUNTDOWN exclusive, we‘ve obtained a copy and it is a devastating work. Author David Kuo‘s conservative Christian credentials are impeccable, his resume sprinkled with names like Bennett and Ashcroft.

Now as the Foley cover-up has many Evangelical Christians wondering whether the GOP is really in sync with their values, “Tempting Faith,” provides the answer: no way.

Kuo citing one example after another of a White House that repeatedly uses Evangelical Christians for their votes, while consistently giving them nothing in return, a White House which routinely speaks of the nation‘s most famous Evangelical leaders behind their backs with contempt and derision.

Furthermore, Faith-Based Initiatives were not only stiffed on one public promise after another by Mr. Bush, the office itself was eventually forced to answer an even higher calling, electing Republican politicians.

Kuo‘s bottom line: the Bush White House is playing millions of American Christians for suckers.

According to Kuo, Karl Rove’s office referred to Evangelical leaders as “the nuts.” Kuo says, “…national Christians leaders received hugs and smiles in person and then were dismissed behind their backs and described as ‘ridiculous’, ‘out of control’, and ‘just plain goofy.’” So how does the Bush White House keep “the nuts” turning out in the polls? One way: Regular conference calls with groups led by Pat Roberson, James Dobson, Ted Haggard, and radio hosts like Michael Reagan.

Kuo says, “Participants were asked to talk to their people about whatever issue was pending…advice was solicited. That advice rarely went much further than the conference call…the true purpose of these calls was to keep prominent social conservatives and their groups or audiences happy.”

They did get some things from the Bush White House. Like the National Day of Prayer. “Another one of the eye-rolling Christian events,” Kuo says. And “…passes to be in the crowd greeting the President” when he arrived on Air Force One, or “…tickets for a speech he was giving” in their hometown. “Little trinkets like cufflinks, or pens, or pads of paper…” were passed out like business cards. “Christian leaders could give them to their congregations or donors or friends to show just how influential they were.” According to Kuo, “Making politically active Christians personally happy meant having to worry far less about the Christian political agenda.”

When cufflinks were not enough the White House played “the Jesus card”, reminding Christian leaders that quote, “They knew the President’s faith…” and begging for patience.

And the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives? According to Kuo, “White House staff didn’t want to have anything to do with the faith-based initiative because they didn’t understand it anymore than did Congressional Republicans….they didn’t lie awake at night trying to kill it. They simply didn’t care.”

Kuo relates one faith-based “promise” after another: billions of dollars in funding and tax credits going unfulfilled year after promise after year. He recounts one specific funding exchange with Mr. Bush:

Bush exclaimed, “Eight Billion in new dollars?” to which Kuo replied, “No sir. Eight Billion existing dollars for which groups will find it technically easier to apply. But faith-based groups have been getting that money for years.”

Bush’s response? “Eight Billion. That’s what we’ll tell them. Eight Billion in new funds for faith-based groups…”

Why bother lying? Kuo says, “The Faith-Based Initiative…had the potential to successfully evangelize more voters than any other.”

According to Kuo, the office spent much of its time on two missions. One: Trying and failing to prove Mr. Bush’s claim against regulatory bias against religious charities hiring who they wanted. Quoting Kuo, “Finding these examples became a huge priority.” But “religious groups had encountered very few instances of actual problems with their hiring practices…it really wasn’t that bad at all.”

Another mission: Lobbying the President to make good on his own promises. How? Kuo says they tried to prove their political value by turning the once bi-partisan Faith-Based Initiatives into a political operation. It wasn’t just discrimination against non-Christian Charities. One official who rated grant applications for the Compassion Capital Peer-Review Panel told Kuo, “When I saw one of those non-Christian groups in the set I was reviewing, I just stopped looking at them and gave them a zero. …A lot of us did.”

The office was also, literally, a tax-payer funded part of the Republican campaign machinery. “In 2002,” Kuo says, the office decided to hold “roundtable events for threatened incumbents with faith and community leaders…using the aura of our White House power to get a diverse group of faith and community leaders to a ‘non-partisan’ event discussing how best to help poor people in their area.”

White House Political Affairs Director, Ken Mehlman, “…loved the idea and gave us our marching orders. There were twenty targets. Including Saxby Chambliss in Georgia and John Shempkist in Illinois.”

Mehlman devised a cover-up for the operation. He told Kuo, “…it can’t come from the campaigns. That would make it look too political. It needs to come from the congressional offices. We’ll take care of that by having our guys call the office to request the visit.”

Kuo explains, “This approach inoculated us against accusations that we were using religion and religious leaders to promote specific candidates.”

Those “roundtable discussions” were a hit. Republicans won 19 out of those 20 races. 76% of Religious Conservatives voted for Saxby Chambliss over the decorated war hero Max Cleland. And Bush’s 2004 victory in Ohio, that “was at least partially tied to the conferences [they] had launched [there] two years before.”

By that time, Kuo had left the White House concluding, “It was mocking the millions of faithful Christians who had put their trust and hope in the President and his administration. Bush knew his so-called Compassion Agenda was languishing and had no problem with that.”

If you would question Mr. Kuo’s credibility, then you should know that his former boss also quite the White House, complaining in his one public interview that “politics drove absolutely everything in the Bush Administration.”

There is more - much more - revealed, in "Tempting Faith": how Jack Kemp was tricked into sounding like a religious conservative without even knowing it; Jerry Falwell's astonishing behavior at the 9/11 day of rememberance; and considerably more, as our COUNTDOWN exclusive on "Tempting Faith" continues here, tomorrow night.

Steve Lovell Responds to John Loftus

I've taken this from the comment line to its own line.

Loftus' response (linked above) to my paper and subsequent comments is interesting.

I have attempted to defend a position I call Divine Nature Theory (DNT) which I will try to summarise here. DNT seeks to avoid the Euthyphro dilemma by saying that God's commands are rooted in his nature. This is intended to make morality dependant on God without making it arbitrary.

Questions then arise about how we come to our knowledge of morality and how we know that God is good.
My view is that God gave us the gift of conscience, and that we can (in general) trust our conscience even if we don't know that it was given to us by God.

In this way we can use our conscience to form moral beliefs ... including ultimately the belief that God is good. Here I've been charged with accepting an objectionable circularity. I admit the circularity, I only deny that it's objectionable.

Loftus comments that he thinks "inherent circularity in trying to defend the DNT points to the non-existence of God."

I'm not sure what exactly comes under the word "defend" here. The circularity appears in offering a justification of our belief that God is good which includes a description of the where our conscience has come from any why it's reliable. This justification is one that I offer within DNT and is a defence in the negative sense of showing how moral knowledge is possible on DNT. It is not a defense in the sense of an argument for DNT. Of course if there were no "negative" defense then a positive one would be out of the question ... but that's a different point.

Anyway, Loftus goes on to quote my common response here, which is an analogy with the evolutionary account of our senses. It goes like this ...

“It might be helpful to consider the similarities of a non-moral case: trusting our senses. One theory of why we should trust our senses is that natural selection would have eliminated species whose senses weren't reliable. But why should we accept this theory? Because it's confirmed by scientific data? But that data comes to us through our senses! The justification is circular.”

What would Loftus say if to me "the inherent "inherent circularity in trying to defend evolution points to the truth of creationism."?

If Loftus thinks the circularity involved in DNT counts against it, then surely this circularity is equally damaging to evolution.

Loftus' response here is:
"But is this really an analogous case for our moral faculties? We are able to justify our senses pragmatically, but that’s all. They seem to help us live and work and play in our world. Can we trust our senses to tell us what is real? No."

So the case is apparently not analogus because we cannot have anything but a pragmatic confidence in our senses. Does Loftus think that we can have more confidence (and not of a pragmatic kind) in our moral beliefs than in our beliefs based on our senses? If so, this is surely a very unusual position for an atheist.

I don't really see what else Loftus can mean by saying that the two cases aren't analogous. But perhaps his problem is just that while the analogy is a good one it can't do the work I want it to.
Presumably it wont do the work I want it to because beliefs based on our senses are trusted only pragmatically but I'm trying to defend a higher form of confidence for our moral beliefs.

Now I am trying to defend a higher form of confidence for our moral beliefs than a mere pragmatic confidence, but if this is Loftus' view then he has really given the game away ... since it would follow that on his view we can only have (at best) a pragmatic confidence in our moral beliefs, in other words our moral beliefs would be those we can get away with espousing. This doesn't seem to be a good way of arguing that Atheism can ground an objective morality just as well as Theism.

But perhaps Loftus is more confident in his moral beliefs than in those based on his senses. If so, I'd like to know where he thinks our moral beliefs come from and how such moral confidence is possible in a world of scepticism about both God and our senses.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Loftus on theological differences

Loftus on the differing views Christians have of many theological issues: Either God was not clear in his revelation about these issues, or the Holy Spirit isn't doing his job in illuminating the truth of the Bible, or God doesn't care what Christians believe.

VR: I think God wants to appeal to our wills and not simply fill our minds with information, and this seems to be furthered by not making everything "settled" by this that or the other Scripture. Let's take everlasting punishment as an example. I am prepared to take seriously the perspective of Tom Talbott, who thinks that it's essential to believe that God wants all to be saved and thinks God will eventually pull it off, even in the face of human free will. At the same time, I believe that sin doesn't reverse itself, it is not a minor detail, and if left unchecked it damages our relationship to God and to every other creature. That being the case, my inclination is to go agnostic on the question of hell. I accept the doctrine of hell as a perfectly accurate account about what happens to people if sin persists, I believe in a loving God bound and determined to save all, I think the passages saying that only Christ can save are there for a reason, and no attempt to "resolve" the relevant issues prematurely will be adequate. God has, in my view, left pieces of the truth around, and for our own good has refused to tell us how they fit together.

Jarrod Cochran's new website

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Infidelguy interview cancelled

The interview I was going to do with the Infidelguy was cancelled a couple of weeks back, and it looks as if we will no tbe able to reschedule. This is NOT my fault, but I do not feel it necessary to discuss any of the details beyond that.

More Aristotle Notes

I. Against Plato’s forms
A. The forms are useless, and double the number of things that need to be explained
B. Forms cannot explain change
C. Forms cannot be the essence of that which they are separated from
D. It is not clear what it means for particulars to “participate” in forms
E. Third man argument. If there is a relation between the form of a chair and a chair, then doesn’t there have to be form of that relations, and the a form for the relation to the relation, and then a form for the relation to the relation to the relation, and then form of the relation to the relation of the relation to the relation, etc. etc, etc.

II. Transcendent versus Immanent Forms
A. If all the chair were to disappear in a nuclear war, for Plato the form of Chairness would continue to be
B. If all the chair were to disappear in a nuclear war, for Aristotle, for form of Chairness would be gone as well

III. Substances: What is real is the sum total of all the substances in the world
A. Substances consist of a whatness and a thisness.
1. The whatness picks out the universal properties of a thing. It makes a thing the thing that it is. The whatness is identified with the substance’s form.
2. The thisness of a substance picks out its matter. Hence for Aristotle, a rock is not a purely material object, as you might have thought, but rather a combination of matter and form.
IV. Change. Aristotle’s philosophy, unlike Plato’s, has a theory that accounts for change. A change is a change from potentiality to actuality.
V. A change has four causes. Those causes are the material cause, what the thing is made of, the efficient cause, what brought it to be the way it is, the formal cause, what the thing is, and the final cause, which is its purpose.

Monday, October 09, 2006

LInk to a Dissertation Defending Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism

If you want to do some really hard philosophical work you might want to read the defense of Alvin Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism found in this doctoral dissertation, reference by J. D. Walters, and with some discussion between J. D. and Blue Devil Knight.

Wikipedia Entry on C. S. Lewis

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Gert Korthof reviews Francis Collins

An interesting review of Francis Collins and a critique of Collins' Lewis-style moral argument. The witch-burning stuff is interesting. Lewis had argued that we don't believe that there are witches, but if we did think there were witches, and could prove who they were, they would have to be regarded as the worst of criminals, deserving the worst punishment that state could dish out. If we mean by "witches" not practicioners of some nature religion, but rather persons who used powers derived from Satan to do harm to others, I would have to agree. Of course we no longer practice methods of execution that inflict as much pain as burning, and I believe Lewis would agree that that is an improvement, but his and (I take it) Collins's point stands--that witches in the sense above defined would have to be treated as the worst criminals, assuming we had real ones on our hands and knew it.

Chandler replies to Jason

Jason writes:

This being the case, I think Lewis is _not_ avoiding saying that the Being composed of three persons can also be legitimately spoken of in the personal singular, i.e. as a single person.

Yes, of course Jason is right. But then,if God is a person composed of three people, doesn't that make FOUR people?

Or is God just those three people, and not, in himself, ANOTHER person?

I think Lewis has got himself in trouble by thinking of God as something COMPOSED OF three people. Presumably Anselm and Co. would say that God isn't composed of ANYTHING - not even the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.


VR: Saying the Godhead is composed of anything is, I think a heresy. I'll have to look at the relevant passage to see if it is meant in a way as to make a heretical reading plausible.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Some previous dialogue on the Euthyphro

Since the Euthyphro dilemma has reared its head in a discussion, I thought I would track back to some previous dialogue involving Steve Lovell on the subject.

Lecture notes on Aristotle

I. Aristotle’s Life
II. Relationship to his teacher Plato:
A. While Plato’s philosophy is idealistic, inspiring, otherworldly and perfectionist, Aristotle’s is realistic, scientific, this-worldly and pragmatic.
B. Styles are different largely in virtue of what has survived. Plato’s dialogues survived, Aristotle’s lecture notes survived.
C. Picture of the School of Athens: Plato points up (to the Forms), Aristotle point down (at the world of our experience).
D. For Plato the model for knowledge is mathematics. For Aristotle it’s biology. What’s the difference? Biology relies extensively on observation.
E. Example: Plato’s social/political philosophy defines an ideal society. He doesn’t care if it’s attainable, and even tells you how it will fall apart if it is achieved. Aristotle’s looks at actual societies to see which ones work the best. He surveys 158 constitutions and decides which ones work the best in what circumstances.
III. Theory of knowledge
A. All human beings by nature desire to know.
B. For Plato there can be no science (rational discourse) of particular things.
For Aristotle there can be, in fact knowledge begins with the study of particular things.
C. It is a mistake to study an abstract quality in isolation form concrete exemplifications.
D. Presupposes that language and thought are congruent to the structure of reality. How could we understand nature if there is no affinity between nature and our minds?
E. The ten categories
1. What is it?
2. How large is it?
3. What is it like?
4. How is it related?
5. Where is it?
6. When does it exist?
7. What position is it in?
8. What condition is it in?
9. What is it doing?
10. How is it acted upon?
Would Plato ask the questions that have been put into the ten categories?
F. The discovery of logic, the science of arguments. Aristotle discovered that you could distinguish the form of an argument from the content of the argument. Aristotle put statements into categories and show how you can determine, based on the structure of an argument, whether or not the argument is valid.
1. An argument is valid, just in case, on the assumption that the premises are true, the conclusion must be true. If an argument is valid, the internal logic of the argument is solid. The argument can only be challenged externally, but attacking the truth of the premises
2. Validity is a matter of logical form. A valid argument can be given in favor of a false conclusion, or even in favor of a stupid conclusion.
3. Other argument forms to not reliably get true conclusions if the premises are true. There are invalid arguments.
G. First principles
1. Aristotle maintained that there were certain fundamental principles in every discipline. Although some people would like to think they can, or should, prove everything they believe, Aristotle realized that you can demand proof for the premises every time proof is offered, and impose an infinite regress. Some things are so basic as not to require proof.
2. An example would be the law of noncontradiction in logic, the claim that a statement and its contradictory cannot both be true. The trouble here is that any argument for the law of noncontradiction is going to assume the law of noncontradiction, and thereby be open to charge of being a circular argument. However, if someone doesn’t believe in the law of noncon, Aristotle will ask “Are you really saying that?” If the person says they are making a statement, then Aristotle will say that the person has implicitly accepted the law of non-contradiction. If the person says “No, I’m not really saying that,” then Aristotle says “Well, if you aren’t really saying anything, then I really have nothing to respond to,” and treat the person as a cabbage.

Poll on pedophilia-good news for congressional Republicans

This is a poll showing that 10% of Canadians see nothing wrong with pedophilia. And if relativism is true, hey. Who's to say what's really right or wrong?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Clayton on evil

Clayton wrote: I've got the numbers:
(1) There has been at least one event e in the history of the world such that anyone who could have prevented e would be morally required to do so.
(2) God never fails to fulfill a moral requirement.
(3) If God existed, e wouldn't have occurred.
(C) God doesn't exist.

Logically, it seems good to me. Let 'e' be the gang rape and butchering of a helpless woman in Darfur. Or, substitute some other event if you like.

Such an event is one God would be morally required to prevent and yet it happened.
My question is whether you think God is obligated to prevent all occurrences of this type. Logically, one would have to say yes. However, this would have the implication that anyone who wanted to do something like commit a gang rape would be prevented from doing so. I don't see how God could do that without creating the World of Clockwork Orange, in which humans are systematically prevented from carrying out wrong actions. I think God has an interest in creating a world in which there free responses by human beings are free to make choice and where there are normal consequences for those actions, even if that means allowing gang rapes in Darfur and unjust invasions of Iraq.

Pre-emptive strike against the hidden goods response:
(a) If there were such hidden goods that would show that all things considered it would be wrongful to intervene on her behalf, God created us as utter moral imbeciles. Such a claim seems flatly inconsistent with the idea that God created us as morally responsible agents.(b)

Not moral imbeciles. Well, human beings with limited information. We must act not knowing all the effects of our actions. It's different with God. (I suppose some Christians, committed to the doctrine of Total Depravity, would say that we think there is unnecessary evil in the world because we are moral imbeciles). We are, however, somewhat morally challenged compared to the Almighty.

If God created a world in which her enduring such an event is a necessary part of bringing about some e' that is the hidden good, intuitively, it sounds as if God is using a person as a mere means to an end. Very un-Kantian.

Who died and made Kant the morality god? More seriously, in a heavenly future life everyone desires the happiness of everyone else, and therefore the feeling that one's intense suffering played a role in someone's enhanced ability to enjoy eternal life would also enhance my eternal life.

(c) To say that God should have let this happen to her or endorse a theory knowing this is an implication of such a theory seems to low a lack of respect for our fellow persons.

Not, on my view, if you think clearly about what it would take to prevent not only this tragedy, but all others like it.

If we ever got our hands on a person who could have prevented such a thing but didn't, we'd have a hard time preventing a mob from lynching him.

People who make comments like this seem to forget that we are talking about a being who is running the universe. Guaranteeing the nonoccurrence of a tragedy has many, far-reaching implications, implications that we as humans only have as small grasp of.

I take it that you think the reason my argument fails is that you can knowingly say:

(*) God was right to allow that woman to be gang raped and butchered.

I say that that's false and not for epistemic reasons. Now, you say that I'm making an appeal to emotion. It may well stir the emotions. Here's a question that I think is significant. I think you cannot be a decent person and believe (*). Any decent person should find that claim quite beyond belief. You would think that if theism were true, God would not put us in a position whereby the claims we are rationally compelled to endorse insofar as we believe in God's existence make us less than morally decent people. That is a second sort of argument and one that is distinct from my first numbered one.

On the contrary, I think you can be a decent person and believe that God, before the foundation of the world, predestined some to everlasting heaven and the rest to everlasting hell. (Though sometimes I wonder how they pull it off). I don't see that this affects one iota my desire to alleviate suffering, or to act in compassionate ways. Mother Teresa was someone who believed, surely, that God had permitted the great sufferings of the people with whom she dealt, but she also believed that God wanted her to do all she could to decrease the suffering of those people. Just because I think God sometimes allows the human race to be scourged does not mean that I am raising my hand volunteering for the job of being the Scourge of God.

And, kudos to Clayton for meeting the terms of my challenge. I was starting to think that the argument from evil was just an emotional objection.

The atheistic problem of pain

One thing I really don't get. Pain is supposed to be a big problem for the theist, and is hence supposed to be a reason to be a naturalist instead. (Most problem of evil atheists, so far as I can tell, are naturalists). So, they say, the distribution of pain and suffering in the world is not what you should expect with a good God but precisely what you should expect with no God. Really? In a godless, naturalistic world, the existence of pain or any other conscious state or quale is exactly what we should not expect. Of course, you can I suppose have organism with dispositions to behave in certain ways, but the actual internally experienced state of pain is a huge, hard problem for atheistic naturalism, a problem that I personally consider to be logically impossible to solve. Going from theism to atheism to solve the problem of pain is like going from the frying pan to the fire.

Lewis's Last Version of the Argument from Reason

The Discarded Image was published posthumously.

No Model yet devised has made a satisfactory unity between our actual experience of sensation or thought or emotion and any available account of the corporeal processes which they are held to involve. We experience, say, a chain of reasoning; thoughts, which are ‘about’ or ‘refer to’ something other than themselves, are linked together by the logical relation of grounds and consequents. Physiology resolves this into a sequence of cerebral events. But physical events, as such, cannot in any intelligible sense be said to be ‘about’ or to ‘refer to’ anything. And they must be linked to one another not as grounds and consequents but as causes and effects—a relation so irrelevant to the logical linkage that it is just as perfectly illustrated by the sequence of a maniac’s thoughts as by the sequence of a rational man’s.” C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1964), 165-6.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Chandler on Plantinga and Lewis on God

Plantinga and Lewis on God's Nature: I've looked at Plantinga's Does God Have a Nature. Plantinga's God is defiantly personal. He is "alive, knowledgeable, capable of action, powerful and good." [p. 92] [This is an interesting little book.] I now think that Lewis' God is personal too - but in a rather odd way. This is from Beyond Personality: "On the human level one person is one being, and any two persons are two separate beings - just as, in two dimensions (say on a flat sheet of paper) one square is one figure, and any two squares are two separate figures. On the Divine level you still find personalities; but up there you find them combined in new ways which we, who don't live on that level can't imagine. In God's dimension, so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube is six squares while remaining one cube. Of course we can't fully conceive a Being like that.." [p. 10] Lewis seems to avoid saying that the Being composed of three persons is itself a (single) person. (A cube is not a kind of square.) He does say that that Being is "something super-personal - something more than a person." [p. 10] I'm not quite sure where that leaves us. My present view is that Lewis is NOT in full accord with Anselm & Co on this matter. In any case, we all agree, I think, that, according to Lewis' God is non-temporal. In this he certainly departs from Plantinga. Hugh
Fred Freddoso, who is probably the top expert on the Thomistic doctrine of God, also has used Lewis's writings in his class. I wonder what he would say here. Lewis, rather famously, works the Flatland analogy to death.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Replies to comments on the problem of evil

Just keeping score: there's been 23 comments, many by defenders of the argument from evil, and 0 numbered-premise arguments. Do I have to get out William Rowe and Keith Parsons and Paul Draper and try to supply some of these myself?

VR: "OK, could you formulate these claims in a numbered-premise argument? "

Anon: Um, no. I'm not really interested in formulating a logical problem of evil argument. It is always possible to justify any amount of evil using a logical format. Pretty much speaking from the gut here.
VR (new): So you argument is an emotional, and not a logical argument, and you admit this?? Wow!

VR: "First we have to know what is meant by lifting a finger. On what grounds do we deny that God isn't doing plenty to keep things from being a whole lot worse than they are now?"

Anon: It all depends on what kind of God we are talking about here. If God is all-powerful and all-good, it is hard to understand why things are not much, much better than they are now. I.E., this world does not seem to me to be the type that an omnipowerful, omniscient, and omnibenevolent one would create.

VR: Here's where the numbered-premise argument would help. Are you contending that an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent being would make the best of all possible worlds? If that's what you're saying, then you've got to contend with the arguments of Alvin Plantinga and Robert Merrihew Adams, who say that this is a false premise.

Anon: When discussing this with Christian theists I often have the sense that there is a lack of imagination regarding the degree or amount of suffering that is taking place on earth every moment.

VR: And you think the authors of Scripture didn't know about how much suffering there was in the world? Just for starters, anaesthesia was centuries away from being invented. Do you think that Apostles, who founded Christianity, were naive about the amount of suffering? If you believe that, the Brooklyn Bridge is for sale for ten grand.

Carr: It is nice to know that there no guarentees of a suffering-free existence in Heaven.

Or at the least, such guarantees should be treated by Victor with the same scepticism that he would treat a guarantee by God that he will not create any further pathogens along the lines of HIV.

VR: What God has promised to those who have submitted their wills completely to God should not be used as a benchmark for what we should expect God to allow a rebellious human race to endure. Can we have done with this canard?

Carr: What would Jesus do if he saw cruelty and suffering and starvation and drought?
And then equate Jesus with God.

VR: I'm glad Carr is asking what Jesus would do. Maybe we can get him a leather bracelet to help him to remember that question at all times. Jesus alleviated suffering in accordance with his mission on earth. He didn't alleviate all the suffering he saw, surely.

Loftus: Vic, you ask, "Where do we draw the line?" That's like asking "which whisker is the one, such that when it's plucked, no longer leaves a beard?" It's perfectly reasonable to say what abeard it without that level of specification. So this line drawing argument does not apply to this particular world. This particular world has senseless suffering in it, and this is the world we're looking at to determine if a good God exists...not some other one.

VR: You *know* that the suffering is senseless? What you know is that it looks senseless to you, and maybe to me. And have you proved that a perfectly good God would eliminate all senseless suffering? Have you even read Adams' "Must God Create the Best?"

Anon, quoting me: "If it becomes obvious that God is relieving suffering in the world on a massive scale, doesn't human nature suggest that we will just let God get on with the business of relieving suffering and attend to other things? "

And this would be a bad thing, how?

VR: Because according to Christianity, this earth and everything in it, including all the human suffering we find there, lasts only a few centuries, while human character lasts forever. Something that alleviates our suffering at the cost of harming our character is not a bargain if Christians are right.

Refuting the argument from evil should not be this easy. I wonder what is going wrong.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Chandler's question of Lewis and the doctrine of God

In his helpful remarks, Jason writes:

JP: "It is true that Lewis claims that God transcends 'ordinary' personhood; although I don't think he would have put it quite the same way HC does (i.e. as far above as a rock or number is 'beneath' ordinary personhood.) The important thing though, is that Lewis very strenuously emphasized in such discussions (his MaPS chapter on pantheism being a good case in point) that we should not consider God's transcendence of ordinary personhood to mean something _less_ than what we would call person-ness. (Which is related to that whole trinitarian thing again, as I mentioned last time. {g})

HC: As I understand it, traditionally, when it was said that God is, or is 'in' three 'persons', the word 'persons' does not (or did not) mean that God is, or is in, three PEOPLE. Didn't it mean God is (to be viewed as, in some sense, three aspects - even perhaps three 'masks' (persona)?

VR: As I recall, that's a heresy, alternatively known as Sabellianism of Modalistic Monarchianism.

Anyway, Augustine, Anselm, and Thomas Aquinas, believed that God was absolutely 'simple,' i.e. had no 'parts' of any kind. (This was, presumably, reconcilable, with the 'God in three persons' doctrine, as they understood it.)

It is, I believe, principally because of the 'simplicity' doctrine that these people held (although they wouldn't put it this way) that God could not be a 'person' in anything like the ordinary sense. 'People' (in the ordinary sense) have 'parts' (in various senses of the term). For instance, they have temporal parts, and various mental - psychological - faculties, they have memories and aspirations, they have reason and passions. They are 'entities' that have 'properties.' God, I think these people thought, is not like this.

Plantinga, as I understand it, strongly rejects this tradition. Norman Kretzmann, on the other hand, definitely accepted it. [See his Metaphysics of Theism]

Where does C. S. Lewis stand on this matter? I would really like to know. My IMPRESSION is that he was (really) on the side of Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas - he accepted the absolute simplicity doctrine and all that it entails. But I am going on very little evidence, and may well be wrong.


Lewis's exposition of the doctrine of the trinity is in book III of Mere Christianity. By and large he stayed away from issues like simplicity, which he thought were divisive.

These passages, from Miracles, might help some:

CSL: ". . . When [people] try to get rid of man-like, or, as they are called, 'anthropomorphic,' images, they merely succeed in substituting images of some other kinds. 'I don't believe in a personal God,' says one, 'but I do believe in a great spiritual force.' What he has not noticed is that the word 'force' has let in all sorts of images about winds and tides and electricity and gravitation. 'I don't believe in a personal God,' says another, 'but I do believe we are all parts of one great Being which moves and works through us all' -not noticing that he has merely exchanged the image of a fatherly and royal-looking man for the image of some widely extended gas or fluid.
"A girl I knew was brought up by 'higher thinking' parents to regard God as perfect 'substance.' In later life she realized that this had actually led her to think of Him as something like a vast tapioca pudding. (To make matters worse, she disliked tapioca.) We may feel ourselves quite safe from this degree of absurdity but we are mistaken. If a man watches his own mind, I believe he will find that what profess to be specially advanced or philosophic conceptions of God, are, in his thinking, always accompanied by vague images which, if inspected, would turn out to be even more absurd than the manlike images aroused by Christian theology. For man, after all, is the highest of the things we meet in sensuous experience."