Saturday, December 30, 2006

Searle on intentionality - link to DI2

Ding Dong Saddam is Dead

Are you glad? Jarrod Cochran wonders if it was really a good thing to kill this man. He also offers this essay, written by an Episcopal monk:

A link to my article:
And, an article from my friend, Episcopal Monk Brother Karekin Yarian:

Saddam Is Dead

Today we executed a near 70 year old man. A man, once of great power, whom we captured cowering in his underwear in a hole in the ground. A man who, without a doubt, was committed to evil and performed great sins against humankind...

And yet a man who had been neutralized. A man who could have spent his life imprisoned for his crimes.

Today, we executed a near 70 year old man...

For crimes committed by countless others whom we continue to support and keep in power because it is expedient to our wishes. We executed him, like we execute so many others in our own country because we do not believe in God, despite our protestations to the contrary.

No... we do not believe in God.

We believe in vengeance and retaliation.
We believe in political expediency.
We believe in photo opportunities.
We believe in our own righteousness.
We believe in the gallows because we do not believe in grace.
We believe that death solves the problem because we do not believe that Christ overcame death...

Or that, if he did, he did so only for a privileged few that doesn't include Muslims. Especially near 70 year old Muslims caught cowering in their underwear in a hole in the ground because he realized that the gig was up and vengeance was at hand.

Saddam went to the gallows with a copy of the Quran in his hands. I wonder if the executioner did the same... carried to the gallows whatever holy book gives him comfort and strength.

I wonder if our Christian president bothered to take up his Bible and pray at all yesterday while awaiting news of the death his machinations had wrought against a near 70 year old man.

Today I got a note from a friend wondering if we ought to pray for Saddam in church this weekend.

Pray for your enemies and those who persecute you.
Those who live by the sword shall perish by it.
Vengeance is mine, says the Lord.

But what do we care. The biggest fear we have when it comes to executing a near 70 year old man is whether his death will lead to more violence against us. Or whether, in an age of lies and deceit, we dare show a video of the execution to the world for fear people won't believe he's really dead. How graphic should the news dare to be?

It really is, after all, just a question of taste.

An evil man has died on the gallows, but a man nonetheless.
At our Christian hands.
And in the scheme of things, the cycle of violence continues with no end in sight...
Because we do not trust God nor God's justice.

Our own petty tyrant is more convincing than the petty tyrant just dispatched.

We will hear about our savage victim over the next several days:

How afraid he was.
How resigned he was.
How pathetic he was.
"I saw fear... he was afraid." "It was strange... he just gave up."

Dangerous Idea 2

I have decided to open Dangerous Idea 2, which is a blog dedicated to examining the argument from reason. I am going to be reposting a lot of the DI material over there, trying to do it in some kind of orderly fashion. The first thing I posted there was the first reply to Carrier that I did which had appeared on Bill Vallicella's blog before I started blogging. I am hoping to provide a more organized source for my ideas on the argument from reason for serious students of the argument. At the same time I will at least be linking my posts here when I post over there.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Response to Steve on Naturalism

Steve: As you know Lewis opposed reductionistic accounts of even physical phenomena. The "physical thing" we call the sunbeam has nonphysical properties which have to be siphoned off in order to make it a physicalistic account. The concept of the physical is supposed to be a) mechanistic, and b) closed and c) everything else has to supervene on that. At least that's the Hasker-Reppert definition of physicalism, which can be expanded to come up with an account of what naturalism is supposed to be. (We are happy to solve the physicalists' problem of defining themselves for them, and I have it on the authority of Blue Devil Knight that our definition is a good one).
If you look at even secular philosophers like Nagel who take the toolshed distinction seriously, we find that they push the limits of what is acceptable as physicalism. Nagel seems to have broken out of physicalism even if he hasn't found his way to theism (neither did Lewis when he accepted the argument), and while Searle tries to be a materialist, I think most people on both sides of the materialist debate think he fails to do so. The strongest physicalists like Dennett, Churchland, and company, including ordinary functionalists like the early Putnam try their best to explain the distinction away.
Materialism is an attempt to say that the world as analyzed by the senses and the method of science is the ultimate reality, and that everything else is a byproduct. Insofar as they are consistent materialists, they have to try to undercut Lewis's looking at-looking along distinction. you can't press it into the service of physicalism without begging the question.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

My new chess blog

I thought that, when I get around to posting some chess stuff, I should put it in a different place. So I invented this chess blog. However, as Lloyd Bentsen would say, "Dennis Monokroussos was a friend of mine, and you're no Dennis Monokroussos."

Selmer Bringsjord defends the philosophical zombie argument

Mental states are often described as computational states, but could we have computation without real mental states? Could something function like a human but really be a zombie? Could something possess all the causal relationships of a human being but not be one because, where inner states are concerned, no one is home? Selmer Bringsjord thinks the answer to these questions is yes, and so do I.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Is Eliminative Materialism a Misleading Term?

I usually don’t agree with Hiero5ant, but I think his comment based on what he heard Pat Churchland say is pretty significant. He said that Pat said that she would probably not call her position eliminativism if she were developing it today.

The point I am making here is that the Churchlands do propose to replace propositional attitude psychology with successor concepts, and that those concepts are intentional concepts. In fact, those successor concepts have play a role in propositional knowledge. Scientific knowledge is knowledge that f=ma, that humans evolved from primate ancestors, etc. Eliminativists think that they know that eliminativism is true. The challenge is to see how these successor concepts can really replace propositonal attitudes without being propositional attitudes.

The Churchlands wrote an essay entitled “Intertheoretic Reduction: A Neuroscientist’s Field Guide,” in On the Contrary: Critical Essays 1987-1997 (Cambridge, MIT Press, 1988) in which they distinguish three types of intertheoretic reductions: conservative, reforming, and eliminiative. The reduction of temperature in a gas to the mean kinetic energy of the gas’s molecules was a conservative reduction, in that it doesn’t require us to reconceive temperature in any radical way in order to view it as the MKE of the molecules. The secondary qualities of temperature, how it feels, are not denied, they are simply pronounced to be the way we react to temperature rather than something in temperature itself. If the concept of temperature was essential to the meaning of our lives, this type of reduction would not threaten us in any way.

The second type is a reforming reduction, which shows that an earlier theory had significantly misconceived the phenomena it covered. Newtonian mass is replaced in relativity theory with mass relative to a frame of reference, but we were not just dead wrong when we used the concept of mass.

The most radical is an eliminative reduction. In this, the old idea is so wide of the mark that it is simply deleted by the new theory. No single has does the work of phlogiston, but phlogiston is replaced by a theory that distinguishes between oxygen, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide.

Now, what I have trouble understanding is what sense it makes to say that any reduction of mental states is can possibly be eliminative, because whatever the replacement theory is going to do, it is going to have to do the work that propositional attitudes do in any account of propositional knowledge. Second, are there any hard and fast rules for determining whether a reduction is eliminative or reforming? Bill Ramsey, a former student of Stich who last I heard taught at Notre Dame, while willing to defend eliminativism against my self-refutationist attacks in an exchange in Inquiry in 1990-91, nevertheless doesn’t really embrace eliminativism himself because of this problem. Isn’t the term eliminativism here just misleading?

Hasker maintains that functionalism is quasi-eliminiativism, in the sense that it removes important parts of what we ordinarily understand our mental lives to consist in.

Go to church and win a car

I couldn't believe it when I heard this announced on K-LOVE as if nothing was wrong with it. How does that verse go? You cannot serve God and what?

HT: Ingrid Schlueter

Blasphemy and the Donatists

I think some light might be shed on the issue surrounding blasphemy against the Holy Spirit by looking at the Donatist controversy. That controversy concerned whether Christians who had denied their faith to avoid martyrdom could rejoin the Church once Constantine had become Emperor and public worship was now legalized in the Roman Empire. After all, where were these guys when the Church needed them to stand up for their faith? They chickened out and denied it in public, right? The Donatists said that they couldn't rejoin the Church, but that position was actually condemned.

Apparently renouncing or deny Christ (or even the Holy Spirit) was not sufficient to remove them from the possibility of receiving God's grace, according to the Church at that time.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Blasphemy Challenge

Just a lousy atheist video? You mean that didn't at least throw in a t-shirt that says "I blasphemed the Holy Spirit and all I got was an atheist video, and this T-shirt."

Really, some atheists just need to grow up.

More seriously, any reflections on the "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit" passage in Scripture.

HT: Eric Thomsen (ADA Blue Devil Knight).

Sunday, December 17, 2006

William Hasker on intentional content

I have been re-reading William Hasker's The Emergent Self (Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1999), which I consider to be a contempoary classic in the philosophy of mind. This is his description in the first paragraph on our common-sense conception of the mental.

Let us begin with a modest proposal: there are intentinal conscious experiences. There are, that is to say, such episodes as a person wondering whether it is going to rain, or believing that this has been an unusually cold winter, or deciding to let the credit card balance ride for another month. In typical cases such as these the
intentional content of the experience, what the experience is about, is something distinct from the experience itself, something that could exist or obtain (or fail to exist or obtain) regardless of whether or not the experience occurred. These episodes are consciously experiened; when we have them we are aware of having them, and there is "something it is like" to be having them.

Of course eliminative materialists think that none of this is true, but I think functionalists really are less than complete literalists about this as well. There is a good case to be made, in fact, for the claim that functionalism is really eliminative materialism disguised, and that there is a case to be made for taking one's eliminativism "straight" if you are going to take it at all.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

David Lewis on epiphenomenalism

A serious difficulty with many kinds of non-reductive materialism in virtue of the fact that it denies a causal role to mental states. If physicalism is true, then only properly physical properties can play causal roles. David Lewis wrote the following, in an essay in defense of the identity theory:

[Epiphenomenalism] exploits a flaw in the standard regularity theory of cause. We know on other grounds that the theory must be corrected to discriminate between genuine causes and the spurious causes which are their epiphenomenal correlates. (The “power on” light does not cause the motor to go on, even if it is a lawfully perfect correlate of the electric current that really causes the motor to go.) Given a satisfactory correction, the nonphysical correlate will be evicted from its spurious causal role and thereby lose its status [...].

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Monokroussos on Lewis and the occult

Finally, a thought about your posted link on CSL as the gateway to witchcraft. There’s plenty that’s ridiculous and objectionable about that particular page, but I’m not convinced the general concern is unconditionally crazy. I’ve read that interest in the occult and Wicca spiked when “Bewitched” was on TV (yes, correlation doesn’t prove causality, I know), and I think the same has occurred in the Harry Potter era. To the extent that CSL’s work is seen as an instance of that genre, it might help funnel some who wouldn’t otherwise go that route into an interest in the occult.

Must it? Obviously not, and I suspect that it happens pretty rarely. But I suspect it’s like drinking alcohol, trying cigarettes when young and smoking pot. Sometimes those activities lead to horrible outcomes – becoming an alcoholic, a smoker and a user of more serious drugs – but usually not. In those cases, the worry is serious enough that we try to steer kids clear of those dangers in various ways. Is there a difference that makes the website’s concern ludicrous? Is it that the link is more tenuous? That the Christian-ish aspects of the Narnia works are more likely to predominate?

I’m not really trying to defend that site, I don’t think there’s any causal link between CSL’s and JRRT’s work and the occult, and I think that on balance their works are far more likely to lead to positive effects than negatives ones. It’s also a mistake to proscribe good things because they could lead to bad results. I’m just suggesting that their concern isn’t either goofy or necessarily even trivial.


The Dawkins Delusion

Review of the new Dawkins book. HT: Dennis Monokroussos.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Is Postmodernism as old as the hills? Can it be Christian?

Should Christians embrace postmodernism? Some people seem to want to do just that. The following, which is a quotation from R. Wesley Hurd, suggests otherwise.

Hurd: Looking to man and not God, the optimism of modernism has proven itself ill-founded. The response has been postmodernism. The best Christian book on postmodernism that I have found is A Primer on Postmodernism by Stanley J. Grenz. In this article, however, I will have to describe postmodernism more briefly, which I will do by looking at five presuppositions inherent in the postmodern worldview:

(1) The quest for truth is a lost cause. It is a search for a "holy grail" that doesn't exist and never did. Postmodernists argue that objective, universal, knowable truth is mythical; all we have ever found in our agonized search for Truth are "truths" that were compelling only in their own time and culture, but true Truth has never been ours. Furthermore, if we make the mistake of claiming to know the Truth, we are deluded at best and dangerous at worst.

(2) A person's sense of identity is a composite constructed by the forces of the surrounding culture. Individual consciousness--a vague, "decentered" collection of unconscious and conscious beliefs, knowledge, and intuitions about oneself and the world--is malleable and arrived at through interaction with the surrounding culture. Postmodernism then, in stark contrast to modernism, is about the dissolving of the self. From the postmodernist perspective, we should not think of ourselves as unique, unified, self-conscious, autonomous persons.

(3) The languages of our culture (the verbal and visual signs we use to represent the world to ourselves) literally "construct" what we think of as "real" in our everyday existence. In this sense, reality is a "text" or "composite" of texts, and these texts (rather than the God-created reality) are the only reality we can know. Our sense of self--who we are, how we think of ourselves, as well as how we see and interpret the world and give ourselves meaning in it--is subjectively constructed through language.

(4) "Reality" is created by those who have power. One of postmodernism's preeminent theorists, Michel Foucault, combines the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's ideas about how those in power shape the world with a theory of how language is the primary tool for making culture. Foucault argues that whoever dominates or controls the "official" use of language in a society holds the key to social and political power. (Think, for example, of how official political "spin" control of specific words and phrases can alter the public perception of political decisions, policies, and events.) Put simply, Nietzsche said all reality is someone's willful, powerful construction; Foucault says language is the primary tool in that construction.

(5) We should neutralize the political power inherent in language by "deconstructing" it. Another leading postmodernist, Jacques Derrida, theorizes that the language we use when we make statements always creates a set of opposite beliefs, a "binary," one of which is "privileged" and the other of which is "marginalized," and the privileged belief is always favored. For example, if one says "Honey is better for you than white sugar," this statement of opinion has "privileged" honey over white sugar. In the arena of morals one might say "Sex should only happen in marriage," in which case the experience of sex in marriage is "privileged" and sex out of wedlock is "marginalized." Derrida argues that all language is made up of these binaries, and they are always socially and politically loaded. "Deconstruction" is the practice of identifying these power-loaded binaries and restructuring them so that the marginalized or "unprivileged" end of the binary can be consciously focused upon and favored.

VR: It seems to me that these theses of postmodernism are as opposed to Christianity as atheism. The difference, what really makes it dangerous, is that the postmodern can talk the talk of Christianity and walk the walk of postmodernism. That is, one can say all sort of things that sound very Christian, speaking a longuage of faith, all the while "deconstructing" their own conversation in such a way that it means nothing. That some Christians are buying in on postmodernism is, quite frankly scary.

In the public debate that I show to my World Religion classes it is Keith Parsons, the atheist in the debate, appeals to Paul's words that if Christ has not been raised, the gospel is null and void.

1 Corinthians 15:17-20: And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

And while William Lane Craig disagrees with Parsons on a lot of things, the two of them, very importantly, agree on this critical matter. Both of them assume that Christianity is a claim that can be either true or false, and that if the resurrection really happened then it's true, and if it didn't then it's false.

Postmodernists will say that they each have their own "truth" and there is no reason to have a debate. Sometimes when I show this debate to students they react the way Rodney King did to the Los Angeles riots: Can't we all just get along?

I stand 100% with Craig and Parsons, and against the postmodernists. Christianity makes claims. They are either true or they are not. If they are, they determine for us the purpose of our existence. If they are false, then those who live on the basis of Christianity are misguided. Let's not be seduced into "getting along" in the wrong way.

One further point. Is postmodernism really a new idea, or is it really as old as the hills, or perhaps even as old as the devil. Way back in ancient Greece Protagoras, and the Sophists who followed him, said "Man is the measure of all things, of those that are, that they are, of those that are not, that they are not.

William Lawhead, in his introductory text on philosophy, claims that there were two main themes of Sophist philosophy: skepticism and success. Knowledge of the truth, they said, was unattainable. The second theme was success. He writes:

The second theme of the Sophists was that achieving success is the goal in life. Of knowledge is impossible, then it is useless to seek for what you can't find. Instead, you should just try to get along. The Sophists taught that you should not ask of an idea, "Is it true?" Instead, you should ask "Will advocating this idea help me." Don't ask of an action "Is it right?", Instead, you should ask "Will performing this action be advantageous to me." To the success-driven young people of Athens, the search for truth gave way to the marketing of one's opinions. The search for moral correctness gave way to promoting one's interests. Accordingly, the Sophists taught the skillls of rhetoric, debate, public speaking, and persuasion.

VR: The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Socrates Meets Elton John

This is really funny. From Platonicus Booknutticus.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Cosmological Argument and Falsification

Consider this version of the cosmological argument.

1. A contingent being exists.
2. This contingent being has a cause of its existence.
3. The cause of its existence is something other than itself.
4. What causes this contingent being to exist must be a set that contains either only contingent beings or a set that contains at least one noncontingent (necessary) being.
5. A set that contains only contingent beings cannot cause this contingent being to exist.
6. Therefore, what causes this contingent being must be a set that contains at least one necessary being.
7. Therefore, a necessary being exists.

If you accept this argument, how could the conclusion be falsified

Is C. S. Lewis the ticket into witchcraft?

According to this Catholic site, apparently.

Some questions about the defense of Mormonism

I have some problems related to the defense of Mormonism based on DNA. Suppose it is successfully shown by Mormon defenders that the book of Mormon peoples could have existed in a limited area and did not make much of a ripple in the gene pool. (How that squares with the casualty numbers in the BoM is another matter). I take it that is the thrust of the Mormon defense on this issue. I don't see that this gets the Mormons out of the woods if, as is suggested by this statement by President Ezra Taft Benson (Eisenhower's secretary of agriiculture and the grandfather, I think, of Arizona Republic cartoonist Steve Benson), the authority of the living prophet is greater than that of the dead ones, and if prophet after prophet says that those people on the reservations running the casinos are Lamanites.

A Bayesian model for the historical case for Christianity

This is the first post in what I hope will be a series on the historical evidence for Christianity. The views on this are enormous in variation, from those who think Christianity completely unsupported by history to those who believe that the historical evidence for it is so strong that only someone suppressing the truth could remain an unbeliever. My view is in the middle. There is as positive historical case to be made for Christianity, but it depends on what's in the rest of a person's belief system whether that case is sufficient.

The model I’d like to use to discuss this is one using Bayes’ Theorem. I had trouble showing BT on my blog, so I am expressing it here.

P(B|A) =
P(B) x P(A|B)
Over P(A)

Let’s take B to be the thesis that the founding of Christianity involved action by God or some other powerful supernatural agent. Not-B, on the other hand, would be the view that Christianity was founded without the aid of any beings of superhuman power, that ordinary natural causation produced all the events which resulted in the spread of Christianity on earth. A would be the various pieces of historical evidence which can be brought forward to bear on this issue.

P(B) in this theorem would be the initial probability that the founding of Christianity was miraculous, before we examine the specific historical evidence. The problem here is that I know of no way to objectively measure the antecedent probability of anything. In fact, I am pretty much a subjectivist Bayesian. I think that people have personal prior probabilities and they ought to alter those initial probabilities as evidence comes in , but I don’t know of any way to actually prove that one set of initial probabilities is correct and another is not. Some people have maintained that it is possible to go from how frequently an event has occurred in the past to how antecedently likely it is to occur now, but the problem is that every singe event falls under a range of classes. Hume didn’t use Bayes’ theorem, but if he did he would have said that miracles are event-types that occur so infrequently in experience that the prior probability for them so low as to make belief unreasonable no matter what the other figures are. C. S. Lewis’s book Miracles was a book called Miracles: A Preliminary Study, meaning that his argument was designed to show that the antecedent probability for the miraculous should not be vanishingly low. I am going to presuppose that different people will have different priors for miracles.

P(A/B) is the likelihood that the pieces of evidence should exist on the assumption that God was involved in the founding of Christianity. If God were miraculously involved in, say the resurrection of Jesus, should we expect to find a new movement arising based on the claim, would it make sense of a Jewish group arising that changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, etc.

P(A) is how likely it is that these event should have occurred whether or not there was any miraculous involvement. Is what happened in the life of Jesus and the founding of Christianity likely to have happened. Perhaps human gullibility and fallibility is such that people would have come up with something like this anyway, even without divine intervention.

I’m going to set aside the issue of prior probabilities and ask the question of whether P (A/B) is signiicantly greater that P/A. If it is, then there is a confirming argument for Christianity to be found in history, even if, according to many people’s credence function, it is insufficient to secure acceptance for Christianity. If it is not significantly greater, then there is no confirming argument for Christianity to he had from history.

This is a link to my Infidels essay on miracles, which should help understand the basic concepts.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Book of Mormon online

Here is the Book of Mormon online. I don't test positive, I am afraid.

Clark and company on the epistemology of Mormon religious experience

Clark and his interlocutors have carried on some of the discussion of religious experience, and in particular Mormon religious experience, on this page. Very nice discussion that can, of course, be applied outside of a Mormon context.

Part of what is behind some of Clark's arguments are the ambiguities in understanding a text. I don't know if he would subscribe to Nietzsche's dictum, "There are no facts, only the interpretations of facts." To which I would have said, had I been able to answer Nietzsche, "Is that a fact?"

But I would like to ask under what circumstances religious experience might fail to establish a claim. Under what circumstances might I want to say "Yeah, my feelings tell me p, but I really need to accept not-p." I'd have to scroll through a bunch of stuff to find it, but I thought Clark said that someone couldn't use religious experience to confirm a conviction that YEC is true, given the weight of the evidence against it. Of course one can, if necessary, accept all the scientific evidence for evolution and be a creationist, by accepting a version of Gosse's Omphalos. (God created the world in six days with fake evidence for evolution built in). So where are the limits on appeal to experience. I didn't think I saw anyone come in from that angle, so maybe that's a place for me to start.

Comments by a Lewis fan and former student of John Beversluis

Anwyn, a former Beversluis student but an admrer of C. S. Lewis, has some things to say about her former teacher's views on Lewis. It supports my long-held contention that Beversluis projected a more harshly critical view of C. S. Lewis in his book than he actually accepts. Of course he doesn't think Lewis's apologetics work, but the idea that he thinks Lewis is just a blithering idiot is just not true. I think that his revised book may disappoint some people like S. T. Joshi, who wrote God's Defenders, and who does think that Lewis is a blithering idiot and uses Beversluis to support his position. Ditto for Austin Cline of

A link to excerpts from my book

This links to excerpts from my book, in case someone might be interested.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Mormonism and misquotataion

My attempt to come to grips with Mormonism has revealed how little expertise I have on Mormon theology. However, I think I can claim to be a C. S. Lewis expert, and the critics of Mormonism have this one right. Lewis's claims are distorted by Millet and company.

P. S I corrected the link. Thanks, Jeff.


Apparently Dawkins thinks theism can be laughed out of the intellectual marketplace. Sounds like the Horse Laugh fallacy to me.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Pascal's wager

According to Pascal's wager, (or at least the unvarnished version of Pascal's Wager), if yoi don't believe in God, you should get yourself brainwashed so that you can become a believer. The idea is this. There is either belief in God or the lack of belief in God, and God either exists or doesn't exists.

1. If you believe in God and God exists, then you get infinte joy forever in heaven.
2. If you believe but you got it wrong, then you become worm food.
3. But if you don't believe and got get it right, resisting all the evangelistic efforts of all those believers, you ...... become worm food.
4. If you don't believe in God and God does exist, then you spend eternity in hell.

Given the fact that they payoffs are the way they are, the smart person will surely bet of believing in God regardless of the evidence. Even if you there is a tiny chance that there is a God, you should nevertheless make a believer out of yourself so that you can have a shot at the brass ring, eternal life, or at least avoid eternal punishment. I mean, what do you give up by believing in God? Premarital sex? Pornography? 10% of your income? Whatever it is, it has to be a flea bite compared to the eternal salvation or eternal punishment. Right???