Sunday, December 30, 2007

Who's your favorite philosopher?

C. S. Lewis admirers are often criticized for the excessive devotion to Lewis. Consider the following comment about he secondary literature on Lewis, written in 1985 by John Beversluis:

“Sections devoted to biography read like hagiography. We seldom encounter a mere fact about Lewis; accounts of his behavior, attitudes, and personal relationships are instead reported in the wide-eyed manner of the impressionable disciple. To describe him as a wonderful friend is a lamentable understatement; we must be assured that no one ever was a better friend. To praise him as brilliant in debate is entirely too lukewarm a compliment; we are told that C. S. Lewis could have matched wits with any man who ever lived. To endorse him as a Christian apologist of the first rank is altogether inadequate; his apocalyptic Vision of Christianity must be likened to that of St. John on the Isle of Patmos. After a while, one longs for patches of sunlight to dispel the reverential haze. One tires of enduring these excesses and of having to plow through equally ecstatic testimonials in book after book.”

To put this into perspective we might ask this question. Most people have some thinker that they really like, whose ideas they believe to be underestimated by the philosophical community, or the community of thought at large. Some people just love Quine, or Russell, or Plantinga, or Kripke, or whoever. Many admirers of Wittgenstein are thought to have been hagiographical in their admiration, including my former teacher Peter Winch. One faculty member at Arizona State University that I knew used to have a picture of Rudolf Carnap in his office with the a sticker on it that said "top philosopher." I have seen similar devotion to Friedrich Nietzsche. People get interested in writing about Nietzsche, say, because they think they can bring out some of Nietzsche's ideas and show how they make sense in present day thought. But there are inherent limitations with any thinker. Any thinker is, to some extent, a product of a particular time and place. Some thinkers have good broad and general ideas, but do not provide as much technical development as we would like to see. In fact, if someone isn't a product of the sort of intellectual climate known to us as "contemporary analytic philosophy," we can guarantee that their ideas won't be developed on a technical level well enough to satisfy the analytic community. Any thinker will have biases and blind spots that those who follow after him or her will have to compensate for.

The idea is not to bow down before your favorite thinker, but to sit on his or her shoulders, and may see a few things that thinker did not see.

Friday, December 14, 2007

How Not to Defend C. S. Lewis

This post, by Keith Parsons on John Beversluis's new edition, highlights the kinds of harsh criticism Beversluis received when the first edition of his book came out. The passages quoted there, however go beyond simply harsh to criticizing Beversluis's competence and intellectual honesty. As I understand it from him, I'm the prime example of a Beversluis critic who managed to avoid denunciatory rhetoric. I can understand what upset some of Beversluis's other critics, but what they forgot is that however much we may like some thinker, real progress in understanding and developing that thinker's thought is a product of debate between critics and supporters. My main beef with many books that have been written about Lewis is that they show little sense of what someone who is completely skeptical of what Lewis is doing is likely to say. Without an interaction with a critical perspective, you might as well not write your book, because nine times out of ten Lewis said it better than you ever could.

It may be a little while before I get to this book, but when I do, I will give it a full and fair response. I had a boatload of disagreements with the first edition, and unless I change my mind in a huge way when I read the new edition, I'll have plenty of disagreements with it as well. But while it is sometimes necessary to be sharply critical, charges of bad faith against an opponent are impossible to prove and of little value anyway. Once they start flying around, it becomes difficult or impossible to restore the discussion to a civilized tone. Discussion surrounding Intelligent Design is an excellent example.

Since he considers my replies to him to be fair and competent, I confidently anticipate that admirers of my book will find his to be an enlightening though challenging read, where discussion of my book is concerned.

Lewis is a figure that attracts strong reactions, both positively and negatively. Because he does, people on both sides ought to make a special effort to keep the discussion civil and productive.

Plantinga and the argument from Beauty

This discussion on Ooblick's blog uses Plantinga's brief reference to what he calls The Mozart Argument as a reason why atheists snicker at Plantinga. Not every atheist snickers at Plantinga--I wish people would read Keith Parsons' God and the Burden of Proof as a detailed and fair, though critical, treatment of Plantinga's ideas. In "Two Dozen or So Theistic Arguments" Plantinga was giving brief presentations of a number of theistic arguments,, without necessarily giving them a full endorsement. The treatment of the Mozart Argument was admittedly sketchy. But there are arguments along those lines that have been developed in more detail by Mark Wynn, and we discussed it a few months back.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Anscombe Debate and the Anscombe Legend

I think some notes need to be made with respect to the relationship between the Anscombe debate and the Anscombe legend. It seems to me that one can maintain that the exchange between Anscombe and Lewis must, in the last analysis, be adjudicated in Anscombe's favor, without subscribing to what I have been calling the Anscombe legend. The legend says that, as a result of his debate with Anscombe, Lewis realized that he had been completely wrong and gave up on Christian apologetics. Further, this caused Lewis to abandon the "adult" world of rational discussion of religion in favor of the emotional, childlike world of Narnia. It was the legend that Philip Pullman was alluding to in the interview I quoted.

John Beversluis, in the first edition of his book on Lewis, wrote that "the arguments that Anscombe presented can be pressed further, and Lewis's revised argument does nothing to meet them." In a later paper reviewing A. N. Wilson's book, he took Wilson to task for overestimating the psychological impact of the Anscombe incident but his comments did not indicate a change in his views on the success of Lewis's actual argument or the philosophical effectiveness of the Anscombe critique. So he withdrew his previous acceptance of the Anscombe legend, but not the Anscombe critique.

In the very issue of the Socratic Digest in which Anscombe essay appeared, Lewis presented an argument against naturalism which he thought could meet Anscombe's objections.
I think the Anscombe critique is decisive only if certain Wittgensteinian doctrines that she presupposed are true, doctrines that I consider to be highly counterintuitive, to say the least, and which would be rejected by most people on the naturalist side. But even if pursuing Anscombe's points further completely refutes Lewis's arguments, the Anscombe Legend would still be completely bogus.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Answers to questions on the AFR

Anon: Naturalism is sometimes described as the view that there are no supernatural beings, which kind of presupposes that we know what the terms supernatural and natural mean.

There can be other "levels" of explanation, so long as there is no mystery as to why one level arise if it is fully and completely made out of the lower level. So, for example, once the bricks and their locations are given, the existence of the brick wall follows from it, even though each brick in the wall is a size other than the wall itself.

DA: Does reasoning require violation? In other words, if the whole of existence is one physical cause after another, it seems to me that violation is impossible. When Lewis says that, "If this certainty merely represents the way our minds happen to work... then we can have no knowledge." Is he talking about the need for there to be a violation of nature in order for our insights to be real?

VR: Reasoning has to be governed by logical law rather than physical law, so that if physical law would require an atom be in a certain position, but the fact that someone is thinking rationally would require that it be someplace else, the laws of reason have to be able to override the blind operation of the matter obeying physical law. At the same time I am not comfortable with the idea of violation, since the laws of matter presuppose that nothing outside the system is interfering, and that would not be the case here.

John Loftus: So if it is true that you have abandoned Christianity for atheism, we need an explanation for that fact. That wouldn't necessarily imply that I had a theory of truth I was defending. So if you say "I was persauded to be an atheist because of, say, the problem of evil" I cannot hold to a theory of mind that says, for example that the actions of my mind are completely determined by Freudian complexes, such as the Oedipus complex. If your motives for atheism were fully and completely Oedipal, then we'd have to say your atheistic arguments are a rationalization.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Stanford entry on the counterfactual theory of causation

What happens to the noncausal view of reasons if we accept this kind of analysis of causation?

Beversluis's preface to the second edition

Also available at Debunking Christianity.

Fodor on mental causation

"if it isn't literally true that my wanting is causally responsible for my reaching, and my itching is causally responsible for my scratching, and my believing is causally responsible for my saying. ..if none of that is literally true, then practically everything I believe about anything is false and it's the end of the world. ( Fodor, A Theory of Content and Other Essays, Cambridge, Mass, Bradford Book/MIT Press, 1990, p. 156; quoted in Stich, Deconstructing the Mind, New York, 1996, OUP, p. 169)

Monday, December 03, 2007

More on the Lewis-Anscombe controversy: a further reply to anonymous

The question, of course, is whether Anscombe thought Lewis had adequately formulated the argument against naturalism, or whether the she really thought the argument fundamentally wrongheaded. Her response to Lewis's revision suggests to me that this was not her response to the revised argument. So long as we don't have an answer to Lewis's question, we cannot rule out the possibility that the naturalist is stuck with saying:

"Nothing. Beliefs (if they exist at all given naturalism--of course this is denied by eliminativists) are strictly epiphenomenal. It seems to us that we hold beliefs for good reasons, but if we examine how these beliefs are produced and sustained, we find that reasons have nothing to do with it. We think they do, but this is just one more example of the 'user illusion.'"

If this is the only answer the naturalist can give, the Lewis-style argument against naturalism hasn't fallen yet. There are principled reasons for thinking that that is where the naturalist is forced to go, if the naturalist is consistent. I have a number of arguments, having to do with the nature of intentionality, truth, mental causation, logical laws, the unity of consciousness, and the reliability of our rational faculties that suggest to me that these questions are genuinely open. It isn't just a matter of our not happening to have a naturalistically acceptable solution right now (but we will have it as soon as we do enough brain science) it is that there is a logico-conceptual gap between the mental and the physical that looks for all the world to be unbridgeable.

There's still a problem of mental causation that, so far as I can tell, has not been satisfactorily solved by naturalists. Look at Jaegwon Kim's extensive work on the subject if you doubt me. Absent some antecedent confidence that a solution exists, we can't say that there we can confidently await a solution.

Anscombe's final response lacks the firm confidence of this statement in the original critique:

EA: But someone who does maintain it cannot be refuted as you try to refute him, by saying that it is inconsistent to maintain it and to believe that human reasoning is valid and that human reasoning sometimes produces human opinions.

The most she claims is that it hasn't been refuted by the revised argument as formulated. There is absolutely nothing in Anscombe's final comments to suggest that no such argument could be formulated.

Anscombe's concession to Lewis

Anscombe: "It appears to me that if a man has reasons, and they are good reasons, and they are genuinely his reasons, for thinking something - then his thought is rational, whatever causal statements we make about him.

This seems to me to be a puzzling statement. To say that something is genuinely someone's reasons just is to make a claim about how those beliefs are produced and sustained. If the reasons have nothing to do with how one actually not only comes to hold but also continues to hold a belief, then we've got problems.

That means naturalists need a solution to the problem of mental causation, (a problem that has gotten a lot of discussion in the philosophical literature) or we can't say that the evidence for evolution convinced Darwin or Dawkins to accept evolution. This is why Anscombe rightly noted that the answer to this question is crucial.

CSL: But even if grounds do exist, what exactly have they got to do with the actual occurrence of the belief as a psychological event? If it is an event it must be caused. It must in fact be simply one link in a causal chain which stretches back to the beginning and forward to the end of time. How could such a trifle as lack of logical grounds prevent the belief's occurrence or how could the existence of grounds promote it?

Now suppose the only answer consistent with naturalism is "Nothing. Beliefs are strictly epiphenomenal. It seems to us that we hold beliefs for good reasons, but if we examine how these beliefs are produced and sustained, we find that reasons have nothing to do with it. We think they do, but this is just one more example of the 'user illusion.'"

If that were true, then naturalists would be implying that we are all, including naturalistic philosophers and scientists, are in the same boat with Steve the dice man. So when Anscombe says "We haven't got an answer" to Lewis's question, she is implying that her critique of Lewis's argument is incomplete, even though she might have some legitimate questions about how the argument was formulated in the revised chapter.

Anscombe's response is inconclusive as to whether, in the last analysis, Lewis's argument is good or bad. On the one hand she doesn't think Lewis has given a complete argument for the incompatibility of reason with naturalism. On the other hand, she doesn't think the naturalist has a successful answer for the central question that Lewis presents. She seems to think she won a battle, but not necessarily the war.

I am linking to the revised third chapter by Lewis.

Steve the dice-man

A passage from my response to the Anscombe controversy, which shows up in several pieces of mine.

If you were to meet a person, call him Steve, who could argue with great cogency for every position he held, you might be inclined to consider him a very rational person. However, suppose that on all disputed questions Steve rolled dice to fix his positions permanently and then used his reasoning abilities only to generate the best-available arguments for those beliefs selected in the above-mentioned random method. I think that such a discovery would prompt you to withdraw from him the honorific title “rational.” Clearly, we cannot answer the question of whether or not a person is rational in a manner that leaves entirely out of account the question of how his or her beliefs are produced and sustained.

It seems to me that how beliefs are produced and sustained is crucial to assessing whether someone is rational. If it is a consequence of the fact that everything in the universe occurs as a result of the motions of a fundamentally non-teleological substrate that reasons never really affect the actual occurrence of belief as a psychological event, then there has to be something wrong with a world-view according to which everything in the universe occurs as a result of the motions of a fundamentally non-teleological substrate.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Plantinga on Dawkins

The God Delusion is full of bluster and bombast, but it really doesn't give even the slightest reason for thinking belief in God mistaken, let alone a "delusion."-Alvin Plantinga

Friday, November 30, 2007

On what happened to Susan

This is a fictional story concerning what happened to Susan. It's a little better than what Philip Pullman seems to have assumed. It looks as if J. K. Rowling has the same problem as Pullman with respect to Susan.

See also this from letter to children: HT: Jason Pratt

From another letter to a boy named Martin: "The books don't tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in this world at the end, having then turned into a rather silly, *conceited* young woman. [emphasis mine] But there is plenty of time for her to mend, and perhaps she will get to Aslan's country in the end--in her own way." (ibid, p 67.)

Coming of Age in Narnia

This is a redated post on the Chronicles of Narnia. I would particularly recommend, toward the end of Jason's second comment, the letter from Lewis to a child named Martin.

Hugh Chander writes: I'm not sure I understand Professor Downing's response to Pullman. Is he saying that Pullman is wrong in thinking that the children are 'killed off" in the Last Battle? Is he claiming that, in fact, they all (except Susan) go to Heaven (or whatever) - so they aren't really 'killed off'?
Even if this is so, it neglects the other part of Pullman's accusation, namely that Susan is prevented from going to Heaven because she is getting interested in sex, wearing lip-stick, silk stockings, and so on. In short, she is trying to be 'grown up.'
Pullman says: "Maybe one day she'll grow past the invitations and the lipstick and the nylons. But my point is that it's an inevitable, important, valuable and cherishable stage that we go through. This what I'm getting at in my story. To welcome and celebrate this passage, rather than to turn from it in fear and loathing."
Pullman apparently feels that Lewis is in some way against growing up, against interest in sex, and even, perhaps, against ordinary adult life in this world. Is he totally wrong about this?

VR: Two points: One is that it is pretty evident, in spite of the way many people read Narnia, that Susan is hardly considered hopeless or damned because she isn't on the train at the time of the the train wreck, and I think there are quotations from C. S. Lewis that reject this interpretation (if I can find them or someone can find them for me). The children are told that they have to find Aslan in their own world, and of course we all know Who that is. Lots of people who are fixated on adolescent stuff during adolescence know Christ or come to know Christ. Second, one can take adolescence seriously without pooh-poohing childhood; so it is far from clear that the other three children had no interest in attracting the opposite sex.

There is no question that Lewis was not a happy adolescent, nor is he going to treat adolescence as fondly as he treats childhood. I think to say that Lewis was opposed to growing up is a patent falsehood. He did, however, oppose a certain kind of appeal to "grown-up-ness" which he felt was not legitimate. I remember a colleague of Hugh's at UIUC who used to respond to religious world-views by saying "We've grown up, for heaven's sake" (though, to give him credit, he admitted it was not really a good argument).

Here's an interesting Lewis quote:

C. S. Lewis, on the freedom of reaching maturity:When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that am 50, I read them openly. When I became a man, I put away childish things—including the fear of childishness and the desire to be grown-up.
Of Other World, Edited by Walter Hooper

Byron Lambert, RIP

Probably the first thing I ever wrote for print in philosophy was an exchange in the New York C. S. Lewis bulletin with a man named Byron Lambert. He had attempted to defend Lewis against Anscombe in the bulletin of the New York C. S. Lewis society, and I thought his critique had some problems, so I wrote a response giving what Anscombe's supporters might say back. This was in 1984-5. I was then a first-year graduate student at UIUC. We kept in touch over the years following. Later, when I was on fellowship at Notre Dame I drove down to the small hamlet of Hagerstown, IN to spend some very agreeable time with him. I lost touch after I returned to Arizona, and have often wondered about him. As it happens, he passed away in 2004, as this notice indicates.

Lovell on the Causal Role of Reasons--Why Anscombe's critique is not decisive

 This is because such an account of what it means to hold a belief rationally allows for no distinction between reasons for holding a belief and rationalisations of that belief. Suppose that chancy Charlie decides what to believe on a certain subject through a game of chance (by associating the various positions that might be held on the subject with the different possible outcomes of the game). Even though Charlie, being an intelligent and creative fellow, can produce formidable arguments for the position he adopts he surely does not hold that belief rationally. The problem here is that the reasons that Charlie offers in support of his belief are not really his reasons. To count as his reasons those reasons must at least partially explain why Charlie believes as he does. That is to say, the reasons are to justify Charlie’s belief those reasons must be part of what brings it about that Charlie believes as he does. It may have been something like this concern that Lewis was voicing in the central passage, quoted above. What does it take for a person’s reasons to be a part of what brings it about that they believe as they do? It seems to me to take, at least, the truth of both P4 and P5, which to remind the reader, ran as follows.

P4) The apprehension of logical laws plays an explanatory role in the acceptance of the conclusion of the argument as true.

P5) The state of accepting the truth of a proposition plays a crucial explanatory role in the production of other beliefs, and propositional content is relevant to the playing of this role.

Reply to Anonymous on Lewis and Anscombe

Anscombe's final comments are the beginning point of my discussions of the argument. Anscombe thought that there were flaws in the revised formulation of the argument, she also thought that Lewis asked a question "Even if grounds do exist, what have they got to do with the actual occurrence of belief as a psychological event," to which she said "we haven't got an answer." These are not the words of someone who thinks they have slam-dunked their opponent.

I've often wished that the Anscombe original critique, and the Anscombe final comments. I wrote a brief review of the volume for Amazon. Getting the appropriate permission, in this case, might be difficult. I tried to get a volume together of Lewis-related philosophical essay along with another Lewis scholar, but was not able to pull together such a complex project. One of my plans was to include all the original texts from the Anscombe exchange (though there is a new volume of Lewis essays coming out edited by Walls, Habermas, and Baggett--unfortunately no Anscombe appendix).

As an attempt to show difficulties with Lewis's original argument, the critique works nicely, as Lewis surely admitted. That's a good day's work for a philosopher. If that's all you mean by winning, the Anscombe won. If winning means getting the better of the session at the Socratic, then that's probably right, though reports are mixed. But invariably, "winning" is thought to be a good deal more than that; it is thought to be showing the argument to be fundamentally mistaken and misguided. But in order to hold that Anscombe achieved this, you would have to agree with her that reason-explanations not only can be distinguished between causal explanations, they can be divorced completely, and therefore a "S believes P for reason R" can be answered in a way that leaves completely out of account how the belief is produced and sustained in S. That was popular amongst Wittgensteinians, and I sometimes hear it being defended, but even naturalistic philosophers from Davidson to Dretske to Jaegwon Kim don't want to go that way, and I think (for reasons I give in some detail in my book), they have good reason for so doing.

But yes, I would love to include an appendix to my book with the original documents in it, or make it available online. But it isn't the sort of thing you can include in a monograph without a lot of hassle. I understand that even the Lewis estate can be difficult to deal with for permissions.

Does anyone think that I failed to give an adequate summary of the relevant arguments?

I am linking to the Amazon page on Anscombe's book, which may be out of print but it's still available.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

See I Told You So

In a post I redated from 2005 I wrote: Yeah, and I'll bet Pullman thinks C. S. Lewis went to his room after his exchange with Elizabeth Anscombe and spent three days in a fetal position planning the Chronicles of Narnia.

And in an another interview I hadn't read when I wrote that Pullman said:

But I must come back to what you were saying about Lewis. I don’t think he did set out to evangelise. How many children do we know who have read the Narnia books and didn’t realise they were about Christianity? If he was trying to evangelise, he would have made it jolly clear that Narnia was… He wrote those books at great speed and under great emotional pressure, and I’m inclined to think this began with that famous debate when the philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe carved chunks out of him.

OK, nothing about the fetal position. But good heavens these guys are so predictable. Notice, there's nothing about the actual arguments, or the revised chapter, or anything like that. I'm out of author's copies, or I'd send Pullman a copy of C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea.

I really would like to make the Anscombe Legend "bloody deceased."

C. S. Lewis's Dangerous birthday

Today is C. S. Lewis's birthday, so I am linking to Into the Wardrobe.

Is Jesus your boyfriend?

I hope not. He certainly isn't mine. But there is a tendency in some Christian songwriting to create songs of that sort.

On the effects of sexual guilt

I have seen a lot of Christians struggle with this. Ht: The Christian Mind

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Here's the song, actually

ARTIST: Melanie Safka
TITLE: Look What They've Done to My Song
Lyrics and Chords

Look what they've done to my song, Ma
Look what they've done to my song
Well it's the only thing I could do half right
And it's turning out all wrong, Ma
Look what they've done to my song

/ G - Em - / C - - - / G A / C - / G D7 G D7 /

Look what they've done to my brain, Ma
Look what they've done to my brain
Well they picked it like a chicken bone
And I think I'm half insane, Ma
Look what they've done to my song

I wish I could find a good book to live in
Wish I could find a good book
Well, if I could find a real good book
I'd never have to come out and look at
What they've done to my song

La la la...
Look what they've done to my song

But maybe it'll all be all right, Ma
Maybe it'll all be OK
Well, if the people are buying tears
I'll be rich some day, Ma
Look what they've done to my song

Ils ont changé ma chanson, Ma
Ils ont changé ma chanson
C'est la seule chose que je peux faire
Et çe n'est pas bon, Ma
Ils ont changé ma chanson

Look what they've done to my song, Ma
Look what they've done to my song
Well they tied it up in a plastic bag
And turned it upside down
Look what they've done to my song

Ils ont changé ma chanson, Ma...

Look what they've done to my song, Ma
Look what they've done to my song
Well it's the only thing I could do all right
And they turned it upside down
Look what they've done to my song

Look what they've done to conservatism

I remember hearing Dennis Prager say "Conservatives do not, and should not, trust big business. Conservatives distrust big business as much as liberals do, but they also distrust big labor and big government, while liberals display an excessive trust in those institutions. To which my first response was "Wonderful! Let's impeach Bush and Cheney and replace them with real conservatives."

I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, home of Barry Goldwater. Goldwater's conservatism led him to a lifelong suspicion of using the government to undergird moral values, and was horrified at the emphases of people like Falwell and Robertson. Real conservatives also don't suddenly turn in to liberals when it comes to helping their favorite corporate charity cases. I think I am more optimistic about what government can do in the social arena than people like Goldwater, but I think that pro-military as he was, I think he would be opposed to the way in which the Bush admistration has used the military. Given the fact that he was one of the ones to go tell Nixon to resign because the evidence against him was strong, I don't think he would be happy with the Imperial Presidency espoused by the Cheney-Addington-Yoo wing of the Admistration that has for the most part dictated policy for the last 7 years. And I surely don't think he would squandering the Clinton surplus and sending our country into horrifying debt invading and rebuilding a foreign country half a world away.

There used to be a popular song entitled "Look what they've done to my song." Conservatives should ask "Look what they've done to my political philosophy."

Monday, November 26, 2007

John Haldane comments on Flew

This is a response to the "Flew Affair" by theistic philosopher John Haldane. I can't see how you can improve on his comments.

1) Debate on the existence of God has to proceed by argument, not by appeals to authority.

2) Accusations of wrongdoing have to be proved, and they have not been in this case.

3) Any ad hominem turn in the discussion of belief in God is a bad thing.

4) While charges of manipulation may be unjustified, Flew has suffered some reduction of "vigor" due to age and that he cannot be regarded as a major player in the philosophy of religion. It doesn't follow from this, however, that the book is fraudulent.

5) What Flew has "converted" to, it is agreed on all hands, is considerably less than traditional theism. On a "Christian exclusivist" view of soteriology, Flew is still headed for eternity in hell.

If people can read Flew's book as an account of an intellectual journey I would hope that there would be enough of Flew there to make it worth the price of purchase. But as cutting edge philosophy of religion, no, I don't expect that. There's no good reason to believe that Flew has deteriorated completely, or that changes in his mind can be entirely explained in terms of Alzhiemer's-type deterioration.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Campus Crusade and the Military

If these charges are accurate, the US Military leadership and Campus Crusade are undermining religious freedom in all branches of the Services. I'd be interested in a fair hearing of both sides of this.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Philip Pullman on C. S. Lewis

Hugh Chandler, my former dissertation advisor at the University of Illinois at Urbana, sent me this interview with Philip Pullman concerning his "loathing" for C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia. David Downing, my fellow IVP C. S. Lewis author, wrote the following "roaring" response:

Pullman obviously brings a lot of anti-Christian baggage to his reading ofLewis; I think he would have "loathed" the Chronicles, regardless of the characters or incidents he found there. Pullman is being willfully obtuse when he says THE LAST BATTLE is about Lewis killing off his main characters. The book explains in one sentence what happened to the children on Earth; it spends the last third of the narrative showing their lives in the eternal morning of the new Narnia, with Aslan and his faithful followers from all generations. THE LAST BATTLE is not about sad endings in this world (tho Lewis knew all about that from childhood), but about wonderful beginnings elsewhere. For a creative writer, Pullman shows are markably stunted imagination in his inability (unwillingness?) to envision the worldview of faith. In any case, I think the less said the better. Others have berated the Chronicles, getting more attention than they deserved with muddled & befuddled psycho-babble. But their effect on the popularity or critical reputation of the Chronicles have been no more than that of gnats trying to bring down a lion. Isay, "Let the heathen rage," and pay the Pullmans of the world no mind . . .

David C. Downing

Yeah, and I'll bet Pullman thinks C. S. Lewis went to his room after his exchange with Elizabeth Anscombe and spent three days in a fetal position planning the Chronicles of Narnia.

P. S. This is a redated post, which I have updated because The Golden Compass is in theaters.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Now we see the violence inherent in the (atheist) system

Dinesh D'Souza makes the case that atheism has had a much greater death toll than religions, in spite of all the posturing about the bloody history of religion.

But what do you make of this atheist school shooting? I will tell you this, if the gunman had said he was doing it in the name of Jesus, all the infidels would be a lot to say about the violence inherent in the (Christian) system.

I'm not sure how far these arguments should be pushed. But in light of preposterous claims about religion as the source of all violence, these murders need to be pointing out. Anyone know the religious affiliation of the Columbine killers?

Scripture and Poverty

One of the clearest teachings of Scripture concerns poverty. For every verse on homosexuality therre are about 10 that deal with caring about the poor, and that's a conservative estimate. So why are so many Christians opposed to programs like universal health coverage, which are designed to help the less fortunate in our society? I think there are three theses which can be used to defend this kind of position.

1) The poor deserve it, since they're so lazy. (Hardly biblical, to say the least).

2) If government lets big business run its course, the benefits will trickle down to the least fortunate. (On this I agree with Ross Perot. Trickle down didn't trickle).

3) Private charity does it better, more efficiently than government programs. (I'd like to see real hard evidence that private charity picked up the slack when many of the mentally ill were put back on the street during the Reagan adminstration.)

On my view, none of these propositions is true,

Not Even Modern

An interesting new blog from, I think, the Netherlands.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I wish I could quit this discussion

But I can't. But I think I'm a little closer to waying my peace here.

Physical pain is only one kind of distressing mental state. While imprisonment can be successfully dealt with by many people, no one who is waterboarded can put up with it for any length of time--supposedly KSM set the record at 2 and a half minutes.

The fact that waterboarding seems to contravene international law (unless you get a international judge who's willing to legislate from the bench and allow it) suggests a strong presumption against using it. I can imagine particular instances in which one can make a utlitarian argument for using it given the kind of information one might get. If we had a waterboarding program, it would be helpful to be reassured that we would only do it to people whom we have good reason to believe are high enough in the counsels of al-Qaeda to know about ongoing terror threats. But then you have to worry about the Potato Chip Effect (you can't eat just one). A waterboarding program that hits only the right people would be better than one that waterboards people who don't fit the category. It doens't look as if our program has done that. You then have to look at the collateral damage caused by the harm to our reputation. Does anyone seriously deny that Abu Ghirab photographs weren't put on al Qaeda recruitment posters? The fact that it would be hypocritical of them to do so is beside the point. You have the fact we could be brought to trial for war crimes for doing this, by people who don't think the Geneva conventions are so "quaint" after all. You have the fact that this requires brutalizing and desensitizing the people who do the waterboarding. When you add everything up (and I haven't begun to add everything up here) it looks as if we are selling our birthright for a mess of pottage.

Even if there is a way to waterboard someone without torturing them (Mike's good question) would we end up with people who do it who get sadistic pleasure out of it. C. S. Lewis has Fairy Hardcastle say that you can't get anyone to do this job (which involved torturing people) who doesn't get some kick out of it.

What happens to our character when preventing an admittedly horrible attack like a repeat 9/11 is so important to us that we treat anybody, even a terror suspect, as a subhuman. As Christians we believe that our character is the only thing that lasts forever, everything else, including lives, come to an end. The Gonzales memo suggesting that the "post 9/11 paradigm" "renders quaint" some of the provisions of the Geneva conventions is a scary statement. It says that because "those people" are the way that are, we shouldn't have to follow the rules we agreed to FOR GOOD REASON (and yes, I am shouting!) I can hear the admistration saying, with Uncle Andrew and the White Witch, "Ours is a high and lonely destiny." When we were attacked, the world sympathized with us, but some probably thought "Welcome to the world, USA." There have been brutal and ruthless enemies before. 9/11 is nowhere near the top of the list of great crimes of the world's history. It's only American conceit that suggests otherwise.

Using the Ring of Power to do good, that will probably help in the short run, but it will destroy us in the long run.

Friday, November 16, 2007

McCain on Torture

Steve Hays has implied that my discussions of torture are out of touch with the reality of war, and in particular interrogation techniques. I wonder if he will make the same charge against this guy, who's must be a bleeding heart liberal, a dove on all matters related to war, and who must have dreamed his "experience" as a POW in Vietnam.

Why does it follow that the fact that some of our military sign up for waterboard training make waterboarding not torture? Why? Why not just say that these guys sign up to learn how to deal with torture by dealing with some of it during training. The fact that they beg for it to stop very quickly once it happens is better evidence that it is torture.

In a traditional understanding of everlasting hellfire a person has a resurrection body which is never consumed by the flames of hell, but the flames inflict pain on that person without any actual organ damage. So, I guess, no one gets tortured in hell. I'm sure that'll be a relief to everyone who goes there.

We have to look at what we ordinarily mean when we use words. Inflicting suffering of any kind on a person so that they will do anything to make it stop is the very essence of torture. The rest is quibbling. My Clinton parallel works like this, in case you couldn't see the logic. Bill Clinton denied that he had had "sexual relations" with Monica Lewinsky by using a technical, legal definition of sexual relations which could be used to exclude oral sex performed on him. But it was still very deceitful because most of his listeners weren't thinking in terms of the technical definition, they were thinking in more common-sense terms.

This is the international legal definition of torture, provided by a commentator on Triablogue:

"any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions."

This makes it clear that by the legal definition, it doesn't matter if the suffering is physical or psychological.

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Armchair psychiatry

Steve Hays told me about this. Apparently the armchair diagnosis in this isn't confined to Flew. Apparently Reagan managed to win the 1984 election by a landslide as an Alzheimer's patient. Mr. I forget your name, tear down this wall!

Senator Bill Frist was, in my view, rightly criticized for his "diagnosis" of Terri Schiavo.

Please note that Flew is managing to frustrate the hopes of both the atheists and the Christians. Not bad for an Alzhiemer's patient!

For the 1000th time, I'm not looking to Flew for a book of great apologetic value. I'm just asking for a little less rush to judgment. I suspect that the Flew book is being attacked because of its support for ID, rather than for the deism it espouses. IDists, after all, are evil.

Paul Copan reviews the Flew book

Here's the definition of torture. Next question


[tawr-cher] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation noun, verb, -tured, -tur·ing.
1.the act of inflicting excruciating pain, as punishment or revenge, as a means of getting a confession or information, or for sheer cruelty.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Beversluis's revision is out now

He said, he said

What follows from the fact that someone converted.?I think it important to emphasize that, in and of itself, not a whole lot. If someone converts for a good reason, that is another matter. You could, after all, have had it right the first time. The reasons a person offers, whether that persons is Antony Flew, John Loftus, or C. S. Lewis, still have to be weighed in the crucible of ideas. Conversion from a long-held belief does not provide exemption from critical analysis.

I think conversation reports are often not as reliable as one might think. I am linking to a blog which reports a conversation between the blogger, Jason Rosenhouse, and Angus Menuge, during the Kansas evolution hearings.

Rosenhouse: Bugged Menuge and reporters during lunch. Menuge conceded that I made some "good points" which means I'm a philosopher now. He hadn't thought about emergent properties, and claimed that they were irreducible. Which is wrong in a right way. Or vice versa.

I found that a little tough to believe, since philosophers always have to think about emergent properties. Menuge wrote back as follows:

What I did say is that merely appealing to "emergence" is hardly
explantory unless there is good reason to think that the properties
would emerge--the burden of proof is on the emergentist to show this,
otherwise appeal to emergence is no better than "and then the Fairy
Godmother waived her wand, and a carriage emerged." And even if
some important properties do emerge, that will simply push the
problem further back as to why they do--a universe finely-tuned so
that intentionality emerges hardly sounds like an undesigned one.

They were both there, is one of them lying? I doubt it.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Reply to Steve on Torture

Steve: I didn't equate morality with legality. I said that if an action is a contravention of international law, then we need strong justification for doing it. It is conceivable, for example, that the right thing to do for me today is to hold up the Bank of America inside Fry's. But I'd need some very strong justification for doing so. You can't say that legality is irrelevant to morality. Romans 13 is sufficient to show that. And yes, the Romans tortured people. Paul wasn't saying that Christians should obey an order to torture. And yes, when the Romans outlawed Christian public worship, Christians had an overriding reason for disobeying the law. What I am saying is that illegality is evidence of illegality that imposes a burden of proof on the lawbreaker to show that lawbreaking is moral. We had that justification in the case of Jim Crow. I don't see anything like it here.

Do you, or do you not, believe that illegality generates a presumption of immorality? I'm not saying a presumption that can't be overridden, I mean a presumption. Or perhaps you don't think international law is real law, that the only "Caesar" that counts is good ole American law.

You know, it might be fun to go smoke a joint right now. There's nothing in the Bible about not smoking pot. But it's against the law, and I don't have a good enough reason to smoke pot to override the moral status the law against pot provides. So I'm going to blog instead.

I don't agree with everything the allies did in WWII, especially the bombing of civilian populations. Neither, by the way, did C. S. Lewis. But we didn't waterboard Nazis when we captured them. So even though we didn't live up to "just war" standards in WWII, we still didn't torture the Nazis or the Japanese. And we convicted someone of war crimes for waterboarding one of us.

MI5 does it, so it must be OK. Two wrongs don't make a right, you need at least three. Is this your argument? Some of us would call this lame.

My focus was on waterboarding, because it seems to me to be a clear case of torture. You want to deny that it is torture? I didn't say all coercive interrogation tactics are torture, I said we had good reason to suppose that we do use tactics like waterboarding that fit within the legal definition of torture.

Does everyone in the Arab world approve of torture, including moderate Arabs? Does the Qu'ran command it? If the Islamic people we are dealing with are total barbarians why in the world are we trying to help set up a democratic government in one of their countries, and spilling all sorts of blood on both sides in doing so?

Does international law count for something? Does the fact that we signed off on the Geneva accords and promised to follow certain rules count for something?

Let's recap my argument:

1. Waterboarding contravenes the Geneva conventions, being thereby defined as torture by international law.

2. Waterboarding also injures our reputation as a civilized nation in the world community.

3. If something is defined as torture by international law, then it should be done only if there is very strong presumptive evidence that much more good than harm, all told, will come from it. For Christians, Romans 13 helps to show this.

4. However, given 2 and other considerations concerning the effectiveness of waterboarding, this seems unlikely in the extreme to be the case.

5. Therefore, our practice of waterboarding is immoral and should be eliminated.

Does this make my reasoning at all clearer?

Friday, November 09, 2007

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Carrier on Flew

Carrier's testimony is very interesting. I think I am not wrong in demanding strong evidence for claims of this sort of fraud. I could, I think, figure out if there is any sign of Flew's philosophical intellect behind the various parts of the book, though I don't publish on the specific arguments. Carrier actually casts doubt on Varghese's claim that Flew approved ten drafts. A philosopher like Swinburne or Robin Collins, who actually present and defend the type of argument Flew uses, would be the best people to be able to tell if these arguments showed some philosophical competence.

If Carrier et al are right, then this book is profoundly tragic. Tragic in virtue of the fact that an honest account of Flew's mental development throughout his career would have been valuable. And tragic that a couple of unscrupulous Christians damaged the credibility of their own faith by passing off their own poor arguments onto a paragon of intellectual honesty. If that's what they did, these guys should be horsewhipped. It does bother me that apparently the book does not delineate the remaining, very important, differences between Flew's own view and orthodox Christianity.

It would be good if Habermas, in his own voice, or Douglas Geivett, who has corresponded with Flew extensively, could say something.

In any event, I would not have expected a cutting edge defense of theistic arguments from Flew at this stage of his life, so the fact that he doesn't provide that would prove fraud. I would have hoped for a sense of his thinking across his career and some idea of what kinds of arguments moved him away from his lifelong atheism. It does seem that the autobiographical stuff has a lot of Flew content.

Please don't take these comments as the final verdict from me. I would have to read it to form my own final opinion, or get the opinion of, as I indicated, people like Swinburne.

C. S. Lewis on Torture

Calling the Bush administration:

"The identity, or close connection between the Fairies and the dead
was certainly believed in, for witches confessed to seeing the dead
among the Fairies. Answers to leading questions under torture
naturally tell us nothing about the beliefs of the accused; but they
are good evidence for the beliefs of the accusers."

_The Discarded Image_, p. 137 (near end of chap. 5)

HT: The Cheshire Cat

Flew and the Burden of Proof, or the Presumption of Competence

A good deal of the book's material is clearly based on experiences that Varghese could not have know about unless he heard it from Flew. Varghese was how old when the Lewis-Anscombe debate took place? Was he even born?

We have to distinguish first of all between criticisms of Varghese and criticisms of anyone else. It seems like a lot of people are getting tarred with this brush. There are accusations almost at evangelical Christians as a whole which are disturbing to me. Is Habermas' longtime friendship and discussion with Flew after their debate ghoulish? I was even called giddy by someone.

I'm not giddy about Flew. Since I am a theist, I am pleased that he has discovered that theism in some form is true. It is also commendable that Flew is willing to re-examine long-defended positions. I would be glad to know the story of his journey. But I'm not sure we can expect him to be a leading spokesperson for the arguments he accepts and to engage the philosophical debate on those arguments. I can understand Flew's coming intuitively to accept certain arguments without necessarily being able to be the "point man" on those arguments. If I am right, the arguments he provides are those also defended by people like Robin Collins and Richard Swinburne, and it would be worth hearing from them to see if Flew has competent versions of those arguments. I would know, for example, if Flew were to have an AFR section in his book, whether it made a real contribution to the discussion or not. A charge of incompetence from a dismissive opponent doesn't do much for me.

Most atheists today don't defend atheism the way Flew did. The nonsense charge and the logical problem of evil have been supplanted in the literature by other arguments.

"This is really Roy's doing." A lot is going to depend on the antecedent of "this." Is it the book's content as a whole, or its being put together. If Flew provides the content, Varghese writes it up, and Flew reads it 10 freaking times to make sure that it really does reflect what he believes, and it is marketed as a co-authored work, I don't see that this is fraudulent. I don't understand the "ghoulishness" charge, but I think the real issue is a charge of fraud.

Everyone agrees that some impairment is at work in Flew. The question is whether that impairment has affected his ability to understand and defend philosophical arguments, or is it just trouble remembering names. Or something in between. Medical professionals don't use the term "senility" anymore. Not everything collapses at once and in the same way. Mental abilities are lost in pieces, and short-term memory goes first. Alzheimer's produces a general intellectual collapse, but I see no good reason to believe that Flew has Alzheimer's.

People look at it and say "Oh, same old theist stuff" but that "same old theist stuff" is being debated in the philosophy of religion.

The fact that Flew isn't inclined to enter into pitched debate with the Richard Carriers of the world does not mean that he doesn't hold his convictions for intellectual reasons. (In particular his unwillingness to get into a point-for-point debate with Carrier is, uh er, kind of understandable). It does mean that we should not look to him as the "point man" for the relevant arguments. The fact that you, as an atheist, think poorly of these arguments does not prove fraud.

Has Flew been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease? If yes, then I would say this is fraud. If no, then we still do get a glimpse of the mind of Tony Flew.

So I say: Christians, don't overestimate the apologetic value of Flew's conversion. Arguments have to be assessed on their merits. The book may be an account of an interesting intellectual journey but may have limited value as apologetics. Atheists, don't accuse people of fraud unless you really do have good evidence for fraud. So far, I'd have to say with Bertrand Russell, "not enough evidence, guys, not enough evidence."

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A virtual ban on torture-redated

This is Bill Vallicella's treatment of the issue of torture. I think that we can justify a virtual, though not absolute, ban on torture by requiring that, if torture is justified, we must have good reason before we do it to suppose that we will get accurate information for the person being tortured the value of which will outweigh any harm we do by torturing, and that there is no other way to get that information. But don't most torture victims just say anything they have to say to get it stopped, accurate or not? (That's what I'd do. I'd tell my captors what I thought they wanted to hear, not the truth). Experts on interrogations say that torture is not effective. And counting the cost is not as easy as it looks either. If we are to defeat terrorism we have to enlist the support of "moderate" Muslims to condemn the terrorists. How does it contribute to that goal if we start acting like the evil people they have always been told we are?

IF we really do have good consequentialist reasons to torture someone, then the deontologist-teleologist battle is joined. But first the above-mentioned epistemic difficulties must be surmounted, and to be honest I do not see how they possibly can be.

The Discovery of Wisdom

This is the book Varghese was referring to as one that influenced Flew. It sounds intriguing, but the price looks insane.

I'm Tony Flew and I approve this message

This links to the kind of person who denies that there are any real ex-atheists. This is the sort of atheist who really does need to debunk the Flew story, whose position is threatened by it. It shouldn't be necessary to defend the claim that there are ex-atheists, and it shouldn't be necessary to defend the claim that there are atheists. But I did defend the latter claim on this blog a couple of years back. I'm not claiming that atheists in general are threatened by this and need to debunk the account. I'm talking about the idea that atheism is a slam dunk, that belief in God is a "delusion", a "mental virus", etc. You know the type. There are plenty of atheists who are not of this type. Flew wasn't when he was an atheist. Mackie did call theism a miracle, but he did take theistic arguments from people like Swinburne seriously. William Rowe would be another example, as would be Keith Parsons and Jeff Lowder.

Of course, we don't need Flew to refute this position. People like Peter van Inwagen, Norman Kretzmann, and Alan Donagan will do just fine. As does C. S. Lewis, although, of course, he was never a real atheist, right?

I don't understand what is "ghoulish" about rejoicing in even a very elderly man coming to believe something that I believe to be both true and important. Some Christians, going way back to the mid-80s when no one thought Flew was senile, have had an affection for the man and thought there was potential for him to change his mind. Even back then, I thought he was more popular amongst Christians than amongst atheists. I knew atheists who thought it terribly gauche of Flew to debate the existence of God in a football stadium. And going to Liberty University to debate the Resurrection?? Tsk. Tsk.

Is anyone seriously claiming that theism is true because Flew says so? Where is this argument given? By whom? Just so you know, that would be a bad argument. If the arguments in the book don't work, Flew's imprimatur won't save them. It will be interesting to see what people like Swinburne, or Robin Collins, who deal with these design-type arguments, think of what Flew has written. I mention these people because they are sympathetic to the overall project of defending the overall line of argument but may say that the arguments are inadequately constructed.

Has there been any reason given for supposing that this has been advertised as anything but a co-authored book? Last I heard, it was advertised as a co-authored book. I'm told that Flew read, and approved, ten drafts. Do we have any good reason to suppose that this isn't true? If Varghese is lying about this it would be misconduct. What does Flew have to do, go on national television and say "I'm Antony Flew and I approve this message? "

Do short-term memory problems that go with advancing age entail that his rethinking of the issue of theism is somehow not fully reflective? Were the quotes that are supposed to be so embarrassing to the conversion story taken in correct context? He is quoted as saying some embarrassing things.

To my mind, anyone who thinks that the Oppenheimer piece is fair and balanced is being credulous. Where's my George Strait tape--put on Oceanfront Property. Having said this I would have to say that it doesn't follow that he's wrong, but he's not fair and balanced.

I didn't buy Flew's arguments when he was an atheist, I may not buy them when he becomes a theist. You may think poorly of them. I said Flew is evidence against slam-dunk atheism. But so is Van Inwagen, Plantinga, and Swinburne. But these are charges of misconduct against Varghese. They need to be proven in order to be accepted.

Look if I were going to fake someone's conversion, I would have them on their knees accepting Christ as Lord and Savior after William Lane Craig shared the Four Spiritual Laws with him. I mean, why stop with deism?

All I am asking is that the apologetic value of this book be assessed on its merits, that Christians avoid overblown appeals to authority and that atheists refrain from making misconduct charges with insufficient evidence. Is that too much to ask?

Nobody expects the Bush administration

I'm a Democrat. So when Bush got "elected," I expected a lot of bad things to come from his administration. But I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition. But then.....

Really there is just no excuse for this. Absolutely none. Yeah, I've heard the arguments. If you caught the ringleader of a terrorist group who had bombs planted all over New York, and the only way you could find out where they were was to torture the guy, would you do it. I'm enough of a Kantian to say no even in this case. But this assumes something that clearly isn't true--that we could get the information from him by torture and in no other way. Torture victims talk, but they say whatever they think the captor wants to hear in order to get the torture to stop.

Oh, but we're being told that this isn't torture. The last president had an interesting definition of sexual relations. I think this definition is a tad more serious. The people of this country have to insist that this practice be ended permanently, and if that means not approving the attorney general, or impeaching the President, so be it. This isn't a liberal issue, it's not a conservative issue, it's not a Republican or Democrat issue, it's an ethical issue. Pure and simple.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

On shoddy journalism, and rude atheists

Look, the article alleges some fairly serious misconduct on the part of certain individuals. These people have answers for those allegations which I was able to get by e-mailing Gary Habermas. Oppenheimer could have presented Varghese's side if he had wanted to. He was available for comment, and perhaps did comment. Even if Varghese is guilty as sin for doing everything he is accused of doing, It's just plain irresponsible journalism to not represent his counterclaims. What part of shoddy don't you understand?

Whatever the arguments are, they have to be addressed on their merits. Flew may have changed his mind for inadequate reasons. He's enough of a philosopher to realize that he can't expect people to agree with him because he's Flew.

Why is this so intolerable to the hard-core atheist crowd. Why the character assassination? The mere fact of Flew's conversion to deism undermines the hard-line atheist conviction that there are no real, intelligent ex-atheists. This is the atheist equivalent of the "There are no atheists" position amongst Chrstians, and it was in response to a comment of that sort that I made the claim, which got me into a fight with presuppositionalists, that the claim that there are no atheists is silly. The idea is that once you really realize that the evidence is against theism, you can never turn back. What are they supposed to say now? That Flew wasn't a real atheist? The he was "really" a believer all along?

I'm guessing (and it's just a guess) that Flew has been dismayed at the "zero-concession attitude" that has been taken by many atheists. I mentioned Mackie, and while he lived beore the ID movement arose, I never saw him refer to Swinburne, his frequent intellectual opponent and design argument advocate, as an idiot, with or without capitalizing the first two letters. I think some of his responses to Plantinga were more acerbic than his responses to Swinburne, but here again, nothing so rude. When I see people suggesting that those inclined to accept ID are not even smart enough to be attending college, then I start wondering if we have a person here who is capable of engaging an ideological opponent in a serious conversation. And at that point, I almost wish Flew were still an atheist so that he can dress them down.

And believe me, it grieves me when Christians are rude to their intellectual opponents.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Varghese reponds via Gary Habermas

I asked Gary Habermas about this business with Flew and he passed along this letter to the editor that Varghese wrote in reply to Oppenheimer's piece.

I personally thought that the Oppenheimer piece was pretty clearly biased, in that it sounded as if he had talked to the people on the atheist side (like Carrier), but had not spoken to anybody on the theist side.

I just sometimes wonder if Flew doesn't think that there's been a nasty turn in atheist polemics that was not present when he was atheism's leading representative. I don't recall people like Flew or even Mackie referring to people who believe in an intelligent designer is IDiots.

Thanks. I have permission to forward to you the response & letter to the editor sent by Roy Varghese:

Among those who have personally been most influential in Tony Flew’s pilgrimage of reason is Professor Gary Habermas. Both intellectually and at a personal level Gary has become one of Tony’s closest friends and advisors. I know this from discussing the matter with Tony. As is their wont, the freethinking blogaholics (with their single digit audiences and gnat-sized attention spans) have turned their guns on all those (including Gary) who are associated with Tony. Since they have no interest in truth or even serious debate, there’s no point spending time or energy on their daily diet of diatribe. The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech. These folks interpret this as a continuous obligation. But that’s no reason for the rest of us to share their fate.

Roy Abraham Varghese

November 3, 2007.

Letters to the Editor

Magazine, The New York Times

620 Eight Avenue

New York, NY 10018

Dear Editor:

First the good news: Antony Flew is alive and well (physically and mentally) contrary to what readers might assume from Mark Oppenheimer’s article, “The Turning of an Atheist” (New York Times magazine, November 4, 2007). Second, the bad news (for his former fellow atheists): he has not retracted his change of position on the question of God, this despite three years of efforts of malign his mental capabilities and the motives of any theists affiliated with him.

I would like to answer three questions raised by Mr. Oppenheimer’s article:

Did Tony Flew write There is a God? Well, as the cover specifically states, it is written by Flew with yours truly. Oppenheimer says I “made the book sound like more of a joint effort – slightly more, anyway” implying thereby it was a sorta kinda joint effort but, come now, no one seriously believes this. But, as I had told him, the substantive portions of the book came from a combination of Tony’s published and unpublished writings (and by the way he still does write) as well as extensive correspondence and numerous interviews with him. I would be happy to share these with any investigative journalist. The cute sub-titles and the enchanting anecdotes, I’m afraid, did not originate with Tony although he OKed them. Oppenheimer asks “if it was ethical to publish a book under Flew’s name that cites sources Flew doesn’t know well enough to discuss.” Well, I specifically told Oppenheimer that several of these quotes were taken from my previous book and that There is a God dutifully documents this (“For the most part, these quotations are taken from Roy Abraham Varghese, The Wonder of the World …”, p.218). Moreover, Tony edited, corrected and approved at least ten versions of the manuscript.

It should also be noted that Tony didn’t stumble on to his answers to the question at hand overnight – or with this book. As the article rightly notes, the journey began over twenty years ago. Tony, in fact, was a contributor to a book I co-edited in 1992 (Cosmos, Bios, Theos) in which he explored these issues from the other side of the table – but taking the very same approach that he does here.

Does Tony Flew actually believe in a Creator/Intelligence/God? The article’s lead-in states, “But his change of heart may not be what it seems.” Let me be blunt about this (as I was with Oppenheimer). For three years, assorted skeptics and freethinkers have hounded the poor man trying to get him to recant. Believe me, if there was the slightest indication, the remotest suspicion, that he had retracted his new-found belief in God, it would be plastered all across the worldwide web (and beyond). Instead, Tony has taken it on himself to respond to every attack on his intellectual integrity in contributions to publications ranging from a rationalist journal in New Zealand to the latest issue of Skeptic magazine in the UK. The attacks on him are always highlighted on the Internet – his responses are never to be found unless you happen to get hold of the print editions. Not without reason, he now refers to several of the apostles of reason as “bigots”. A key point missed by the article is that it is not just or even mainly the evidence from science that led Flew to change his mind. The single greatest influence on him was philosophical – specifically the book The Rediscovery of Wisdom by David Conway. It was not a tug of war between, on the one hand Paul Kurtz and Richard Carrier, and on the other, the theist scientists, with the data from science as the rope. The rope was a philosophical one and here Conway, Richard Swinburne, Gerald Schroeder (in his exploration of the philosophical implications of science in The Hidden Face of God), et al were decisive.

Is Tony Flew “all there” mentally? Oppenheimer asks if he is “a senescent scholar” with a “failing” memory. As he himself notes, Tony cheerfully volunteered the fact that he has “nominal aphasia”, the inability to reproduce names. Now, starting at the age of forty, the average human being progressively forgets recent names, events and the like. So nothing out of the ordinary there. Is Tony slower to respond when asked a question than a younger person? No question about that – age certainly leaves a mark with each passing year and he is now eighty-four. But then again there are numerous scholars in their seventies and eighties who have trouble remembering recent names and events. And yet in most such cases, the thinkers concerned have been clear and consistent in their reasoning whether or not we agree with their conclusions. The same holds true for Tony. When he sets pen to paper (as will be seen in the most recent issue of Skeptic), he is as cogent and coherent as you could want (and also as terse as he was in his 1950 article). The only reason why people ask questions about his mental faculties is because he dared to change his mind. But let’s not forget that his new view of the world is one embraced by many of today’s leading philosophers in the Anglo-American world as well as most of the pioneers of modern science. This is the dirty little secret that the “new atheists” and their drum-beaters never talk about. It’s so much easier to shoot the messenger!

Roy Abraham Varghese

Friday, November 02, 2007

Where is Tony Flew when we need him?

Here, apparently. There's one sense in which Flew's move toward theism is unfortunate. Atheists need a gentlemanly spokesman. HT: Thinking Christian

Monday, October 29, 2007

Is this an atheist parody?

Mike Darus found something else when he put "help from God" into google. I found this.

Beckwith's latest defense of the pro-life position

If I only had a brain--how do you materialists explain this one

Oh I know. The report comes from Fox News, so it must have been made up.

Social Darwinism

This is the Wikipedia entry on Social Darwinism. Darwin's philosophy has given rise to social and ethical ideas which strike me as extremely dubious morally, and I would like to see evolutionists argue successfully that these conclusions are misguded applications of Darwinian philosophy.

Does Islam condone wife-beating?

Can this feature of Islamic teaching be modified?

Is there a good naturalistic argument for racial equality?

Gosh I hope so. But James Watson seems to think otherwise.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

This is the Chalmers review of Kim

The "counterfactual title" is just plain hilarious. I think there is a book like that coming out (pun intended). Its author is Larry Craig.

Did C. S. Lewis teach anything like the Mormon doctrine of deification

As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become. Lewis certainly didn't teach the first of these. But some present-day Mormon apologists are suggesting that Lewis accept the second half of this infamous couplet. This essay, by Gretchen Passantino, shows that this is simply ridiculous. We're creatures of God forever according to Lewis, not God's equal. To think otherwise is to quote selectively in a way that is patently dishonest.

HT: Jeff Downs

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Here's something that looks good to me

Now here's something I like. Someone taking Dawkins to task for not reading my book. If he ever does, though, I'll know for sure that hell has frozen over at last. His conversion will then no doubt be nigh.

Do ID-sympathetic freshmen deserve to be in college?

Larry Moran doesn't think so. Sometimes I think ID opponents make the same mistake that Bush made in Iraq. If their goal is to win the support of the general public for Darwinian biology, they're going about it in the wrong way. All I can say as a philosopher is that ID asks legitimate philosophical questions, ones that scientists need to address if science is to retain its prestige with the community at large. Chanting "We'll hang William Dembski from a sour apple tree" (or the equivalent sorts of things that we see on pro-Darwin sites) makes me think that these people accept that old-time religion, with a different deity.

Against universalism

A biblical defense of universalism

Monday, October 22, 2007

On Talbott criticism

In creating the link to the Talbott essay, I link to the Nivlac section of a longer piece entitled "On False Prophets and the Abuse of Revelation." The parable is entertaining in and of itself, but its proper argumentative role is to be seen in the context of the larger paper. I'm sure those in the Reformed tradition understand the importance of context in interpreting sacred texts. The same applies, however, to texts not so sacred, including those written by Tom Talbott.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Morg and Nivlac

(Not Morg and Mindy). This, by Tom Talbott, should be challenging to Calvinists.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Some very similar quotes

Has anyone noticed the similarity between these two quotes from C. S. Lewis and Alvin Plantinga?

Lewis: "Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the
whole thing looks improbable: but when I was an atheist I
had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable."
Mere Christianity

Plantinga: For me, as, I suppose, for most others, spiritual life is
an up and down proposition, with what one hopes are the
consolidation of small but genuine gains. Sometimes I wake
in the wee hours of the morning and find myself wondering:
can all this really be true? Can this whole wonderful
Christian story really be more than a wonderful fairy
tale? At other times I find myself as convinced of its
main lineaments as that I live in South Bend.--
Spiritual Autobiography

Monday, October 15, 2007

It's all over

This is the end of my annoying Diamondbacks posts. Its remarkable what our guys did with a team that almost had more rookies than veterans. Whoever it is from that other league is probably toast as well.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Down they go Rockies 4 Diamondbacks 1

I will root for these guys in the Series in the very likely circumstance that they win this. Some are asking whether the Rockies will lose another game in 2007. The power of momentum is incredible.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Al Gore wins Nobel Prize

But maybe Bush can win the Nobel war prize.

Rockies 3, Diamondbacks 2

This is starting to suck.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Oops Rockies 5, Diamondbacks 1

At least we got a little fan rudeness.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

An atheist convention seeks the end of religion

Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens were at this one.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Abortion and health insurance

I must say I don't understand the abortion controversy. Or rather, I don't understand how it is playing out in the political arena. There seem to be three groups on this issue.

1) Pro-lifers. Abortion sucks. It is wrong, and in fact is every bit as wrong as choking a 3-year-old to death. We ought to prevent abortions in any way possible, including the use of the long arm of the criminal law.

2) Abortion sucks. But it may not be as wrong as choking a 3-year-old to death. The loss of a fetus is a tragic loss, but not on the scale of the loss of a born baby. However, we should keep the long arm of the criminal law out of it, since this would involve an inappropriate interference in the doctor-patient relationship.

3) Abortion doesn't suck at all. It's like removing a blob of tissue.

Now in my life I have gone back and forth between 1 and 2. But it seems odd. Surely the 1s and the 2s outnumber the 3s. Shouldn't these two sides work together to find public policies that will discourage abortion? Do pro-lifer political leaders prefer passing ideological litmus tests to preventing real abortions.

Now consider two possible futures.

1) Roe v. Wade is overturned, but we never achieve universal health insurance coverage for all children.

2) Roe is never overturned, but universal health insurance is assured for every child.

In which world, do you think, there will be fewer abortions? Remember that overturning Roe will not make any abortions illegal. It may prevent two abortions in Mississippi, but that is about all. Since abortions are far less expensive than taking care of children, isn't it likely that universal health care for children will result in fewer abortions than overturning Roe?

The Christian Progressive Movement

This is the website for the Christian Progressive Movement. HT: Jarrod Cochran.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Diamondbacks 5, Cubs 1

It's all over. Now, probably the Rockies and a tougher challenge.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Diamondbacks 3, Cubs 1

Game 1 of the division series. We can't let the Cubs stop selling those 1908 World Champion t-shirts. I mean if the Cubs keep winning I'll have to stop using the irrational beliefs of die-hard Cub fans at the beginning of every season that this will be the year they win the Series as an example of an unjustified belief that might turn out to be true. We can't have that. But if tonight's game is any indication, there's nothing to worry about.

The canon within the canon, ethical relativism, and ther problem of evil

Yes, for me the sacrificial love of Christ is the canon within the canon. If that's cherry picking, so be it!
Ron: It appears to me that debate about moral realism (or objectivism) vs. moral relativism to be fruitless. I think everyone at heart knows that moral values really exist and aren't just subjective constructions. Otherwise, atheists wouldn't point out all the bad events in Christian history. Why would Dawkins point out the moral evils of Christians if he didn't believe that morality was something absolute and not just a cultural or biological product?
VR: Precisely. And if relativism is where naturalism leads, it lets the air out of the argument from evil. I've often wondered why the argument from evil is often thought to be somehow stronger than your average argument. It points to an explanatory gap in the theist's understanding of the world, but there are plenty of arguments that point out explanatory gaps for naturalism.
What I come up with is that, on the face of things, it allows the atheist to hang on to his or her moral purity. It presumably lets you call evil evil, and not have to fit it into some broader pattern in which it is good in some sense. But if this comes from a naturalist, and if Lewis is right that naturalism is going to lead logically to some kind of moral subjectivism, then it seems to me that that advantage disappears. You can't say of the Amalekite massacre that it is really, truly, honest to goodness evil.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Reply to Ron on the problem of evil

Ron wrote: The AFE is a 'defeater' argument designed to show that there are internal contradictions in the theistic position. So while Lewis is correct technically, he misses the point that the AFE is concerned only with the rationality of the theistic position. The position of the atheist (or anyone else who uses the AFE) is not relevant. I think this is a mistake I've seen Christian apologists make.

VR: It is quite true that you can advance the argument from evil as a reductio against one's Christian opponent. What that entails is showing that as a Christian one must accept the moral premise of the argument (typically, a perfectly good being will prevent unnecessary suffering if possible, unless that suffering is necessary for a greater good), even though the atheist objector considers it subjective. But can you count on the Christian theist to accept that premise? Even if the theist accepts that premise in human contexts (and even that's not clear) it doesn't follow that the theist is inconsistent in not applying it to God.

In his debate with Keith Parsons William Lane Craig says that God is justified in ordering the Amalekites to be slaughtered down to the last man, woman and child, because God is the author and giver of life and therefore can take life as he chooses. Of course, Parsons found this shocking, and I personally find it counterintuitive. But I don;'t find Craig's position inconsistent. I don't see how an atheist can object to Craig's position without appealing to an objective standard that both the atheist and the theist share.

I've covered and discussed this point on here quite a bit, as the link should show.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Diamonbacks are in the playoffs

For the first time since 2002, with three mid-season minor league callups in the starting lineup at the end of the year.

A well-known C. S. Lewis passage on the argument from evil

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course, I could have given up my idea of justice by saying that it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too–for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist–in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless–I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality–namely my idea of justice–was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning."

From Mere Christianity, p. 38.

Don't like gay people? Move to Iran!

They don't have any there, according to their president. Actually, the Qu'ran says that you must execute people who perform homosexual acts if it is observed by two witnesses. Or, it's confessed. So unless the President has inspected all the closets in his country, I don't know how he knows.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Arguments that don't mix part II

Here's a pair of arguments dear to the heart of atheists which I think cannot be consistently used together. One of them is the god-of-the-gaps objection to various theistic arguments like the argument from design. According to the GGO, finding an explanatory gap for the naturalist is not the same as refuting naturalism. Further evidence may come in which shows that the gap in question is not a real gap at all.

The other is the argument from evil. What the argument from evil points to is the fact that some evils are unexplained from the point of view of theism. There is, as it were, an explanatory gap for the theist, something the theist can't explain. Now how is it possible for atheists to use the argument from evil against theism, but then use the god of the gaps objection to theistic arguments. If a gap is fatal in the one case, it should be fatal in the other. If the gap is nonfatal in one case, it should be nonfatal in the other. What gives?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Can Kooks make valid points?

Because Jonathan Wells' name came up again on my blog, I am redating an old post I did on Wells.

· At 7:53 AM, Ahab said…
Wells wrote:
As a theology graduate student in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I learned that the anti-religious implications of Darwinism have profoundly influenced modern theologians. Even with only an undergraduate background in science, however, I knew that the evidence for Darwinism was not as solid as the theologians seemed to think. If Darwinism were solid science, its anti-religious implications would (in my opinion) be inescapable. The more I learned, however, the more it seemed to me that Darwinism was just old-fashioned materialistic philosophy masquerading as modern empirical science. Because of its profound and harmful consequences for religion, science and culture, I decided to devote my life to criticizing this philosophy and destroying its domination of our educational system.

Victor, this guy comes across as a real quack. How can you take him seriously?
Dawinism dominates our education system? Damn, a large percentage of people in our county don't even understand the basics of evolutionay theory because so little time is spent in school explaining it.
And the idea that theologians have been relying on Darwin is even kookier.

Again, how can you, or anyone, take him seriously?

These comments are certainly ones that I would not make, simply because using the term "Darwinism" without clarification is a recipe for confusion. It's a mistake to treat "Darwinism" as a package deal. At least Alvin Plantinga, in his well-known essay "When Faith and Reason Clash" , suggests five different claims made by “Darwinists,” which in my book I distinguish as the five points of evolution. These points are:

1. The Ancient Earth Thesis. The earth has been in existence for a very long time.
2. The Gradual Emergence of Species Thesis. Different species emerged gradually over this time-period.
3. The Common Ancestry thesis: All life is related to a single common ancestor that was the first life form.
4. Darwinism or the Grand Evolutionary Story: The claim that speciation occurred exclusively through naturalistic processes like random variation and natural selection.
5. The Naturalistic Origin of Life thesis, the claim that life itself emerged naturalistically, with no supernatural intervention.

One of my editorial readers at IVP suggested that I include a sixth point, that the initial conditions of the universe were not selected by design. This would make Darwinism explicitly atheistic. Without the sixth point, Darwinism is perfectly compatible with theism.

However, I am not sure that I understand the claim that people don’t understand Darwinism. There’s a “one-minute version” of evolutionism which I sometimes present in class, which says that if you have enough time, if you have a way for species to vary, if species reproduce, then it is theoretically possible to produce the effects of intelligent design without a designer in virtue of the facts that these non-designed products would not survive to pass their characteristics on to descendents if they didn’t have design-ish characteristics.

Evolution has certainly been a very influential idea in our culture, and it can be an influential idea without most people knowing much of the details of how evolutionary theory works or deals with the problems it faces. There are people in theology who have been greatly influenced by evolution; Pierre Teilhard de Chardin would be a good example. Lewis liked to distinguish popular evolutionism from the actual scientific theory, which he considered to be theologically benign.

Wells’ motivations and understanding of the role of evolution in Western culture are, however, independent of his claims concerning the strength or weakness of the evidence supporting it. The question I wanted to pose while getting into the discussion of the icons was: do the standard evolution textbooks make overblown claims about the “icons” of evolution. It seems to me that a person can have a good handle on the evidence surrounding Darwinian theory and at the same time have pretty flaky ideas about the social and philosophical implications of that same theory. I think Richard Dawkins is an atrocious philosopher; that doesn’t mean he can’t be a good scientist.

Further notes on inerrancy

I have been suspected of being what is called a Fundamentalist. That is because I never regard any narrative as unhistorical simply on the ground that it includes the miraculous. Some people find the miraculous so hard to believe that they cannot imagine any reason for my acceptance of it other than a prior belief that every sentence of the Old Testament has historical or scientific truth. But this I do not hold, any more than St. Jerome did when he said that Moses described Creation “after the manner of a popular poet” (as we should say, mythically) or than Calvin did when he doubted whether the story of Job were history or fiction.7 (RTS) 105.

Twp things to notice. First, as Don points out, the inerrancy Lewis attributes to the "fundamentalist" is a naive, not a theologically nuanced version of the doctrine. Second, it looks as if Calvin (one of the premier champions of biblical authority in the history of the Church) didn't hold this naive doctrine. However, naive versions of the doctrine can easily be found in pews and pulpits all across the evangelical community. Don seems to think Lewis was "caricaturing" the position, but I think there are plenty of people who fit the caricature to a T. It's just that he's not responding to a theologically underdeveloped version of the doctrine.

My own view is that the question "Do you believe in inerrancy" is a little like asking someone "do you believe in evolution?" Depending on how you explain the doctrine, I might answer either question yes or no. I personally dislike the word inerrancy, and prefer to ask "what hermeneutical constraints follow from believing that Scripture is special revelation from God?"

Evangelical groups committed to inerrancy sometimes do purge members whose interpretations of Scripture do not square with inerrancy as they understand it. Such was the case in the purging of Robert Gundry from the Evangelical Theological Society a number of years ago, based on what they took to be "errantist" interpretation of Matthew.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Is Christianity the religion of peace

This book got is up to #188 on the ranking list. I'd like to see what kind of case he makes.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

God and the Reach of Reason

This book, by Erik Wielenberg is going to set the gold standard for extensive treatments of C. S. Lewis from a philosophical perspective from people who don't accept the conclusions of Lewis's apologetics. It's a must for all students of Lewis's apologetics, both supporters and opponents.

Secular Outpost features a new Chick tract

Some people are their own caricature. Jack Chick is one of them.

This is the argument from reason page

People sometimes either blog or write me about where the best AFR information is. This is still the one.

Monday, September 10, 2007

This site gives a bit more detail on the Lewis encyclopedia

My entries are:
The Ecumenical Apologist: Understanding C. S. Lewis’s Defense of Christianity

Victor Reppert
Miracles: C. S. Lewis’s Critique of Naturalism

Except for an essay in the Arizona C. S. Lewis society bulletin, this is the first time that my anti-Carrier material has appeared in print. It's also going to appear in the IVP volume that David Baggett is editing.

Two arguments from evil by Spencer Lo

Spencer Lo writes:

1. The Christian God strongly desires a loving relationship with almost every human being, and desires it to last for all eternity. [Christian assumption]
2. A loving relationship with God is possible only if one (a) believes that he exists and (b) chooses to be in a loving relationship with God.
3. Therefore, if the Christian God exists, since he wants humanity to have a loving relationship with him, he would make his existence well-known to almost everyone, thereby ensuring condition (a). (from 1, 2)
4. There are multitudes of conflicting religions and religious beliefs (Christianity, Islam, Hindus, Buddhism, secularism, etc), and more people who don't believe that the Christian God exists than those who do. [empirical assumption]
5. Therefore, not almost every human being believes that the Christian God exists. (from 4)
6. Therefore, the Christian God's existence is not well-known to almost everyone. (from 5)
7. Therefore, the Christian God doesn't exist. ( from 6, 3)

The reason I formulated (2) the way I did was to block the free will defense.The thought is: even if there is libertarian free will, belief in God is not a choice. I can no more choose to believe that God doesn't exist than I can choose to believe that an invisible genie isn't in my room. If I did believe that an invisible genie is in my room, I can then choose to talk to him. Similarly, I can choose to be in a relationship with God, but only after I believe he actually exists. Many Christians who cherish free will claim that if God's existence was so obvious, everyone would be forced to accept Jesus as their lord and savior, and thus salvation would not be a free choice. This just seems false to me. Belief is a necessary but not sufficient condition for acceptance. I can believe that there's life-saving medicine at the nearest store, but that in itself doesn't force me to go there and buy it.

Argument 2

1. If God exists, then pointless suffering wouldn't exist.
2. It is untenable to claim that pointless suffering doesn't exist.
3. Therefore, it is untenable to claim that God exists.

Defense of (2)

1. God is all-powerful and all-knowing. [Christian assumption]
2. Hence, God can thwart or prevent any negative consequences which may arise from a particular action. (from 1)
3. If God intervened to thwart or prevent suffering, he could thwart or prevent any negative consequences which may arise from such intervention. (from 2)
4. Therefore, God can't have a consequentialist justification for not thwarting or preventing suffering. (from 3)
5. The only other possible justification for not thwarting or preventing suffering is deontological: God is morally forbidden to intervene because of the nature of the intervention itself.
6. However, since God is the moral legislator, (5) is untenable.
7. Apart from a consequentialist or deontological justification, there is no other type of justification that God can appeal to to not thwart or prevent suffering.
8. Therefore, it is untenable to claim that pointless suffering doesn't exist. (from 7)

The intuition that God can thwart or prevent negative consequences without having to prevent the action is quite strong. Suppose I see a small child about to walk into a building rigged to explode as soon as he enters it. I can easily prevent him from walking into the building, but I choose not to. Why? Because I know that if I prevent him from walking into the building, 5 millions people will suddenly die horrible deaths as a result of my action. Hence, I justify my inaction to prevent an instance of suffering by appealing to the negative consequences which would have inevitably resulted from my action. Me acting to save the child will bring about far worse consequences than me not acting to save the child. Hence, I have a morally sufficient reason for my inaction.

However, since God is omnipotent, he can have his cake and eat it too. He can prevent the child from walking into the building and the deaths of millions who would have died as a result of God's action. There are no negative consequences that God cannot prevent which would result from him thwarting or preventing suffering.

Only if there is a logically necessary connection between a particular action and its negative consequences would God then not be able to thwart or prevent those consequences without preventing the action. However, at best, it seems that in most cases the kind of necessary connection involved is only causal. Since God can perform miracles, he can surely suspend "natural regularity," and there doesn't seem to be any limitation on the amount of miracles he's allowed to perform. I think the burden would be on the theist who wants to posit a logical necessity between an action and its consequences.