Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Alanyzer: The Problem of Evil Is a Problem for Everyone

Alanyzer: The Problem of Evil Is a Problem for Everyone

Alan Rhoda has an interesting discussion on the problem of evil that parallels some arguments made here. He's even debating some of the usual suspects.

Al Haig's theodicy: An "informed consent" solution to the problem of evil

By Albert Haig, who I take it is not related to the Al Haig of Nixon administration fame. He was an Alexander.

Vallicella on the "problem of interaction"

This is an objection that, according to William Hasker, sets the all-time record for overrated philosophical arguments.

The case for modesty in religious epistemology

By Jeffrey Johnson.

Tom Gilson reviews The God Delusion

It looks to me as atheists are better off with the likes of Mackie, Flew, and Parsons than they are with Dawkins.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Buddha, Stoicism and Epicureanism

In my class on History of World Religions, we have ended our treatment of Hinduism and are starting Buddhism. The question I have is what makes Buddha a religions teacher, and not an ethical philosopher. Buddha offered a way of dealing with, and overcoming, human suffering and the transitoriness of human existence, and formed a group to pursue that end. But didn't the Stoics and Epicureans do the same thing? What property does Buddha have that makes him a religious teacher, and the Stoics and Epicureans philosophers instead. And not a property like "founded a movement that eventually became one of the world's great religions." I mean a property that you could have picked out when Buddha was alive.

Can Science explain everything

Apparently not, according to Denis Alexander. In this piece Alexander says that naturalism is self-refuting and self-defeating.

More on Buddhism, Stoicism and Epicureanism

A redated post from 2/8/05, which followed the last one back then

Apparently I started a discussion that not only really got going here, but has spread to Maverick Philosopher and Big Hominid. where will it end?

Certainly Stoicism is a profoundly religious philosophy; the ideas of the "God-intoxicated Jew" Spinoza are remarkably similar to Stoicism. I'm not at all sure whether Boddha's teaching is supposed to teach us to get our desires calmed down so we can stop suffering, or whether there is a positive element in Nirvana, or enlightenment.

As for what a religion is, it seems as if we learn how to use the word "religion" when we see the religions that are prevalent in our neck of the woods (in this neck of the woods it's Christianity for the most part) and then we look at other cultures and describe as "religious" the things tha they do that are like what we call religion here. Only the way in which we divide life up between the religious and the not religious is probably not how people in other cultures would divide it up; in fact it is pretty unclear whether they would make that kind of a division at all. (Can you say "secular humanism" in Swahili?)

Also, probably the mystical or religious elements of Stoicism probably got washed away or absorbed by the rising tide of Christianity in the ancient world.

A question from a student

According to perhaps the most popular philosophical tradition in Hinduism, Advaita Vedanta, all things are one and distinction between one thing and another, or between God and the world, are not real. Yet through much of Hindu history, one of the defining elements of Hinduism is the caste system, which makes a good deal about the distinctions between persons. If, as Advaita Vendanta teaches, all things are one and all things are God, doesn't it follow that all castes are one and distinctions between them are not real?

Monday, January 29, 2007

A defense of ethical subjectivism

Plato's Republic is online

The Stanford Encyclopedia entry for Socrates

Still More Plato Notes

I. Plato’s political theory

A. Plato defines a just society to illustrate what a just life would be, since the principles of political science and the principles of psychology are the same.
The soul of the person is a miniature version of the structure of society.

B. The good life cannot be lived apart from the state.
C. State should be built around a division of labor.
1. Those whose first inclination is to be governed by the rational part of the soul should be Guardians, in the ruling class. However, they get the least in terms of economic gain. (Since they are not guided by their appetites, they should not need to indulge their appetites so much). These are the philosopher-kings; the idea is that those who rule should love wisdom above all.
2. People on the second level are the auxiliaries, those whose first thought is to follow the spirited part of the soul. They are ambitious, assertive, and desire honor. They are the police-soldiers of the state.
3. On the third level there are the producers, people governed by appetites. (Clearly the most numerous of the three groups). They get more riches than anyone else but no political power. In fact the lovers of guardians are justified in telling lies to these people to get them to do what is in their best interest.
D. How do you get an ideal state? Plato tried to teach a prince, it didn’t work. You just have to be lucky enough to get a king in there who happens to be a lover or wisdom.
E. And even then the idea society will eventually disintegrate. In fact what will happen is that it will disintegrate into a democracy. Instead of the country being run by those who are most competent, a democracy will “promote to honor anyone who merely calls himself the people’s friend.”
(But that never happens in an actual democracy).

II. Plato believes that the order of the universe points to a wondrous regulating intelligence.
A. The supreme cause is called the demiurge
B. It does not, however, create the universe out of nothing.
C. Imposes the forms on the chaotic “Receptacle.”
D. The order of the universe points to a mind behind it all.

Entry on Plato for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Lecture Notes on Plato

IV. Plato: The first comprehensive philosophical system
A. Theory of Knowledge
1. Against relativism
a. Relativism is self-refuting
b. Everyone recognizes the difference between belief and knowledge. Ex. If hurt our foot, does anyone think their own opinion is as good as that a trained physician in determining whether or not the foot is sprained or broken
2. Against empiricism (the claim that all knowledge comes from experience
a. The world of experience is in flux
b. Objects in experience are relative to the observers
c. What is real knowledge must be something universal that we can capture in a universal definition. Consider the concept of justice.

1. Either justice is something real and objective, or it is a mere word.
2. If the second alternative is true, then our moral judgments have no value. There is no real difference between Hitler and a saint except certain sounds we conventionally apply to them.
3. But this is absurd. There is a difference between Hitler and a saint.
4. So justice is something real and objective.
5. That which is real must by physical or nonphysical.
6. Clearly, justice cannot be physical.
7. Therefore justice must be something real, objective, and nonphysical.
3. Knowledge is more than just true belief.—must be justified.
4. Universal forms are the basis of knowledge. Forms are
a. Objective
b. Unavailable to the senses
c. Universal
d. Unchanging
e. Grounded in a rational understanding
5. Knowledge comes through recollection
a. Before we were born we had access to the forms
b. When we became encased in fleshly bodies we lost that knowledge
c. Knowledge of the forms can be recovered through a process of recollection.
d. Slave boy argument-Socrates by questioning a slave boy leads him to prove a mathematical theorem. Since Socrates didn’t pump anything into his head, he had to have had the knowledge inside all along, waiting to come out.
6. The divided line
a. Imagination or conjecture-knows shadows, images and reflections
b. Belief-knows things and objects
c. Thinking-knows lower forms
d. Rational intuition or pure knowledge, knows the higher forms.

More Plato Notes

I. Plato’s theory of knowledge
A. The nature of the forms
1. They are universal objects
2. They are not in space and time
3. they are objective, unavailable to the sense, universal, unchanging and grounded in a rational understanding
4. Circular objects, for example, have the Universal of Circularity in common
B. They are known through a process of recollection
1. Dialectical reasoning triggers the recollection of the Forms
C. The divided line
D. The form of the good
II. Plato’s metaphysics
A. The reality of the forms
B. The problem of change
1. Platonic dualism: The realm of particulars is subject to change
2. The realm of forms is not
C. Particulars and forms
1. The forms are what is most real
2. Particulars are real insofar as they resemble the forms
3. Therefore some things can be more real than others
D. The Allegory of the Cave
1. People are like the slaves who see only shadows on the cave wall
2. If someone were to somehow be thrust outside the cave s/he might come to see that the people inside the cave are living in illusion; thinking that the particular occurrences of their lives represent ultimate reality, when they do not.
3. If s/he, out of compassion for the people inside the cave, were to go in and try to show them that they were living in an illusion, they might no like it. In fact, they might kill him (like they did Socrates).
III. Plato’s Moral Theory
A. Against moral relativism
1. In ethics we are concerned with the Form of Justice and the Form of the Good. For example, we might want to say that laws of Arizona in 2004 are more just in the area of racial equality than the laws of Alabama in 1954. What does this mean? What is the standard? For Plato, the standard would be the Form of Justice. The laws of Arizona in 2004 more closely resemble the Form of Justice than do the laws of Alabama in 1954, at least insofar as race is concerned.
2. What this means is that the question of justice is not settled because everyone in a culture thinks it’s just, or even if everyone in the world thinks it’s just. Suppose Hitler had won WWII and taken over the world, killing all of the Jews and having an annual holiday, with lots of celebrations, on the day the last Jew died. Everyone would agree that Nazi anti-Semitism and the Holocaust was a good thing, and, for Plato, everyone would be wrong.
B. Why be moral?
1. Would everyone be immoral if it were to their advantage to do so?
2. The ring of Gyges. Plato’s brothers asked whether everyone wouldn’t do wrong if they knew it would be advantageous to them to do so.
C. The three parts of the soul. The answer to this is found in an analysis of human nature. If a person is just the sum total of their appetites, then one should do what will satisfy those appetites. But there are three parts of the soul
1. Reason-the desire for the Form of the Good
2. The Spirited Part, which is the part of you that seeks interpersonal satisfaction.
3. The appetites
Plato argues that a soul is properly ordered just in case reason commands and spirit and appetite obey.
D. The Four Cardinal Virtues are wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice.
1. Wisdom is being controlled and guided by reason.
2. Under the influence of reason, the spirited part generates the virtue of courage.
3. If the appetites are under control, then the person possesses the virtue of temperance or self-control
4. Justice is being a properly ordered person, with reason in command and spirit and appetite in obedience
E. So why be just or moral? Once we understand how the person is put together, the question ends up sounding something like “Why be well as opposed to sick?” The only reason you wouldn’t want to be moral is if you were confused about what your true good is and thought that you could achieve that good by cheating others for the sake of satisfying one’s appetites. Not only does this harm others, but most importantly, it harms yourself.

The conceptualist argument

Chad Macintosh presents and defends the argument from abstract concepts to God, used by Plantinga and Craig but little discussed.

New C. S. Lewis Encyclopedia

The C.S. Lewis encyclopedia, in which I have two articles, is not available to order.

On Craig and Dawkins

Public debates are not always circuses. If the debaters are good representatives of their respective positions it is a good way of getting the pros and cons on an issue out on the table. At the same time, there are inherent limitations to the debate format. For example, I find it irritating when an issue that could be the subject of an entire debate by itself is tucked away as one of a bunch of arguments, so both sides deal with it superficially.

At the same time the debate setting is not for everybody. Just as everyone is not cut out to be a blogger, not everyone is cut out to be a debater. Dawkins could have appealed to the inherent limitations of the debate format as a reason for not agreeing to debate.

My problem with Dawkins is that he made this an issue of credentials. Now as an evolutionary biologist Dawkins is at the top of his field. But he has increasingly gotten involved an a crusade for atheism, becoming instead a philosopher of religion. And as a philoospher of religion he is a rank amateur. The most serious concern I have with Dawkins is that the theistic point of view has been very ably defended by philosophers like Plantinga and Swinburne, and William Lane Craig. In addition, there are people in the sciences like Collins and Polkinghorne and Kenneth Miller, who are Christians.

Dawkins has been audacious enough to call a widely held and well defended position, namely theism, a delusion. That's OK if he takes the time and effort to respond to the best theistic defenders in the business. J. L Mackie wrote The Miracle of Theism, (an equally insulting title) but in that book we find detailed critiques of Plantinga and Swinburne. From what I have seen of Dawkins, his book is not a worthy successor to Mackie.

Ben Witherington on angry atheists

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Four Acceptable Goals

The Four Acceptable Goals

I. Although for Hinduism Moksha, release from the cycle of birth and rebirth, is the ultimate goal. However there are four acceptable goals, Kama or pleasure, Artha or power and wealth, dharma or duty, and Moksha or release. Many people are uninterested in “religion” and have other fish to fry. Hindus don’t find this objectionable.
A. Kama or pleasure
1. Consider the response of the typical Christian to the life of a pleasure-seeker. For many Christians, someone who lives this way is living in sin, pursuing the wrong goal for one’s life. Such a life is in need of correction in order to avoid eternal punishment. Even in more secular circles, a life primarily devoted to pleasure-seeking is considered shallow.
2. However, in Hinduism the pursuit of pleasure is not regarded as necessarily a bad thing. Eventually a person will tire of worldly pleasure, to be sure. Enjoyment is, however a permissible goal, and pleasure-seekers need not go without guidance. Everyone’s favorite Hindu sacred book, the Kama Sutra, provides instruction on how to pursue pleasure. Someone who seeks pleasure is not criticized so long has he stays within moral rules. However, in this or some future existence he will come to realize that pleasure is not enough and that he needs something more deeply satisfying.
B. Artha, or power or substance—material possessions and social standing.
1. This is considered a legitimate aspiration and requires toughness and ruthlessness. Once again there is literature to guide people in their pursuit of this goal, the Arthasatras. But once again this is not supposed to be ultimately satisfying.
C. Dharma or duty-Being faithful in doing that duty required of a person based on that persons’s caste, sex, and stage of life. These are spelled out in the Code of Manu.
D. Moksha or release/ Negatively, this goal is release from the cycle of rebirth and redeath, positively it is pure freedom, liberation from both existence of existence and nonexistence. It is sometimes called Nirvana in Hindu literature; for the Buddhist tradition that is what it is always called.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Some more notes on Hinduism

Although Hinduism is referred to as a religion, it is often difficult to figure out just what is or is not Hindu. There is no gate-keeping institution that determines what is or is not a form of Hinduism. The religious perspectives of the Buddha, for example, seem clearly to stem from the Indian religious tradition, but are thought to be a distinct religion. Yet Hinduism seems not to define itself doctrinally. Hinduism seem to be defined as the religion that emerges from the subcontinent of India, and is formed around the Indian social system. (Buddhism’s deviation seems not to have been doctrinal, but rather has to do with the Buddhist rejection of the caste system).

However, there seems to be a certain flavor of character to Hindu religion, having to do with the doctrine of reincarnation. Old joke:

Christian: I’ve been born again.
Hindu: That’s nothing. I’ve been born again, and again, and again, and again, and again!

Exactly why Hinduism acquired the characteristics that it did is mysterious to me. What we know is that there was an indigenous culture in the Indus river valley, and that the Aryans invaded and became dominant. The features of the religion of the Vedas seem to be an unremarkable form of polytheistic religion, not much different from the Greek mythology. Vedic ritual included:

1) Sacrifices to nature gods
2) A hereditary priesthood
3) Outdoor fire altars
4) Memorized Vedic chants
5) Offering of food, drink, and animals to the gods

Yet, there seems to be a strand of critical reflection on this religious heritage even in the original religious writings of the Hindus, the Vedas. Rather than a confident statement about how the world was created, such as the biblical “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”, we instead get a passage about how the universe was formed from the God Purusha. But it is then stated that no one knows how this happed except Purusha, or perhaps, he doesn’t know either!”

The Axis was around 500 B. C. E. This was the time of the Buddha, Confucius, the Hebrew prophets, and the earliest Greek philosophers. In any event, a polytheistic world-view was beginning to be questioned. There were questions about the value of the Vedic sacrifices, and even the belief in many gods. Instead they sought a single divine reality that might be the source of everything. They spent a lot of time alone in the forest contemplating.
Also, these Hindus develops methods of altering consciousness (sitting for long periods of meditation, breathing deeply, fasting, avoiding sexual activity, practicing long periods of silence, going without sleep, using psychedelic plants, and living in dark caves).

The Upanishads were written at this time. The word means “sittings near a teacher” and were filled with teacher-student dialogues.

Dawkins ducks Craig

Bill Craig sent me a newsletter in which he will be debating twice in the UK on "Is God a Delusion" but will not be debating Dawkins himself. Now that would be the debate to see! Having seen this, I wrote him saying "Oh drat! no debate with Dawkins!" He responded:

The coward! He said, "I've never heard of William
Craig. A debate with him might look good on his
resume, but it wouldn't look good on mine!"


Some articles by Arthur Balfour

HT: Jim Slagle.

Six Concepts from the Upanishads

My History of World Religion classes are covering Hinduism, and these central concepts from the Upanishads are central to the Hindu tradition;

Six Concepts from the Upanishads

Brahman-The divine reality underlying all things. It is reality itself, pure consciousness, and bliss. It is the way thing are in the final analysis, when we see reality without illusion (maya). Unlike the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, The Hindu Brahman is not a transcendent creator and sustainer of the world but is the universe itself. It is beyond time and space, hence in the Hindu tradition space and time themselves are only the world as it appears to us, not the world as it is in itself.

Hence for the mainstream philosophical tradition of Hinduism, everything is one and everything is God. If I were to convene class and said “I am God” you would all think I was nuts, because our concept of God is a transcendent creator. In Hinduism no one would raise an eyebrow.

Atman: Called the self or soul, but really the deepest self. It is what is fundamental to me as an individual. However, in the last analysis, the Hindus teach that the deepest self really is God. One can achieve moksha, in some tradition, by realizing that atman is Brahman.

Maya is illusion, the root word is the same as the English root word for magic. The world, for the Hindu, is real but not what it appears to be. (I’m really God, but I appear to need glasses in order to see). It appears to be temporal, but it isn’t. It appears to be material, but it really is spiritual, it appears to be unconscious, but it is conscious. I appear not to have lived before, but I have.

Karma: The moral law of cause and effect. It is in accordance with the law of Karma that my past and future incarnations are determined. A bad life may result in my being reincarnated as a poor person or an animal.

Samsara is the cycle of birth and rebirth. Continuously being reincarnated again and again is considered to be a bad thing. As our reincarnations continue, we long to put a stop to the whole thing, to no longer be reincarnated.

Moksha is liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth. According to the Upanishads this is the ultimate human goal. (It is not, as we shall see, the only goal worth pursuing.) It involves getting beyond one’s own ego and the limits of being an individual. Imagine what your day is like. You wake up, you want to get to work on time, you hope your boss is happy with your work and that you are successful, you come home and hope your relationships with your family go well, If you are dating, you hope that those relationships work out and you don’t have to break up, etc. But if you reach moksha you get beyond such concerns. Detaching yourself from pleasure and pain also helps lead to freedom.

Note on the Plantinga review of Dawkins

Apparently the review of Dawkins was uploaded onto the internet by mistake and was not intended for widespread publication until it comes out in Books and Culture. The person who uploaded it has asked me to discourage further circulation until the relevant issue of B and C comes out.

Monday, January 22, 2007

A deleted passage from The Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy, and a response to Ed Cook

I am responding to some comments by Ed Cook on the "Anscombe Legend." I think that Lewis did move away from apologetics after the Anscombe exchange and perhaps also partly because of it. Lewis did think that he was not the right man to engage the current philosophical climate, and no doubt the Anscombe exchange, and the Oxford reaction to it, may have helped him reach that conclusion. However, it is also evident from his response to Anscombe in the issue of the Socratic Digest where Anscombe's essay appeared, that he did not consider the argument itself to have been refuted, only his inadequate previous formulation of it.

When Lewis says "She obliterated me as an apologist" I think he means "in the eyes of some particular audience." He doesn't mean that he thought that she had shown his arguments to be bad per se. Some discussion of mine from a paper on the Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy helps in understanding my view.

This passage in my essay on the Anscombe Legend from the Philosophy and the Chronicles of Narnia volume got censored out by the general editor of the series. It should gave gone in just before the first full paragraph on p. 265. Apparently the general editor did not like my Derrida-bashing.

Second, one can come to think that one’s style of argument will fall on deaf ears in a particular intellectual or philosophical climate without thinking that one’s ideas are intellectually bankrupt. Suppose I were to discover tomorrow that the philosophical community of which I am apart has come to be overrun with, say, Derrideans. Derrideanism is a school of thought which, in my estimation, is irrationalist at its core, and which undermines the very possibility of civilized discourse, philosophical or otherwise. In this case I probably would find my way of doing philosophy very poorly suited to persuading most philosophers of much of anything. If I wrote philosophical apologetics prior to the period of Derridean domination but none afterward, it would not necessarily mean I thought the apologetics all wrong. I might decide, rather, that perhaps other people, with a better understanding of Derrideanism, might be better equipped to respond to the lamentable situation in which all my arguments are subjected to Derridean deconstruction instead of evaluated on their intellectual merits.
Lewis seems to have concluded that the new style of doing philosophy prevalent in the Oxford of the time was not conducive to the more classical approach to the discipline he had learned in his undergraduate studies. As the above discussion of Derrideanism indicates, I am not at all sure that this shows that something was wrong with Lewis; it might be that something was wrongheaded about the philosophy of the time.
J. R. Lucas, a distinguished Oxford philosopher who was a student during this period, has described the prevailing mindset of that era as follows:
The philosophical climate in which I grew up in Oxford was one of extreme aridity. The ability not to be convinced was the most powerful part of a young
Philosopher’s armory: a competent tutor could disbelieve any proposition, no matter how true it was, and the more sophisticated could not even understand the
meaning of what was being asserted. In consequence, concern was concentrated
on the basic questions of epistemology almost to the exclusion of other questions
of larger import but less easy to argue in black and white terms. The under-
graduate who wanted to write essays on the meaning of existence was told to confine himself to the logical grammar of ‘is,’ and was not even allowed to ask what truth was, or how one ought to live one’s life.

So if Lewis came to think he could not advance his apologetical arguments to the satisfaction of Oxford philosophers, that would not show his arguments were bad ones. Perhaps the methods of evaluating arguments typically employed by Oxford philosophers during this era, as well as their unduly narrow range of interests, were deficient instead.

The link here is to the Amazon entry on the Philosophy and Narnia volume.

David Wood's Problem of Evil Blog

David Wood, who also runs the Answering Infidels website, has a blog on the problem of evil.

Plantinga on the religious neutrality of science

Is evolution religiously neutral? Plantinga says no.

A. Evolution religiously neutral?

According to a popular contemporary myth, science is a cool, reasoned, wholly dispassionate attempt to figure out the truth about ourselves and our world, entirely independent of religion, or ideology, or moral convictions, or theological commitments. I believe this is deeply mistaken. Following Augustine (and Abraham Kuyper, Herman Dooyeweerd, Harry Jellema, Henry Stob and other Reformed thinkers), I believe that there is conflict, a battle between the Civitas Dei, the City of God, and the City of the World. As a matter of fact, what we have, I think, is a three-way battle. On the one hand there is Perennial Naturalism, a view going back to the ancient world, a view according to which there is no God, nature is all there is, and mankind is to be understood as a part of nature. Second, there is what I shall call 'Enlightenment Humanism': we could also call it 'Enlightenment Subjectivism' or 'Enlightenment Antirealism': this way of thinking goes back substantially to the great eighteenth-century enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant. According to its central tenet, it is really we human beings, we men and women, who structure the world, who are responsible for its fundamental outline and lineaments. Naturally enough, a view as startling as this comes in several forms. According to Jean Paul Sartre and his existentialist friends, we do this world-structuring freely and individually; according to Ludwig Wittgenstein and his followers we do it communally and by way of language; according to Kant himself it is done by the transcendental ego which, oddly enough, is neither one nor many, being itself the source of the one-many structure of the world. So two of the parties to this three-way contest are Perennial Naturalism and Enlightenment Humanism; the third party, of course, is Christian theism. Of course there are many unthinking and ill-conceived combinations, much blurring of lines, many cross currents and eddies, many halfway houses, much halting between two opinions. Nevertheless I think these are the three basic contemporary Western ways of looking at reality, three basically religious ways of viewing ourselves and the world. The conflict is real, and of profound importance. The stakes, furthermore, are high; this is a battle for men's souls.

Now it would be excessively naive to think that contemporary science is religiously and theologically neutral, standing serenely above this battle and wholly irrelevant to it. Perhaps parts of science are like that: mathematics, for example, and perhaps physics, or parts of physics-although even in these areas there are connections.7 Other parts are obviously and deeply involved in this battle: and the closer the science in question is to what is distinctively human, the deeper the involvement.

To turn to the bit of science in question, the theory of evolution plays a fascinating and crucial role in contemporary Western culture. The enormous controversy about it is what is most striking, a controversy that goes back to Darwin and continues full force today. Evolution is the regular subject of courtroom drama; one such trial-the spectacular Scopes trial of 1925-has been made the subject of an extremely popular film. Fundamentalists regard evolution as the work of the Devil. In academia, on the other hand, it is an idol of the contemporary tribe; it serves as a shibboleth, a litmus test distinguishing the ignorant and bigoted fundamentalist goats front the properly acculturated and scientifically receptive sheep. Apparently this litimus test extends far beyond the confines of this terrestrial globe: according to the Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins, "If superior creatures from space ever visit earth, the first question they will ask, in order to assess the level of our civilization, is: 'Have they discovered evolution yet?... Indeed many of the experts-for example, Dawkins, William Provine, Stephen Gould-display a sort of revulsion at the very idea of special creation by God, as if this idea is not merely not good science, but somehow a bit obscene, or at least unseemly; it borders on the immoral; it is worthy of disdain and contempt. In some circles, confessing to finding evolution attractive will get you disapproval and ostracism and may lose you your job; in others, confessing doubts about evolution will have the same doleful effect. In Darwin's day, some suggested that it was all well and good to discuss evolution in the universities and among the cognoscenti; they thought public discussion unwise, however; for it would be a shame if the lower classes found out about it. Now, ironically enough, the 'shoe is sometimes on the other foot; it is [he devotees of evolution who sometimes express the fear that public discussion of doubts and difficulties with evolution could have harmful political effects.8

So why all the furor? The answer is obvious: evolution has deep religious connections; deep connections with how we understand ourselves at the most fundamental level. Many evangelicals and fundamentalists see in it a threat to the faith; they don't want it taught to their children, at any rate as scientifically established fact, and they see acceptance of it as corroding proper acceptance of the Bible. On the other side, among the secularists, evolution functions as a myth, in a technical sense of that term: a shared way of understanding ourselves at the deep level of religion, a deep interpretation of ourselves to ourselves, a way of telling us why we are here, where we come from, and where we are going.

It was serving in this capacity when Richard Dawkins (according to Peter Medawar, "one of the most brilliant of the rising generation of biologists") leaned over and remarked to A. J. Ayer at one of those elegant, candle-lit, bibulous Oxford dinners that he couldn't imagine being an atheist before 1859 (the year Darwin's Origin of Species was published); "although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin," said he, "Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist."9 (Let me recommend Dawkins' book to you: it is brilliantly written, unfailingly fascinating, and utterly wrongheaded. It was second on the British best-seller list for some considerable time, second only to Mamie Jenkins' Hip and Thigh Diet.) Dawkins goes on:

All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in a very special way. A true watchmaker has foresight: he designs his cogs and springs, and plans their interconnections, with a future purpose in his mind's eye. Natural selection, the blind, unconscious automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind. It has no mind and no mind's eye. It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no foresight, no sight at all. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker (p. 5).

Evolution was functioning in that same mythic capacity in the remark of the famous zoologist G. G. Simpson: after posing the question "What is man?" he answers, "The point I want to make now is that all attempts to answer that question before 1859 are worthless and that we will be better off if we ignore them completely."10 Of course it also functions in that capacity in serving as a litmus test to distinguish the ignorant fundamentalists from the properly enlightened cognoscenti; it functions in the same way in many of the debates, in and out of the courts, as to whether it should be taught in the schools, whether other views should be given equal time, and the like. Thus Michael Ruse: "the fight against creationism is a fight for all knowledge, and that battle can be won if we all work to see that Darwinism, which has had a great past, has an even greater future."11

The essential point here is really Dawkins' point: Darwinism, the Grand Evolutionary Story, makes it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. What he means is simple enough. If you are Christian, or a theist of some other kind, you have a ready answer to the question, how did it all happen? How is it that there are all the kinds of floras and faunas we behold; how did they all get here? The answer, of course, is that they have been created by the Lord. But if you are not a believer in God, things are enormously more difficult. How did all these things get here? How did life get started and how did it come to assume its present multifarious forms? It seems monumentally implausible to think these forms just popped into existence; that goes contrary to all our experience. So how did it happen? Atheism and Secularism need an answer to this question. And the Grand Evolutionary Story gives the answer: somehow life arose from nonliving matter by way of purely natural means and in accord with the fundamental laws of physics; and once life started, all the vast profusion of contemporary plant and animal life arose from those early ancestors by way of common descent, driven by random variation and natural selection. I said earlier that we can't automatically identify the deliverances of reason with the teaching of current science because the teaching of current science keeps changing. Here we have another reason for resisting that identification: a good deal more than reason goes into the acceptance of such a theory as the Grand Evolutionary Story. For the nontheist, evolution is the only game in town; it is an essential part of any reasonably complete nontheistic way of thinking; hence the devotion to it, the suggestions that it shouldn't be discussed in public, and the venom, the theological odium with which dissent is greeted.

8Thus according to Anthony Flew, to suggest that there is real doubt about evolution is to corrupt the youth.

9Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (London and New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1986), pp. 6 and 7.

10Quoted in Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), p. 1,

11Darwinism Defended, pp. 326-327.

Is chess dangerous to your mental health

This is an interesting passage from Chesterton's Orthodoxy. I suppose chessplaying philosophers are double-duty candidates for the asylum. Dennis? Bill V? Help me out here. You must admit that the two American players who ascended to the pinnacle of chess (Morphy and Fischer) do now speak well of the salutory effects of the Royal Game for one's mental stability.

GKC: Let us begin, then, with the mad-house; from this evil and fantastic inn let us set forth on our intellectual journey. Now, if we are to glance at the philosophy of sanity, the first thing to do in the matter is to blot out one big and common mistake. There is a notion adrift everywhere that imagination, especially mystical imagination, is dangerous to man's mental balance. Poets are commonly spoken of as psychologically unreliable; and generally there is a vague association between wreathing laurels in your hair and sticking straws in it. Facts and history utterly contradict this view. Most of the very great poets have been not only sane, but extremely business-like; and if Shakespeare ever really held horses, it was because he was much the safest man to hold them. Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination. Artistic paternity is as wholesome as physical paternity. Moreover, it is worthy of remark that when a poet really was morbid it was commonly because he had some weak spot of rationality on his brain. Poe, for instance, really was morbid; not because he was poetical, but because he was specially analytical. Even chess was too poetical for him; he disliked chess because it was full of knights and castles, like a poem. He avowedly preferred the black discs of draughts, because they were more like the mere black dots on a diagram. Perhaps the strongest case of all is this: that only one great English poet went mad, Cowper. And he was definitely driven mad by logic, by the ugly and alien logic of predestination. Poetry was not the disease, but the medicine; poetry partly kept him in health. He could sometimes forget the red and thirsty hell to which his hideous necessitarianism dragged him among the wide waters and the white flat lilies of the Ouse. He was damned by John Calvin; he was almost saved by John Gilpin. Everywhere we see that men do not go mad by dreaming. Critics are much madder than poets. Homer is complete and calm enough; it is his critics who tear him into extravagant tatters. Shakespeare is quite himself; it is only some of his critics who have discovered that he was somebody else. And though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators. The general fact is simple. Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion, like the physical exhaustion of Mr. Holbein. To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into

The Plantinga page

My lecture notes on Socrates

III. Socrates
A. Dialectical method
1. Starts conversation
2. Isolates key term, asks "What is X"
3. Asks for help defining X
4. Asks for clarification
5. Shows definition to be inadequate
6. Repeats process until it becomes evident the “victim” doesn’t know what he’s talking about
B. Theory of knowledge
1. Socratic dialogue presupposes that there is something quality or property that the term refers to. Universal definitions can capture the truth. A sophist would say that words mean whatever you can get them to mean, for the purposes of advancing yourself.
2. The midwife of ideas
3. Doctrine of innate ideas
C. Metaphysics
1. The soul is the most important part of the person, not just the accompaniment of the body
2. The soul is worth caring for independently of whether or not it will last for an eternity.
D. Virtue
1. The goal of life is not just living, but living well. To do what is immoral in order to preserve oneself, as Antiphon suggested is to defend one’s body by harming one’s soul.
2. Being virtuous is fulfilling our nature. The good life is not just the pleasant l life.
E. Knowing a doing
1. Socrates said that to know the good is to do the good. No one chooses to do evil knowingly.
2. What he means is that when people do wrong they often do so out of a misplaced idea of what is good. Ex. Willie Sutton the bank robber. Why do you rob banks, Willie? Because that’s where the money is.
3. Knowledge isn’t just possessing the information. It is more like wisdom. What is involved in knowing that smoking causes cancer. You can read on every pack of smokes that it does. But if you really knew what you were doing to yourself would you smoke? (The answer to all of this may not, on reflection, support Socrates’ contention. Aristotle, for example, rejected it).
F. Political philosophy
1. Social contract theory- Socrates refuses to escape because he has agreed his receiving the benefits of society means he should accept the penalties it metes out.
2. Natural law theory: There is a universal moral law that can be known through reason and experience, not created by governments. Governments are just insofar as their laws conform to the natural law.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Thursday, January 18, 2007

This is a link to the Plantinga review of Dawkins' The God Delusion

And further discussion by Clayton Littlejohn and others.

This is Steve Lovell's new website location

On philosophical themes from C. S. Lewis.

Am I missing something in defending Lewis's argument against naturalism?

There is a passage in Lewis's argment against naturalism. I'm inclined to think Lewis drops the ball here, but I was reading an e-mail from a frequent poster here who says that this passage is what makes Lewis's argument really dangerous. I discuss this in detail in this DI2 post.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Was King insane?

1. All Christians are mentally ill.
2. Martin Luther King was a Christian.
Therefore, Martin Luther King was mentally ill.

There's a valid argument for you. But I have trouble accepting premise 1. Some people on the Rational Responders seem to think that 1 is true, and are willing to accept the conclusion of this syllogism. Amazing.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

G. E. Moore responds to Arthur Balfour: A precursor to the Lewis-Anscombe controversy

When I was researching my dissertation on Lewis's argument against naturalism, my advisor, Hugh Chandler, found this essay in a volume of G. E. Moore's early essays. It is available online through the JSTOR service if your library subscribes, but the essay is entitled "The Value of Religion." It came out in the International Journal of Ethics in 1901. In it is included a rebuttal to Balfour's argument from reason, which is found in The Foundations of Belief. Dr. Chandler noticed a similarity between Balfour's argument and Lewis's, and he also noticed a similarity between Moore's rebuttal and Anscombe's. Nowadays, Balfour's influence on Lewis is widely recognized.

C. S. Lewis and Political Conservatism

I am responding to some discussion in Spare Oom on Lewis and the Religious Right.

I think that Lewis's thought does reflect the acceptance of certain principles which are held dear by political conservatives. At the same time, terms like "conservativsm" and "liberalism" shift meaning from generation to generation. For example, is George W. Bush a real advocate of balanced budgets and limited government? Is nation-building in Iraq something that Barry Goldwater would approve of, if he were still alive? In the present day very often "conservatism" ends up being a matter of doing whatever benefits the big corporations, something I am sure Lewis would not support.

In the C. S. Lewis encyclopedia edited by John West and Jeffrey Schultz West has an entry on Lewis and political conservatism in which he point out a number of conservative prinicples Lewis defended but then pointed out that Lewis supported to system of socialized medicine in Britain! (Hillary take note).

Of course the term "Religious Right" is a highly loaded term which stands in need of definition. The attempt to ally Christianity with any political party or movement, however, is something Lewis criticizes devastatingly in his essay "Meditation on the Third Commandment." In fact, I consider that essay to be a pre-emptive demolition of the pretensions of the Moral Majority and its successors. I don't consider the idea that we need to enlist the government to defend the family to be an especially conservative idea, or an especially good idea either.

In short, there is a serious question to be asked as to what "conservatism" means. Once we clarify it, we will find that Lewis supports some but not all conservative principles. But the attempt to ally the fortunes of the Gospel with the fortunes of any political party or movement is something that Lewis condemned on no uncertain terms.

Discussion of Hasker on Dangerous Idea 2

I am starting a series if posts on William Hasker's critique of functionalism on Dangerous Idea 2.

This is the infidel radio link

I doesn't cost much, as Shogun pointed out. Just $1.25. But I think I will take up Laz's suggestion, once I get the chance. If anybody listened to the interview and has some feedback, let me know.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Note from Jim Lazarus on my interview

I'm having Richard send you a copy of the show. Unfortunately Reggie has decided not to let this show be a free podcast download -- but I should note that you have full distribution rights for this show, so you're free to post it anywhere you like and have people download it for free at their leisure.- Jim

Thursday, January 11, 2007

I was interviewed on Infidelguy by Richard Spencer

And it was fun. The podcast should be available in a day or two.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Is there a consensus in philosophy of mind in favor of materialism

In a DI2 post I discuss this question. Does dualism only survive because of religious motivations?

Lewis and Rational Inference

What, exactly, is involved in rational inference? Lewis thought that there were three elements: the reception of facts to reason about, the perception of a logical relation, and the arrangement of those facts to draw a fresh conclusion. The link is to a post on DI2 that contains some discussion of what Lewis thought reasoning is, including some material by Peter Williams which makes use of some passages in The Discarded Image, and some passages in Why I am Not a Pacifist.

Link to a DI2 post on the Unity of Consciousness

On Saddam's execution

In response to some of the discussion I started on Saddam's execution, I would separate three questions.

1) Does Saddam deserve death, and does the Iraqi government have the right to our support in carrying out the execution. I'm no big fan of the death penalty, but I will accept, for the sake of this discussion, the rightness of execution for a mass murderer, and the claim that Saddam was a mass murderer. However, I would insist that the execution was at best a necessary evil, and not a cause for rejoicing.

2) Was the process leading to the execution a due process. This is where serious doubts emerge for me.

3) Was the execution of Saddam an act of justice or an act of vengeance? It looks to me to have been an act of revenge on the part of Shiites for years of repression under Sunni Saddam. Charles Krauthammer, who is a conservative columnists, explains my problems with the execution very well.

The most favorable explanation I can give for the invasion of Iraq (since the idea that Saddam was a threat to American security doesn't hold up) is that we hoped to bring a democracy to the Middle East so that people over there can see how wonderful freedom and democracy is and move in that direction. This, in my estimation, was insufficient to justify invading another country, but I think it also demonstrated a certain naivete about Islam and Iraq.

No democracy can succeed so long as the religious majority is unwilling to grant religious freedom to religious minorities. In Christian Europe this was hard enough to achieve, hence the wars of religion in the 17th Century. However, nothing about governing is built into the essentials of Christianity. What the NT says about government is "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's." It says nothing about what to do if you are Caesar. And to that I say,
"Praise the Lord!" At this point I am inclined to quote Alexander Campbell's slogan: "We are silent where the Bible is silent." Shoot, Christians went some 300 years before they had any political clout at all. So, so 1700-1800 or so years after being founded, Christian Europe was willing to accept the idea that the Church and the State could do different jobs.

Islam is a different kettle of fish. Islam began by governing, and the Qu'ran is all about what to do as the government. The idea of separation of church and state is antithetical to Islam. To make matters worse, Iraq if a country with a Shiite majority who believes that the essence of Islam was distorted in the early days after Muhammad and the people who should have been running things were murdered. Without religious freedom for religious minorities, the closest thing to democracy you can get is a tyranny of the majority. President Bush's attempt to evangelize the Middle East for democracy is therefore a pipe dream.

I'm going to be on Freethought Media

This is either the infidelguy show or a successor to it. If the Lord wills, you can here me interviewed tonight.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Why C. S. Lewis is going to hell

According to one fundamentalist. HT: Jim Lippard.

#39, True Rating: 3.85

"Here are a few reason why I won't be watching and won't endorse his books or movies.

1. C.S Lewis is a heretic. I mean come on guys, the guy believes in life on other planets, he believes we're the highest of animals. All in all, this guy is heretical nut.

Did Lewis believe in life on other planets, or just write stories about it. And is it heresy to believe in life on other planets? Is it essential Christian doctrine to believe that we are alone in the universe?
2. Some things that I've heard about the book disturb me. I'm not going to dwell on C.S Lewis' quotes in this post, but am going to focus on the books. Here's a quote from one of the books, small but very dangerous:

"The future of Narnia rests on your courage." (Talking to the children who play roles in the novel)

So belief in personal responsibility is heresy?

Now, the future does not rest with us. In fact, God could do anything he wanted without a single soul on this earth. If Asylan is God, then he wouldn't be saying this. God's intentions does not rest on our courage. Plain and simple.

So let's party! Nothing depends on our choices anyway!
3. Imagination is evil and wicked. You call it an imagination, God calls it evil. (Genesis 8:21) It doesn't matter if you think that a little imagination is okay, it's wicked."

Why does this Bible verse support such a radical conclusion. I think it heretical to call any God-given faculty evil.

Reply to Ed Babinski

I reply to some comments by Ed Babinski here, on DI2

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Why six arguments from reason?

This is a link to an repost onto Dangerous Idea 2 about the different versions of the argument from reason. I am attempting to organize and put together the DI2 blog to discuss the AFR exclusively, but I will continue to link those entries here.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Dennett Denied

This is Angus Menuge's critique of Dennett.