Friday, August 31, 2007

Here's the other side of the moths story

Here's the other side of the Wells moth story. It doesn't look, from the context of this statement, as if Majerus was inferring atheism from evolution.

It is not my place to tell people what to believe. But I know that we are making a horrendous mess of this planet, and I do not have faith in some supernatural intervention putting it right: No second coming; No helping hand from on high; No last minute redemption.

I caught my first butterfly when I was four, and started recording peppered moth forms when I was 10. I am getting old, and have spent my life in scientific enquiry and discovery. And it has been a great life!

Until now, for instead of the vision of a world made better by the appliance of science, I see a future of ever-increasing global problems. I probably won't see the worst of what's coming - but I fear for my children, who will face escalating problems of climate change, over-population, pollution, starvation, disease and conflict. And for their children and grandchildren, I have little optimism.

We need to address global problems now, and to do so with any chance of success, we have to base our decisions on scientific facts: and that includes the fact of Darwinian evolution.

Though, when I read this sort of thing, I have to wonder what is packed into the term "Darwinian evolution."

Deep and passionate commitment on an issue makes it hard to tell what is simply serious misunderstanding and what is out and out deceit.

If Majerus is looking for a "proof of evolution" in the peppered moth case, this is probably asking too much.

As for the "icons" strategy Wells uses, I am kind of skeptical, because education below the highest level requires a certain amount of "cartooning" if theories which are presented in better detail at a higher level.

Reply to Dmitry Chernikov's Inquiry on subjective probabilities

The idea is rejecting classical foundationalism and accepting the idea that people come into a topic from various perspectives. We are called upon to adjust the beliefs we have rather than start from scratch. So to begin, any prior is OK, but in the light of evidence, if the case is really strong, everyone can move from where they are to a consensus.

As I understand it, everyone's prior probabilities (even people who believe weird things) are "properly basic" and we revise from there.

Christopher Mitchell's essay on Lewis the apologist

Which covers the Anscombe debate.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Peppered moths: Alive or dead?

What bothers me here is how the biologist proclaims not just that peppered moths prove evolution, but they also disprove God. That's quite an accomplishment for a bunch of dead moths.

See what those CADRE guys mean?

I googled "idiot xtians" and came up with lots of stuff. This is one of the links I got.

Some comments from CADRE on atheist rhetoric

Monday, August 27, 2007

Stunney's Important Point

Stunney: In other words, regardless of whether materialism is true or not, some things must have their nature or essential properties, and must engage in the activity that is specified by that nature or essential properties, NOT in virtue of some underlying parts and processes that 'enable' or ’cause' that nature or activity, but immediately, directly, and hence non-mechanically.

VR: Quite correct. At some point we have to stop reducing, and say that something is the way it is because it is its nature to be the way it is. Why can't we say something (maybe God, maybe something else) is rational because it has the essential property of being rational. Why say that such a stopping point has to be with mindless particles.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Misunderstanding the argument from reason

W wrote: In your argument from reason, for example, you demand a step by step, no gaps, defense of reason in a physicalist universe.

VR: No, I don't require such a thing. I maintain that there is a conceptual disparity between the mental and the physical. In fact the physical is typically defined in terms of the absence of the mental. I see attempts to accommodate the mental to the physical that either explain the mental away or "sneak in" the mental to into a presumably physical explanation, and then try to tell me that it's a good physical explanation because it's being attributed to the "brain."

A Clarifying Passage from Feser

Edward Feser, Philosophy of Mind, a Beginner’s Guide (One World, 2006) p. 113.
Property dualism would thus appear to lead to absurdity as long as it concedes to materialism the reducibility of the propositional attitudes. If it instead takes the attitudes to be, like qualia, irreducible to physical states of the brain, this absurdity can be avoided: for in that case, your beliefs and judgments are as non-physical as your qualia are, and there is thus no barrier (at the least of the usual mental-to-physical epiphenomenalist sort) to your qualia being the causes of your beliefs about them. But should it take this route, there seems to be much less motivation for adopting property dualism rather than full-blown Cartesian substance dualism: it was precisely the concession of the materiality of propositional attitudes that seemed to allow the property dualist to make headway on the interaction problem, an advantage the is lost if the concession is revoked; and while taking at least beliefs, desires, and the like to be purely material undermines the plausibility of the existence of a distinct, non-physical mental substance, such plausibility would seem to be restored if all mental properties, beliefs and desires, as much as qualia, are non-physical. Moreover, property dualism raises a puzzle of its own, namely that of explaining exactly how non-physical properties an inhere in a physical substance.

Reply to Arnold Guminski, with some clarifications

AG: I describe myself as a commonsensible naturalist because I am committed, to borrow the words of William Hasker, to “a naturalism that makes a serious effort to accommodate, or at least make sense of, our ordinary confictions about the mind and its operations—things we think we all ‘know’ about the mind, when we are not doing philosophy.” So I cordially invite the reader to read my A Metaphysical Naturalist Manifesto, my inaugural blog of 21 July 2007 on the Securlar Outpost for a general statement of my philosophy.
VR: OK, I am linking to it here. So being very commonsensible about the mind, I thoroughly reject epiphenomenalism and the physical closure principle, according to which mental states or events are not causally efficacious. I adhere to the idea of interactionist property dualism, understood to disallow substance dualism, and thus hold that there are mental states of (some) living organisms (such as humans) and that these entities are irreducibly distinct from any accompanying physiological states.

Oddly, Edward Feser (approvingly quoted by Victor Reppert) appears to hold that beliefs, and other intentional states (e.g., intentions, purposings, etc.), are not mental states. He boldly and erroneously refers to them as physical states of the brain. In my opinion, beliefs and other intentional states have par excellence a better claim to be irreducibly mental than simple qualia.

VR: Actually, in these passages Feser is talking about types of property dualism which attempt to hold on to the causal closure of the physical. These are common in the literature (Chalmers, McGinn, etc). So the title of my post was misleading. Property dualism without causal closure is a different kettle of fish.

AG: Victor Reppert, in his reply to stunney’s excellent comment, rather lamely claims that “[o]ne of the main reasons for being a property dualist and not a substance dualist is that this will permit you to hold on to the causal closure of the physical.” However, being the commonsensible naturalist that I am, interactionist property dualism (which appears to be the belief of stunney) rightly rejects the dogma of the causal closure of the physical. No—the reason that I am an interactionist property dualist is: (1) interactionism (including the causal efficacy of mental states or events) is so evidently true and is a fundamental properly basic belief; and (2) the evidence overwhelmingly shows it as more probable than not that mental activity cannot exist without the substratum of an appropriately configured brain. Reppert is reduced to alleging that rejection of the causal closure principle means that “you are in effect a substance dualist.” This can be justly labeled as Reppert’s ipse dixit, or (if you prefer) his idée fixé. He owes us an explanation and justification of this implausible contention.

VR: Substance dualists need not deny the fact that mental states need brain states. There are types of substance dualism other that Cartesian dualism. In my presentations of the argument from reason I argue first for an explanatory dualism and then try to figure out what makes the best sense of explanatory dualism. In other words, my first goal is to argue that in order for reason to be possible, reasons-explanations have to be basic explanations. Then we go from there.

I think Hasker would not only accept, but insist upon, the cliam that mental activity cannot exist without the substratum of an appropriately configured brain.

The reason I think that once you deny causal closure you have “gone over” to substance dualism is that you are admitting non-physical causes, and that means there have to be non-physical substances that have those causal powers. Something is “breaking in” to the physical realm.

AG: Now, although I am an interactionist property dualist, I am quite willing to agree that a substance dualist has an equal claim to consider himself as a commonsensible naturalist provided that he maintains that the posited spiritual substance depends for its existence upon the appropriately configured physical organism. Accordingly, William Hasker’s emergent self is a kind of substance dualism which a naturalist could plausibly embrace were it purged of its theistic aspects, i.e., the doctrine that the emergent self survives the death of its parent organism due to miraculous intervention.

VR: Hasker himself, as a Christian, thinks that God can, and will, preserve us into eternity. I wouldn’t call that part of this theory of mind, however.

Of course you can avoid theism and accept Hasker’s position in the philosophy of mind. There are other “mentalistic” world-views other than theism. A good example comes from C. S. Lewis. Lewis accepted the anti-naturalism arguments of Owen Barfield and became, not a theist, but an Absolute Idealist.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A note from Jason Pratt on Antony Flew

JP: Victor, This morning I heard from one of our Cadre who knows Gary Habermas. Most recent up-to-date word then, is: Antony Flew remains a dedicated deist-theist, and is planning to release a book this autumn entitled _There is a God_. Amazon already has it up for pre-order, published by HarperOne, hardcover,co-authored with Roy Varghese, due Nov 1, 256 pages. Book description reads: "In one of the biggest religion news stories of the new millennium, the Associated Press announced that Professor Antony Flew, the world's leading atheist, now believes in God. "Flew is a pioneer for modern atheism. His famous paper, Theology and Falsification, was first presented at a meeting of the Oxford Socratic Club chaired by C. S. Lewis and went on to become the most widely reprinted philosophical publication of the last five decades. Flew earned his fame by arguing that one should presuppose atheism until evidence of a God surfaces. He now believes that such evidence exists, and _There is a God_chronicles his journey from staunch atheist to believer. "For the first time, this book will present a detailed and fascinating account of Flew's riveting decision to revoke his previous beliefs and argue for the existence of God. Ever since Flew's announcement, there has been a great debate among atheists and believers alike about what exactly this 'conversion' means. _There is a God_ will finally put this debate to rest. "This is a story of a brilliant mind and reasoned thinker, and where his lifelong intellectual pursuit eventually led him: belief in God as designer."

One could be excused from this description for not quite getting that Flew is a minimal deist who barely even acknowledges the existence of God (much less any action at all taken by Him in regard to our Nature); and his previous 'belief' hasn't really changed because it was more of a _lack_ of belief. (i.e. negative atheism as a default position, kind of like a hardcore agnosticism.) Still, it's interesting and will likely be fuel for more debate! {g} Jason

VR: See, Flew was never really an atheist in the first place. Just goes to show, there are no atheists. (Just kidding).

Monday, August 20, 2007

Reply to Larry Arnhart

Larry Arnhart: The Bible endorses slavery. As Mark Noll and Eugene Genovese have indicated in their recent books on the subject, the proslavery folks were able to cite the Bible as supporting their position. But we know this can't be right, because we know that slavery is wrong, and therefore we know that we need to correct the Bible. Doesn't this illustrate how we have to appeal to a natural morality to correct the Bible and other sources of revelation? Similarly, we know that when Abraham was commanded by God to kill Isaac, this was wrong. Otherwise, we would have to agree with Kiekegaard that Revelation teaches "the suspension of the ethical."

VR: I had overlooked this comment from Larry Arnhart. I appreciate someone of his influence commenting here. However, he seems to assume that the only way that Scripture can influence morality is by specific statements or proof texts. The case against slavery, for me at least, doesn't stem from "natural morality" but rather from the extension and development of biblical concepts. If we believe that every human being was created by God for eternal fellowship with God yet while on earth they are the property of others in virtue of the color of their skin, is this coherent? Without endorsing Newman's use of it as an apologetic for Catholic doctrines like the Immaculate conception, I do think the idea of doctrinal development is a useful and valuable idea for understanding theological (and other) concepts. You might want to complain that this is a poor way for God to reveal things--why not save the world a lot of trouble by adding a slavery ban to the Ten Commandments? But, as a Christian I believe that God has, for whatever reason, chosen to do it this way. There are other ethical systems that might provide a basis for the rights and dignity of human beings, (Aristotelian natural purpose, Plato's forms) but these seem to be just as unacceptable from the point of view of philosophical naturalism.

Of course, if it could be proven that traditional theism provides an inadequate support for traditional ethics doesn't mean that that support has to come from some other source. Maybe that support just doesn't exist.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

God and the Burden of Proof

This is Johnny-Dee's post on the burden of proof. I think I disagree with Johnny on this, but I will comment later.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Wiker on Evolutionary ethics

Does Darwinian naturalism undermine (broadly speaking) traditional morality? Benjamin Wiker, pace Larry Arnhart, thinks that indeed it does. HT: Jim Pourchot

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Michael Shermer gets something right

Another post redate.

This is the sort of thing I was getting at when I mentioned the preposterous social claims made by people like Dawkins. Here Michael Shermer, that dedicated Christian apologist, makes just the same point I was making. Anyone care to argue that Shermer is wrong to wince at Dawkins?

From his review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion (HT: Peter Williams).

'As I read the book, I found myself wincing at Dawkins's references to religious people as "faith-heads," as being less intelligent, poor at reasoning, or even deluded, and to religious moderates as enablers of terrorism. I shudder because I have religious friends and colleagues who do not fit these descriptors, and I empathize at the pain such pejorative appellations cause them. In addition, I am not convinced by Dawkins's argument that without religion there would be "no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7, no Crusades, no witch-hunts, no Gunpowder Plot, no Indian partition, no Israeli/Palestinian wars, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, no persecution of Jews as 'Christ-killers,' no Northern Ireland 'troubles'…." In my opinion, many of these events—and others often attributed solely to religion by atheists—were less religiously motivated than politically driven, or at the very least involved religion in the service of political hegemony.'

And when Christians bring up the crimes of communists in Russia, this is the answer we get from atheists. It's the marriage of religion or atheism to political power, and the temptation to use the power of Caesar to advance the cause of one's belief of unbelief that is the root of this kind of evil. Whether it comes from religion are irreligion is a neutral factor.

Friday, August 10, 2007


This is the site on naturalism, including the Troy Nunley dissertation on the evolutionary argument against naturalism. This is in response to a request by exapologist.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

More on abusing theists

After having criticized "the new atheism" I must indicate further that I am dismayed by the statements by philosophers quoted in the Triablogue post--specifically the comments of Sinnott-Armstrong and David Lewis. Comparing atheists to Nazis? Philosophers should know better, or should they?

Is there some dialogue within the atheist community on this sort of thing?

Monday, August 06, 2007

A new name for the argument from reason?

Timothy O'Fallon calls it the thinking cap argument.

Anne Rice's rediscovery of faith

Here's another former (insincere, no doubt) unbeliever.

Alan Rhoda on the distinction between eliminativism and reductionism

This is a link to an entry by Alan Rhoda on eliminiativism and reductionism. Here's a passage from it:

The debate between eliminativists and reductionists would seem to turn on prevailing or established usage. For example, with respect to the meaning of "God", the reductionist substitutes have little or no claim to capture the force of that word as it has actually been used in the Western theological tradition. This is just atheism in denial, not a redefinition of "theism" that is still worthy of the name. In contrast, the theoretical reduction of "heat" from traditional understandings of it as a manifestation of an element (fire) or a type of fluid (caloric fluid) to "average kinetic energy" marked a useful theoretical advance. The justification for continuing to use the word "heat" while changing its meaning lies in the broad commonality of the observational data that the respective theories were invoked to explain.

Calvinism and psychoanalyzing

With respect to leaving the fold, I do not know if the Calvinist doctrine of perseverance requires that we psychoanalyze all those that leave the fold and say that they were insincere, Because people like Loftus will say that their beliefs were sincere and their behavior no doubt suggested that they were real believers. If an atheist believes in the wishful thinking theory of religious belief, and say that everyone who believes just can't stand the idea that there will be no afterlife, then I think they should take the counterevidence seriously when C. S. Lewis says the last thing he wanted to believe in was an afterlife, and that he became a believer based on his assessment of the evidence. You can surely doubt the adequacy of his assessment of the evidence, but it's wrong to say that he really wanted to believe in an afterlife when the evidence suggests that he didn't want this at all.

But similarly, when an atheist says that they really believed in the past and left the fold later, then to say that didn't really believe but deep down inside was an atheist all along, then I've got a problem with that, too.

Does the Calvinist doctrine of perseverance require that we analyze people on the Debunking Christianity website (all of whom claim to be former believers) in this way? If so, this is troubling for the Calvinist view. But maybe their view doesn't have these entailments.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Tom Piatak criticizes Christopher Hitchens

A review of the latest in a series of anti-religious books.

Link corrected.

The Wall Street Journal review of the last Harry Potter volume

In which the reviewer emphasizes the underlying Christian content in the series. But for some Christians, J. K. Rowling weighs the same as a duck, so she's a witch.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Perseverance and leaving the fold

On a previous post about the "no ex-atheist"position mattghg wrote:

Surely, though, the "no ex-Christian atheists" view is mandated by the P of a Calvinist's TULIP?

I think this is an empirical problem for point 5 to be honest with you. Point 5 advocates use this passage to buttress their position, I John 2: 19

"They went out from us but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us; but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us."

But can that be generalized to all instances of "leaving the fold?" Doesn't this commit you to an a priori theory of people who leave, which isn't supported by the evidence?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

DeWeese and Rasmussen on a principle of sufficient reason

In the book In Defense of Natural Theology (IVP, 2005), Garrett DeWeese and Joshua Rasmussen wrote an essay entitled “Hume and the Kalam Cosmological Argument.” defend a version of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which they call PSR3:

PSR3: There is a sufficient reason why some concrete objects exist rather than none at all.

However, they say that PSR3 is rejected by William Rowe on the grounds that it is not self-evident nor a required presumption of scientific inquiry.

However, they think that PSR3 follows from a weaker, modalized version of PSR:

PSR3’: Possibly, there is a sufficient reason why some contingent concrete objects exist as rather than none at all.

They prove this with this argument:

There is a possible world W in which q is true and q explains p.
p is contingently true and there is no explanation of p. (Assumption for indirect proof).
There is a possible world W in which (p and “there is no explanation of p”) is true, and there in which q is true and q explains (p and “there is no explanation of p). (from 1 and 2)
In W, q explains p, (from 3 and the distributivity of explanation over conjunction).
Therefore in W, p both has, and does not have an explanation.
It is not the case that p is contingently true and there is no explanation of p.
Therefore, it is not the case that, for any proposition p, p is contingently true and there is no explanation of p. (from 6)

Mark Linville's argument against ethical naturalism

Triablogue responds on abusing atheists

This was posted on behalf of Steve Hays by Evanmay, so I wonder who wrote it. (It seems very Hays-ish).

From what I understand all major evolutionists receive a lot of hate mail from Christians. As self-defeating as it seems, I think there is good evidence that Christians do violate standards of courtesy in responding to nonbelievers. I used to see a lot of "you are going straight to hell" messages on the Secular Web, it isn't reasonable to suppose that it all comes from atheists trying to stereotype Christians.

Dawkins says a lot of ridiculous things--even here some standards of courtesy have to be maintained.