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.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The harder problem of consciousness

Is it getting easier with the advance of science, or harder?

Loftus and Stewart on God of the Gaps

John W. Loftus writes:
Christian philosopher W. Christopher Stewart objects to the “god of the gaps” epistemology because, as he says, “natural laws are not independent of God. For the Christian theist, God upholds nature in existence, sustaining it in a providential way.” From his perspective this is true. But his rationale is a bit strange. He says, “To do so is to make religious belief an easy target as the gaps in scientific understanding narrow with each scientific discovery,” in “Religion and Science,” Reason for the Hope Within, ed. Michael Murray (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub., Co., 1999), p. 321-322. Now why should he be concerned with this unless science truly is leaving less and less room for the supernatural? He’s admitting the evidence does not favor his faith. He’s trying to explain away the evidence. If he still lived in a pre-scientific era before science could explain so much he’d be arguing this is evidence that God exists!

Do gaps in scientific understanding narrow with every discovery? Or do scientific discoveries sometimes render gaps larger and at least apparently less bridgeable? My two favorite examples are the way in which science undermined confidence in determinism through quantum mechanics and undermined confidence in a beginningless universe through Big Bang cosmology. These developments, it seems to me, opened gaps rather than closed them. Naturalism has found ways of living without determinism and a beginningless universe, but before these scientific developments took place naturalists thought that they were essential to their naturalistic world-view.

There may well be something right about the anti-God-of-the-gaps rhetoric. But it's a mistake to give in to it every time it is brought up. Often these arguments are given a free pass, even by Christians.

Of course Stewart may think that there are reasons for accepting theism that do not involve gaps. The Thomistic cosmological and ontological arguments don't appeal to gaps at all, so far as I can tell.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A New Lewis Encyclopedia

This is a really nice volume, and it has two essays by me in it.

Hasker, sensible naturalism, and causal closure

What would the naturalist have to accept, in order to accommodate the demands of reason at this point? At minimum, the naturalist must accept the existence of emergent laws—laws which manifest themselves in complex organic situations, and which result in behavior of the fundamental particles of nature different from the behavior predicted on the basis of the physical laws alone. To admit this is to reject the “causal closure of the physical domain” that is so dear to the hearts of many, perhaps most, contemporary naturalists. The naturalist will have to acknowledge that new causal powers emerge in suitably complex configurations of organic chemicals.—powers that are not evident in simpler situations, and are not deducible from any laws that operate in simpler situations. It will have to be true that, given a particular sort of brain-state, there supervenes, say, a desire to hear a performance of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” and that, in virtue of this desire, certain actions, and certain bodily movements occur that could not be predicted merely on the basis of the physical laws that apply to the elementary particles making up the nervous system. A view that countenances the emergence of such causal powers might provide the basis for understanding mental states that could be effective in virtue of their propositional content. Many naturalists, however, will be extremely reluctant to abandon causal closure; if they do so, their status as naturalists in good standing could plummet alarmingly.

Richard Dawkins and the Argument from Reason

Geoff Robinson wrote:

I had the opportunity to pose comments to Dawkins while he was in Philadelphiaon his book tour. I am a relatively well-read layman, but color me unimpressed. I pointed out several inconsistencies. Among which he chose to respond to the Argument from Reason. And, frankly, his response was pretty much "I'm not sure why this is a problem."

That's funny. Darwin could see a problem. How come Dawkins can't?

My question for Paul Draper

My question for Paul Draper on the Internet Infidels God or Blind Nature debate

In your reply to Plantinga, you maintain that a “sensible naturalism” can provide an adequate response to Plantinga’s EAAN. I would like to take a closer look at that “sensible naturalism.”

Surely you must know who invented the term “sensible naturalism.” It comes from William Hasker’s generally friendly response to my presentation of the Argument from Reason, entitled “What About a Sensible Naturalism: A Response to Victor Reppert," Philosophia Christi 5 (2003), at 53-62.

In your essay you define a set of beliefs that Hasker would accept as part of what a sensible naturalist must accept:

S: Beliefs exist, they affect behavior by virtue of their contents, and a belief's having a particular content is not the same as its displaying a certain set of third-person properties.

I quite agree. But I wonder if you are willing to accept the next step in Hasker’s argument, the claim that a sensible naturalist ought to deny the causal closure of the physical. Do you accept that, or not?

The problem here is that orthodox physics does not import first-person properties to its descriptions. It must be admitted that before living things ever came to exist, there was nothing that had a first-person perspective. Yet, if naturalism is true, all the causes were in place within the physical world to produce everything that has been produced since. So how does third-person physical stuff give rise to first-person entities?

If the physical is closed, the every particle’s being where it is can be fully accounted for in terms of physics. If you were physically omniscient, then nothing from the world of the mental could possibly give you any information about where a particle was going to be. You are familiar, surely with the difficulties Jaegwon Kim has raised for mental causation in a physicalistic world, or the argument from mental causation found in Hasker’s The Emergent Self (Ithaca: NY: Cornell University Press, 1999), ch. 3, or in my book, C. S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason (Inter-Varsity Press, 2003).

If you say that the universe started out as a physicalistic system with no mental causes in place, how did it create a distinct, irreducible mental realm that interacts with it?

Hasker, of course, argues that sensible naturalist should set the causal closure of the physical aside, even though many of you fellow naturalists will wonder whether you’re still a naturalist. But it seems to me that one must do more than that, one must admit that there are basic, irreducible causes in the universe that are mental in nature. Now you can do that without accepting theism per se: pantheism and absolute idealism are OK also. Admitted this is not supernaturalism, in the sense these world-views do not posit a separate, supernatural realm. But it does so at the cost of maintaining that the physical world is quite different from what orthodox physics says that it is.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Is reason central to science? I think so.

Science is wedded, at least in principle, to the evidence. Creationism is unabashedly wedded to doctrine, as evidenced by the statements of belief required by various creationist organizations and the professions of faith made by individual creationists. Because creationism is first and foremost a matter of Biblical faith, evidence from the natural world can only be of secondary importance. Authoritarian systems like creationism tend to instill in their adherents a peculiar view of truth.

This is from the Talk-Origins archive. Notice something about this argument: that ir presupposes a difference between proper and improper ways of getting the truth. Some methods are superior to others. "Works for me" isn't good enough in this arena of inquiry; genuine standards of right and wrong reasoning have to be applied.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Two dozen or so arguments for God

How many arguments are there for theism? Alvin Plantinga thinks there are a couple of dozen.