Sunday, May 31, 2009

Disneyland vs. Disney World in the NBA finals

Yes, yes. I know. The Staples Center isn't in Anaheim. Nevertheless, it's a small world after all.

The Catholic Encyclopedia on Suicide

Is morality rational, and is immorality irrational

People often see the moral life summed up in the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

So what if someone were to say "No. I'm me. Other people are other people. I will treat myself they way I want to be treated, and treat them in the way that best suits my happiness. If that means using them for my purposes and leaving them to suffer or die, tough luck for them."
Such a person, I take it, would not be a nice person or an ethical person. Would, however, that person be a person who is not listening to reason? Because that is the consequence of saying that morals are based on reason. If you say that, then you have to say that immorality is irrational.
If you think about "selfish b*****ds, do you think they have failed to be rational, or do you think that their hearts were two sizes too small. Or in asking this question am I bifurcating reason and emotion?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Craig on the absurdity of life without God

And this is Parsons' rebuttal.

Can we suspend judgment on belief in God?

John Loftus sent the following note to me.

Richard Feldman makes the argument that if two "epistemic peers" with "shared evidence" disagree on an issue, then what both people should do is "suspend judgement." Yes. Again, we have no trouble affirming gravity for we all agree about it (no one wants to bet against it, levitators aside for the minute), we were all taught to believe it, and we can test it for ourselves. Therefore we can be assurd that there is gravity.

My response to this is Jamesean. We either have to act as if God existed or act as if he did not. We have to decide whether to attend church on Sunday, whether to think of our fellows as headed for an immortal life or headed for extinction, etc. We must decide not only what can we know, but what must we do and what can we hope.

Let's ask this question. Could you suspend judgment on the question of whether your wife is unfaithful? You have a choice to make. You have to act as if she is or act as if she is not. Suspense of judgment may be a legitimate option temporarily, but sooner or later you've got to make up your mind.

And you have made up yours on both the God question and the question of your wife's fidelity. You are not suspending judgment, are you? So why ask me to suspend judgment?

Arthur Balfour's Dangerous Idea

Balfour is one of the early forefathers of the argument from reason, and we know that Lewis read and recommended Balfour. It was my dissertation advisor, Hugh Chandler, who discovered the connection between Balfour and the AFR, and later game me a copy of The Foundations of Belief he found in England. This post, by Jim Slagle, who wrote his master's thesis on the AFR, links to an online edition of Balfour's first philosophical book, A Defense of Philosophic Doubt, published in 1879, and my be the first post-Darwin version of the AFR to come out.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Socrates meets "Hector" Dawkins

And questions him about the nature of science.

72 years old, gay, and atheist? Don't run for president

A Gallup Poll on who Americans would never vote for.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Were the Gospels based on eyewitness testimony?

St. Andrews' scholar Richard Bauckham think yes.

HT: Donald Williams.

Churches need to respond to militant atheism

According to some Christian apologists.

A Chesterton Quote in Defense of my Discipline

HT: Rasmus Moller.

"The best reason for a revival of philosophy is that unless a man has a philosophy certain horrible things will happen to him. He will be practical; he will be progressive; he will cultivate efficiency; he will trust in evolution; he will do the work that lies nearest; he will devote himself to deeds, not words. Thus struck down by blow after blow of blind stupidity and random fate, he will stagger on to a miserable death with no comfort but a series of catchwords; such as those which I have catalogued above. Those things are simply substitutes for thoughts. In some cases they are the tags and tail-ends of somebody else's thinking. That means that a man who refuses to have his own philosophy will not even have the advantages of a brute beast, and be left to his own instincts. He will only have the used-up scraps of somebody else's philosophy; which the beasts do not have to inherit; hence their happiness. Men have always one of two things: either a
complete and conscious philosophy or the unconscious acceptance of the broken bits of some incomplete and shattered and often discredited philosophy. Such broken bits are the phrases I have quoted: efficiency and evolution and the rest. The idea of being "practical", standing all by itself, is all that remains of a Pragmatism that cannot stand at all. It is impossible to be practical without a Pragma. And what would happen if you went up to the next practical man you met and said to the poor dear old duffer, "Where is your Pragma?" Doing the work that is nearest is obvious nonsense; yet it has been repeated in many albums. In nine cases out of ten it would mean doing the work that we are least fitted to do, such as cleaning the windows or clouting the policeman over the head. "Deeds, not words" is itself an excellent example of "Words, not thoughts". It is a deed to throw a pebble into a pond and a word that sends a prisoner to the gallows. But there
are certainly very futile words; and this sort of journalistic philosophy and popular science almost entirely consists of them.

Some people fear that philosophy will bore or bewilder them; because they think it is not only a string of long words, but a tangle of complicated notions. These people miss the whole point of the modern situation. These are exactly the evils that exist already; mostly for want of a philosophy. The politicians and the papers are always using long words. It is not a complete consolation that they use them wrong. The political and social relations are already hopelessly complicated. They are far more complicated than any page of medieval metaphysics; the only difference is that the medievalist could trace out the tangle and follow the complications; and the moderns cannot. The chief practical things of today, like finance and political corruption, are frightfully complicated. We are content to tolerate them because we are content to misunderstand them, not to understand them. The business world needs metaphysics - to simplify it.
Philosophy is merely thought that has been thought out. It is often a great bore. But man has no alternative, except between being influenced by thought that has been thought out and being influenced by thought that has not been thought out. The latter is what we commonly call culture and enlightenment today. But man is always influenced by thought of some kind, his own or somebody else's; that of somebody he trusts or that of somebody he never heard of, thought at first, second or third hand; thought from exploded legends or unverified rumours; but always something with the shadow of a system of values and a reason for preference. A man does test everything by something. The question here is whether he has ever tested the test."

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Ken Samples describes what a world-view is

Do you have one? Is it consistently put together? Or is it a hodgepodge from various contradictory sources?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Wikipedia on the Image of God

What does it mean to be made in the image of God. Surely it doesn't mean that God looks like us (the spitting image).

The Argument from Truth

This is the Argument from Truth as it appears on Peter Kreeft's website.

11. The Argument from Truth
This argument is closely related to the argument from consciousness. It comes mainly from
1. Our limited minds can discover eternal truths about being.
2. Truth properly resides in a mind.
3. But the human mind is not eternal.
4. Therefore there must exist an eternal mind in which these truths reside.

Kreeft continues:

This proof might appeal to someone who shares a Platonic view of knowledge—who, for example, believes that there are Eternal Intelligible Forms which are present to the mind in every act of knowledge. Given that view, it is a very short step to see these Eternal Forms as properly existing within an Eternal Mind. And there is a good deal to be said for this. But that is just the problem. There is too much about the theory of knowledge that needs to be said before this could work as a persuasive demonstration.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Richard Carrier on why abortion does no harm

Carrier: From a point of view outside of this affair, the killing of a neurologically inactive fetus is no greater a harm than the killing of a mouse, and in fact decidedly less--a mouse is neurologically active, and though it lacks a complex cerebral cortex, it has a brain of suitable complexity to perceive pain (and I would argue that the mouse deserves some moral consideration, though less than humans). A fetus cannot perceive pain (and perception is not quite the same thing as sensation: sensation can exist without a brain, but perception cannot). The neural structures necessary to register and record sensations of pain transmitted by the appropriate nerves either do not exist or are not functioning before the fifth month of gestation. A fetus can no more feel pain than a surgical patient under general anasthesia, or a paraplegic whose lower-body nerves continue reacting to stimuli, but cease sending signals to the brain. And we have already established that a fetus does not contain an individual human personality of any kind, any more than a brain-dead adult does. With no perception of pain, and no loss of an individual personality, the act of abortion causes no immediate harm.

This is a line of argument often used on the pro-choice side of the debate. Bonnie Steinbock uses this line of argument in her case against Don Marquis' anti-abortion paper.

Is opposition to literalism about the Genesis chronology a defensive reaction to Darwinian evoluton?

This is from a Catholic source.

A lot of people would like you to believe that, but the fact is that the Fathers of the Church did not insist on 6 24 hour periods around 4004 B. C. Augustine, as orthodox a Christian as ever walked this earth, opposed the hyper-literal reading.

I wish skeptics would learn to be more skeptical.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A fair and balanced perspective on the moral influence of Christianity

Human nature is capable of goodness and great evil. Religion can help, or hinder. C. S. Lewis wrote: “I think we must fully face the fact that when Christianity does not make a man very much better, it makes him very much worse... Conversion may make of one who was, if no better, no worse than an animal, something like a devil.” -- C. S. Lewis in a letter to Bede Griffiths, dated Dec. 20, 1961. I think that’s about as “fair and balanced” as we’re going to get.

Some Discussion of Reformed Epistemology from GoGrue

HT: Brittaney Sherwood.

What was the worst school shooting of all time?

Virginia Tech? Columbine? Nope. Ever heard of Bath, Michigan?

Monday, May 18, 2009

On the basis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

The founding of the Abrahamic traditions took place in the land of Israel. All the three monotheistic religions think of that land as sacred. It fell into Islamic hands, the Christians fought the Crusades, and the Muslims fought tooth and nail to hold onto those holy places. In 1948 the United Nations said the Jews should be put into that country and the indigenous Muslims have to move.

Shoot, people even get mad when their house is foreclosed on. Often they take out all the light fixtures, smash in the walls, take the appliances and kitchen cabinets, not to mention taking out all the toilets and the garage door. That's what people do when the don't have any religious belief that the land they occupy is sacred.

Is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict hard to understand? Not to me.

Craig and Parsons on the Resurrection

Here is Craig's defense of the resurrection. The link from the title is to Parsons' rebuttal.

Aristotle: A Divine Punishment?

For most of the Middle Ages, Christian thinkers were familiar with Plato and knew what aspects of Plato they accepted and which they didn't. It was only when the Crusades took place that Aristotle became known, and was considered suspect until St. Thomas Aquinas reconciled much of Aristotle with Christianity.

Luther, however was not convinced. He once remarked that "God had sent Aristotle as a punishment for the sins of mankind".

A debate about astrology

Here's a debate about astrology. I have severe doubts that stars can cause effects on earth in the way that astrology says that they must. Knowing how things work in the world, when the moon's being in the seventh house, And Jupiter aligns with Mars, it is highly unlikely that peace will steer the planets or love will steer the stars.

It's George Strait time once again.

if you'll buy that
I got some oceanfront property in Arizona
From my front porch you can see the sea
I got some oceanfront property in Arizona
If you'll buy that I'll throw the Golden Gate in free

Hannibal Lecter and moral objectivity

The idea is that if something is the sort of thing where, if there is a difference, someone has to be right and the other side has to be wrong, you've got objectivity. There is a truth independent of the preferences and opinions of people. So if I say the earth is flat and you say it's round, it isn't just flat for me and round for you, I've got it wrong. If I say "Coke is better than Pepsi" and you disagree, we can both be right for ourselves, and can remain right even if I take the Pepsi challenge and remain a Coke drinker.

What about ethics? Is it more like the Coke case or like the flat earth case? With highly vexed issues like abortion, we are tempted to think it is like the Coke case. If we contemplate inviting someone over for dinner and then cooking them as dinner, relativism or subjectivism is hard to maintain. Is my disagreement with Hannibal Lecter on what is morally appropriate to cook and eat a mere matter of taste (pun intended)?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The UK Skeptics on being entitled to an opinion

I don't normally agree with UK skeptics, but this is pretty good.

What does it mean to say "We are entitled to our opinion?"

When we say we are entitled to our opinion, what this means is that if we have a sincerely held belief, the powers of government don’t have the right to brainwash us and force us to change that belief. It doesn’t mean that we are morally justified in the way in which we hold our beliefs, nor does it mean that regardless of how rational or irrational our belief-forming processes are, our beliefs are as likely to be true as anyone else’s. We can have different opinions about whether our injured ankle is sprained or broken, but the well-informed judgment of a doctor is surely more worthy of consideration than the less-informed opinion of the patient or members of the patient’s family.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Was Jesus' Resurrection an urban legend

By Jim Slagle. HT: Laura Warwick.

Habermas on the resurrection appearances of Jesus

Christian, Islamic, and atheist perspectives on Jesus

Islam maintains that Jesus was a prophet, and a true and great prophet. However, his later followers distorted his message and said that he died and rose again from the dead as an atonement for sin, and that he was the Second Person of the Triune Godhead. According to Islam, God would never permit one of his True Prophets to die a criminal's death, and so they consider the Christian doctrine of crucifixion to be a sacrilege against Jesus.

Atheists, of course, think that Jesus had no supernatural powers (since for them nothing supernatural even exists), but many of them do think that Jesus lived and died on the cross. Of course they deny a resurrection, since that would have to be supernatural. My ex-housemate Keith Parsons, who is an atheist philosopher at the University of Houston at Clear Lake, thinks that Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried, and that the disciples hallucinated the risen Jesus and founded Christianity. Other atheists sometimes assert the Jesus Myth thesis, that Jesus never even existed and was made up by the early Christians. I think this is still a minority position even amongst atheists.

But Christians, Muslims, and atheists can all agree on this: that either Jesus died by crucifixion or he did not die by crucifixion. Whatever position you take on that matter, you can be either right or wrong. You can't be both or neither.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Moral truth and moral diversity

If you and I disagree as to whether the earth is round, or whether the earth has been in existence for millions of years or was created 6000 years ago, or whether Jesus died by crucifixion (as Christians believe) or did not die by crucifixion (as Muslims believe), one of them has to have it wrong. So why does diversity show that it's all relative and no one is wrong.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Fact, opinion, and morality

A redated post.

Contrary to what you may have learned in grade school, the terms "fact" and "opinion" are far from clear. In order to have a fact, does it just need to be true or does it have to be provably true. Is there a "fact" about who committed an unsolved murder, even if we can't prove who did it one way or another. After all someone did commit the murder, right? In order to have an opinion, does that mean that it is neither true nor false, or both true and false depending on how you feel about it? Or is all you need for an opinion that it be open to controversy, in which case someone could have a correct opinion or an incorrect opinion (just not a provably correct or provably incorrect opinion).

We have a lot of social consensus about the wrongness of some actions. There was a controversy about whether O. J. killed Nicole and Ron, but no controversy about the rightness or the wrongness of the act of killing these two people. Is it "mere opinion" to say that slaughtering Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman was wrong? Does it make sense to say that the only thing that was really wrong with it was that our social group disapproved of it?

Bill Craig Versus Calvinism

It's The Doctrine of Man Part 13. Sorry.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The 1968 Ford Pinto memo

This is pretty awful. It proves that capitalism is hopelessly corrupt and must be replaced by communism. Just kidding. But how should we be protected from these types of abuses.

A Defense of Theism against an argument of Parsons'

Keith Parsons argues from the success of science to the probable nonexistence of God. Paul Herrick disputes this argument.

The Secular Web continues to carry arguments on both sides of the issue, which is much to their credit.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Lovell on the Euthyphro

The Euthyphro objection keeps showing up, so even though I had it up on a previous site, I am making a special thread to deal with Lovell on the Euthyphro.

A theme song for hard determinsts

From the Pirates of the Mississippi

Speak of the devil
He took me out again last night
He got me drunk and he got me in a fight
He was chasing women
I was just there for the ride
Speak of the devil
He took me out again last night

Friday, May 08, 2009

Reply to Ed on the AFR

Ed: Just because "thinking" exists, how do you get from asserting "thoughts exist" to asserting that a whole "supernatural" world must exist?

VR: First of all, it was Lewis who used the natural-supernatural distinction to present this argument. I don't even typically use the word supernatural, at least not until we have some definition of what "natural" is going to mean. And for me, you don't really have an adequate definition of "natural" unless you say that the "natural" is without purpose, without intentionality (or aboutness), without subjectivity (nothing has a point of view at the basic level of analysis) and free of normativity. All of these things are supposed to be "system effects" of a system that is lacks all these things at the bottom level. If you don't like that definition of "natural", and want a different one, that's fine, in which case we simply won't be arguing about naturalism in your sense. Even God is not supernatural automatically. We need a definition of the supernatural that makes God supernatural before we can say that. What is your definition of natural and supernatural?

Ed: Your AFR argument fails to impress because your assumptions about what may and may not arise in this cosmos of matter/energy are mere assumptions.

VR: No, I offer arguments based on what can emerge from a purely physicalistic universe. I have arguments to the effect that if ultimate reality is naturalistic *in the sense that I have indicated above*, then there can be no determinate content to our mental states. There is a lack of strict entailment from the set of physical facts to the set of mental facts, and yet the physical is supposed to determine everything, including the mental. It is a line of argument used by Quine, by Davidson, by Saul Kripke in his book on Wittgenstein, and by Thomas Nagel in The Last Word. It's not an assumption, it's an argument. Reject it if you want to, but it is an argument.

Ed: And because your assumptions regarding the "non-natural" nature of "reasoning" also fail to impress. Certainly a naturalist views the rise of consciousness and making "rational" distinctions among things as to their sameness or differences, as evolving among brain-body systems.

VR: Any arrangement of parts that are "natural" in the sense I have defined is nevertheless going to leave indeterminate the mental state. That is the central argument. So long as it is evolution that is defined in naturalisic terms, it is going to turn out to be the case that we do not literally add, subtract, multiply or divide numbers, because we can never have a thought that is uniquely about the number 2.

I am not going to make even the statement that God is supernatural until you tell me what your conception of natural as opposed to supernatural is. What are the constraints on the use of the term? I think I even had a blog entry once that said that I didn't care whether it turned out that God was supernatural or not. I don't. However, I do think that God, and the human mind, is supernatural in the sense that I have defined above. But not knowing what definition of supernatural you accept, I have no idea what to make of your statements about the supernatural character of mind.

Reply to Hallquist on naturalism and theism

Hallq: I think for many, many people the apparent plausibility of scientific naturalism is a major deterrent to even taking belief in God seriously. Naturalism claims to tie everything together in one ontology and make God unnecessary. Ultimate reality is either ultimately mental, or else the mental is an accidental by-product. Theism, including van Inwagen's theism (and there are actually versions of the AFR which do not require that the mind be non-material, just so long as it is, in the last analysis, intelligently designed), say that the Ultimate Fact that you cannot go behind is mental. The theists have this point right, and the materialistic atheists have it wrong, if my argument is right.

In Lewis's case the argument led to theism not directly but indirectly, because he embraced Absolute Idealism as a "halfway house" before becoming a theist. It isn't a very popular halfway house these days, but I have seen people, like Daniel Hutto of the University of Hertfordshire, who hold this kind of position.

Let's face it, scientific naturalism is the chief rival to theism at the present time. It's evangelists, like Dawkins are influential, and if you go on the Secular Web you will find it is explicitly dedicated to the defense of naturalism. If it is defeated, the naturalists won't automatically turn to theism (maybe we'll have a revival of Absolute Idealism), but theism will gain in epistemic stature if naturalism collapses.


What is it to not be judgmental of others. Is it not to believe that their actions are wrong? Is it to disassociate oneself from them because of what we think they are doing wrong? What differentiates, say, a judgmental attitude from a nonjudgmental attitude toward, say, homosexuality?

In fairness to Calvinists

Driscoll's statement does not follow from Calvinism, particularly. It is probably a gloss on I Cor 15: 19, that the Church rests fundamentally on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and is a waste of time without it. That I accept. What I would do instead of be a Christian if I rejected the resurrection is another matter. Probably not eat, drink, be merry and shoot people. So I thought it was a misguided gloss.

However, if one's salvation is predestined and one is either saved or not on the basis of God's choosing to actualize a world in which I am saved or a world in which I am damned, then some would say that one not worry about holiness. In fact a family friend sent their kids to a Calvinist school which, it turned out, had quite a reputation as a party school. The idea was that people were either predestined to be lost or saved, and nothing could retroactively change that divine decision, so why not party hearty?

I think I figured out once that whether this is true or not depends on whether you accept the one-box or the two-box solution to Newcomb's paradox. Whether or not one is holy is going to be evidence of election, so if I were a Calvinist I would probably try to be good, if for no other reason than the fact that I would sleep better at night if I didn't think I was a son of perdition.

Is this where Calvinism leads?

This is from a Debunking Christianity blog post by Valerie Tarico.

A Seattle Calvinist mega-minister, Mark Driscoll, had this to say to his flock: "If the resurrection didn’t literally happen, there’s no reason for us to be here. If the resurrection didn’t literally happen, there are parties to be had, there are women to be had, there are guns to shoot, there are people to shoot."

Great shaking of the head.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

More on the moral argument

First of all, I have an argument addressed to people who are moral relativists, but who nonetheless think there are real human rights. That is, on some moral questions, they give all the relativist responses (who's to say?), but when basic human rights are violated, they say that is wrong. I teach ethics classes, and I can tell you there are plenty of people like that. What they don't realize is that the position is logically inconsistent. If the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are absolute, then there is an objective standard of moral value according to which they are absolute. I'm betting that when you point this out to them, they will admit that they believe in objective moral values, as opposed to relativism.

Premise 1 is a little more complex, in there are obviously moral philosophies do not directly ground ethics in God which are nonentheless objective. However, these systems, as I pointed out in a previous post, make metaphysical commitments that conflict with contemporary naturalism, (Plato's forms which we knew in a past life, and recollect now, is a good example, Aristotelian entelechies would be another), and these world-views lend themselves to theistic arguments in a way that contemporary materialism does not. I do think that attempting to work out these metaphysical systems in a consistent way is going to lead one at least in the direction of theism.

Objects in a naturalistic world are not supposed to have moral properties. That is ruled out by any reasonable definition of naturalism. Particle arrangements are just not going to get you there.

So if we accept the idea of objectively binding human rights, we reduce the number of world-views which are acceptable, and enhance the probability of theism, on which the existence of these values can be easily understood.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

A moral argument for God

Here is a moral argument I have developed, based on some ideas that I have presented here earlier.

1. Probably, if there is no God, then there cannot be objective moral values.

2. If there are no objective moral values, then there are no inalienable human rights. A society could either give people rights or not given them rights. In some societies it is considered permissible to enslave other persons. In some societies old people are exposed to death. In still others women are treated like chattel. Unless there are objective moral values, then there are no absolute rights that people in these societies are trampling upon.

3. But these people do have rights, whether their society recognizes those rights or not.

4. From 3 and 2, we must conclude that there are objecctive moral values.

5. 1 and 4, we must conclude that, probably, God exists.

Some basic information about logic

A redated post.

Argumentation about controversial issues is at the heart of philosophy, and logic is the science of studying arguments. The lecture material (which I didn’t write, just so you know), says some things about logic. The fundamental idea that founded the science of logic was discovered by Aristotle, who realized that arguments could you could distinguish the question of the internal logic of an argument from the question of the truth of the premises. He discovered that some arguments had the characteristic of being such that, if the premises are true, the conclusion must be true, while others do not. The key idea is the idea of validity. There is a common use of the term “valid,” which just means legitimate. So, for example, the you ask me “If I told you the dog ate my homework, would that be a valid excuse” I might well say no that is not valid. But when logicians talk about the concept of validity, what they mean is that the argument is structured in such a way that if the premises are true, the conclusion must be true. Conversely, if an argument is invalid, that means that it is possible that the premises are true and the conclusion is false.

Let’s take this argument:
1) If I say my dog ate my homework, then I have a valid excuse.
2) I say that my dog ate my homework.
3) Therefore, I have a valid excuse.

Even though the excuse isn’t valid in the informal, common-sense sense, the argument is valid in the logic al sense.

Aristotle worked with the logic of classes, so the arguments he considered were arguments like:

1. All dogs are animals.
2. All beagles are dogs.
3. Therefore, all beagles are animals.

This argument is valid, in that if the premises are true, the conclusion must be true. Now the premises are true, so the argument is sound. A sound argument is a valid argument with true premises, and when we have a valid argument with true premises, then the conclusion must be true.

But an argument can be valid if it has false premises. For example:

1. All angels are mortal beings.
2. All persons identical to Bill Clinton are angels.
3. Therefore, Bill Clinton is a mortal being.

In this case the premises are both false and the conclusion is true. But if the argument had had the same structure, you could never have and argument with the premises true and the conclusion false. That is the possibility that validity leaves out. One the other hand, some arguments are invalid, in that the premises can be true and the conclusion false. You have encountered this is what you have heard. There are some statements made, and then there is a leap to a conclusion that is not warranted by the prior statements.
1. All beagles are mammals.
2. All dogs are mammals.
3. Therefore, all dogs are beagles.

This argument has a true conclusion, but the same argument form could be used to prove a very different conclusion;

1. All cats are mammals
2. All dogs are mammals.
3. Therefore, all dog are cats.

Obviously a false conclusion. The conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises.

Now let’s look at the logic of conditional statements. That is what modus ponens and modus tollens are all about. A conditional statement is a statement of the type “If A then B.” That statements means that if A is true, B must also be true.

Modus ponens is:

1. If A then B.
2. A
3. Therefore B.

Let’s take a look at this:

1. If you study, you will pass.
2. You study.
3. Therefore, you will pass.

This arguments is a valid argument. You can’t accept both of these premises and reject the conclusion. The statements is about what will happen if you do study, namely, that you will pass.

But let’s try this argument.

1. If you study, you will pass.
2. You passed.
3. Therefore, you studied.

Uh, no. Just because studying means that you pass doesn’t mean that if you don’t study, you still won’t pass. Remember the irritating kid from high school who used to ace all his classes without studying? This is an argument form called affirming the consequent. It’s not valid. The premises can be true, and nevertheless the conclusion could be false. The structure of the argument is as follows:

1. If A then B
2. B
3. Therefore A.

Here’s another argument form:
1. If you study, you will pass.
2. You didn’t study.
3. Therefore, you didn’t pass.
Again, no. You could be that annoying kid from high school, in which case the premises of the argument are true but the conclusion is false. The structure here is

1. If A then B
2. Not A
3. Therefore not B.

This is denying the antecedent, and it’s invalid.

The last argument form is modus tollens, and it is valid.

1. If A then B
2. Not B
3. Therefore A.

Let’s try the same concepts again.
1. If you study, you pass.
2. You didn’t pass.
3. Therefore, you didn’t study.

This does follow. If studying is sufficient to make you pass, and you don’t pass, the only conclusion we can draw is that you just didn’t study. The structure is:

So two of these argument-forms are valid, and the conclusion follows from the premises. Two of these argument-forms are not valid. These argument forms involve a leap in logic that isn’t justified. The premise could be true and the conclusion not be true. The conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises.

Most arguments can be presented in a valid argument form. In fact, you can present a valid argument for an insane conclusion.

If the moon is made of green cheese, the moon is made of yellow cheese.
The moon is made of green cheese.
Therefore, the moon is made of yellow cheese.

That’s a valid argument, but the conclusion is, well, a little cheesy.

Now let’s take a look a controversial issue.

1. If fetuses are persons, then it is wrong in virtually all cases to abort them.
2. Fetuses are persons.
3. Therefore, it is wrong in virtually all cases to abort them.

The argument is perfectly valid. If the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. However, both of the premises are controversial. Defenders of abortion often argue that fetuses are nonpersons, so they are abortable. They also maintain that even if fetuses are persons, there are a significant number of cases in which abortion is still justified. However, the valid argument clarifies the debate. An abortion defender has to attack one or both of the premises, in order to defend their position.

Clayton and Doctor Logic on Reduction

Clayton: Here's a standard view for materialists to take. Arguments against materialism in mind fail because they fail to take account of non-reductive forms of materialism.

Doctor Logic: I'm gonna say that non-reductionist emergence is, indeed, poofy. It's no better than dualism because it says that mental properties are inexplicable.

But Arrington is attacking a straw man if he's going after the mainstream consensus. The mainstream view is reductionist, not poofy emergentism.

VR: I find problems with non=reductive materialism because it has serious difficulties accounting for mental causation. Also, it posits a supervenience relationship between the physical and mental, but everything is supposed to supervene on the physical, and the supervenience relation, which has to be real, doesn't supervene on the physical. I don't accept the reductivist position because attempted reductions simply slide over the logical distinction between the mental and the physical. All the physical information in the world is insufficient to logically guarantee that a thought is about P and not about Q.

Reply to Hallq on the AFR

Hallq: Vic: Just because you're a nice guy doesn't mean we have to take what you say seriously, on pain of being considered mean and nasty bigots. I thought your book on the Argument from Reason was an OK critique of materialism, but your attempt to link the materialism debate to the God debate was hasty and flimsy, only a slight improvement over people who fail to realize there's a distinction at all.

As for Wilson, if the fizzing argument was presented the same way he presented the argument here:

then it was a truly idiotic argument, for the reasons Blue Devil Knight said, and deserving of ridicule.

I think I have a fairly well-developed idea of how the arguments against materialism relate to the question of God, though I think I have developed them perhaps a little more in some subsequent work than I do in the book.

I start with the question: "Is "the mental" permissible in basic explanations, or not?" If the mental is banned from basic explanations, then the argument from reason challenges those position. Whether matter is the supervenience base, or some mechanistic substrate that somehow isn't matter, is irrelevant. What I find implausible is the emergence of mind either synchronically or diachronically from a purely non-mental supervenience base, and my arguments are designed to show why this is so.

I don't see how you can have a "naturalistic" supervenience base which contains elements of the mental in it. If you have mental and physical causes, though, then the "physical" is not closed and something nonphysical is either interacting with it, or else what we thought was physical (that is, mechanistic and non-mental in nature) was really mental after all.

If materialism/naturalism is defeated by the argument from reason, then perhaps the most popular alternative to traditional theism goes by the wayside. There are alternatives to theism, such as panpsychism, or absolute idealism, or pantheism, which still stand, but all the alternatives, including theism increase in probability if the big heavyweight champion of the non-theistic positions, materialistic naturalism, goes down.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Bonds vs. Rose

Should someone who commits a baseball-related criminal offense be allowed in the Hall of Fame? If so, then shouldn't baseball rethink Pete Rose, a player who, in his own right, earned his major baseball achievements honestly, whatever else he might have done to besmirch the game.

Can anyone think of a good reason to suppose that Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame, while Rose should remain out?

One answer, from a student of mine, said that Bonds should be in because he did not break a rule in place at the time.

An Atheist Echo Chamber

Somebody tried to start a serious discussion on the AFR on this site. They should have saved their energy. The people think they can win the God debate by ridicule.

The Poofy Materialists

Barry Arrington claims that materialist cannot consistently use then "poof" objection to intelligent design, and then appeal to a mysterious emergence when, say, dealing with consciousness.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Explaining the success of science

Science works. Is this fact better explained by naturalism, or by theism? My claim has always been that if naturalism is true, there would be no scientists.

Wikipedia Entry on Pascal's Wager