Monday, November 30, 2009

Gosh. Is my argument really that strong???

The theist in this debate presents the argument from reason, and the atheist.....forfeits!

Liar, Lunatic, Lord, or just a Colorful Teacher of World Religions

Per Jason Pratt's request, I have redated this post on the trilemma.

I've been reading John Beversluis's analysis of the trilemma, and his treatment of the issue led me to advance this little thought experiment.

Suppose I were to come to my class in, oh, say, world religion, and I were to say. "This course is about religion, and we will be talking about God a lot. And you guys are all in luck. I, your teacher, Dr. Reppert, am God Himself, come to earth in incarnate form." Now my students would probably think this was a big practical joke. But now suppose after a week or two I catch a student cheating and say, "Not only do you flunk this class, but unless you repent you are going to hear from me when I return for the day of judgment." Suppose some people were to go to the dean and ask about what is up with Reppert's class. The teacher were then to say "Yes, I realize this guy thinks he's God, so of course he's delusional about that. But many students have told me that this just makes the class more interesting. He's a good teacher, and a fair grader. There's no reason to drop the course, or ask for a refund for your tuition, still less to contact the men in the white coats. Just stay in there, and you should be happy." Could this reply possibly be taken seriously by the distressed and confused students?

P. S. (4/8) The point here, it seems to me, is that this just sounds like a psychologically implauisble scenario, doesn't it?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

On the difference between East and West

A redated post.

Do all religions really teach the same thing? Look at this example from Buddhism.

The Buddha's attitude is best presented through illustration. The legend runs that one day a grandmother appeared before him in tears. She had just lost a very dear grandchild. The Buddha looked at her gravely. "How many people are three is this city of Savatthi?" he asked, with apparent irrelevance. Upon receiving her reply, he came to the point. "Would you like to have as many children and grandchildren as there are in this city of Savatthi?" The old lady, still weeping, cried out "yes, yes." "But, the Buddha gently remonstrated, "if you had as many children as there are people in Savatthi, you wuold have to weep every day, for people die daily there." The old lady thought a moment; he ws right! As she went away comforted, she carried with her the Buddha's saying, "those who have a hundred dear ones have a hundred woes, those who have ninety dear ones have ninety woes..those who have one dear one have one woe, those who hold nothing dear have no woe."

From David S. Noss, A History of the World's Religions (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 2003) 11th ed., p. 180.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Crucified, dead and (temporarily) buried?

Glenn Miller responds to Carrier and Lowder. I didn't get a response last time, so I'm redating it and trying again.

A presentation I did on the 150th Anniversary of Darwin at Glendale Community College

I was supposed to do a presentation on the religious implications of evolution.

Evolution and Religion

Is there a conflict?

An Early Memory

I grew up in a United Methodist church in Phoenix. In the early 1960s, a local fundamentalist pastor was gathering signatures for a ballot initiative that would have prohibited the teaching of evolution in public schools.

This is something of a contrast with “equal time” laws that were developed subsequently, according to which school had to teach creationism alongside evolution. No, he wanted to re-enact something like the law Scopes violated in Tennessee.

Our pastor’s response

Was to publicly criticize this effort. Dr. Long thought that a battle with the theory of evolution was ill-advised, and said so from the pulpit. The Huntley-Brinkley report, then the big competitor with Walter Cronkite on CBS, picked up the story, and an excerpt from Dr. Long’s sermon was on the national news.

Do you believe in evolution?

That is not as straightforward a question as it appears. There are a diverse set of claims which are bundled under the umbrella of “evolution.” Philosopher Alvin Plantinga mentions five, which I call the five points of Darwinism:

Plantinga’s Five Points of Darwinism

Five points of evolutionism

1. The earth is ancient, millions of years old.

2. Species appeared gradually over time.

3. All life on earth comes from a common, single-celled creature.

4. The process of speciation occurred naturalistically, that is, without intelligent direction. Random variation and natural selection were sufficient to produce all life forms.

5. The origin of life also occurred without intelligent direction.

Five points of creationism

1. The earth is young, only thousands of years old.

2. Species appeared in the space of six literal days.

3. Life on earth did not come from a common ancestor. Rather, acts of special creation brought many species into existence.

4. The process of speciation occurred largely as a result of intelligent design on the part of an intelligent agent (God), not in any blind manner.

5. The origin of life was also the product of direct divine activity.

It’s not a package deal

Many people who have doubts about other aspects of evolution think we have good evidence for the first two points of Darwinism, including conservative Christian philosophers J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig. These are people who believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, but don’t think it requires believing in a young earth.

Young Earth Creationism

Young Earth Creationism, or YEC, holds that biblical chronologies are to be taken literally, and that not only the earth, but also the “heavens,” that is, the universe, came into existence relatively recently. The traditional date of creation according to Archbishop Ussher, places the creation of the entire universe at 4004 B. C. Still advocated by the Institute for Creation Research and by Answers in Genesis.

Scientific problems for YEC

YEC appears to fly in the face of science long before you get to Darwin. If you remember your basic astronomy, the standard measure of astronomic distance is the light year. That is the length of time light travels in a year. (186,000 miles per second isn’t just a good idea. It’s the law.) So if there are galaxies in space millions of light years away, as astronomy tells us, that means we shouldn’t be able to see them with our telescopes, since the universe has been only in existence for 6000 years, and therefore light can have only traveled 6000 light years since the beginning of the universe.

Hyper-literalism and Copernicus

Historically, hyper-literalism has had other battles with science, such as the contention, of both the Catholic Church and Luther, that the Copernican theory cannot be accepted because it conflicts with a literal reading of the Book of Joshua, in which the sun is said to have stood still for Joshua. This implies, of course that it is ordinarily moving. However, no one objects to Copernican astronomy these days.

Must a five-point evolutionist be an atheist?

No. One can believe that the evolutionary process on earth was as the evolutionists say, and still believe that the basic structure of the universe, as it came into being at, say, the Big Bang, required intelligent design, or in fact included intelligent design.

Some Recent Developments

1) The evolution-based atheism movement.

2) The intelligent design movement.

The evolution-based atheism movement

Major figure: Richard Dawkins. Dawkins has attempted to explain evolution to the general public, and has done so in such a way as to put a case for atheism on the back of evolutionary biology. Many scientists have insisted on the relative religious neutrality of evolution, Dawkins and those like him have said no, science has proven fully naturalistic evolution to be true, and that it leaves us with no room for God. Many scientists are in fact atheists, but Dawkins wants to use evolutionary biology to push for atheism. Other supporters of evolution are not happy with this. Dawkins’ most famous book: The God Delusion.

The Intelligent Design Movement

The intelligent design movement doesn’t necessarily buy in on all 5 points of creationism, but does think that our best science will show that you can’t exclude design from an account of how life developed. Thus, claims on behalf of a designer can and should be explicitly made by science, and children in public schools should be made aware of the fact that some people in the scientific community think this way. Many scientists are Christians (such as Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project, and Kenneth Miller), but ID people want an intelligent designer, (which need not necessarily be God) to be brought into scientific discourse. Recent book on Intelligent Design: The Signature In the Cell.


Both of these movements, I think, are attempts to undermine the religious neutrality of evolutionary biology. One group wants to bring religion into biological science, the other wants to use science aggressively to get rid of God. However, I think both of these viewpoints are in the minority within the scientific community.

Thomas Nagel recommends Meyer's The Signature in the Cell

Watch out, Tom. Giving aid and comfort to IDiots is a dangerous idea.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A website on the basics of evolution

Flew's Theology and Falsification

Flew's famous essay that dominated philosophy of religion until Plantinga and Swinburne came along.

Is Global Warming Science Fudged?

A modest response to critics of Christian sexual morality

This is a response to C. S. Lewis's defense of traditional sexual ethics by Keith Parsons.

It looks as if we certainly can, (pun intended) screw ourselves up with our sex behavior. It looks to me as if permanent happiness in relationships is found primarily in relationships in which fidelity is promised and that promise is kept. That won’t take you all the way to the traditional religious position, but it does make it incumbent on critics of traditional sexual morality to replace it with some kind of behavioral code that keeps our sexual conduct from causing harm.

You can cause harm with every other part of your life, and there are rules governing conduct in those other areas. Why should there be no rules in the sexual area?

It is one thing to criticize Christian sexual morality. It looks like a soft target. But even if you disagree with the traditional code, you have to show some understanding of the considerations that might have led religious believers to accept these kinds of restrictions on sex behavior in the first place.

Relativism and Respect

A trap that many students seem to fall into with respect to ethics (and sometimes with respect to religion as well) is that they assume that if you have the idea that someone has a false belief, you are disrespecting that person, and the only way to restore respect to the conversation is to assume a relativism in which no one is really right and no one is really wrong. Why assume that?

It seems as if they think I can’t say that, for example, deontologists are correct and teleologists are in error, or vice versa, without disrespecting the people on the other side. In plenty of other areas of discussion we can disagree, and thereby think the other guy is wrong, without disrespecting the other person. If I predict victory for the Cardinals over the Titans in the next NFL game, and you say, no, you think the Titans will win, you are saying that I am wrong. Only one team can win the game. But there need be no disrespect.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

If God used an evolutionary process to create us, why did he do it that way?

An interesting question relating the argument from evil to evolution. This is a common argument against forms of theism that accept at least large chunks of evolutionary biology:

Using an evolutionary process over a long time, as opposed to custom-creating everything in six days, seems to leave us with a world that has a lot of suffering in it that would not have otherwise have been there.
Further, one of the reasons that is most frequently offered for believing in evolution is that we have various features that are less than optimal. Our backs tend to hurt because standing straight is a relatively new development in our evolution, and somewhat unnatural. But if God had custom-made us, he would have given us stronger backs that don't get sore so easily. Why didn't God do that?

What is the best theistic response to this objection?

How do you deal with student relativism?

An inclusivist reading of John 14:6

From the Anglican Scotist.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Do Bible Translators have a Liberal Bias?

Apparently, the authors of the conservapeida think so. Apparently it's because the scholars who translated the NIV were too educated for their own good.

The committee in charge of updating the bestselling version, the NIV, is dominated by professors and higher-educated participants who can be expected to be liberal and feminist in outlook. As a result, the revision and replacement of the NIV will be influenced more by political correctness and other liberal distortions than by genuine examination of the oldest manuscripts. As a result of these political influences, it becomes desirable to develop a conservative translation that can serve, at a minimum, as a bulwark against the liberal manipulation of meaning in future versions.

Dang those pointy-headed professors.

Keith Parsons has some responses on the Secular Outpost. Please, please, don't invoke Poe's Law.

Conservatism deserves better than this.

Intolerance, or logic

If a statement is the sort of statement that can be true or false, then it cannot be both true and false. Hence, "God exists" and "God does not exist" cannot both be true. That's not intolerance, its logic.

Three arguments for the finitude of the past

Between Heaven and Hell

Today is Nov. 22, the 43rd anniversary of Kennedy's assassination, but also of the deaths of Aldous Huxley and C. S. Lewis. I thought I would  commemorate the occasion by linking to a book by Peter Kreeft which has a fictional dialogue between these three departed luminaries. It's an interesting and entertaing read, a dialogue on the Trilemma.

I still remember being in the lunch line at Orangedale School when I heard about the Kennedy assassination. I had never heard of the other two, being in the fifth grade at the time.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A critique of the Argument from Desire

Which includes an analysis of a Bayesian version of the argument that I tried to develop.

C. S. Lewis on the "progress" of modern thought

A redated post.

This is a passage from C. S. Lewis's The Empty Universe, which was a introduction Lewis wrote to a book entitled A New Diagram of Heaven and Earth by a man named Harding. It parallels some of the comments I have been putting up on DI2 about the "siphoning off" argument is Swinburne and Feser.

The process whereby man has come to know the universe is from one point of view extremely complicated; from another it is alarmingly simple. We can observe a single one-way progression. At the outset the universe appears packed with will, intelligence, life, and positive qualities; every tree is a nymph and every planet a god. Man himself is akin to the gods. The advance gradually empties this rich and genial universe, first of its gods, then of its colours, smells, sounds and tastes, finally of solidity itself as solidity was originally imagined. As these items are taken from the world, they are transferred to the subjective side of the account: classified as out sensations, thoughts, images or emotions. The Subject becomes gorged, inflated, at the expense of the Object. But the matter does not rest there. The same method which has emptied the world now proceeds to empty ourselves. The masters of the method soon announce that we were just mistaken (and mistaken in much the same way) when we attributed “souls” or ‘selves” or “minds’ to human organisms, as when we attributed Dryads to the trees. Animism, apparently, begins at home. We, who have personified all other things, turn out to be ourselves mere personifications. Man is indeed akin to the gods, that is, he is no less phantasmal than they. Just as the Dryad is a “ghost,” an abbreviated symbol for certain verifiable facts about his behaviour: a symbol mistaken for a thing. And just as we have been broken of our bad habit of personifying trees, so we must now be broken of our habit of personifying men; a reform already effected in the political field. There never was a Subjective account into which we could transfer the items which the Subject had lost. There is no “consciousness” to contain, as images or private experiences, all the lost gods, colours, and concepts. Consciousness is “not the sort of noun that can be used that way.”

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Will Belichick lose his Mensa membership

Bob Young of the Arizona Republic thinks so.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Abortion and paternal responsibility

What can be done to equalize the consequences of irresponsible sex? Men can dump their girlfriends and move on, often without consequences. They brag in the locker room, the girls get an embarrasingly oversized stomach and then a child to take care of unless it is given up for adoption or aborted. That is why, I think, women's rights groups have been largely pro-choice.

But what would you say to the idea of aggressively using DNA technology to identify fathers and to require paternal responsibility. What would happen if girls knew that if they carried their child to term and kept it, that the father could have his wages garnished to make sure she could afford to take care of it? And what would that do to guys to make them think twice about jumping into the sack without serious commitment?

It seems to me that this idea should be appealing both to pro-lifers and to feminists. If you think abortion should be safe, legal, and rare, or illegal and rare, you can still agree that this is a good idea.

There has to be something wrong with this idea. It's too practical.

Sure, I'm a physicalist

I can say that physical particles include psychons, angelons, and theons. (The soul, angels, and God). An ideally completed physics will eventually figure out that these things exist, and they will be included in the ontology of physics, so they're physical.

Why can't I say this?

A summary of theories of truth

What is truth, said Pontius Pilate.

The full text of the Constitution

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bill Craig's Molinist Defense of Everlasting Punishment

I think I actually side with the Calvinists here (!) (But, of course, not only with them). A God with middle knowledge should be able to save everyone.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My descriptive project on Calvinism and evil

Steve Hays seems to have thought that my most recent posts about Calvinism are implicit attacks, and that my disclaimers are phony. Even though most people know that I don't accept Calvinism, my project was descriptive rather than argumentative.

VR: The Calvinist has to say not merely that our conduct is sinful, but that our natural understanding of what is right and wrong is so badly tainted by sin that what we would ordinarily think of as bad really good if it is claimed that God has done it.

SH: i) This is one of Reppert’s conceited blindspots. In his furry little mind he imagines that deep down, in their heart-of-hearts, all Calvinists share his moral intuitions. Yet they’ve suppressed their moral intuitions to knuckle under the brute authority of Scripture, as they understand it.

But, speaking for myself, I don’t share his moral intuitions on a wide range of issues.

VR: I think choosing a world in which some people suffer eternally over a world in which they don't would appear wrong in most human contexts, and the only thing that can save the Calvinist is a greater good which is a function of God's unique status.

If I had the power to prevent the Holocaust and could do so in a way that was perfectly consonant with the all parties involved having free will in whatever sense of free will you are willing to recognize, then I would be considered acting wrongly if I failed to prevent it.

And the claim that God's chief praiseworthy characteristic is holiness rather than goodness was taken straight from Bnonn.

What you seem to deny is that human beings ordinarily know how to apply the term "good," and that the statement "God is good" means something based on some kind of commensurability between goodness as we apply it in human contexts and goodness as we apply it in theological contexts. Most moral theories, and even most moral codes, seem to include some requirement on our part to promote the happiness of others, although some put some people in the "not my neighbor" class.

In short, this is theological voluntarism in effect, with what I call the eliminative solution to the problem of evil. Let's look at the typical formulation of the argument from evil:

1. If God exists, then there are no gratuitous evils.

2. There are gratuitous evils.


3. God does not exist.

It seems to me that you a moral skeptic can get rid of 1 by saying that we don't have the kind of moral knowledge to identify gratuitous evils, either in this life or in eternity. We may dislike the fact that certain people are damned, especially if they are near and dear to us, but we can't use that as a reason to doubt God. This is what I mean by claiming that Calvinism invariably leads to the problem of evil being treated as a pseudoproblem.

So, setting aside your tendentious descriptions of our differences, I think my overall assessment of what Calvinism entails with respect to the argument from evil is correct. It is an eliminativist solution. You may in fact see that as a strength for the Calvinist.

I think you are right to raise questions about how I described the Calvinist view, in that I do think you are right in supposing that I was presupposing that there are general moral concepts that we can at least try to apply to God's actions, which a Calvinist could deny. Though lots of Calvinists tell me that their initial inclination when first becoming a Calvinist was to find it morally counterintuitive. Not every Calvinist is the moral skeptic you are.

It does matter to me that the project here was principally descriptive, an attempt to describe the Calvinist response to the problem of evil rather than an argumentative project attempting to show that Calvinists have it wrong. It seems to me that almost every time you sit down to your word processor you want to make some polemical point. That just isn't how I operate. Trying to "beat" the other guy, to show him or her up for a fool, has limited utility as I see it, because all that would show would be that my opponent wasn't all that great as a representative for his position, and surely there are better ones out there. The project of understanding the Calvinist, even though I disagree with him, is a worthwhile project in and of itself. You know that I don't agree with Calvinism, and you may try to "head off at the pass" some argument that I might make, but you should understand that I am not making one at the moment. If my statement of what Calvinists hold is inaccurate, then that is another matter. But there was not argument against Calvinism in my post, stated or unstated. You have to respect the content of the text. In fact, I always think twice about actually debating this issue. A big part of me wants to leave that job to others.

I do harbor a suspicion that, when everything is boiled down, the Calvinist theodicy is going to be a "might makes right" argument. But I haven't made that argument yet, of course. And it will probably turn out that I am too much of a moral realist to be a good Calvinist. But that is not part of the current project.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Reasons for Lewis's Success as an Apologist

A redated post.

C. S. Lewis is easily the most influential Christian apologist of the 20th Century. This is remarkable in view of the fact that he only wrote three books that can be correctly said to have been devoted to Christian apologetics: The Problem of Pain, Mere Christianity, and Miracles: A Preliminary Study. There are, of course, a number of essays with considerable apologetic content, and much of even his fiction has apologetic overtones, yet if we think of what his apologetic books were, it is just those three. And those three books are fairly short.
Nevertheless, for many people C. S. Lewis succeeded in the apologist’s task, the task of showing that Christianity is worthy to be believed by modern intelligent people. I would count myself as one of those people. As an 18-year-old Christian with a powerful need for a faith that made sense, Lewis was immensely helpful in providing that. After going through seminary and doctoral work in philosophy, I find that Christianity is still believable for approximately the reasons that Lewis said that it was reasonable. That is not to say that I find everything equally acceptable or cogent, or that I think that Lewis’s developed his arguments with sufficient precision to be defensible as they stand from a philosophical perspective. The word “approximately” is in that sentence for a reason. However, if I am right about what Lewis has accomplished, this is a considerable achievement.
I think there are several important elements to Lewis’s success as an apologist.
One contributing factor is the fact that Lewis’s authorship on a wide range of topics makes it possible for those who know him in virtue of his other writings to know him as an apologist. So, for example, in the Chronicles of Narnia we see Professor Kirke using an argument in favor of believing Lucy’s claim that she has been to Narnia that is similar to his famous “Mad, Bad or God” argument in Mere Christianity. In That Hideous Strength Lewis presents an account of what happens when people seriously take ethical subjectivism to heart, in The Abolition of Man we see these views defended by philosophical argument, and in Mere Christianity we find moral objectivity used as the grounds for theistic belief. Lewis brings the historical understanding of a literary scholar, the sharpened wit of a philosopher, the keen human understanding of a novelist, and the compassion of a writer of children’s books, to his apologetics.
One striking feature of Lewis’s writings is their persistent refusal to patronize the audience. He was firmly convinced that he could explain complex philosophical and theological concepts to a popular audience without talking over their heads, using the jargon of specialists, or by talking down to them, acting as if they would be unwilling or unable to understand the relevant concepts. In the opening chapter of Beyond Personality, the last of the books the comprised Mere Christianity, we find Lewis saying this:
Everyone has warned me not to tell you what I am going to tell you in this last book. They all say “the ordinary reader does not want Theology; give him plain practical religion.” I have rejected their advice. I do not think the ordinary reader is such a fool. Theology means “the science of God, and I would think that any man who wants to think about God at all would like to have the clearest and most accurate ideas about Him which are available. You are not children: why should you be treated like children? Even in dealing with children, Lewis steadfastly refuses to insult their intelligence. In another passage in Mere Christianity he says “Most children show plenty of ‘prudence’ about the things they are really interested in, and think them out sensibly.” I think this is one reason for Lewis’s success as a writer of children’s fiction; he refused to insult the intelligence even of the children for whom he wrote.
Lewis also had a tremendous ability to know what the layperson did understand, and did not understand. This resulted in part from his visits to the RAF and talking with the airmen. He knew how lay audiences thought and what their stumbling-blocks were. Lewis knew what sorts of language, so familiar in church, would be unrecognizable to lay audiences, and he avoided it.
Another reason for Lewis’s popularity as an apologist is that his apologetics are rational without being rationalistic. Lewis firmly believed that Christian faith is supported by reason, and was not shy about presenting arguments in favor of his Christian beliefs. At the same time Lewis never made the assumption that human beings were purely and simply rational, and that the emotions or the will were insignificant.
The Christianity Lewis defended was traditional, historic Christianity, deeply committed to a thoroughgoing supernaturalism. He did emphasize central Christian doctrines like the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Deity of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ, heaven, hell, and the Second Coming. The Christianity he espoused had a miraculous element for which he did not apologize. However, with respect to other issues, the bulk of Lewis’s apologetic work was neutral with respect to questions dividing Christians. I am not claiming that Lewis was completely successful in sticking to “Mere Christianity” in his apologetics and did not sometimes espouse doctrines that are at issue amongst Christians. For example, Lewis’s treatment of the problem of evil presupposes the libertarian view of free will, and his conception of hell is at odds with Calvinist theology. But what I mean is this: that his apologetics can be readily accepted and employed by people who accept the infallibility of the pope, even though he did not. It can be accepted by people who accepted biblical inerrancy, even though he did not. In fact a good deal that Lewis says can be accepted by Calvinists, even though Lewis was not a Calvinist. Lewis is arguably the most successful ecumenist of the twentieth century, bringing together Catholics and Protestants, inerrantists and anti-inerrantists, and other groups of Christians otherwise divided.
Lewis also brought the perspective of a Christian convert to his apologetics. He was an atheist, and a rather hostile one, in his teens, and came to believe in God only at the age of 31. This means that he is able to look at Christianity from the point of view. Logically, for example, there seems no good reason to suppose that the size of the universe can be used as an argument for atheism, and yet, in many minds, it does serve as such an argument, and Lewis found it necessary to respond to it.
All of these things, I believe, have contribute to Lewis’s popular success as an apologist. However, all of these achievements, which are considerable, are quite compatible with Lewis’s having provided poor and inadequate reasons for accepting Christianity. Lewis's apologetics still must be put before the bar of rational argument, just like anyone else's.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Reason's debt to Freedom? Why I'm skeptical

Aristophanes wrote: I have a question for Professor Reppert. Does anyone know where to direct it? It pertains to the argument Lewis gives against Naturalism in Miracles. Lewis's argument seems to me to be that determinism gives us a defeater for reason. Can anyone point out where to direct questions for Professor Reppert's attention?

Well, it depends on the kind of determinism. If it is determinism from a non-rational source, then this is a problem. On the other hand I have no choice about whether or not to believe that 2 + 2 = 4 or not. If I am rightly situated with respect to that truth, then I don't choose whether or not to accept it or not.

Although there have been papers like Warner Wick's "Truth's Debt to Freedom," that is not the way that I would be especially inclined to pursue.

Mind 1964 LXXIII(292):527-537 (1964).

Calvinism, Infant Damnation, and the Problem of Evil as a pseudoproblem

The question has to do with whether we have an understanding of goodness that allows us to view suffering as a problem. Of course, infants are deemed innocent, then God doesn't have an moral motive to inflict suffering as well as a moral motive to alleviate suffering. However, if federal theory is accepted, along with a Reformed understanding of God's moral motivation to punish sin, then even an infant is under the federal headship of Adam and therefore God has a moral motivation to inflict suffering on the infant based on his justice, just as he has a moral motivation to alleviate suffering based on his mercy, and it's up for grabs whether he is just or merciful. Exactly the same situation obtains with infant reprobation as adult reprobation, and the only difference is that in the case of adult reproations, we have people who are visibly sinful, while in the case of infant reprobations, there is an appearance of the innocence of the victims. However, on the assumption that we can deserve punishment in virtue of our descent from Adam, this appearance is illusory, and there is no relevant difference between the two cases.

In ordinary human contexts, moral goodness/righteousness/holiness is centered around, among other things, the minimization of the suffering of others, or maximizing the benefit of others. This may not be all there is to morality (unless you're a utilitarian), but it's an important part of it at least. On the Reformed conception of goodness, this is a contingent fact about human beings in virtue of the kinds of social relations in which we find outselves. The Calvinistic response to the problem of evil maintains that this requirement for God to minimize suffering, either in the short run or in the long run, is a function of extrapolating the conception of human goodness, which is defined in terms of God's commands to us, to God himself, thus collapsing the creator-creature distinction and requiring God to minimize suffering.

That is why I have been arguing that the Calvinistic claim with respect to the problem of evil is to eliminate it, and this is done by rendering it a pseudoproblem. What the Calvinist claims is that God has a moral reason to inflict suffering as well as to alleviate it, therefore the amount and distribution of suffering does not count against theism one iota.
If this all seems counterintuitive to you, well, (and it seems counterintuitive on top of counterintuitive on top of counterintuitive to me) that's just a sign of how depraved you are, and how much you want to avoid God's justice, and how much you need to submit your intuitions to God's Holy Word. Or so I'm being told.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Here is a great T-shirt

Or you could try this one.

God said it.

______ (Insert your favorite exegete here) exegeted it.

That settles is.

An Infidels Critique of the Kalam Cosmological Argument

On A Canticle for Leibowitz

A redated post.

This is a Wikipedia commentary on Walter Miller's science fiction book A Canticle for Liebowitz. Lewis is often credited with coming up with the expression "You don't have a soul, you are a soul. You have a body," But it really came from Canticle.

Bill Vallicella Rates the Philosophers

And finds that a bunch of theists are on the top seven. It's arguable that Hume was a theist of sorts as well, in spite of his use of the argument from evil and his criticisms of theistic arguments.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Supernaturalism and falsifiability

A redated post.

It is sometimes said that supernatural claims are unfalsifiable, while naturalistic ones are falsifiable. I don't see how this argument can be defended. First of all, we need to have a clear idea of what it is that makes a thesis supernatural. What is the supernatural?

But suppose we have such an idea. What does it take to falsify something? If what we mean is that the evidence logically entails the falsity of the thesis. That's a standard that would make every claim unfalsifiable. It's always possible to "fix" a disconfirmed theory to fit the evidence.

Falsification occurs, according to another definition, when all well-informed adherents of the thesis admit that the thesis is false. That is more plausible. But it seems to me that we could reach a situation where all well-informed defenders of a claim give up, whether the thesis is supernatural or natural.

It may be the case the well-informed people may find it harder to give up when religious beliefs are at stake. But how does supernaturalism render claims unfalsifiable?

A blog dedicated to working on the age of the earth controversy

Defends the day-age interpretation of Genesis.