Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Case of Eta Linneamann

Here is a review of one of Linneamann's books.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Religious Belief in Academia and Elsewhere

Does the fact that as you go up the educational scale, religious belief goes down, count as evidence against religious belief?

My overall theory is that there, percentagewise, the number of dedicated religious people is about the same in the highest levels of the academic community as there is in the community at large. The difference is that people who don’t have a serious faith still have a vague religious belief in the population at large, but as you move into academia, unless people are serious about their religion, they become unbelievers.

I know that are ex-believers out there who left the fold, but there are also migrations for unbelief to belief. But what you lose at the top level of academia are the people who say "Yes I believe there is a force out there; I just don't believe in organized religion."

May the force be with you.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Amazing Grace in the House of the Rising Sun

I always knew you could do Amazing Grace to the tune of the House of the Rising Sun. Combining the message of the two songs, however, really makes secular humanism seem shallow and silly, in my humble opinion.

It's all because of that darned school prayer decision!

A redated post

According to Chuck Missler:

•Over the past 30 years, our population has increased 41%, but our Gross Domestic Product has tripled, and our social spending has had the benefit of a 500% increase. Impressive by any standard.
•And yet, we have had a 500% increase in violent crime, a 400% increase in illegitimate births, a 400% increase in the divorce rate, a 300% increase in single  parent homes, a 200% increase in teenage suicides, and a 75 point decrease in SAT scores.

•Each day in America there are 2,795 teen pregnancies and 4,219 teenagers who contract a sexually transmitted disease. Every 64 seconds a baby is born to a teenage mother; five minutes later, a baby will have been born to a teenager who already has a child. Ten hours later, 560 babies will have been born to teenagers.
•Over the past 30 years, we have conducted over 31 million abortions; every day there are 1,106 teen abortions alone! (When John the Baptist began his ministry, he was only 9 inches long and weighed about a pound and a half. In the womb, he was Spirit-filled, and leapt for joy).

•We are a nation in peril. We lead the industrialized world in murder, rape, and violent crime. In elementary and secondary education, we are near the bottom in achievement scores. There is a coarseness, callousness, cynicism, banality, and vulgarity signalling the decivilization of our nation.

•An analysis of these, and virtually every social and cultural indicator, clearly shows a marked deterioration since the early 1960s. What event transpired then to cause this rapid and catastrophic destruction of our American culture? We outlawed God from our schools!10
10 1962, Engel v. Vitale, the U.S. Supreme Court declared school prayer "unconstitutional." 1963, School District of Abington Township v. Schempp and Murray v. Curlett, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Bible reading in schools was an "establishment of religion." 1980, Stone v. Graham, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Ten Commandments cannot be posted on the wall of a schoolroom.

Amazing. The decision that keeps Protestant children from having a teacher lead them in the Hail Mary caused this much trouble? This looks like a world-class example of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. Christians don't help themselves by indulging in this kind of rhetoric.

Van Fraassen on materialism

This is an excellent essay on materialism by philosopher of science Bas van Fraassen.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Some Background on the School Prayer decision

From the Wikipedia entry:

The case was brought by the families of public school students in New Hyde Park, New York who complained that the voluntary prayer to "Almighty God" contradicted their religious beliefs. They were supported by groups opposed to the school prayer including rabbinical organizations, Ethical Culture, and Judaic organizations. The prayer in question was:
Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country. Amen.
The plaintiffs argued that opening the school day with such a prayer violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (as applied to the states through the Fourteenth), which says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." The governments of twenty-two states signed on to an amicus curiae brief urging affirmation of the New York Court of Appeals decision that upheld the constitutionality of the prayer.[1] The American Ethical Union, the American Jewish Committee, and the Synagogue Council of America each submitted briefs urging the Court to instead reverse and rule that the prayer was unconstitutional.


See what I mean about the generic prayer?

An essay by Avery Cardinal Dulles on Lewis as an apologist

Lewis’ second favorite proof, the argument from reason, appears in his book Miracles. A certain kind of naturalism, he observes, characterizes rational thinking as a mere product of nervous reflexes, instincts, and habits. Lewis replies that physical or psychological conditioning cannot explain our power to make judgments about truth and error. We are conscious that our judgments are determined not by subrational forces but by reality as it impinges on our minds. The power to reach understanding through rational explanations is evidence of an affinity between the mind and reality. It is explicable only if there is an aboriginal mind that accounts for both intelligence and intelligibility.

Lewis’ sketchy presentation of this argument leaves further work to be done. Having an ancestry that goes all the way back through Plato to Anaxagoras, it resembles the argument for the existence of God proposed in highly technical terms by Bernard Lonergan and popularized in several apologetical works of Hugo Meynell. For all these authors the wonderful correspondence between reason and reality implies that reality is imbued with an order that stems from a creative Mind. Lewis’ focus is not so much on the intelligibility of the world as on the mind’s capacity for truth, which in his opinion cannot be explained by natural selection but only by an intelligent Creator.

Lonergan's AFR is found in chapter 19 of his book Insight. Hugo Meynell's book The Intelligible Universe is based on Lonergan's argument.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Is school prayer permitted?

Yes. What is prohibited is state-sponsored school prayer. But would you want the state to sponsor a teacher in leading her class, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, in the Hail Mary?

Of course, there could be a rule that would make sure that school sponsored prayers be generic prayers. I don't pray generic prayers. Do you?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Don't they know it's the end of the world?

The link is to Skeeter Davis' signature song on the subject, however, the occasion is Harold Camping's prediction that it will be all over this Sunday.

When I was young, the big guy in end-of-the-world stuff was Hal Lindsey, a former Campus Crusade staffer who has written extensively on the End Times. In his most famous book, The Late Great Planet Earth, he said that the famous "This generation shall not pass away until all is fulfilled" (Mt: 24:34)  referred not to the time of Christ at all, but rather to the time when the Jews return to Israel. Hence the clock started ticking in 1948. One generation is forty years, he said, therefore it should all be over by about 1988. Since seven of those years are the Tribulation period, the Rapture should have happened in about 1981. However, Lindsey took the passage about no one knowing the day or the hour (Mt: 24:36) seriously enough to not make the kind of exact predictions that Camping has made. (Camping had one in 1994, but since we're still here, he's at least 0 for 1). Lindsey held, instead, that no man knows the day or the hour, but a study of Bible prophecy should permit us to hit the bullseye on the generation.

My good friend Joe Sheffer, when I was an undergraduate, pointed to a copy of the Late Great Planet Earth and said "That guy's going to look like such a fool." Then he commenced to tear Lindsey's contentions to shreds. But Lindsey is a fool that still has a loyal following, and a Bible prophecy TV show.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Asking for a parody

Apparently there is something about the sappy, left-wing idealism if John Lennon's Imagine that invites parody. Do you have any idea how many people have posted versions of "Imagine there's no liberals" and posted it on the internet?

Friday, May 13, 2011

The History that Didn't Repeat This Time.

HT: Ken Samples

Classic NBA History

Boston Celtics History:
65 NBA Seasons
21 Finals Appearances
17 NBA Titles

Minneapolis-Los Angeles Lakers History:
65 NBA Seasons
31 Finals Appearances
16 NBA Titles

Head-To-Head in the Finals 12 Times:
Celtics 9
Lakers 3

As for me, Anybody But the Heat. 

What the **** happened to my post

On hoping for universalism.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Hoping for universalism

Some who don't embrace universalism nevertheless at least hope it's true. If we can, and should, hope for the soul of each person individually, then should we not also hope for the soul of all persons collectively?

This links to a discussion by Keith DeRose on Prosblogion.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Sins of Sodom----and Gomorrah

A friend of mine pointed out, years ago, that in Dante's Inferno, the homosexuals and the usurers (people who lend money at interest), are in adjoining parts of hell. The sin of Sodom is homosexuality, the sin of Gomorrah is usury. Homosexuality is unproductive sex, usury is unproductive money.

What this would mean is that the foaming-at-the-mouth preachers who say that "The Sins of Sodom and Gomorrah put America in Danger of Destruction" are, well, half right.

More seriously, the people who want to weaken the wall of separation between church and state also think that somehow this will result in capitalists being left alone. But in the Middle Ages, the Church had state-like powers, and prohibited Christians from lending money at interest. The idea that God is about to zap us because of our gay bars, but has no problem with the likes of Goldman Sachs, it an perspective that strikes me as incomprehensible.
I love that story in the Bible where Jesus drove the homosexuals out of the temple. 

Sunday, May 08, 2011

On the use of probability theory in the philosophy of religion

I have a take on the role of probabilistic arguments that might be of help here. Look, when it comes to the resurrection of Jesus, a person's decision to accept or not accept the Resurrection is likely to be a combination of the evidence specific to the Resurrection, and a prior assessment of how likely the background beliefs that are behind belief in the resurrection are to be true. We know that people who are thinking about the Resurrection are bound to differ about whether the claim that Jesus rose from the dead is antecedently plausible. There's going to be people who find the fact that something would have to be explained as a divine miracle grounds for giving it as close to a probability of zero as you can get. There are some people who are already committed to some form of supernaturalism, and who are not going to be deterred by the fact that the explanation involves the miraculous. So, how can we carry on the discussion? One way of doing it is to ask merely whether the evidence in more like what we should expect if the Resurrection happened, or whether it's more like what we should expect if it didn't.  In other words, is there anything in the reports coming out of the first-century church that is more like what you should expect if Jesus was raised than if Jesus was not raised. If the answer to that question is yes, then the evidence confirms the resurrection, but it might still be rejected by reasonable people on the grounds that a Resurrection would commit you to the existence of God, or other features of Christianity that you consider to be improbable. Fine, but you can at least say, in response to the evidence, that the evidence directly bearing on the resurrection of Jesus is easier to explain if the Resurrection occurred than if it didn't. In other words, we can isolate one particular piece of evidence from the total evidence we have that bears on the issue and ask whether this piece of evidence supports the Christian claim that Jesus was resurrected or not.

Similarly, we can ask, concerning the fact of pain and suffering, how it impacts the credibility of theism. It could turn out that yes, pain and suffering adversely affects the credibility of theism, but it does not show that anyone who believes in the existence of God is just being delusional.

I understand that some people do Bayesian probability theory to get a correct final conclusion based upon agreed-upon methods for ascertaining probabilities. That's legitimate, but we also might like to isolate the impact of a piece of evidence on the overall plausibility of theism and Christianity. I find Bayes' theorem to be a helpful tool in doing that, even though I do not expect an agreed-upon conclusion concerning the Resurrection after we are done. To me, it's not a misuse of Bayes' theorem, just a different use.

Straw Men Burning: Tim McGrew on Misinterpretations of the McGrews' article on the Resurrection

It's easy to dismiss and discredit an opponent when you don't make any effort to understand what that opponent has written. There is the idea about that the McGrews actually calculated the odds of the Resurrection, or that they maintain the strict and complete independence of the New Testament sources, when in fact they say no such thing. That's life in the blogosphere; in peer-reviewed journals editors and referees are there to at least try to keep this sort of things from happening. Of course, as Lewis pointed out, it is sometimes difficult to understand a position to which you are antipathetic, even if you try to understand it. Anyway, Tim responds here. 

TM: One of the hazards of writing technical philosophy is the risk that someone who lacks the appropriate expertise will attempt to critique it. In the case of the article on the resurrection that Lydia and I wrote for The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, this has already happened. It is hard enough to correct misimpressions of this sort on a relatively neutral topic; when the subject rouses passions of the sort that, as Hume reminds us, religious disputes are apt to generate, then the difficulties are redoubled. 

But one thing that we did not anticipate is that people who are completely clueless would undertake to explain the article to the rest of the world, in the process completely garbling the central claim and shedding absolutely no light on any of the surrounding issues. Since this particular exhibition of aggressive incompetence is now being uncritically rebroadcast by people who are unable or unwilling actually to read the article, it is worth making a few salient points: 

1. Nowhere in the article do we give, estimate, or suggest "odds on the resurrection." Near the outset we explicitly disclaim any attempt to do so, writing:

Even as we focus on the resurrection of Jesus, our aim is limited. To show that the probability of R given all evidence relevant to it is high would require us to examine other evidence bearing on the existence of God, since such other evidence – both positive and negative – is indirectly relevant to the occurrence of the resurrection. Examining every piece of data relevant to R more directly – including, for example, the many issues in textual scholarship and archeology which we shall discuss only briefly – would require many volumes. Our intent, rather, is to examine a small set of salient public facts that strongly support R. The historical facts in question are, we believe, those most pertinent to the argument. Our aim is to show that this evidence, taken cumulatively, provides a strong argument of the sort Richard Swinburne calls “C-inductive” – that is, whether or not P(R) is greater than some specified value such as .5 or .9 given allevidence, this evidence itself heavily favors R over ~R.

The ratio of 10^44 to 1 is a likelihood ratio, not odds. People who do not understand the difference between these two ratios should not attempt to discuss the mathematical parts of the article.

2. We are very explicit about our assumptions. In the online version of the article, on p. 39, we make it plain that our calculation

is predicated on the assumption that in matters other than the explicit claims of miracles, the gospels and the book of Acts are generally reliable – that they may be trusted as much as any ordinary document of secular history with respect to the secularly describable facts they affirm. And where they do recount miraculous events, such as Jesus' post-resurrection appearances, we assume that they are authentic – that is, that they tell us what the disciples claimed. This calculation tells us little about the evidence for the resurrection if those assumptions are false. We have provided reasons to accept them, but of course there is much more to be said on the issue.

3. We are quite aware that the assumption of independence is critical, and we discuss this matter extensively on pp. 40-46. It is wearying to see commentators who have not bothered actually to read the article confidently proclaiming that we have overlooked the possibility of dependence.

Readers are of course free to disagree with our actual conclusions. It would be cheering, however, if they would first take the trouble to understand what those conclusions are.

Against the fine-tuning argument: Theodore Drange

Friday, May 06, 2011

Opposing Viewpoints on the role of waterboarding in the killing of bin Laden

The argument about waterboarding has two sides to it. One side has to do with whether such techniques are justified deontologically. In other words, are we doing something that is wrong in itself, to such an extent that even if you could maximize the total balance of pleasure over pain by waterboarding someone, you ought not to do it, because the end doesn't justify the means and waterboarding violates natural law. If you could save the entire population of New York City by waterboarding someone who has a bunch of bombs set to go off all over the city sufficient to kill everyone within a 100-mile radius, would waterboarding be justified? Does the end of saving all these people justify the means of torturing someone to get the necessary information to stop it. This is a classic consequentialist-anti-consequentialist debate that you can have about a number of things, such as assassinating a dictator. 

The question of consequences is, of course, very broad, and includes such things as damage to our international reputation. In WWII, German soldiers preferred to surrender to the Americans than to the Russians, because they thought the Americans were far less likely to torture them. So it is possible that waterboarding might work in the narrow sense of being the most likely way to get the information we want, but it still might not be justified from a utilitarian perspective, because of the damage it will do to the reputation of our country and its operatives. 

But, perhaps most important, is the question of whether techniques like waterboarding work. One common response to this issue is to say that it may well work to get information out of an otherwise silent captive, but someone in that position is likely to produce, not actionable intelligence, but rather whatever BS the captive thinks the captors want to hear. Unless we have good reason to believe that a harsh technique like waterboarding will not only work, but will get better results than other available techniques of getting information, the issue can't even be set up as a consequentialist-anti-consequentialist problem. If it turns out that harsh techniques like waterboarding are likely to give us the results we want, then the issue of can be cast in terms of consequentialism. If, on the other hand, other techniques are more effective and can get better results, then it would just be an example of the "toughness fallacy" the fallacy of thinking that certain methods of dealing with wrongdoers are more likely to be effective because they are tougher. As an example, we may think that the death penalty is a better deterrent than life imprisonment because it is tougher, but the question has to be settled empirically as to whether the death penalty is a superior deterrent than life imprisonment. 

Anyway, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey argues that a large part of the information we used to get bin Laden came from intelligence received through waterboarding, but Chris Smith argues that waterboarding actually prolonged bin Laden's life. 

Edward Feser explains the argument based on a per se causal series

In response to Paul Edwards' much-anthologized critique of the Thomistic cosmological argument.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Some Notes on Ronald Nash's Discussion of Free Will in Life's Ultimate Questions

This is in response to an inquiry from a student. 

This is where I have a lot of problems with Nash's presentation. I actually think that Nash's use of the term uninfluenced will makes some assumptions that I would be inclined to deny. Nash is a Calvinist, and I'm not a Calvinist, so we don't see eye to eye on free will.

Let's go back to that Adam and Eve story for a minute, to help illustrate the issue. Whether we take this story literally or not does not affect its value to illustrate a point. Suppose God were to place Adam and Eve in the Garden, but he didn't allow the serpent to get anywhere near the place. In fact, he created Adam in such a way that he always wanted to obey God. Given the state of Adam's desires, it really wouldn't matter whether that nasty serpent showed up or not. Adam and Eve wouldn't want to do anything that was disobedient toward God, and would simply tell that snake to go to hell if he suggested that to them that they disobey and eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The way Adam and Eve are put together, on this scenario, they cannot so much as desire to violate the law that God has laid down. Hence, they decline the invitation to sin, and get to remain in the garden forever. All the ills of human history, the wars, the plagues, the massacres, and all the sins, from the Holocaust down to me losing my temper yesterday, don't take place. Nobody goes to hell.  God makes sure that Adam and Eve always want to do what is right, and he makes sure that he always has the opportunity to do what is right. In fact, God could not only have done this for Adam and Eve, he could have done this for Lucifer as well, in which case Lucifer would never have fallen.

If you talk to atheists, particularly those who have studied the free will problem, they will often tell you that that is precisely what God should have done. God could have created the world in such a way that everyone does what is right, and if God were a loving God, he would have done exactly that. Not only would we have avoided sinning, it turns out that one of the major philosophical definitions of what it is to have a free will is satisfied. "The liberty of spontaneity (the kind of free will a compatibilist thinks we have)...explains human freedom as the ability to do what the person wants to do." (Nash, p.328). Many people are taught to think that the reason why God permitted Adam and Eve to fall is because he had to give them free will in order to make it possible for them to be truly obedient, but in order to open that possibility, he also had to open the possibility that Adam and Eve disobey. But if God were to give Adam and Eve compatibilist free will, he could have allowed them to be free while at the same time guaranteeing that they would never sin. He didn't have to risk the fall of Adam and Eve, or the fall of Lucifer. So, if all we have is compatibilist free will, then we are going to need some other explanation for why God permitted Adam to sin. And theological Calvinists think that there is some other explanation. There are two explanations that I have heard. One is that God receives more glory if he predestines some people to disobey him, so that he can exercise his righteous wrath against unrepentant sin, as well as providing the saved a sense of what they were saved from. What is more, we can't be expected to understand why God does what he does, so even if those explanations don't wash (and they certainly don't for me), there is perhaps some unknown reason why God permitted (in fact, caused), the Fall of Man.

But, some people would ask whether this is real free will. If an outside agent, in the last analysis, is pulling the strings, can we be really said to have a free will? Some people have argued that we can't have real free will unless, given the past, we could have done otherwise from what we did. This is the incompatibilist, or libertarian, conception of free will. Nash refers to this as the uninfluenced will, but it is actually the libertarian conception of free will. It does not seem uninfluenced to me, on the contrary; it seems perfectly possible to be influenced by something that does not ultimately determine the will. Thus, I can be influenced by someone who wants me to marry Joan, but I might marry Susan instead, ultimately making a choice that could have gone the other way. I don't think it fair to describe an undetermined will as an uninfluenced will.  Nash makes the argument that we always act on our strongest desire, but as the philosopher William Hasker has pointed out, "strongest" turns out to just mean "the desire we acted upon," in which case "we always act on our strongest desire" just turns out to mean "We always act on the desire we act on," which is hardly news to anyone. Many people in science, based on quantum mechanics, believe that some events occur even though sufficient causes for them have not taken place (though, or course, there have to be necessary conditions), yet they nevertheless occur.

This is a massive debate in philosophy, and I am just scratching the surface of it here.

Did Waterboarding Help Us Get Bin Laden?

Peter King, of New York, claims that bin Laden's capture was partially due to waterboarding. But where is the hard evidence for this?

John McCain is skeptical.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Ding! Dong! Bin Laden is dead

Osama bin Laden is dead. Is it ever moral to celebrate someone's death? I don't know, but if you're going to sing Ding! Dong! The Witch is Dead, I'm partial to the Fifth Estate's version from 1967.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

From Wainwright's Philosophy of Religion on the Cosmological Argument

This is another post in a series attempting to make sense of Aquinas's Third Way.

This is from William Wainwright's Philosophy of Religion. (Wadsworth, 2nd. ed, 1999).

Aquinas concedes that infinite temporal regresses are possible. Each change or causal activity could be preceded by an earlier one. Each change or causal activity could be preceded by an earlier one. He thinks, howe ver, that series of simultaneously occurring changes or causes must have first members--the activity that is the source of change but isn't itself susceptible to change or a causal activity that is not, and could not be, derived from another. The ultimate ground of change ("the first mover") or causal activity ("the first cause") is God.

These cosmological arguments are historically important. Their plausibility, however, depends on assumptions that are no longer widely held. Ancient and medieval science, for example, thoght in terms of hierarchies of simultaneously occurring causes of different ontological kinds. Effects at lower levels of being we explained by causal activities at higher levels of being. Ancient and medieval metaphysics also assumed that the less perfect can be explained only by the more perfect.

Modern versions of the cosmological argumemt dispense with these assumptions. Most of them focus on contingent existence.

I'm wondering if this isn't perhaps too hasty of a dismissal. The underlying consideration seems to be the idea regardless of what past causes there might be for any contingent thing, there still has to be a contemporaneously existing thing or things which cause the existence of something now. That leads to a commitment to an infinite number of contingent things (perhaps an absurdity given the finite size of the universe) or a necessary being on which all things depend.