Saturday, November 26, 2011

C. S. Lewis on the Hallucination Theory

"Any theory of hallucination breaks down on the fact (and if it is invention [rather than fact], it is the oddest invention that ever entered the mind of man) that on three separate occasions this hallucination was not immediately recognized as Jesus (Lk 24:13-31; Jn 20:15; 21:4). Even granting that God sent a holy hallucination to teach truths already widely believed without it, and far more easily taught by other methods, and certain to be completely obscured by this, might we not at least hope that he would get the face of the hallucination right? Is he who made all faces such a bungler that he cannot even work up a recognizable likeness of the Man who was himself?" (Miracles, chapter 16)

A more detailed response to hallucination theory can be found here. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Two Jacks and an Aldous

A redated post.

I have one minute to get in my commemoration of the lives of Two Jacks and an Aldous, who passed away on November 22, 1963.

A Revised Rebuttal of the McGrews on the Resurrection

This is by Jeffrey of Failing The Insider Test. Tim responded here to Jeffrey's original critique.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Arguing for Dualism: The Identity Defense (Not to be Confused with the Twinkie Defense)

Bob Prokop wrote: Approximately one-twentieth of one percent of our bodies is replaced each day, through completely natural processes. At the end of 7 to 8 years, not a single atom remains in our physical selves that was there at the start of that period. Every particle of my today's physical self was either dirt, water, air, or another living organism 7 years ago. But I am demonstrably not a new person - I am the same Bob Prokop who was here eight, 10, or even 60 years ago, despite the fact that no trace of the original physical self remains. (I'd love to see someone try such a defense in court: "Your Honor, that wasn't me who committed that crime eight years ago. I wasn't even here. It was someone else with the same name!")

If that ain't proof of the existence of mind, or even of the soul, I don't know what is!

This is from an website entitled "Thought Experments on the Soul," by Kelley L. Ross.

If our concern then becomes personal identity, will the identity of material substance account for that? As I have argued, no. In physical terms alone, we know that there is a turnover of matter in our bodies. I believe that after 20 years or so, all the matter in our bodies is supposed to be different. A defendant in a legal case once even tried to argue that he was literally not the same person who had committed the crime, some twenty years plus in the past. His argument was not allowed as, indeed, we trace personal identity across that transformation. With the material objects, this can indeed produce some paradoxical results. The Stoics noticed that in their day the ship kept at Athens, which was supposed to have born Theseus to Crete, had finally been repaired so much that every single plank and other part of it was no longer original. Was it the "same" ship? In a way yes, and in a way no. One report is that this question was put to the Pythia at Delphi. With material objects, the less the original material, the less it is the original thing. There is no such ambiguity with people. And we can ask them.

Retributivism and the Similarity Requirement

Is there anything in Feinberg's definition of retributivism that requires, or even recommends any kind of similarity between the crime and the punishment? No.


Discipline: Philosophy
Theory of punishment whereby all or part of the purpose of punishment is the infliction of pain or disadvantage on an offender which is in some sense commensurate with his offence and which is inflicted independently of reform or deterrence.

For a weak theory the commensurate amount need not be inflicted but may be, and a limit is placed up to which reformative or deterrent punishment may go but beyond which it may not.
A strong theory insists that the punishment must be inflicted, but again places a limit beyond which it may not go.

Retributivism opposes excessive harshness as much as excessive leniency, and opposes the violation of the offender's rights in the interests of social expediency or personal spite and so on.
Mitigating circumstances, diminished responsibility, and so on are taken into account before determining the commensurate amount, but there are still problems in determining this, and the strong retributivist, especially, must justify violating the presumed moral ban on inflicting unnecessary pain.

J Feinberg, 'The Expressive Function of Punishment', Doing and Deserving (1970)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Question for People Who Combine Substance Physicalism with Property Dualism

Do these properties make a difference in what is caused to occur? If the non-physical properties cause anything, then can the substance that has the properties be a genuinely physical substance? If they don’t make a difference, then does our mental states have anything to do with what we actually do?

The Death Penalty and Retribution

I have brought up some objections to the deterrence argument for the death penalty, and also the expense argument for the death penalty. These, I contended, were undermined by the slowness of the appeals process. A speedier appeals process, however, makes it more likely that innocent people will be executed. So, the death penalty advocate faces a dilemma. A long appeals process makes it less likely that an innocent person will be executed (although the possibility still remains), but it also undermines deterrence and increases expense. A shorter process will increase the risk of executing an innocent person who might otherwise be exonerated, which is already a problem for capital punishment. So my argument had a dilemma structure that I am not sure people picked up on.

However, some have argued that the case for execution isn't primarily a matter of deterrence or even expense, it is a matter of retributive justice. I do accept C. S. Lewis's claim that it is extremely perilous to remove the question of desert from sentencing.

It should be the first consideration, though surely not the only consideration. I am quite sure that Lewis would have also endorsed this comment, which his friend J. R. R. Tolkien put into the mouth of Gandalf:

“Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.” 

The retributive theory of punishment requires that we deprive the criminal of happiness to a degree commensurate to the wrongness of their acts. In order to fit the crime, the punishment does not need to resemble the crime. We wouldn't use that principle in the case of rape and torture, so why use it for murder? In order for the argument to go through that the death penalty uniquely meets the requirement of giving a criminal his just deserts, you need an argument other than the argument from resemblance, and I don't know what that would be. Executions are quick and physically painless, which was probably not true of the death of the victim of murder. The person executed knows for a long time that this is coming, which again would not be true of the victim. So, once we are deprived of the argument that a punishment that resembles the crime best fits the crime, how do we show that the death penalty is the best way of exacting retribution? 

We Just Sold Things People Want

From the Hullabaloo blog. 

Selling things people want

David Atkins

The Wall Street Perspective:

To put it bluntly, many on Wall Street still see the events leading up to the financial crisis as a case of banks having legitimately sold something - whether it be mortgages or securities backed by those loans - that someone wanted to buy.

Thomas Atteberry, a partner and portfolio manager with Los Angeles-based First Pacific Advisors, a $16 billion money management firm, says his success "wasn't a gift" and he had to work hard to get where he is. Atteberry says he understands the frustration many feel about income inequality. But he said the problem isn't with those who are successful, but rather our "tax codes and regulations."

There are many products and services in addition to spiking ARM mortgages, naked credit default swaps and BBB tranches of collateralized debt obligations that people want to buy. Also in demand are:
  • Professional hitmen
  • Professional sex services including underage prostitution
  • Animal crush videos
  • High grade heroin
  • Weapons grade plutonium
  • Fire insurance on our rude neighbor's home
  • Currency counterfeiting machines

Why does Big Government insist on restricting the flow of goods and services people want to buy with pesky tax codes and regulations? It's so unfair to the successful pimps, drug kingpins, arms dealers, mafia dons and human traffickers who have worked hard to get where they are.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Cameron Todd Willingham

Dudley Sharp wrote:

Not suprising, with all that care and time, there is no evidence of an innocent executed since the 1930's.

It looks like about 25 actually innocent people have been sent to death row since 1973, or about 0.3% of the 8100 sent to death row during that time and they were all released on appeal

Really? What about Cameron Todd Willingham?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

McGrew on Evidence

This has some discussion of Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence.

Extraordinary Claims and Extraordinary Evidence

Another common slogan, also popularized by Sagan, is that Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Much depends, of course, on what counts as extraordinary, both in a claim and in evidence. It cannot be simply that a claim is unprecedented. At a certain level of detail, almost any claim is unprecedented; but this does not necessarily mean that it requires evidence out of the ordinary to establish it. Consider this claim: “Aunt Matilda won a game of Scrabble Thursday night with a score of 438 while sipping a cup of mint tea.” Each successive modifying phrase renders the claim less likely to have occurred before; yet there is nothing particularly unbelievable about the claim, and the evidence of a single credible eyewitness might well persuade us that it is true.

The case is more difficult with respect to types of events that are deemed to be improbable or rare in principle, such as miracles. It is generally agreed in such discussions that such events cannot be common and that it requires more evidence to render them credible than is required in ordinary cases. (Sherlock 1769) David Hume famously advanced the maxim that No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavours to establish (Beauchamp 2000, p. 87), which may have been the original inspiration for the slogan about extraordinary evidence. The proper interpretation of Hume’s maxim has been a source of some debate among Hume scholars, but one plausible formulation in probabilistic terms is that

P(M|T) > P(~M|T) only if P(M) > P(T|~M),

where M is the proposition that a miracle has occurred and T is the proposition describing testimonial evidence that it has occurred. This conditional statement is not a consequence of Bayes’s Theorem, but the terms of the latter inequality are good approximations for the terms of the exact inequality

P(M) P(T|M) > P(~M) P(T|~M)

when both P(~M) and P(T|M) are close to 1. There is, then, a plausible Bayesian rationale for Hume’s maxim so long as we understand it to be an approximation.

It does not follow that the maxim will do the work that Hume (arguably) and many of his followers (unquestionably) have hoped it would. Hume appears to have thought that his maxim would place certain antecedently very improbable events beyond the reach of evidence. But as John Earman has argued (Earman 2000), an event that is antecedently extremely improbable, and in this sense extraordinary, may be rendered probable under the right evidential circumstances, since it is possible in principle that

P(T|M)/P(T|~M) > P(~M)/P(M),

a condition sufficient to satisfy the rigorous condition underlying Hume’s maxim and the slogan about extraordinary events. The maxim is therefore less useful as a dialectical weapon than is often supposed. It may help to focus disagreements over extraordinary events, but it cannot resolve them.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Some clarifications on my death penalty post (originally posted at Triablogue)

My argument is actually somewhat different from what you are describing. As the death penalty is now practiced in America, we take extra precautions with it, in virtue of its irreversibility. As a result, two advantages of the death penalty over life imprisonment are compromised. First, while most people think the state pays less by using the death penalty than it does in life imprisonment, the fact is that when litigation costs are factored in, execution is more expensive. Second, the deterrent effect is diminished, since not only does the criminal expect to get away with it (otherwise, he wouldn't commit the crime), but also, should someone actually be tried and convicted and sentence to death, death is hardly immanent, because the murderer can expect a long appeals process which is going to delay the execution for many years, assuming the execution occurs at all. This is probably the reason why crime statistics in states without the death penalty are no worse than in states with it. Having the death penalty just means that you might be sentenced to death, and then after 20 years or so, after your appeals run out, you may get executed, unless, of course, they decide not to execute you, which they might very well do.

So, it looks like the only way to make the death penalty do what we hope it will do is to "fast-track" it, eliminate the appeals, and make execution immanent for those convicted of capital crimes.

Of course, the irreversibility of the death penalty is an argument against its very existence. However, where we do practice the death penalty, we seem to concede an important point to its opponents, namely, that there should be a lot more appeals when we execute than when we imprison, because we can release exonerated prisoners, but not people we have executed. The result is that the two benefits of a death penalty seem to be either eliminated or greatly weakened.

So, if we have a death penalty that does what we want it to do, we have to accept the risk of executing innocent people and fast-track the death penalty. We have to not only risk executing innocent people, but we also have to increase that risk by curtailing the appeals process.

To do that, I think we have to abandon the idea that the execution of an innocent person is a more tragic failure of justice than the failure to punish a guilty person. I don't want to go there. But in order for the death penalty to have the advantages over life imprisonment that pro-death-penalty people think it has, it seems as if we have to go there.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Execution Without Appeals--A Death Penalty That Gives Us What We Say We Want From It

Two favorable effects of the death penalty that make it seem desirable are that it is less expensive to execute than to imprison, and that it capital punishments deters capital crime better than life imprisonment. Both of these are compromised by the long appeals process, which is more expensive than housing a criminal for life, and also dilutes the deterrent effect, since a murderer probably won't be executed until long after they were initially convicted. Some people say that there is a class of "open and shut cases" which need not be appealed. Thus, we can get a swift execution without the lengthy appeals process.

To get what this suggestion is looking for you have to implement a special threshold of evidence where there really is no possible doubt, and no chance for a future exoneration. While we can, in a retail sort of way, mention cases where this level of evidence was achieved, the problem is that our system has to identify certain characteristics of cases that are so open and shut that we can't imagine an exoneration. The criteria for a conviction is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, but even there we have had exonerations. In the case of Casey Anthony, one theory was that the jury was reluctant to convict because they would then have had to consider a death sentence, and since certain kinds of evidence were lacking, they didn't want to take that risk. And "beyond reasonable doubt" is a threshold of evidence doesn't mean that "beyond possible doubt." I don't think the development of an "open and shut case" category where the appeals process could be circumented is workable, although I understand why it would be appealing to many people.

There was the famous arson case in Texas---guy's name was Willingham, where the fire science of the time proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he had killed his family by arson. Only, the fire science of today contradicts that, but, unfortunately, he was executed and wasn't around to be released.

The question is whether it is the extent we are going to allow the risk of executing an innocent person.  I think that that is a horrible side effect of our system. While the system is run by human beings, I think it will remain fallible. If there is a death penalty, then you can't eliminate the possibility of it being used on an innocent person.

To really have a death penalty that does for us what most death penalty advocates would get from it, what you have to do is accept a higher risk than we already have of executing innocent people. (You can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs).  What would really help with the deterrent effect would be getting rid of innocent until proven guilty. That's what they do in some countries. In the People's Republic of China, they would execute the prime suspect within a few weeks, and they did get a real deterrent effect there. 

Who are the most literal readers of Scripture? Atheists, of course!

HT: Bob Prokop.

This was written by Aslan (who is not a tame lion).

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why is investment income taxed less?

On the highest levels people don't earn money from work, they earn money from investments. Unearned income is taxed at 15%, which is a lower rate than what it taxed for the money you work for. Why is this?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Deficits and "Conservatives"

When I was growing up, and Barry Goldwater was my senator, I learned that one thing conservatives were concerned about was budget deficits. They have returned to the charge in response to Obama's budget deficits. However, this is an article written in Business Week in 2004 chronicling the disappearance of deficit hawks from the Republican Party in the Bush years.

In the words of an old Donovan song from when I was a teenager, "First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is."

Or, as John Kerry put it, "I was for it before I was against it."

This is Balfour's Foundations of Belief

This contains an argument very similar to Lewis's AFR.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cafeteria conservatism and the New Testament

The treatment of wealth and poverty in the New Testament fail to rule out all conservative positions as unChristian, but some versions of it strike me as unacceptable. For example, the ethics of Ayn Rand and the ethics of Christ simply can't be reconciled. Greed is not good.

You can't, as a Christian, say that the wealthy are wealthy because they deserve to be, or that a system that helps the rich get rich and allows the poor to get poorer is acceptable. Eric Cantor, for example said that he thought his role was to help the people on top stay there. That has to be un-Christian.

You can make the argument that helping the poor is perfectly good, but using the coercive powers of government to do so is to do it in the worst way. But it does seem that if you accept the laissez-faire argument, you can't turn around and back out of use the government to help your favorite industry. You can't oppose welfare and the support corporate welfare. I don't even know what disentangling the government from the economy would even look like. IF the government is going to help someone, it has to be the people on the bottom.

What I especially dislike is the kind of cafeteria conservativism that appeals to conservative principle so long as they serve the purposes of the big businesses that fund Republican campaigns. But that is what usually happens when you elect conservative candidates.

Watching the Republican debate last night, the argument seems to be that they kept arguing that markets have a regulating effect on economics, and on that account is should be preferred to government regulation. So, if businesses are profitable, they will create jobs. But, corporations are not national entities, they are international entities. And while workers' rights are guaranteed in America, they are not guaranteed in the Third World. At present, businesses have no incentive to create jobs in America. In fact the tax code actually supports outsourcing. So, as far as I can see, just letting capitalism run its course will NOT create jobs in America. Quite the reverse.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

WWJT: Who Would Jesus Tax

This is an article by Chris Giovanazzo.

Do you think the problem of debt could be made better by asking the wealthiest 1% to pay more in taxes? Jesus taught that the rich have a responsibility to help the poor, and sometimes he suggests that they are going to hell for failing to do so.  Shouldn't the teachings of Jesus be reflected in the tax code? Who Would Jesus Tax?

If you think that Obama is a class warrior, he pales in comparison to Jesus. 

An argument against religion: the argument from locality

A true religion, created by God worthy of worship, wouldn't have been started in any particular location. So this argument goes.

Monday, November 07, 2011

The Stanford Encyclopedia Entry on Theological Voluntarism

On the meaning of the term "God"

Is "God" a proper name, or a definite description? If "God" is a definite description, then that definite description is "a being omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good," then whatever God does is right, but it also means that we aren't in a position to pick out God unless we are able to identify what good is, and recognize that God possesses that quality. Or, God could be picked out by his exercise of creative power, and then we could define "good" in terms of something being in accordance with whoever possesses maximal creative power. But, if we do that, then don't we end up saying that might makes right?

Steve Hays on the "Genocide" theodicy problem

The central issue in Steve's post seems to be this: 
Why is an outcome that God commands a different theodicean problem than the same outcome which God permits? If we already have an adequate theodicy to explain what God allows, why do we need a different explanation for what God commands? The end-result is the same. 
Critics of the passage have argued that God's ordering the Hebrews to kill Canaanite children is more deeply problematic than, say, having them all die in a flood, or allowing Joshua to kill them without actually telling him to. 
On the other hand, in end-of-life ethics people frequently argue that "pulling the plug" at the request of the patient is justified, while assisted suicide is not. But, as Steve says, the result is the same.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

outsider tests (lower case) versus The Outsider Test (TM)

Actually, the underlying idea of the OTF is perfectly legitimate, in that, it is frequently useful to, as a thought experiment, imagine oneself as having started with a different perspective from that which you have in fact started. This is a point that I have argued many times. Where it goes wrong is when Loftus says that to *really* take the outsider test you have to take the perspective of an outsider like himself, a modern, science-oriented materialist. But there are many was of being outside of orthodox Christianity besides being outside of it that way, so why privilege that position? Why consider the results you get from that position to be authoritative or objective?

In short, anyone who thinks seriously takes many outsider tests, but what is questionable is when it is suggested that there is The Outsider Test (TM), the results of which are definitive for the rationality of one's belief. Also, I have argued that directing outsider tests to religious faith, and not to beliefs in general, is question-begging.

Friday, November 04, 2011

An ecumenical Catholic Apologetics Page

There is a great wealth of material that can be linked to from this page.

The Best Skeptical Response to Resurrection Apologetics

There are two sets of evidence that Christians appeal to argue that Christianity is divine rather than human in origin. First, there was the evidence of the empty tomb. The tomb, apparently, was found empty. At least, that is what the early Christians proclaimed, and it was not refuted by those people who would have wanted to see the movement quashed. The second is the fact that various people claim at least to have seen appearances of Jesus following his death. Skeptics typically respond by saying that we have reasons to have doubts about the claim that Jesus was buried in a known tomb. Executed criminals typically had their bodies dumped rather than buried. Second, skeptics typically argue that the disciples hallucinated the risen Jesus. Perhaps there weren't as many people who saw the appearances as the Bible claims. But people tend to hallucinate when they are very depressed, and are experiencing great cognitive dissonance, as must have happened to the disciples when their leader was executed on the cross. So, some people had visions, and the early Christians concluded that he must have been resurrected. 

This, I think, is the best response that skeptics have to the historical case for the Resurrection. While I don't buy the hallucination story, I do think it's the strongest skeptical response.

This is still, I think the best resurrection debate, between William Lane Craig and Keith Parsons.

On what needs to be caused

In order to get the cosmological argument to work, you have to find a set of things that needs to be caused, while God does not need to be caused. William Lane Craig argues that we have good reason to believe that the universe had a temporal beginning, and that the Big Bang theory shows this. What that means is that the Big Bang theory, which in popular culture is presumed to be an atheistic theory, is actually embarrassing for atheism, since it agrees with the Bible that there WAS a beginning. Craig maintains what whatever begins to exist, must have a cause of its existence, and since the universe began to exist, the universe has to have something other than itself cause it to exist. On the other hand, God, according to the definition, never began to exist, so he needs no cause of his existence.

Other versions of the cosmological argument maintain that whatever exists contingently, has to have a cause of its existence. The universe is the sort of thing that might or might not exist, so we have to explain why it exists. God is the sort of being who, if he does exist, has to exist, and needs no further explanation. Therefore God must exist, to explain the existence of the universe. 

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Why Atheists Care about Defending Atheism

Bob: A lot of academic atheists, when I was involved with secular philosophy departments, took relatively little interest in their position. They were dismissive of religious belief, but they sometimes complained about having to cover the problem of God in classes. 

But some atheists blame religious belief for 9/11, and they think President Bush's unfortunate response to it (in particular, invading a country in no way responsible for the attacks), was the work of a "praying President" who wore his religious beliefs on his sleeve, and so they see the conflict over terrorism essentially the effect of the damaging effects of religion on the minds of its followers. They also see the rearguard action of religious believers against biological evolution as of a piece with the failure to accept the scientific consensus in the area of global warming, and these are also intellectual tendencies that are damaging to our society. Joe Sheffer once told me that all evolutionary biologists receive a lot of hate mail from Christian fundamentalists. Whether we go forward in civilization, or backwards, according to people like Dawkins, depends on whether we are willing to chuck our antiquated religious beliefs and embrace science as the measure of all things. So I can see why some atheists care about sharing the Four Atheist Laws with believers.