Sunday, December 30, 2012

J. D. Walters' Review of The Last Superstition

A book I got for Christmas, which I have been enjoying. Here.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The latest in the Torley-Loftus exchange

Here is the latest in the Torley-Loftus exchange. Or at least until Loftus replies.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

How to save mothers and children from religion

I'll play Crude's request here. I guess once they realize this, they will abandon Christianity and accept Richard Dawkins as their Lord and Savior.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Some Reasons why Christianity Makes Sense to Me

A redated post.

I wrote a comment on Debunking Christianity that I would like to share here.

Victor wrote: If this is a reason to reject the maxim of my undergraduate philosophy teacher (an atheist) "You ought to believe what you already believe, unless you have evidence that what you believe is not true," then I wouldn't endorse that kind of skepticism.

Scott replied: The problem with applying this maxim to a particular religious belief is the means in which you've acquired that belief and the inability to provide clear evidence that your belief is not true. It's as if you've thrown up your hands and claimed you're stuck with your belief since there is no other method in which you could attempt to identify whether it is factual or not.

VR: No. I have considered evidence for and against theism, and for and against Christianity. I just don't know if real neutrality is possible or even desirable. That's my only beef.

I think naturalism is self-refuting because it is inconsistent with the fact that human beings perceive logical relationship and act on that basis. If they were purely physical systems in a purely physical world, this would not be possible. We could not literally do mathematics, which is the very foundations of the science on which naturalism rests its case. If naturalism is true, then there are no scientists, and there is no scientific method, and we're all epistemically screwed.

In fact it's a little amazing to me that someone could accept the outsider test for faith and not accept the argument from reason against naturalism. The OTF says that if our religious views have sociological causes, they aren't rational, which suggests to me that atheists must have purely rational causes for their beliefs. But if naturalism is true, then everyone has natural, physical causes for all beliefs, and this got to be ten times more damaging than sociological causes. If naturalism is true, then there is no real mental causation, just physical causation that mimics mental effects.

I think that Christian theism has some problems in the area of the problem of evil, but these are not worse problems than naturalists have in explaining consciousness, for example. Atheists argue that if theism is true, then there would be no suffering, but if naturalistic atheism is true, there can only be pain behavior, not real pain, because pain is a subjective qualia that has no place in the naturalistic world of objective physical states. Hence, if naturalistic atheism is true, then there should be no suffering either.

I am amazed at how monotheism could have taken hold of the mind of the people of Israel, after a long struggle with paganism, and that the little nation of Judah could have escaped dispersion from the Assyrians, which would have destroyed that nation's identity permanently. To the ancient mind, it was a lot easier to be a polytheist than to be a monotheist. How could this have been reversed in an tiny and otherwise nondescript country like Israel, when it did not happen anywhere else? Not in Greece, not in Egypt, not in Babylonia, and not in Rome.

I have yet to see an account of the beginnings of Christianity that is any better than the one that Christians offer. If there were not miracles, then how do you get a bunch of people firmly convinced that Jesus rose from the dead and getting in the faces of the Jewish and Roman establishment to spread that belief? What happened to these people? How could Jews start accepting an incarnate deity? How could they change the Sabbath, and not try to apply the Jewish Law to Gentile converts? Mass hallucinations, and then their biggest persecutor, Saul of Tarsus gets one? Just a coincidence?

How do you explain the intimate, detailed familiarity that Luke shows with the Mediterranean world if he was never a companion of Paul and didn't see what he wrote about? I don't even know how many people are on the city council of the nearby cities of Avondale or Glendale here in the Phoenix area. But Luke provides this kind of detail, and the archaeology backs him up time after time.

No other religion has the kind of archaeological support that Christianity does. Have they found that battleground in Palmyra, New York, where the book of Mormon says a huge battle took place? Thought not. Is there a good DNA match between Jews and American Indians? You mean they look more like Orientals? Who witnessed Muhammad reciting and transmitting the Qu'ran?

I even think that there are present-day miracles that provide evidence for God. We had some discussion of that on Dangerous Idea as well.

Now if you say "Anything but the Supernatural" this may all seem irrational to you. But maybe some naturalists need to take the Outsider Test and see how things look from the perspective that miracles are possible. I could argue that you have been brainwashed by the scientific establishment to rules these possiblities out. But I won't. The world just makes more sense from the perspective of Christian theism than it does from any other perspective.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

It's all about the process

My response to some discussion over at debunking, which is here.

However convinced you may be of the rightness of your overall position, it doesn't warrant you in running roughshod over texts. Marshall's text made certain claims, none of which entailed any denigration of science whatsoever.

Not everything is about the overall debate between Christianity and atheism. Sometimes it's about process, about slowing the process down and making sure that we are in fact representing someone correctly. In all genuinely valuable discussion, (as opposed to a propaganda war) people slow down and make sure that they are accurately interpreting the people they are talking to. Whenever people skip that step and try to win debating points, the value of the dialogue itself just disappears. One sign that you are dealing with an ideologue is that ideologues never take the time to understand the people they are trying to criticize. I don't care how silly you think people on the other side are, if you are going to criticize them, you've got to take the effort to understand what they're saying. In fact, the less inherent intellectual sympathy you have for your opponent, the more effort it will take.

Now, he may have made said something that proves your point, but this wasn't it.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Is the term Gnu Atheism derisive

I'll take Pharyngula as authoritative here. Apparently not.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The folly of scientism


Advocates of scientism today claim the sole mantle of rationality, frequently equating science with reason itself. Yet it seems the very antithesis of reason to insist that science can do what it cannot, or even that it has done what it demonstrably has not. As a scientist, I would never deny that scientific discoveries can have important implications for metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, and that everyone interested in these topics needs to be scientifically literate. But the claim that science and science alone can answer longstanding questions in these fields gives rise to countless problems.

In contrast to reason, a defining characteristic of superstition is the stubborn insistence that something — a fetish, an amulet, a pack of Tarot cards — has powers which no evidence supports. From this perspective, scientism appears to have as much in common with superstition as it does with properly conducted scientific research. Scientism claims that science has already resolved questions that are inherently beyond its ability to answer.

Of all the fads and foibles in the long history of human credulity, scientism in all its varied guises — from fanciful cosmology to evolutionary epistemology and ethics — seems among the more dangerous, both because it pretends to be something very different from what it really is and because it has been accorded widespread and uncritical adherence. Continued insistence on the universal competence of science will serve only to undermine the credibility of science as a whole. The ultimate outcome will be an increase of radical skepticism that questions the ability of science to address even the questions legitimately within its sphere of competence. One longs for a new Enlightenment to puncture the pretensions of this latest superstition.

An essay on Lewis on Scripture


HT: Bob Prokop

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Three Parts of Morality

A redated post.

The Three Parts of Morality
Book 3, Chapter 1

“There is a story of a schoolboy who was asked what he thought God was like. He replied that, as far as he could make out, God was the sort of person who is always snooping round to see if anyone is enjoying himself and then trying to stop it.”

By contrast, “Moral rules are rules for running the human machine.” They are, to use my example, the instructions in the owner’s manual of a car, that tells you to keep the oil level up in the car and to change the oil every 3000 miles. These rules may seem at first to go against our natural inclinations.

Should we speak of moral ideals instead of moral rules? If we think of them is ideals rather than rules, then different people might have higher or lower ideals. Everyone is expected to try to follow the rules, even though no one comes close to following them perfectly.

Lewis mentions two ways in which “the human machine” goes wrong. One way is by bad relationships amongst people. The other is when things go wrong within the individual. Much discussion about morality on the part of modern people has to do with how people should relate to one another; that it is wrong to cause harm to others. He compares the moral life to a fleet of ships. The fleet may fail because of internal failures within the ships, or may fail because they drift apart or collide with one another.

But there is a third component to our moral lives. Are the ships going where they ought to be going? They may work well internally and sail in formation, and yet not get to the right place. Of course this means that there is a proper goal for human life.

So that means morality means:

1) Fair play among human beings.
2) Harmonizing the person internally.
3) Fulfilling the purpose of human life.

Modern people think of 1) and do not think of 2) and 3). They say “There can’t be anything wrong with it if it doesn’t harm anybody.”

2) is a moral tradition that goes back to Plato. According to Plato, reason (the desire for the Form of the Good) should command, and spirit (the interpersonal self), and appetite obey.

3. Is a tradition that goes back to Aristotle. The good life is the life that fulfils human nature. It assumes that human life has an inherent purpose. For Aristotle that purpose is inherent in our nature as humans, for the Christian tradition it is given to us by God.

Lewis thinks that we should pay more attention to 2 and 3. “You cannot make men good by law: and without good men you cannot have a good society.

Christianity is a set of claims that, if true, will profoundly affect how we ought to behave.

Christianity teaches that I am a creature created by God for God’s purpose. Do I simply belong to myself? Many people think we do. If there is no God, then we own essentially belong to ourselves. “Whose life is it anyway?” So if we want, for example, to commit suicide, all we need to consider is what it would do to others. “If someone else made me, then I shall have a lot of duties which I should not have if I simply belonged to myself.

Suppose I am addicted to video games. “It doesn’t hurt anybody,” I say. But am I fulfilling my nature as a human being?

Immanuel Kant thought that it was wrong to lie, first and foremost, because our capacity to speak was given to us in order to speak the truth, in lying we damage ourselves by using a facility for something for which it was not intended. In fact, he maintained that all lies were wrong, something thought by most people to be too strong a position. But the emphasis on this motivation for truthfulness is something Lewis would approve of.

Christianity also teaches that human beings last forever. This has two implications:

1) States of character are more important than particular actions. If my bad temper is getting worse, this may not be a big deal if we feed the worms after 70 years. If I go on forever, then my bad temper will be just hell until it is corrected. “Hell is the precisely correct term what it would be.”
2) If individuals are gone after 70 years then a state, a nation, or a civilization may last for a thousand years. (Hitler, for example, promised that the Third Reich would last for a thousand years.) But if Christianity is true, then an individual is more important than a civilization.

Lewis says that from here on he will give an account of morality with the assumption that Christianity is true. Although this is an apologetic work, Lewis is content simply to give an analysis of what ethics looks like on Christian assumptions, without feeling the need to prove the truth of Christianity first. It attempts to answer the question “Can we get sensible answers to moral questions if we adopt a Christian viewpoint.”

Loftus comes out as an ideologue

Here. Who knew?

Lowder's Taxonomy of Theistic Metaethical Positions.


Sunday, December 09, 2012

Kreeft on Happiness

Our idea of what happiness is has changed since Aristotle. Here is a quote from philosopher Peter Kreeft:

But the meaning of the word happiness has changed since Aristotle's time. We usually mean by it today something wholly subjective, a feeling. If you feel happy, you are happy. But Aristotle, and nearly all premodern writers, meant that happiness was an objective state first of all, not merely a subjective feeling. The Greek word for happiness, eudaimonia, literally means good spirit, or good soul. By this definition, Job on his dung heap is happy. Socrates unjustly condemned to die is happy. Hitler exulting over the conquest of France is not happy. Happiness is not a warm puppy. Happiness is goodness.

Peter Kreeft, Making Sense Out of Suffering St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1986

So, I think the idea of happiness has to be clarified when we use it. The philosophical term is not the term we normally think of today when we use the word "happiness."

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Doctor Logic and Lydia McGrew on Likelilhoods, Design, and Probabilities

Doctor Logic: If an all powerful being were designing life, we don't expect descent, common descent, common composition or a gradual appearance of features and species. How many ways can a God create life in a universe? The number of ways a God can do this is vastly greater than the number of ways unguided evolution can do so. For example, gods don't even need to create life consistent with physical laws because they can create ghosts. There's no need for descent (birth) because God can make animals outright or create factories (no car has ever been born to another car). Even keeping the species the same and changing their natural histories and genomics gives a God vastly more options than evolution. I think theists would be tempted to say that there are infinitely more ways God could create life than ways that evolution could create life.

This is a simple problem in Bayesian reasoning. Finding ourselves in a world that is consistent with unguided evolution implies that the probability that we're designed is extremely close to zero.

In other words, if God exists, then there are a million ways in which God could create things, including Young Earth Creationism, etc. If atheism is true, then if intelligent life is going to emerge, it's got to emerge through naturalistic evolution. So, if the evidence is compatible with naturalistic evolution, then the evidence very strong supports naturalistic evolution, since this evidence is very likely given atheism and vanishingly unlikely given theism.

Lydia McGrew's paper on design and likelihoods might serve as a way for theists to respond here. Because God could do it a certain way doesn't mean that it would be reasonable for God to do so.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Devil is in the Questions: NCSE on whether scientists reject God

Here.  Now, Eugenie Scott and  the NCSE aren't exactly a neutral organization on this. They are implacable foes of intelligent design, but they are criticized by New Atheists as working too hard to get the support of the religious community for Darwinian evolutionary biology.

Nevertheless I do find this interesting.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Why do I exist?

Of all the millions of people in the world, only one of them  me, and only one fo them is you. What kind of fact is this, and how would science explain it naturalistically?

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Torley v. Loftus on ID and methodological naturalism

Here is a debate between Vincent Torley and John Loftus on methodological naturalism. Torley's original article was here. Loftus responded here, and Torley here.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Sauce for the goose

Perhaps I can pose the question concerning the multiverse and ECREE this way. Look, if people consistently denied the probabilistic relevance of the multiverse in all contexts, that would be one thing. They could say "Regardless of the multiverse, we have to look at what is probable in the world as we experience it. but in fact, the multiverse theory is used to mitigate the initial improbability of a finely-tuned universe without a designer." But, if you can help yourself to the multiverse to blunt the effect of the fine-tuning argument, can't you also use the multiverse theory to blunt the effect of the initial improbability argument against miracles such as the Resurrection.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Steve Hays on some implications of combining the multiverse with ECREE

Here. Another line on multiverse arguments., which I think complements one that I linked to from Graham a couple of weeks back.

I suppose, if the multiverse is true, then Jesus did rise from the dead. Just not in this universe! On the other hand, why not?

Are logical laws true by convention?

From my C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea

“It is often supposed that the laws of logic are true by convention. But this is clearly not a coherent idea. Before conventions can be established, logic must already be supposed. If logical laws are human conventions, then presumably it is at least possible for us to have different conventions. But the laws of logic are conditions of intelligibility; without them we could not say anything. Part of what it means to say anything is to imply that the contradictory is false. Otherwise, language simply does not function in a declarative way. So the reality of logical laws cannot be denied without self-refutation, nor can their psychological relevance be denied without self-refutation” (82).

Any relevance for religious debate today???

From G. K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man

"[T]he next best thing to being really inside Christendom is to be really outside it. ... [T]he popular critics of Christianity are not really outside it. They are on a debatable ground, in every sense of the term. They are doubtful in their very doubts. Their criticism has taken on a curious tone; as of a random and illiterate heckling. ... Their whole atmosphere is the atmosphere of a reaction: sulks, perversity, petty criticism. They still live in the shadow of the faith and have lost the light of the faith." 

HT: Bob Prokop

An ingredient of good dialogue with opponents

One thing that I notice when a conversation with an opponent has been good is how much time we spent simply describing and explicating our views. When I am not thinking about persuading the person to think as I do, but am trying to give that person a sense of how and why I think as I do, and my opponent does the same, I find discussion is often very satisfying. With a lot of discussions I have been seeing between believer and unbeliever, I think this is being lost, and I find this most regrettable.

Some Problems for Skeptics About the Paranormal, including James Randi

Here.  By Triablogue's Jason Engwer.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The New Atheists and the Dunning-Kruger effect

Here. Oh, I forgot. It's just believers who suffer from cognitive pathologies.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Propaganda, Mockery, and Following the Argument

An important distinction has to be made about the whole mockery issue. If we are talking about mockery in and of itself, I don't see the harm in that. When I watch Life of Brian, for example, I see things within Christianity that no doubt deserve to be mocked. However, I don't think people should be making decisions about something as serious as religion based on mockery. You can mock, for example the theory of evolution with no trouble. And you can certainly mock people who have a quasi-religious devotion to the theory of evolution. The trouble is that perfectly good ideas can be made to look ridiculous.

Usually when I hear people mocking what I believe, it makes it seem less likely that they understand what they are mocking. I could be wrong, the could be capable of taking the time and effort to engage in a serious critique. But evidence of mockery points the other way. Of course, the mocker can come back with the Courtier's Reply: Your position is so ridiculous that I don't even have to understand it to critique it." I think there are difficulties inherent in the situation when you want to criticize something, but you don't want to give it a place at them table of dialogue. If atheists want real dialogue with believers, they have to treat them with respect at least in the interests of the discussion. If they just want to engage in propaganda, they can do that, but they should at least have the honest to call it what it is.

In philosophy we do have a argument method called reductio ad absurdum. But if absurdum doesn't involve an actual contradiction, then it's always possible to just say "So? Not that there's anything wrong with that!," and just reject the reductio. That's just life in the world of thought.

But I have a real problem with mockery as a strategy of persuasion. It functions pretty much like peer pressure, which is always a lousy way to decide what to do. I also think it undercuts dialogue and drags discussion down. It is tempting to think that what we believe is so important that whether someone comes to believe it for good reasons or bad, the important thing is that they believe what we agree with. But that is a huge mistake.

Real dialogue just follows the argument where it leads. What someone does with the argument once you are done is up to them. I think Lewis had a point when he separated apologetics from evangelism. These are two different operations, whether you are on the theist side or the atheist side.

I think Dawkins' strategy also leads to something else--people treating the person with whom they are engaging the discussion almost as if they weren't there, and shouting over them to possible "fence-sitters" who will be somehow peer-pressured into accepting atheism through the display of naked contempt. The message is "You're a hopeless faith-head who won't listen to reason. But maybe if I express enough contempt for what you believe, people who are thinking of agreeing with you will tip my way instead, since they don't want to be laughed at." The process matters, and if we are engaged intellectual dialogue, we have to respect that process. Propaganda is essentially anti-intellectual, regardless of what propositions are being supported by it.

C. S. Lewis was the first president of the Oxford Socratic Club, dedicated to following the argument where it leads. His time there led to two things that might be regarded as setbacks: his exchange with Elizabeth Anscombe, and the launching of Antony Flew's career as an atheist philosopher. But, in neither case was the setback the end of the story.

I think we have to face the fact that the most intelligent people in the world are divided on these religious issues, for whatever reason.

Monday, November 19, 2012

An atheist on the new atheism.

Atheist Burgess-Jackson on the New Atheists.

Apparently he doesn't like the emphasis on non-rational persuasion.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lewis was right after all

This passage comes from A. N. Wilson's "Why I Believe Again." 

Watching a whole cluster of friends, and my own mother, die over quite a short space of time convinced me that purely materialist "explanations" for our mysterious human existence simply won't do - on an intellectual level. The phenomenon of language alone should give us pause. A materialist Darwinian was having dinner with me a few years ago and we laughingly alluded to how, as years go by, one forgets names. Eager, as committed Darwinians often are, to testify on any occasion, my friend asserted: "It is because when we were simply anthropoid apes, there was no need to distinguish between one another by giving names."

This credal confession struck me as just as superstitious as believing in the historicity of Noah's Ark. More so, really.

Do materialists really think that language just "evolved", like finches' beaks, or have they simply never thought about the matter rationally? Where's the evidence? How could it come about that human beings all agreed that particular grunts carried particular connotations? How could it have come about that groups of anthropoid apes developed the amazing morphological complexity of a single sentence, let alone the whole grammatical mystery which has engaged Chomsky and others in our lifetime and linguists for time out of mind? No, the existence of language is one of the many phenomena - of which love and music are the two strongest - which suggest that human beings are very much more than collections of meat. They convince me that we are spiritual beings, and that the religion of the incarnation, asserting that God made humanity in His image, and continually restores humanity in His image, is simply true. As a working blueprint for life, as a template against which to measure experience, it fits.

What Wilson has seen the force of, here, is the argument from reason, which was the argument that, in Wilson's own biography of Lewis, Anscombe is credited with demolishing so thoroughly that he was driven into to write children's fantasies instead of Christian apologetics. His was the most virulent version of what I have called the Anscombe Legend, the legend that Lewis critic John Beversluis (who had employed it in the first edition of his book on Lewis) dispatched with the following critique. 

First, the Anscombe debate was by no means Lewis's first exposure to a professional philosopher: he lived among them all his adult life, read the Greats, and even taught philosophy. Second, it is simply untrue that the post-Anscombe Lewis abandoned Christian apologetics. In 1960 he published a second edition of Miracles in which he revised the third chapter and thereby replied to Anscombe. Third, most printed discussions of the debate, mine included, fail to mention that Anscombe herself complimented Lewis's revised argument on the grounds that it is deeper and far more serious than the original version. Finally, the myth that Lewis abandoned Christian apologetics overlooks several post-Anscombe articles, among them "Is Theism Important?" (1952)—a discussion of Christianity and theism which touches on philosophical proofs for God's existence—and "On Obstinacy of Belief"—in which Lewis defends the rationality of belief in God in the face of apparently contrary evidence (the issue in philosophical theology during the late 1950s and early 60s). It is rhetorically effective to announce that the post-Anscombe Lewis wrote no further books on Christian apologetics, but it is pure fiction. Even if it were true, what would this Argument from Abandoned Subjects prove? He wrote no further books on Paradise Lost or courtly love either.

Language is a product of our ability to reason, and it if is to be explained naturalistically, it has to be as much a product of evolution as a finch's beak. If this is deeply problematic for evolution, then he is essentially embracing the conclusion that Peter Geach, Anscombe's husband, came to when he wrote: 
When we hear of some new attempt to explain reasoning or language or choice naturalistically, we ought to react as if we were told that someone had squared the circle or proved the square root of 2 to be rational: only the mildest curiosity is in order-how well has the fallacy been concealed?] P. T. Geach (The Virtues). 

But to do that is to accept the conclusion of Lewis's AFR.  

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Another of Veale's Replies to ECREE, and a question for multiverse defenders

Here.   I would like to ask someone who believes

1) That extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence


2) The apparent fine-tuning of the universe can be explained in terms of a multiverse as opposed to God

how in the world they reconcile those two commitments. A few years ago, I did a couple of posts entitled "Arguments that don't mix," and it seems to me to be pretty evident that this pair of responses belongs to that category. Why are we told that the existence of a multiverse is NOT a claim that requires extraordinary evidence, but the existence of a universe finely tuned for intelligent life, or that Jesus rose from the dead, does require extraordinary evidence.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Darwin's nominalism

"I look at the term 'species' as one arbitrarily given, for the sake of convenience, to a set of individuals closely resembling each other." (Origin of Species).

Does Darwinian theory commit you to nominalism? Logan Paul Gage, in his essay "Can a Thomist be a Darwinist," gives this as a reason why Thomists shouldn't embrace Darwinism.

From God and Evolution (Seattle: Discovery Institute Press, 2010).

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Doctor Logic, Placeholder Fallacy, and the football game

A redated post.

I am linking to Doctor Logic's presentation of the Placeholder Fallacy.

This is a very critical issue in the debate between theists and atheists. Theists point out the explanatory difficulties in materialistic explanations. Atheists acknowledge these problems, but then point out that bringing theism, or a soul, or something not materialistically helpful isn't going to help. They contend that we're stuck with materialism, because to offer, say, a theistic explanation is not to explain anything at all, but rather to provide a placeholder for the real explanation.

Here's the problem I see with this kind of argument. I watch Sunday Night football with church friends most weeks. One of them, Butch, is as Dallas Cowboys fan. I know a number of things about Butch that enable me to converse with him. I know that he is an English speaker. I know that he is a Christian. I know he likes the Cowboys, so if Romo throws a touchdown pass, I know he'll be pleased, and if he throws a pick-6, I know he won't be happy. I know that he acts for reasons. Now, since I happen to be a dualist, I think that these teleological explanations are basic explanations and these explanations of his behavior can't be reduced to neurophysiological explanation. But even if I were a materialist, it seems to me just insane to say that the explanations that I employ in order to form expectations about what Butch will say and do are just placeholders for mechanistic explanations that might be supplied by brain science, or for the explanations that might be provided at the level of basic physics. These are real explanations, and if dualism is true, I can still use them.

But what about God. After all, God's not an embodied being the way Butch is. But people do seem to know what they are praying for when the pray, for example. It stands to reason that a God who is infinitely intelligent should want there to be other intelligent beings in existence. I may not get much detail in my predictions about God's conduct, but I can form probabilistic expectations concerning what God can be expected to do. I may see through a glass darkly, but I'm not completely blind. I simply do not see that "God raised Jesus from the dead to vindicate his ministry and show him to be God's own Son" is a placeholder. Of course it's a false explanation if Jesus never rose from the dead, but it isn't a placeholder.

Monday, November 12, 2012

More dialogue with Loftus on faith

Phrases like "thinking exclusively in terms of probabilities" don't get us anywhere unless you are talking to someone who say 'Yes, I believe that not-P is more probable than P, but I believe P anyway, as a matter of faith." Now a thoroughgoing fideist might say something like that, but someone who is that much of a fideist would probably not bother to argue with you. Who you are likely to encounter here are people who think the evidence for their religious beliefs shows their beliefs to be more probable than its contradictory. The idea of faith, to them is simply trusting the one whom they think they have good reason to believe in.

Faith in God is trusting God, and so I don't see any real problem with the concept of faith as commonly used by Christians. The fact that they use such a concept in no way implies that they are closet fideists or anything like that. Someone could have faith in a spouse in a very different epistemic situation, a situation in which the evidence that the spouse is having an affair is very strong, but the person persists in having faith in their spouse nonetheless. Even here there are two scenarios. One of them is where the person says "Yes, the evidence suggests that she's having an affair, but I choose not to believe it." The second is where the person says that the evidence supports their spouse's fidelity. In the first case, you have cause, perhaps, to complain about the "leap of faith" they might be taking. In the second, the person is not taking a leap of faith, they are just misassessing the evidence and the probabilities.

If someone thinks that Christianity is probably true, then it's not going to be much of an issue if you tell them to think in terms of probabilities. If someone is believing that Christianity is true even though their best reasoning tells then the weight of the evidence is against it, then of course you might try to say they shouldn't have faith. If your assessment of the evidence is correct, then "reasonable faith" would not be instantiated anywhere, at least where faith concerns beings like God. But "reasonable faith" would not be an oxymoron, a contradictory concept. The world could have been such that reasonable faith is instantiated. But, on your view, it just doesn't happen to be that way.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

What are the social responsibilities of businesses?

Here is Milton Friedman's famous essay claiming that a corporation has no obligation other than to make a profit. Now, if corporations are persons, does that mean that persons have no obligation other than to make a profit?

Ryan v. Biden in Thomist perspective

This is my follow-up to the last redated post.

The difference between Ryan and Biden on abortion is this. For Aquinas, there are four kinds of law: eternal law, divine law, natural law, and human law. Since human law is aimed at human happiness and not salvation, it has to be based on considerations of natural law, not divine law. The claim that the right to life begins at conception, for Biden, is a matter of divine law. It is something that we couldn't discover by ordinary moral reflection apart from the Church's teaching on the matter. So, even though he thinks abortion wrong, he thinks it wrong because the Church teaches that it is wrong, and not because we could discover this on our own. Ryan, on the other hand, not only accept the Church's teaching on abortion, he thinks that human beings reflecting on the matter, could come to the anti-abortion position by natural reason alone. Even though much of our culture denies that abortion is morally wrong, those who do so, by thinking in moral terms, could and should reach the conclusion that abortion is, almost always, homicide without adequate moral justification. As such, he therefore believes it appropriate for government to legislate concerning it.

Aquinas on the natural law, or how to avoid centuries of bloodshed

A redated post

These are my class notes on Aquinas and the natural law. But notice something important. If Christians had realized from the 13th Century on that governments are set up to secure human earthly happiness, how much blood on the hands of Christians could have been avoided?

The Natural Law
How right and wrong are based on reason
I. Human nature and the natural law
We can reflect upon human nature and find those things that will help us actualize our potentialities. This is what Aquinas calls natural law.
Human nature is the same from culture to culture and from century to century. So we can discover the natural law by reason.

II. Using reason to discover the law
How do we discover which objects, circumstances, and ends are good?
The good is determined by reason, what is in accordance with the natural law.
We can derive moral principles by reflecting on what is in accord with nature and our natural inclinations.
Since we have a natural inclination to preserve ourselves, suicide is against the natural law.
It is natural to care for our offspring, so we must educate our young to see that they reach their potential.
Since we are higher than the beasts, we must actualize out potential by pursuing the truth, including the knowledge of God.

III. Why don’t we all agree?
We are blinded by passion, bad habits, and ignorance.
Do we know these things in our consciences? Conscience is not a source of knowledge itself, but is that rational activity of apply moral knowledge to particular cases.
Conscience is fallible, but the best we can do is follow our informed conscience to the best of our abilities.

IV. Aquinas’s Four Laws
Eternal Law
Natural law
Divine law
Human law

V. The Eternal Law
The eternal law is the law by which God governs the universe.
Everything in natural follows the eternal law blindly, but humans have the capacity to obey it or disobey it.

VI. Natural law
Discussed earlier, the law available to reason that governs human moral behavior and is aimed at human happiness on earth. The virtues enjoined by natural law are temperance, courage justice, and wisdom.

VII. Divine Law
The divine law is given to us by revelation, and concerns how to achieve eternal happiness, in other words, how to be saved.
The virtues enjoined by this law are faith, hope, and love, the three holy virtues.
These can only be obtained through the grace of God.

VIII. Human law
Human law is instituted by governments.
If the law is legitimate, it must be rooted in the natural law. To obey such laws is to obey God.
Any human law that violates natural law is not a law at all.

IX. Aquinas and Dr. King
This raises a question of illegitimate laws, such as racially discriminatory laws (Jim Crow laws). Religious leaders in the South had written Dr. King a letter saying that while they approved of his coming to Alabama to work for civil rights, they asked that he obey the laws of the state while he was there. King didn’t follow their advice, and wrote the famous Letter from the Birmingham Jail explaining why. Aquinas says in some cass it is the lesser evil to obey a bad law to keep the peace, but in other cases civil disobedience in the name of a higher law may be necessary.

X. Aquinas an Human Laws
Some laws enforce the natural law  and should be uniform from one society to another (laws against murder and theft, for example).
Other laws set out details left open by natural law for the sake of uniformity in a society. It doesn’t matter if you drive on the right or the left, so long as everyone drives on the same side.
Other laws have to be reached on the basis of situational judgment. How old should a person have to be to drive a car. 16 seems to low of an age in urban Phoenix, but too high for rural Kansas.

XI. The extent of the law
Human law should not attempt to render illegal all kinds of immoral behavior. It should only be concerned with major evils that harm others and undermine and ordered society.

Political legislation should concern matter of justice, and should stay out of issues that concern spiritual matters or private morality. This is because human laws must be grounded in the natural law (aimed at human earthly happiness and not at salvation, and discoverable by reason) and not divine law (known by revelation and aimed at human happiness).

This represents the foundation of the separation of church and state, and on these matters the Catholic Church deviated from Aquinas’s teaching when they used the power of the government to enforce Catholic belief. After the Inquisition and the Wars of Religion (which left 1/3 of the population of Europe dead), we can see that Aquinas had it right.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

McGrew on ECREE

From his essay on 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(MT) > P(~MT) 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(TM) > P(~M) P(T~M) when both P(~M) and P(TM) 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(TM)/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.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Author Meets Critic

A redated post. 

Do Near Death Experiences support the idea of an afterlife? Or are they the hallucinations of a dying brain? Greg Stone challenges Susan Blackmore's research in support of the latter hypothesis.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

McGrew on Evidence


Eggstraordinary claims require eggstraordinary evidence

What about this claim that an egg was hatched after being inside the chicken. So we need extraordinary evidence for this?

Here is the discussion in Graham Veale's website, Saints and Skeptics.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

What DO they teach in those Catholic schools?

A commentator over at Debunking Christianity wrote:

In fact this whole "rational faith" is pretty new for me. I was raised in a catholic school and no priest ever told me that there's "historical proof" for the resurrection and the virgin birth. These things are faith issues, you accept them or you don't. No reason required or even allowed.

On the other hand, fideism was declared to be heresy by Vatican I. This is the entry from the Catholic Encyclopedia.

And, finally, the Vatican Council teaches as a dogma of Catholic faith that "one true God and Lord can be known with certainty by the natural light of human reason by means of the things that are made".

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Priority of Life-Rights Thesis

One thing that is never clearly stated in the abortion controversy, but underlies a lot of the discussion, is what I would call the Priority of Life-Rights Thesis, or PLT. That is, while some rights can be overriden in order to protect other rights, when a life-right is at stake, that life-right always must be defended by the force of law, and all other rights (quality of life rights, privacy rights, etc), have to take a back seat to life rights. To some people, this is so obvious as to not even need argumentation or defense. Hence, once you call something murder, it is somehow logically incoherent to be against making it illegal. By murder, here, I will waive the question of criminal intent, and simply define it as homicide without adequate moral justification.

As a philosopher, I see this as a loose end in the discussion that bothers me. How should it be defended, or should it?

Monday, October 29, 2012

The ending to my Infidels paper on miracles.

The paper is here.

If my foregoing discussion is correct, opponents of, say, the resurrection of Jesus cannot appeal to a general theory of probability to prove that anyone who accepts the resurrection is being irrational. It is also a consequence that different people can reasonably expected to have different credence functions with respect to Christian (and other) miracle claims. If you want to convince some people that Christ was resurrected, you have a much heavier burden of proof than you have in convincing others. It must be noted that there is no way, on the model I have presented, to show that everyone who denies the Resurrection is irrational, or engaged in bad faith. Of course, one can still believe that unbelievers disbelieve because of "sin" or "suppressing the truth," or what have you. But given the legitimate differences that can exist concerning the antecedent probability of the miraculous, I don't see how such charges can be defended. So the lesson here, I think, is that both apologetics and anti-apologetics should be engaged in persuasion, not coercion, and that the attempt to ground irrationality charges against one's opponents is a misguided enterprise.[22]

How liberal is Obama?

Not very, according to Eric Alterman.

Leaping over the evidence with a single bound

(Premise) Stephen Law argues that "Anything based on faith, no matter how ludicrous, can be made to be consistent with the available evidence, given a little patience and ingenuity." (Believing Bullshit, p. 75).

(Conclusion)  Because of this it is essential that we think exclusively in terms of probabilities, the probabilities of a non-believer in all extraordinary claims, that is, the concrete examples I have given.

This strikes me as a leap of logic commensurate with Kierkegaard's leap of faith.


Immateriality and Intentionality

A paper by Gerald Casey.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Who Made God and the Kalam Cosmological Argument

The argument doesn't say everything has a cause. What it says is whatever begins to exist must have a cause of its existence. Scientific evidence says that the universe began to exist, and so it needs a cause of its existence. God by definition did not begin to exist, therefore, he needs no cause of his existence.

But how shall we follow probabilities?

Loftus: We should think exclusively in terms of the probabilities.

VR: How in blazes do you calculate probabilities? Probability theory tells you how you get from a prior probability to a posterior probability. What it does not tell you is what prior probabilities are correct. Hence I can begin with a probability of 1 for the Resurrection and end up with a probability of 1 for the resurrection. Ditto for a probability of zero. So telling me to think exclusively in terms of probabilities tells me squat. Probability theory does tell you how, given enough evidence and a small enough split between probabilities, we can come to an agreement about whether something is true or not. But if there is a large split between antecedent probabilities, we can easily have rational people taking opposite beliefs to their graves.

I happen to think that there are no right or wrong antecedent probabilities. We start with the probabilities we have and go from there. My view is that a Bayesian-rational person can conclude that Jesus rose from the dead.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Loftus on Silver Bullets

John Loftus seems to me raising the distinction between "silver bullet" arguments that in fact persuade everyone, and arguments which, even though they don't persuade everyone, ought to persaude everyone. I made this exact distinction in my book, when I was talking about strong rationalism.   Now, clearly, no arguments about, say, belief in the existence of God are satisfying to everyone. There are atheists and theists on the highest levels of education. But the strong rationalist can maintain that while the case for belief (or unbelief) is not in fact convincing to everyone, it should be. The evidence is strong enough to convince everyone who is well informed and rational; if a well-informed person rejects the evidence, it is rejected because he suffers from some species of cognitive pathology—that is, from some kind of failure or inability to recognize the truth. Consider what many academics believe about astrology. Surely there are plenty of people who believe in astrology,  but I at least am inclined to suppose that a careful study of astrological beliefs will show that it is not reasonable to accept these claims.

C. S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea, p. 31.

John adds:

Such an argument does not have to be convincing. With this in mind I think there are plenty of silver bullets. That you don't see them merely means you have resorted to faith to overcome it. Faith, by the way, is irrational.

Again, I think talking about faith in this way obfuscates the issue, especially if you are talking to someone who accepts C. S. Lewis's definition of faith.

"Faith is that art of hold on to things which your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. Unless you teach your moods where they get off, you can never be either a sound Christian or a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and for, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather or the sate of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of faith.”

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A quote from me about arguments and belief: why there are no silver bullets

The claim that one side or the other in some highly controversial issue as theism has a monopoly on rationality is thought by most philosophers to be an extremely difficult claim to defend….while it is important to be as rational as possible concerning religious beliefs, one should recognize that this is a difficult task and that one cannot reasonably be asked to empty oneself of emotional dispositions.
Victor Reppert, C.S. Lewis’ Dangerous Idea, p. 35-6

A case against socialized medicine


What do you guys think of these arguments?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Famine Affluence and Morality by Peter Singer

This is a famous and controversial essay by Peter Singer from back in 1972. It seems to undermine completely the idea of private property. It also, on the basis of utilitarianism, undercuts the idea that we have duties to our family members, or countrymen, that we don't have toward those who are outside those relationships.

Why Republicans won't repeal Obamacare even if they are elected


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Would a Romney Victory Advance the Conservative Cause?

Probably. But maybe not.

One problem you might run into is that if Obama goes to his left, Republicans will oppose him. But if Romney goes left, it has a better chance of sticking. If Hubert Humphrey had gone to China, he would have been called a communist appeaser and would have gotten zero bipartisan support. If Romney repeals Obamacare and replaces it with something equally socialistic, or supports an assault weapons ban, Republicans won't put up a pitched battle against him. If he goes "multiple choice" on abortion, he could do more harm to the right to life than Obama ever could.

I would maintain that an Romney election would probably advance the conservative cause more than an Obama re-election. But maybe not be nearly as much as most people think.

Meanwhile, the hard left can barely tolerate Obama.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Win Corduan responds

I need to make this its own post so that it won't get overlooked.

Hi everyone! Thank you for this wonderful discussion, and especially to cl for showing such patience. Please keep in mind that my recent post is a response to Carrier's criticism of my chapter in Miracles, ed. by Habermas and Geivett. I've provided links to Carrier's text, but unfortunately could not provide one to the chapter. Still, in the end, unless you've read the chapter as well as Carrier's critique, you can't possibly understand all of the nuances. If someone doesn't want to spend the $20 on the book, that's fine, and you're still entitled to your opinion, but your opinion may be utterly wrong-headed.

The technical distinction between magic and a miracle should not be as fuzzy as you make it sound. It it is new to you, you should learn it and apply it. In magic, the outcome ultimately depends on the performer. He or she must use the proper technique. Theoretically, if you do so properly, the outcome is guaranteed. Conversely, if you don't achieve the desired outcome, you did not follow proper procedure. A miracle, on the other hand, is a free act of God, which cannot be manipulated by our actions. He may respond with a miracle if he so wishes; he may not. If my prayers are not answered, it is likely not that I didn't follow the correct form of prayer, but that God has other plans for me.

Obviously this distinction makes sense only in a theistic world views. But look at it this way: If I want to learn about a distinction within a Buddhism, such as between Honen's and Shinran's view of the Pure Land, I need to posit the reality of the Pure Land heuristically. Similarly, the critic of miracles, which fall into the provenance of theism, must stipulate the theistic world view as a heuristic, or he is addressing a straw man. Win

Feser's Review of Rosenberg's The Atheist's Guide to Reality


HT: Steve Hays.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Omphalos and scientific realism

A redated post.

This is an interesting discussion of Gosse's Omphalos. Can a Darwinist be a Christian? Heck, a Darwinist can be a six-day creationist. Just not a scientific creationist.

What an Omphalos creationists has to maintain is that while creationism is true, our best science is evolution. (So no challenging what they teach in public school classrooms. That has to be our best science, whether it is true or not.

In other words a Darwinian creationist (Darwinist about our best science,
Creationist about the truths) has to deny is the doctrine of scientific realism, which is defined in this discussion from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

It is easier to define scientific realism than it is to identify its role as a distinctly philosophical doctrine. Scientific realists hold that the characteristic product of successful scientific research is knowledge of largely theory-independent phenomena and that such knowledge is possible (indeed actual) even in those cases in which the relevant phenomena are not, in any non-question-begging sense, observable. According to scientific realists, for example, if you obtain a good contemporary chemistry textbook you will have good reason to believe (because the scientists whose work the book reports had good scientific evidence for) the (approximate) truth of the claims it contains about the existence and properties of atoms, molecules, sub-atomic particles, energy levels, reaction mechanisms, etc. Moreover, you have good reason to think that such phenomena have the properties attributed to them in the textbook independently of our theoretical conceptions in chemistry. Scientific realism is thus the common sense (or common science) conception that, subject to a recognition that scientific methods are fallible and that most scientific knowledge is approximate, we are justified in accepting the most secure findings of scientists "at face value."

Gosse gets a bad rap from people like Bertrand Russell. But he was one of the outstanding biologists of his time. Would a contemporary biology department refuse to hire him because he was not a realist about his evolutionism?

Saturday, October 06, 2012

McCormick argues that a God who perfoms miracles would be immoral


If God can be moral while permitting suffering, I don't know that you could then argue that God can be immoral if he both performs miracles and permits suffering. So I am not sure that this changes the dynamic of the argument from evil, which is in play here.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Surprisingness and evidence for supernatural occurrences

From my paper "Miracles and the Case for Theism."

It is true that in order for miraculous occurrences to play a role
in a case for theism, it must be the case that such events contradict
naturalistic expectations. But it does not follow that, from the point
of view of naturalism, these events have to be maximally improbable.
Other events that contradict naturalistic expectations to a greater degree
can be passed off as mere anomalies because no plausible theistic
explanation is available to tempt the naturalist to alter his beliefs about
the way the world works. Paul Horwich gives an account of what it is
for an event to be surprising that may shed some light on this matter.
He claims that it is necessary to distinguish between unlikely events
and surprising events, since many unlikely events do not surprise us.
If I were to flip a coin 100 times and get heads every time it would
surprise me, even though any other sequence of heads and tails would
be equally unlikely. What distinguishes surprising events from other
unlikely events is the presence of an alternative account of the circumstances
under which the event occurred, an account not previously
accepted, that would diminish the improbability of the event in
question. Thus in the coin-tossing case the possibility that the coin
might not be fair causes me to wonder if the world is in fact the way
I, who am accustomed to coins being fair, previously thought it to be.
This explains why it would not be surprising if Jones were to win a
lottery amongst a billion people, but it would be surprising if Smith
were to win three lotteries amongst a thousand people, even though it
is more probable that Smith should win his three thousand-person
lotteries than that Jones should win a billion-person lottery. This is
because the Smith case gives me reason to change my background
assumption about the fairness of the lotteries in a way that the Jones
case does not. Thus surprisingness, for Horwich, does not vary with
improbability, it varies with the degree to which events force us to
change our hypotheses about how things happen in the world. 21 In
cases where there is evidence that a miracle has occurred, it is the
combination of natural improbability and the availability of supernatural
explanation that makes the evidence surprising from the point
of view of naturalism, not the improbability alone. So perhaps we can
attribute Mackie's insistence that miracles are maximally improbable
for atheists to the fact that good evidence for miracles would be maximally
surprising for atheists; for persons with a naturalistic bent the
acceptance of miracles requires a thorough revision of their view of
the world. (Miracles would also surprise theists, if they were not expecting
God to act in the way he did and would find it necessary to
change their view about what God is like). However, as Horwich has
shown, surprisingness is not strictly a function of improbability; therefore
Mackie is mistaken in assuming that since miracles are maximally
surprising they must also be maximally improbable.  

Several definitions of evolution

Jay Richards delineates six definitions of evolution. Can a Christian accept all six? Should a Christian do so

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Atheism and lobbying

Atheists are lobbying in Congress. See here.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Was Kant anti-science?

Kant thought that the reality we perceive is not reality as it is in itself, but reality as it appears to us. If this is true, then what science describes is not reality as it is in itself. Is this an anti-science philosophy?

Would a Limited God be Worthy of Worship?

An interesting question, posed in Kraemer's essay entitled Darwin's Doubts and the Problem of Animal Pain.

Although I am not a limited God defender, I would be inclined to say "Why not?"

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Lewis Scholar Meilaender review Nagel's The Last Word

Here. Nagel defends an AFR, but stops short of theism.

Why Science Can't Disprove God

A reply by Father Robert Barron. HT: Bob Prokop

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Debunking the Defeasibility Test

I have added new material to this post.

In this exchange, David Marshall asks for a debate concerning the Outsider Test for Faith, and Peter Boghossian refuses to begin such dialogue in because Marshall does not give an adequate answer to the question "What would it take for you to lose your faith?"

What Boghossian is applying was defined by Matt McCormick as The Defeasibility Test. The claim here is that unless the believer is willing to indicate what kinds of considerations would cause him to lose his faith, discussion is useless and the believer should be regarded as terminally irrational. This has also been endorsed by Loftus.

Now this, to some, has a reasonable ring to it, harking back to Flew's Falsification Challenge. But I am going to argue that the way it is being employed by McCormick and Boghossian is misguided. 

First, I am convinced that there are three factors involved when people make religious decisions. The first is their evaluation of publicly available evidence, evidence that we can all examine. This would be the usual set of reasons we all talk about in the philosophy of religion: the theistic arguments, the problem of evil, the problem of hiddenness, etc. The second factor is one's personal experience. This will differ from person to person and is not available for public inspection. The third is the pragmatics of belief. Some people might be very adversely affected by becoming an atheist, or a theist, and those factors are also relevant for people to consider when they are trying to decide what to believe. 

First of all, suppose someone has indicated that they think that there are good theistic arguments, but they also think they would remain a fideistic believer if those arguments were shown to be faulty. If they are in fact bad arguments, wouldn't showing that this is so be worthwhile? Is the only goal of dialogue conversion to atheism? 

Second, if I am right, not all of the considerations that go into a reasonable person's choice as to whether or not to be a believer are open for public debate. If I, for example, had a direct experience of God, I can't cause you to have one, too. All I can do is testify to my own experience, and you may or may not believe me. 

Plantinga's Purloined Letter example is relevant here. All the public evidence may support the claim that I stole a damaging letter, but I may nevertheless know perfectly well that I didn't steal it.  

Third, not all considerations with respect to one's own beliefs with respect to God are even introspectively obvious.  If we had asked a subsequent de-convert what it would take for them to give up their faith, I am not sure they could have predicted the scenario that led them to change their mind. 

Fourth, some atheists are committed to indefeasibility. Are they terminally irrational?

It is an important conviction of mine that discussion and defense of what I believe is not primarily aimed at the conversion of my discussion partner. I know perfectly well that reasons on both sides of the issue of something like God are far more complex that what we can encompass in a single discussion. Many of my most gratifying discussions with people with opposing views have largely been taken up with the descriptive task, that is, getting and giving a clearer understanding of the relevant issues and our respective positions than we had going in. 

I remember once giving my first philosophy paper at the Pacific division of the APA. When I returned to the Pacific APA an undergraduate student came up to me and gave me a paper he had written for an undergraduate philosophy journal, which had what I would now recognize as an "internet infidel" flavor to it. I sent him several paragraphs critiquing what I took to be the naive philosophy of science that his paper embodied. I heard nothing from him for  few years, and then received an e-mail indicating that he had become a Christian, and thanking me for my courteous response. Humbling, surely, but I had no idea that this would happen, nor was I especially concerned about trying to convert him. 

I am inclined to agree with Lewis that apologetic discussion is about following the argument where it leads. It is not about judging our opponents, or persuading them. Those sorts of transformations involve  far more than intellectual assent, though assent is involved and reasons are relevant. But I am not going to be trapped in a version of "What arguments do I have to win with you to make you agree with me." Since it hasn't happened, I don't know what I would do if I saw the evidence differently. And neither do you.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A statement from my first published paper

Here is the link to it.

The theistic hypothesis has test implications for a wide variety of phenomena, and for this reason there are many other types of evidence to consider when trying to decide whether or not to be a theist. Making miracles in general, or some particularmiracle (such as the Resurrection of Christ) into an experimentum
crucis seems clearly to be unwarranted.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Could it be Satan?

A redated post.

My daughter is writing a paper on the problem of evil, and asked me what I thought of the attempt to explain natural evil as a species of moral evil. In the literature on the problem of evil, moral evil is thought to be the result of the actions of creatures do wrong. Examples of this would be Hitler’s slaughter of the Jews, the party purges of Stalin, the murders of Ted Bundy and Jack the Ripper, but also would include less dramatic evils such as the sins I have committed today. Natural evil is evil that does not result from the actions of creatures, such as earthquakes, floods, being struck by lightning, illness, old age, etc.
In the case of moral evil, a solution looks to be available. God, it seems, has an interest in free obedience, and by free I mean that obedience that is not determined or controlled by God himself. (See my discussion of Star Trek in a previous entry). But in order for God to open the way obedience that is free in this sense, God must refuse to control the outcome of our choices, but if he does that, then he risks the possibility that disobedience. I realize this involves rejecting the claim that free will and determinism are compatible. If freedom and determinism are compatible, then God could have created the World of Mr. Rogers, the world in which everyone freely does what is right.
Plantinga’s Demon Scenario
For the sake of this discussion, I will assume that the problem of moral evil is answerable in terms of human free will. This still leaves the serious problem of explaining natural evil. In Alvin Plantinga’s The Nature of Necessity, he mentions the idea that all evils are broadly moral evil, because while some evils are the result of human free choices, other evils are the result of the free choices of non-human creatures. He writes:
But another and more traditional line of thought is pursued by St. Augustine, who attributes much of the evil we find to Satan, or to Satan and his cohorts. Satan, so the traditional doctrine goes, is a mighty non-human spirit who, along with many other angels, was created long before God created man. Unlike most of his colleagues, Satan rebelled against God and since has been wreaking whatever havoc he can. The result is natural evil. So the natural evil we find is due to free actions of non-human spirits.1

Now, Plantinga points out that for Augustine, this appeal to Satanic agency is an attempt to provide a theodicy, that is, to provide a true explanation for why God permits suffering. A defense, on the other hand, is an attempt to refute some version of the argument from evil. That may involve providing the actual explanation for the existence of evils, but it may not. The argument from evil Plantinga is discussing here is often called the logical problem of evil; it involves the claim that theists, in believing both that there is a God and in also being a realist about the evils in the world, the theist is implicitly contradicting himself. All we need to refute this argument is to provide a possible scenario according to which God and the evils in this world co-exist. Plantinga therefore claims that the demon scenario meets this requirement, and therefore, he claims the logical problem of evil stands refuted.

Over the years, and largely due to the work of Plantinga, attention has shifted from the logical problem of evil to the probabilistic or evidential problem of evil. The idea is that while it is possible that God existence is compatible with the suffering and evil we find in the world, nevertheless, it can be argued that evil in the world makes God’s existence improbable, or that that evil and suffering is strong evidence against the existence of God. In response to this argument, Plantinga says:
(The demon scenario), for example, involves the idea that the evil that is not due to free agency, is due to the agency of other rational and significantly free creatures. Do we have evidence against this idea? Many people find it preposterous; but that is scarcely evidence against it. Theologians sometimes tell us that this idea is repugnant to “man come of age” or to “modern habits of thought.” I am not convinced that this is so; in any case it does not come to much as evidence. The mere fact that a belief in unpopular at present (or at some other time) is interesting, no doubt, from a sociological point of view; it is evidentially irrelevant. Perhaps, we do have evidence against this belief, but if we do, I do not know what it is.2

I recall a conversation in my office with Plantinga when I was a fellow at the Center for Philosophy of Religion at Notre Dame in which Plantinga told me that even though he presented the scenario as a possible scenario, he considered demonic influence to be the real explanation of many of the evils in the world. Certainly this explanation has biblical support, as is evident from reading Job or the Gospels. It also has the support of an obscure popular British theologian from the middle of the past century, a guy by the name of..uh..uh..Lewis. (See the Animal Pain chapter of The Problem of Pain).

Atheist philosopher Keith M. Parsons, in his book God and the Burden of Proof, however, offers two criticisms of the demon scenario as a defense against the problem of evil. He writes:

But how is this even possible? What would it be like to bring about natural evils? Natural evils are caused, so far as we can tell, by the same fundamental laws of nature that explain all other natural phenomena. Earthquakes are caused by the same tectonic processes that produce majestic mountain ranges; pathogens and parasites evolved according to the same kittens and butterflies, weather systems that bring balmy breezes to one region bring tornadoes to another. The causes of natural evil are thus so intimately involved with (and often identical to) the causes of all other natural phenomena that to cause natural evil, it would seem necessary to cause nature.
But in that case, what becomes of the doctrine of God as creator? At best we would seem to have a kind of dualism reminiscent of Manichaeism—a heretical movements in the late Roman Empire that viewed the cosmos as the creation of eternally opposed good and evil principles. If the demon scenario is thus inconsistent with the doctrine of God as creator, it cannot be of any use to Plantinga, not even as a bare possibility.3

He goes on to say:

A further difficulty with Plantinga’s argument is his assumption that free will could have the sort of absolute value he thinks it might have. As we saw earlier, ordinary moral judgments do not grant such a value to the possession or employment of free will. For instance, if I knew that a terrorist, of his own free will, planed to plant a bomb on an airliner, I would feel obliged to do everything in my power to inhibit him from exercising his free will in that way. How then is it possible that God could be justified in allowing Satan to run amok? How is it consistent with the goodness of God not to have placed greater restrictions on Satan’s freedom?4

So I’m going to put the question to my commentators, having presented both sides of the argument. Are at least some natural evils due to the influence of Satan and his minions? Or not?

1 Alvin Plantinga, The Nature of Necessity (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974) p. 192. He references “The Problem of Free Choice”’ in Ancient Christian Writers, vol. 22 (New York: Paulist/ Newman Press), pp. 71ff.; and Confessions and Enchiridion tr. and ed., by Albert C. Outler (Philadelphia: Westminister Press), pp. 341-6.
2 Plantinga, p. 195.
3 Keith Parsons, God and the Burden of Proof (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1989) pp. 123-124.
4. Parsons, p. 124.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Brain Wars

Here is the Amazon entry for Beauregard's new book.

The brain can be weighed, measured, scanned, dissected, and studied. The mind that we conceive to be generated by the brain, however, remains a mystery. It has no mass, no volume, and no shape, and it cannot be measured in space and time. Yet it is as real as neurons, neurotransmitters, and synaptic junctions. It is also very powerful.

—from Brain Wars

Is the brain "a computer made of meat," and human consciousness a simple product of electrical impulses? The idea that matter is all that exists has dominated science since the late nineteenth century and led to the long-standing scientific and popular understanding of the brain as simply a collection of neurons and neural activity. But for acclaimed neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, Ph.D., along with a rising number of colleagues and others, this materialist-based view clashes with what we feel and experience every day.

In Brain Wars, Dr. Beauregard delivers a paradigm-shifting examination of the role of the brain and mind. Filled with engaging, surprising, and cutting-edge scientific accounts, this eye-opening book makes the increasingly indisputable case that our immaterial minds influence what happens in our brains, our bodies, and even beyond our bodies. Examining the hard science behind "unexplained" phenomena such as the placebo effect, self-healing, brain control, meditation, hypnosis, and near-death and mystical experiences, Dr. Beauregard reveals the mind's capabilities and explores new answers to age-old mind-body questions.

Radically shifting our comprehension of the role of consciousness in the universe, Brain Wars forces us to consider the immense untapped power of the mind and explore the profound social, moral, and spiritual implications that this new understanding holds for our future.

The Brain Fallacy

A redated post.

I've been revising a paper of mine that I did in England in response to Carrier, and I have added this section, on what I call the brain fallacy:

But more than that, here again we find Carrier explaining one kind of mental activity in terms of another mental activity and then explaining it “naturalistically” by saying “the brain” does it. My argument is, first and foremost, that something exists whose activities are to be fundamentally explained in intentional and teleological terms. In order for talk about the brain to play its proper role in a physicalistic (non-intentional and non-teleological in the final analysis) analysis of mental events, we have to be sure that we are describing a brain that is mechanistic and part of a causally closed physical world. What I wrote in response to Keith Parsons, who had said that we could take what in Philosophia Christi applies here as well: (Parsons had argued that we could simply take all the characteristics that I wanted to attribute to the non-physical mind and attribute them to the brain).
But we should be careful of exactly what is meant by the term “brain.” The “brain” is supposed to be “physical,” and we also have to be careful about what we mean by “physical.” If by physical we mean that it occupies space, then there is nothing in my argument that suggests that I need to deny this possibility. I would just prefer to cal the part of the brain that does not function mechanistically the soul, since, as I understand it, there is more packed into the notion of the physical than just the occupation of space. If on the other hand, for something to be physical (hence part of the brain) it has to function mechanistically, that is, intentional an teleological considerations cannot be basic explanations for the activity of the brain, then Parsons’ suggestion (and Carrier’s as well-VR) is incoherent.
I think that a many people fail to see the difficulties posed by the arguments from reason because they think they can just engage in some brain-talk (well, the brain does this, the brain does that, etc.) and call that good. I call that the brain fallacy. The question should always be, “If we view the brain as a mechanistic system in the full sense, does it make sense to attribute this characteristic to the brain?” Using brain-talk doesn’t mean that the work of physicalistic analysis has really been done.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Coyne attacks Nagel

Here is a discussion of Jerry Coyne's reply to Nagel. He considers it outrageous that an atheist would admit any legitimacy whatsover to Intelligent Design.

Nagel's review of Plantinga's newest book


The path to total skepticism

The path to total skepticism might go like this. We should believe only what we can prove to be true. However, proofs have premises, and we can demand proof for those premises. The premises of the proof of the proof will need proof, as well as the premises of the proof of the proof of the proof, not to mention the premises of the proof of the proof of the proof of the proof. This can go on forever, and therefore we can never reach a point where we can rest in our knowledge. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

C. S. Lewis's Vision of Heaven: Positively Desirable?

A redated post. There is a comment on here from Leah Libresco, back when she was an atheist.

One weakness that Christians have in the modern times, I believe, is providing a vision of heaven that really motivates people. I have often heard it said that the vision of heaven is boring. It must be admitted that Christians have often associated heaven with what seem to many of us to be boring images: harps, clouds, and effeminate figures with wings. At least Islam offers the Celestial Playboy Mansion.

As Kenny Chesney puts it:

Everybody wanna go to heaven
It beats the other place there ain’t no doubt
Everybody wanna go to heaven
But nobody wanna go now

Heaven for many of us is negatively desirable; it is an alternative to eternal punishment and extinction, which seem to be the options. I think Lewis is the one thinker that has done the best job of giving us a picture of heaven that is positively desirable. This is an essay by Charlie Starr, published in the New York C. S. Lewis Society bulletin, which discusses Lewis's views of heaven.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

On Kant's Moral Argument

A redated post.

Kant doesn't say that in order to be moral, you have to be religious. He is someone who thinks that other sorts of rational arguments about God don't decide the question either way (first cause arguments, arguments from evil, etc.) So, on his view, we are left with a choice of believing the world to contain a God, of believing in free will or not , and in believing that humans survive death.
On earth as we know it, virtue and happiness are not proportional. Virtuous people are sometimes miserable, nasty people are sometimes happy. (Think of all the murder cases which are never solved.)
Religious world-views presume the existence of a universe in which there is a future life in which happiness is apportioned according to virtue. Whether it is through a last judgment, or through a law of karma that puts you back on this earth either in good shape or in bad shape depending on your deeds, good prevails and evil fails, eventually.
Or you can accept a naturalistic world-view in which there is no mechanism for balancing the cosmic scales of justice. If wrong triumphs in the course of a lifetime, which is certainly seems to, then the story ends, people die, and feed the worms with no recompense for injustice. Hitler and Mother Teresa are in the same condition. They are dead.
The Kantian argument here strikes me as a distant cousin to Pascal's Wager. In Pascal's wager, you are looking at your own prospects, and "betting" on the world-view that pays off better. (Pascal, like Kant, was addressing the undecided. If your belief system is like that of Richard Dawkins, making yourself believe for either Pascalian or Kantian reasons is not an issue). The difference between the Kantian wager and the Pascalian is that you are "betting" on the world-view that will give you the most moral encouragement. You are not just betting on your own self-interest,, as you are in Pascal's Wager. Kant doesn't assume that you can't be moral without God. Pure practical reason tells you what is right and wrong, according to Kant. However, Kant maintains that you since can't settle the question of God any other way, you ought to choose based on the moral encouragement provided by each world-view.

Sometimes being moral is hard. In fact, all actions with moral worth are, according to Kant, done from duty as opposed to being done in accordance with duty, which means that when you do those actions, your inclinations or emotions are pulling you the other way. In other words, perfoming actions of moral worth, like breaking up, is hard to do. Is it more conducive to making the hard moral decisions we have to make to believe that there is no cosmic justice, or to believe that there is cosmic justice. Kant thinks the choice is a no-brainer, practical reason enjoins us to view the world as cosmically just, and therefore to accept the doctrines of God, freedom, and immortality.