Sunday, February 26, 2012

Blatant ad hominem?

Papalinton seems to be arguing as follows:

1. C. S. Lewis defended the view that there is a God, and that Christianity is true.
2. But C. S. Lewis was a fantasy fiction writer.
Therefore, his arguments in defense of belief in God and Christianity cannot be taken seriously.

Now, if this isn't what he's arguing, I've seen plenty of people say the same thing.

Can anyone explain to me why this is not a blatant example of the ad hominem fallacy? Why would a fantasy fiction writer be less likely to defend true propositions in the area of religion, as opposed to a writer of detective fiction, or a or realistic novels, or science fiction, or what have you, or even than people who don't write fiction?

If this were just Papalinton, I probably wouldn't devote a post to it. But I've seen it from a quite a few people.

It's a matter of opinion

I do think that either there is a hell or there isn't. The term "matter of opinion" is inherently ambiguous, since the phrase is used for things that are neither true nor false (McDonald's burgers are better than Burger King's) and about which evidence is irrelevant, and about things where it is either true or false, where evidence is relevant, and but where there is no overwhelming evidence either way. The question of whether or not there is a God, or a hell, is, in my view, a matter of opinion in the latter sense.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Charity, Hope, and the Argument from Desire

A redated post. 

Book 3 Ch. 9 Mere Christianity
Charity-One of the theological virtues, faith, hope, and love
The seven cardinal virtues are wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice, to which the three theological virtues of faith, hope and love are added.
Today thought of as what used to be called “alms,” giving to the poor.
Earlier would have been regarded as having a wider meaning
Charity means love in the Christian sense
Love in the Christians sense does not mean an emotion
When we love ourselves it does not mean that we like ourselves
If we like other people it is easier to love them
While you should encourage affectionate feeling toward others, it is a mistake to try to manufacture feelings.
Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor, act as if you did.
If you treat someone kindly you will find it easier to like him more, unless you’re doing it to show what a good chap you are.
If you treat people well you will like more and more of them as you go along.
If you treat people badly you will end up hating people more. The Germans mistreated the Jews because they hated them, and then hated them because they mistreated them.
The little decisions we make are of great importance. Good acts we perform result in greater charity, bad acts, giving into wrongful desires, result in accumulating harm.
Our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not.

Book 3 ch. 10
Thinking about the next world is not a kind of escapism or wishful thinking, but is what a Christian is meant to do.
Your thoughts about the next world are not supposed to make you want to leave this world as it is.
(Lewis is here contradicting the standard Marxist analysis of religion. The Marxist idea was that the oppressors try to persuade the oppressed that there will be a better life in the next world so they won’t be so rebellious in this one.)
If you read history you will find that those who did the most for the present world were those who thought most about the next world.
The Apostles, the men who built the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the slave trade, left their mark on earth because their minds were occupied with heaven.
The Church has been ineffective in our time largely because we have ceased to think of the other world
Aim at heaven and you will get earth “thrown in: aim at earth and you will get neither.
Most of us find it hard to want heaven at all, except for wanting to meet loved ones who have passed away.
The real desire for heaven that we have we ourselves do not recognize.
Most people who look into their own hearts, would know that what we do want, and want acutely, cannot be found in this world.
There are all sorts of things in the world that offer to give it to you, but never quite keep their promise.

“The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy. I am not now speaking of what would be ordinarily called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or learned careers. I am speaking of the best possible ones. There was something we grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality. I think everyone knows what I mean. The wife may be a good wife, and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent, and chemistry may have been a very interesting job, but something has evaded us.”

The U2 song “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” illustrates Lewis’s point perfectly (remember that Bono is a Lewis fan).

I have climbed highest mountain
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you

I have run
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in her fingertips
It burned like fire
This burning desire

I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

I believe in the kingdom come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one
Well yes I'm still running

You broke the bonds and you
Loosed the chains
Carried the cross
Of my shame
Of my shame
You know I believed it

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for...

There are three ways of dealing with this kind of desire.

1) The Fool’s Way. Keeps looking for something in this life that will offer ultimate satisfaction. More money, a new woman (or man), a more expensive holiday will do it. Bored discontented people do this. They go through the divorce courts time after time to find the perfect partner who will satisfy them fully.
2) The disillusioned sensible man. Realizes that whatever it is we are longing for can’t he had, and learns not to give in to “wishful thinking.” This makes him less of a nuisance to society, but is does make him a prig, but nevertheless he “rubs along quite comfortably.” This is the best approach to take if there really were no eternal life. But what if infinite happiness were really offered to us, but our “sensible” attitude had stifled our ability to enjoy it.
3) The Christian way. “Creatures are not born with desires unless the satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire, well, there is such a thing as sex. I want to fly like a bird, well, there are such things as airplanes. Scratch that last one, Lewis doesn’t mention it. But, he says, if I have within myself a natural desire that cannot be satisfied in this world, so its satisfaction must be in store for me in the next world.

Why should we think that a natural desire within us would not exist unless it was satisfiable? Well, let us suppose that God and evolution are the main two explanations for why we have the desires that we have. We can understand easily why we have those desires if God has outfitted us with the desires that we have. These desires are God’s “calling card” whereby He draws us to Himself. But suppose evolution were the explanation, as it would have to be on naturalistic assumptions. It is possible, of course, that these desires should evolve, but should we expect this? Should we not expect that desires that don’t directly promote survival would be shoved out of the way by desires for food, clothing, and shelter, power, and strength, which do us so much more good from an immediate survival standpoint. If we didn’t know better, we should expect this meme to become extinct. On the face of things, we have something that obviously provides Bayesian confirmation for theism. We have something that is very likely on the theistic hypothesis, and perhaps compatible with atheism, but not very likely given atheism.

See also this old post on the argument from desire.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Dabbling in Dirt

Having said that he was a Atheist, I hasten to add that he was a "Rationalist" of the old, high and dry nineteenth-century type. For Atheism has come down in since those days, and mixed itself with politics and learned to dabble in dirt. The anonymous donor who now sends me anti-God magazines hopes, no doubt, to hurt the Christian in me; he really hurts the ex-Atheist. I am ashamed that my old mates and (which matters much more) Kirk's old mates would have sunk to what they are now. It was different then; even McCabe wrote like a man. At the time when I know him, the fuel of Kirk's atheism was chiefly of the anthropological and pessimistic kind. He was great on The Golden Bough and Schopenhauer.

-C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Original Intentionality and Indexicals

Does the role of indexicals in language tell us something about how we understand consciousness and intentionality?

There seems to be something which, unless there is life after death, ceases to exist. Yet, on a materialist view, everything is matter, and matter is not created nor destroyed. What is it that ceases to exist?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Is the question of God relative

 I would have thought that if two people hold opposing beliefs about the existence of God, that either God exists (in which case the person who believes in God has it right), or God does not exist (in which the person who says that God does not exist is correct). The question of God doesn't look relative at all. It may be difficult, but just because something is difficult to decide doesn't make it relative. Saying "What you believe is not true" is not a judgment about the person who holds the belief, it is a judgment about which belief is true. 

Relativism and moral noncontroversies

When we ask whether morals are relative, we often look at very difficult issues like abortion and say that there is a good deal to be said on both sides of the issue, and that it is hard to say what is really right or wrong. (Unless you are talking to a dyed in the wool pro-lifer. Then abortion is wrong because it's murder, and everyone who thinks otherwise is just wicked).  What is actually problematic for relativists are not the highly controversial issues that we argue about all day long, but rather the issues that look to us as if they are pretty cut and dried. For example, if relativism is true, then it is only relatively wrong to invite someone over for dinner, shove them in the oven, and cook them as dinner. If a society approved of pedophilia, or slavery, or something like that, then it is a mistake to condemn that society as having accepted a bad moral principle, however one may personally dislike that rule oneself. 

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Are indexicals a threat to materialism

Bill Vallicella thinks they are, and I am inclined to agree.

The Giants did it again

Was it Brady's shoulder?

Friday, February 03, 2012

Is Reasonable Faith an Oxymoron?

 Faith does seem to involve believing in spite of something. Atheists jump on this and say that what believers are talking about is believing in spite of having no good reason to believe it, and good reason to not believe it. 

However, we can, for example, trust that a spouse is going to be faithful even though the spouse is out of our sight. In fact, the Apostle Paul contrasts faith with sight, not reason. Unless seeing is the only way we can have a good reason to believe something, it does seem to me that we cannot say that reasonable faith is an oxymoron by definition. 

Russell's Teapot

Russell's  teapot, along with the Flying Spaghetti Monster, is supposed to be very improbable in the absence of strong evidence that it does exist, and since we should consider the existence of a floating teapot to be highly improbable initially, we should reason in the same way for God. 

We do know that matter doesn't ordinarily arrange itself into the shape of a teapot unless there are persons around who want to heat and pour tea. How this is supposed to bear on the probability of something existing which , ex hypothesi, is not derived from natural processes, is something I don't understand. 

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

What is an argument?

What is an argument? Actually there is a little bit of an ambiguity in the use of that word, because it can mean 1) and unpleasant dispute, or 2) a set of statements designed to give someone a reason for believing something. This famous Monty Python comedy sketch exploits this ambiguity brilliantly. Michael Palin is expecting an argument in the second sense, but John Cleese just keeps contradicting him, assuming that that is what an argument is.  But when we talk about argument in philosophy, what we have in mind is an attempt to show that something is true. Logic is, to a large extent, the attempt to analyze arguments, to determine how strong they are, and if they commit any fallacies, that is, faulty reasoning patterns.