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?"