Thursday, January 31, 2013

We call it "going bad" in Narnia

Papalinton: However, the arguments providing epistemic support for atheism is growing as we speak. What remains in the wash, following the exponentially burgeoning level and array of research and investigative discoveries into the nature of reality through the sciences, history, archeology, the humanities etc that demonstrate the god-concept superfluous to explanation, is an attitude; an attitude of denial of evidence, an attitude of disbelief despite the mounting proofs, and the verification and corroboration of those proofs. It is an attitude that defies logic, reason and rational thought. The god-concept is an illusion. Belief in a god is delusion.

Victor, you chose the Confederacy. The Confederacy lost. The Confederacy today is an illusion, despite the flags, meets, celebrations and swapping badges.

VR: Is that your argument, Papalinton? We are winning?

That is not an argument. If the Nazis had won WWII, would the Holocaust have been morally justified?

"But that would be putting the clock back," gasped the governor. "Have you no idea of progress, of development?"

"I have seen them both in an egg," said Caspian. "We call it 'Going Bad' in Narnia...."

C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Interestingly enough, Lydia McGrew makes use of the same Narnia passage in the discussion of a different topic.

Whether the intellectual trends of a culture consistitue real intellectual progress, or not, is precisely what is at issue.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

All arguments can be outweighed

Prokop: Ultimately, I think that the arguments from design and from fine tuning are both only "convincing" to the convinced. They both convince me, but I am a believer without either of them.

VR: When you make statements like that, you have to be careful. Atheists, particularly of the New variety, are likely to say that theists don't follow evidence, rather, they are originally convinced of what they need to believe and find "evidence" that isn't really evidence to support a conclusion they are committed to emotionally. Atheists, on the other hand, look for REAL evidence which, of course, is not forthcoming.  You don't want to come anywhere near admitting that. It's like mentioning "faith" when talking to a Gnu. They will automatically assume you just put both of your hands in the air and surrendered.

Because we can't consider every piece of evidence at any one time, all arguments can be outweighed by other considerations. Not everyone is at the tipping point with respect to their beliefs on the God question, and so an argument might provide epistemic support for theism or atheism while at the same time fail to bring about an actual conversion.

I happen to think, for example, that the argument from evil, if properly defined and isolated, provides some epistemic support for atheism. What I have never understood is why this argument somehow transcends all other considerations in considering the question of God.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The fine-tuning argument

This is presented here. Interesting quote:

Analogically, the fact of the fine-tuned universe means the universe is life-allowing rather than life-prohibiting. This is very imporbable on atheism. This is not improbable on theism.

The main atheist objection to this is: multiverse theory. “If there is only one universe,” British cosmologist Bernard Carr says, “you might have to have a fine-tuner. If you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse.” (Discover, December 2008)

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Flew question once again

Was Flew simply manipulated into changing his mind?

According to this piece, no.

A Jewish Scholar argues against the claim that Jesus claimed to be God


Why arguments about who is a real Christian bore me

Jeff Lowder accused Mark Driscoll of "mind-reading" when he said that Obama is not a Christian, and Steve Hays replied that we have good reason to deny that he is a Christian given his some of his social views and his sympathy with black liberation theology.

A little biblical exegesis might put this in perspective.

Trouble here is that the word "Christian" appears in the Bible as something that the followers of Christ were called by others. It appears, as best I can recall, twice in the whole Bible. It was actually a dirty name, associated with persecution. Acts 11:46 says "and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." I Peter 4:16 says "However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name."

In other words he's telling the followers of Christ to praise God for bearing a name given to them by persecutors. Later Christians accepted the name. That's one of the reasons why I find endless discussions about who is, and is not a "real" Christian rather boring. I am inclined to think that acceptance of certain central doctrinal tenets of Christianity are more important that social/political issues, because these involve not merely what is right or wrong, but also what the state should do about it. And since the New Testament was written during a time when Christians had no political power, all it says about the state is to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's.

Now, if you're a Catholic, you have a Church mechanism for determining who is a Catholic, and if you part of a church that has a doctrinal confession, you can decide that some people don't belong in  your church because they publicly deny central elements of your doctrinal confession. Catholics do say they are the one true church, but they don't deny that those outside aren't Christians, while other churches don't even make the claim that they are the one true church.

On the other hand, Richard Dawkins says that Obama is probably really an atheist, since he is such a sensible person. But I think Jeff would have to accuse him of mind-reading as well. (Interesting point of agreement between Driscoll/Hays and Richard Dawkins).

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Wreck of the Old Humanist Culture

Is humanism a train wreck? According to this sociologist, it is.

While I'm at it, my favorite train wreck song, "Wreck of the Old 97, by Hank Snow.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Nagel on ID and Public Education


I really think the ID message is getting skewed, partly, by the debate about public education. Still, the attempt to suppress discussion of questions concerning Darwin's theory strikes me as troubling.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Does size matter? An argument for atheism

A redated post.

John Loftus takes this argument from Nicholas Everitt. Lewis always included responses to the argument that the size of the universe gives us a good reason to reject Christianity. In the first place, he maintained that, contrary to popular legend, we have known since Ptolemy that the universe is pretty big. Second, if the universe were smaller, wouldn't atheists complain that God should have made a bigger one?

Is C. S. Lewis out of date?

An argument to that effect was discussed here. To make that case, you'd have to commit the fallacy of chronological snobbery.

HT: Bob Prokop.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Ridicule, Representation, and the Courtier's Reply: Why Loftus' position is unstable

This is in reply to the Lowder-Loftus exchange. The thread I was responding to is here.

I think you have an unstable position. If people are anything like me, when they hear ridicule, they instantly look for straw men. The more you use ridicule, the more likely your readers, especially those who have been around a little, are going to assume that you are misrepresenting your opponents in order to get ridicule off the ground. If I were to sit here are ridicule evolution, people at this site would immediately start looking for ways in which I don't understand Darwinian biology. So you have to be ready for that. The easy way out of that problem is to use the Courtier's Reply, essentially saying that "Your position is so ridiculous that I don't even have to bother to do my homework and understand it to see how ridiculous it is." Now, you have indicated dissatisfaction with the Courtier's reply, but with the Courtier's reply, you don't have to worry about how accurately you represent your opponent. I suppose it's possible to ridicule something while making a careful effort at representing it correctly, but I have seen only one person come close to doing that, and even he wasn't completely successful. Normally, this isn't done, and so the person whose position is being ridiculed is going to suspect a straw man, and ninety nine times out of a hundred he will be right. I suppose ridicule might persuade a "low information believer," (the equivalent of a low information voter), and I suppose if  you thought the end (of faith) justifies the means, it might be a worthwhile tool. But it strikes me as a dishonest one. As Russell once said in another context, it has all the advantages of theft over honest toil.

But the context here is not exactly the use of ridicule, but the effort to criticize arguments that support a conclusion one believes in strongly. What you seem to be doing in response to Lowder is criticizing him not because his critiques of your argument aren't good, but because he, as an atheist, should be loyal to the cause and not criticize arguments that support your cherished conclusion, atheism. It's like saying to a Christian who has troubling questions "Are you saved? Do you know Jesus? If you were truly born again, you wouldn't be questioning like this." If I hadn't run into Christians who did NOT respond this way to my questions, I might will have ended up believing what you do now.

Fellow Christian philosophers have criticized William Lane Craig's theistic arguments. Suppose you were to find out the Craig had responded to them by saying "Look, you agree with me that Christianity is true, and people need Jesus. My arguments help people see this. You are taking away from the progress of the Gospel when you criticize my arguments, so you shouldn't be doing that." Wouldn't you consider that to be proof positive that Craig was not an honest scholar?

I don't advocate civility in argumentation because it's nice. That's a point that a lot of people miss. I advocate it because incivility is typically correlated with the misrepresentation of opposing views. The correlation isn't perfect, but from what I have seem it's pretty good. So, the more you ridicule my position, the more my straw man detectors will be out in full force.

Relying on ridicule leads logically to embracing the Courtier's Reply. That's why I call your position unstable. 

Did Nietzsche say "God is dead?"

Well, not in his own words. Austin Cline explains the passage here. Nietzsche put the famous words in the mouth of a madman.

So apparently, this madman can't be talking about the literal God believed in by so many theists. Instead, he's talking about what this god represented for European culture, the shared cultural belief in God which had once been its defining and uniting characteristic.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Download a chapter of The Magician's Twin free


A Rational Fideism?

This is the entry on fideism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It mentions the possibility of a rational fideism.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Whose side are you on, Jeff?

Jeff Lowder has been criticizing Loftus on some of his arguments. Since both are atheists, John asks why Jeff is doing this:

This ends our exchange so far. I've written a lot about these subjects so consult them for more. What I want to know is why Lowder is playing the devil's advocate. He either thinks religion harms people or he doesn't. He either thinks faith based processes are unreliable or he doesn't. I can only suppose he doesn't think so, or at least, not to the degree I do.

So I respectfully challenge Lowder to tell us if he thinks religion harms people, and if so, how much he's alarmed by it. I also challenge Lowder to tell us whether faith based processes are unreliable, and if so, how unreliable they are.

The fact that John asks this question is telling. Does religion harm people? Does atheism harm people? I happen to think there are people alive today who would take their own lives forthwith if the could no longer believe in God. The idea that everyone would become a cheerful humanist if they were pried loose from their religious beliefs is, to my mind, a delusion. Now, if someone declares atheism to be true as the result of an honest and fair pursuit of the truth, then if someone takes their own life because of it, I can't fault them morally. If they commit suicide because of a successful propaganda campaign on behalf of atheism, not so much.   Again, Loftus relies on catchphrases like "faith based processes," which are inherently ambiguous. Clarity is not one of his strong points.   Even when we can win more converts by violating it (at least in the short run), maintaining the honesty of the process of thinking about religion is absolutely vital. It is called following the argument where it leads. Anscombe criticized Lewis's argument, Aquinas rejected Anselm's argument, and Plantinga criticizes various theistic arguments. When I read some atheists, I think "These people wouldn't recognize evidence for God if it bit them."   I will never forget the time when Jeff first asked me to put the first argument from reason paper on the Secular Web, and also asked for my paper on miracles.   Jeff has responded to John, here.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Bob Prokop on what skeptics are looking for

This deserves its own post. 

BP: Usually what skeptics are asking for is "signs and wonders". Some, like Loftus, have quite specifically demanded to see stars arrange themselves to spell out Bible verses, or some such nonsense like that.

It's quite amusing, actually. They are perfectly willing to accept all sorts of stuff "from authority", such as the Big Bang, or Dark Matter, or the existence of subatomic particles, or even (especially!) historical events like the execution of Socrates or the Battle of Salamis, for which we have but single sources of information... but when it comes to the New Testament, nothing short of they themselves being eyewitnesses will satisfy them.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Should God have to make everything clear?

One theme of atheists is that if God were to exist, he would make everything clear, and there would not be a multiplicity of religions. Why think a God, if God existed, would make everything clear. If everything were clear, we would have no real choices. There would be one choice, and all other choices would be punished, and everyone would know what that punishment was and do the right thing for selfish motives.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Ross's Immaterial Aspects of Thought

A redated post.

See also this by Russell Howell on why we wouldn't be mathematicians in a naturalistic universe.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Gordon Clark's elimination of the problem of evil

Gordon Clark wrote:

Man is responsible because God calls him to account; man is responsible because the supreme power can punish him for disobedience. God, on the contrary, cannot be responsible for the plain reason that there is no power superior to him; no greater being can hold him accountable; no one can punish him; there is no one to whom God is responsible; there are no laws which he could disobey.

The sinner therefore, and not God, is responsible; the sinner alone is the author of sin. Man has no free will, for salvation is purely of grace; and God is sovereign.

That does it. God is good because he has all the power. We are told not to kill people because the most powerful being in the universe told us not to. But God didn't command himself to prevent killing and suffering, so he has no such obligation.

Gosh, I wish it were that easy.

Loftus answers Torley


Does Newton refute the First way?

Feser, to no one's surprise, says no.