Sunday, June 30, 2013

Some AFR stuff I'm working on

The argument from reason is a name applied to an argument, or a group of arguments, which attempt to make a case against a naturalistic philosophy by pointing out that such a philosophy undercuts the claim to hold rational beliefs. The argument is best-known in the writings of C. S. Lewis, but is considerably older. Some have actually found this line of argumentation as far back as Plato, and a version of it is found in Kant.
What these arguments invariably target are doctrines known as naturalism, materialism, or physicalism. All of these concepts are notoriously difficult to define. What seems to be common to all of them is the idea that at the basis of reality are elements which are entirely non-mental in nature. We can begin thinking about this by contrasting two different types of explanation. One type of explanation is what might be provided by how we might explain the movement of rocks down a mountain in an avalanche. If I am standing down at the bottom of the mountain, we can expect the rocks to move where they do without regard to whether my head is in their path or not. They will not deliberately move to hit my head, neither will they move to avoid it. They will do what the laws of physics require that they do, and if my head is in the wrong place at the wrong time, it will be hit, and otherwise it will not be hit. The process is an inherently blind one.
Consider, by contrast, how we might explain what happens when I decide to vote for a certain candidate for President. I weigh the options, and choose the candidate who is most likely to do what I want to see done in the country for the next four years. The action of voting for Obama or Romney is one filled with intention and purpose. I know what the choice is about, I have a goal in mind when voting, and I perform the act of voting with the intent to achieve a certain result.
If we look at the world from a naturalistic perspective, we are always looking to find non-mental explanation even behind the mental explanations that we offer. Take, for example, Einstein developing his theory of relativity. If a naturalistic view of the world is correct, then we can, and must explain the development of Einstein’s theory in mental terms, in terms of certain mathematical relationships obtaining, and so forth. But, Einstein’s brain is, according to the naturalist, entirely the result of a purely non-intention process of random variation and natural selection. The appearance of intention and design is explained by an underlying blind process that not only produced Einstein’s brain, but also, the processes in his brain are the result of particles in his brain operating as blindly as the rocks falling down the avalanche and either hitting or not hitting my head at the bottom of the mountain.
Contrast this with a theistic view.  On such a view, there may be particles the follow the laws of physics, but those laws are in place because they were built into creation by God. Presumably, if God had wanted there to be other laws of physics, he could have made a world with laws of physics very different than the ones that we see. So, on the theistic view we see the opposite of naturalism. Even what seems on one level to be completely explained in terms of the non-mental has a mental explanation.
The argument from reason tries to show that if the world were as the naturalist, or materialist, or physicalist, says that it is, then no one can be rational in believing that it is so. Rational beliefs must, according to the argument, must have rational causes, but naturalism holds that, in the final analysis, all causes are non-rational causes. But if this is so, then human beings really don’t reason, and if they don’t reason, they don’t do science either. So, the very naturalistic world-view which is supposed to be based on science, is actually the very view that render science impossible.
In the original 1947 edition of his book Miracles: A Preliminary Study, Lewis presented a version of the argument from reason which can be formalized as follows.
1)      If naturalism is true, then all thoughts including the thought “naturalism is true,” can be fully explained as the result of irrational causes.
2)      If all thoughts that are the result of irrational causes, then all thoughts are invalid, and science is impossible.
3)      If all thoughts are invalid, and science is impossible, then no one is justified in believing that naturalism is true.
4)      Therefore naturalism should be rejected.

In 1948, the Roman Catholic philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe argued that against Lewis’s argument in a paper at the Oxford Socratic Club. She argued, first that one has to distinguish between irrational causes on the one hand, and non-rational causes on the other. Irrational causes for a belief would be such things as wishful thinking or mental illness, or unreasonable fears. Irrational causes always interfere with the possibility of believing  rationally. Non-rational causes would by physical events which, while not rational, don’t necessarily make rationality impossible. While naturalists hold that all thoughts are the result of nonrational causes, they need not hold that they are the result of irrational cases.

Second, she argued that when we say that something or other makes a thought invalid, we are presuming a contrast between valid and invalid thoughts. Hence, the very existence of the distinction entails that some thoughts are valid and others are not, and so it cannot be the conclusion of an argument that no thoughts are valid.

Third, she argued that there is an ambiguity in the terms “why,” “because” and “explanation” conceal the possibilities that a naturalistic explanation and a rational explanation might not actually turn out to be compatible. Thus, when we are asking “why” in the context of identifying a cause for a certain event, we are asking a radically different question from when we are asking “why” when we are asking why someone believes something. Thus, we could simultaneously give “because such and such brain event caused it,” and “because there is good evidence to think it true” as explanations without contradicting ourselves.

Now, in response to these arguments by Anscombe, some responses can be made on Lewis’s behalf. First, with respect to Anscombe’s first argument, Lewis had already drawn the distinction between nonrational and irrational causes, when he distinguished between two types of irrational causes. He wrote:
“Now the emotion, thus considered by itself, cannot be in agreement or disagreement with Reason. It is irrational not as a paralogism is irrational, but as a physical event is irrational: it does not rise even to the dignity of error.”
                With both nonrational causes, in Anscombe’s sense, and irrational causes, reason is absent from the causal process. Yet, in paradigmatic cases reasoning that a naturalist cannot deny ever occur, such as the reasoning process that led Darwin to explain the variation in beak sizes on the Galapagos islands in terms of natural selection, reasoning is definitely present. Naturalistic thinkers frequently insist that people require evidence for their beliefs as opposed to believing on blind faith, but this implies that reasons can and do play a critical role in the production of many beliefs. If this were not so, there would be no science.
                Second, while  it might be unsound to argue that there no thoughts are valid, the conclusion of Lewis’s argument is the conditional statement, “If naturalism is true, then no thoughts are valid.” So, even though Anscombe’s  paradigm case argument might show that there must be a contrast between rational and irrational thoughts, Lewis can affirm that there is indeed such a contrast, but existence of such a contrast can exist only if naturalism is false.  
                Third, although causal relationships are different from evidential relationships, when we think about being persuaded to believe something, we are inclined to suppose that somehow the fact that an evidential relationship obtains is causally relevant to the actual occurrence of belief as a psychological event. Anscombe actually says “It appears to me that if a man has reasons, and they are good reasons, and they genuinely are his reasons, for thinking something, then his thought is rational, whatever causal statements may be said about him.” (Anscombe, 1981, p.299.) But it seems to me that part of what it is for something to be someone’s reasons for believing something has to do with the role those reasons play not only in producing, but also sustaining that belief. If someone gives a reason for believing something, but it turns out that the presence or absence of that reason would have absolutely nothing to do with whether or not a person continued to believe what he does, then it is questionable whether these reasons are operative at all.

                If you were to meet a person, call him Steve, who could argue with great cogency for every position he held, you might be inclined to consider him a very rational person. But if you were to discover that he rolled dice to fix permanently all his beliefs, you might on that account be inclined to withdraw from him the honorific title “rational.” We sometimes consider persons who continue to hold the positions they hold regardless of the evidence against such positions impervious to reason. But if naturalism true, it might be argued that everyone is impervious to reason, because, in the final analysis, because the existence of reasons is irrelevant to how beliefs are produced and sustained. In the last analysis, all beliefs are caused, not by mental, but rather by physical, and therefore nonmental causes. 

Wieseltier on Dennett


HT: Steve Hays

Kenny on McGrath on Lewis

I like this quite a lot, and I didn't know about it, so thanks, Crude.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Defining ID

This is a definition of intelligent design by Jay Richards of Discovery Institute.

ID proponents argue, on the basis of public evidence, drawn from natural science, that nature, or certain aspects of nature, are best explained by intelligent agency. Most ID proponents are critics of neo-Darwinism as an adequate explanation for the adaptive complexity of life, and of the materialistic theories of the origin of life and biological information. Since ID is minimal, it is logically consistent with a variety of creationist and evolutionist views, but is identical to none.

I wonder if some people (Feser perhaps) conflate intelligent design with certain ways of arguing for it.

Sunday, June 23, 2013



I'm always glad to see people of different stripes developing this. Also, Hasker's contributions to the argument are extremely important. Bill and I were fellows together at the Center for Philosophy of Religion at Notre Dame in 1989-1990.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What "The Fundamentals" Actually Said about Evolution


The fundamentalism of "The Fundamentals" is not what you saw at the Scopes trial.

Did Jesus pass Saturn on the way up?

This is treated here. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Some further points on ridicule in response to Loftus

John, I knew you would fall for this.
You are obviously deliberately missing my point. What I mean by ridiculous is that it can be made to appear silly from some perspective. I can, for example, ridicule the claim that if my my younger daughter stayed on earth and my older daughter went up in a spaceship that approached the speed of light, and came back after 50 years, that my younger daughter would be and look 78, while my older daughter would in fact be 80 but would not have aged at all. Now, that's absurd. How much you age can't possibly be affected by how fast you go, otherwise I would age less in an airplane than I would on earth. Hardy Har Har.
Man came from monkeys? Then why are there still monkeys around? Wouldn't they have all become humans? Hardy Har Har.
Light is a particle, but it's also a wave? That's about as crazy as saying, well, that Jesus was both God and man. Hardy Har Har.
Ridicule can exist without refutation. Something can be made to appear while being at the same time perfectly rational to believe in.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Why you're wasting your time ridiculing what I believe

I just thought of something. I can listen to someone mock my beliefs, in fact I can even mock them myself, and not find any reason whatsoever in the mockery for rejecting that belief. I enjoy this kind of mockery.  In fact, I hold that there are certain beliefs that are on the one hand completely ridiculous, and on the other hand, completely true. Ridiculousness and truth are not incompatible.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Chief Rabbi on atheism.


"[Y]ou cannot expect the foundations of western civilisation to crumble and leave the rest of the building intact. That is what the greatest of all atheists, Nietzsche, understood with terrifying clarity and what his latter-day successors fail to grasp at all."

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Dawkins Model: A response to Keith Parsons as part of a dialogue on ridicule

This is the original thread.

But you have to realize that in the atheist community today, following what I call the Dawkins model, any kind of religious belief is open to ridicule. Remember Dawkins' famous speech at the Reason Rally. There the example he used was the doctrine of transubstantiation. Now, I don't believe in transubstantiation myself, having decide against becoming a Catholic way back in 1975. But I know plenty of intelligent, serious people who do believe exactly that, going all the way to two of my best friends as an undergraduate. If you attempt to show that the doctrine is evidently self-contradictory, then you have to face some very serious work aimed at showing that this is not the case, from Aquinas in the 13th Century to philosopher of science Frederick Suppe in our time. Refuting such positions is hard work, but resorting to ridicule has all the advantages of theft over honest toil.

Part of the Dawkins model involves presuming that committed religious believers are impervious to reason, but by showing how much contempt you have for their beliefs, you might peer pressure "fence-sitters" to think twice about believing as they do. That's what I mean by talking over people, and I find it reprehensible.
This is the statement I have in mind:

Dawkins: Michael Shermer, Michael Ruse, Eugenie Scott and others are probably right that contemptuous ridicule is not an expedient way to change the minds of those who are deeply religious. But I think we should probably abandon the irremediably religious precisely because that is what they are – irremediable. I am more interested in the fence-sitters who haven’t really considered the question very long or very carefully. And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.

You probably aren't going to persuade real hard-core Gishites that there is something wrong with YEC by ridiculing them. So, what is the point? What do you hope to accomplish? Winning over low-information "fence-sitters" through what amounts to little more than peer pressure isn't going to cause anyone to become a genuine critical thinker. So, ridicule of this sort has little value over and above entertainment.
So long as all you have to do is quote them to generate the ridicule, that's one thing. But there is an occupational hazard that everyone who uses ridicule faces, and that is misrepresentation and straw-manning. Dawkins, for example, is frequently accused not only of failing to understand the arguments he criticizes, but of not  even trying to understand themAnd his response was provided by P. Z. Myers in the Courtier's Reply.

The trouble with this is that theists do have arguments for their position, not just theology which presumes the truth of their position. And if you put ridicule in place of a serious attempt to understand your opponent, then once again, you are taking a path that has all the advantages of theft over honest toil.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Maybe we should thank God for Gnus

They may be driving some people back to God. 

Of course, not doubt this is because they were never real atheists in the first place. 

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Is dialogue between theists and atheists possible?

Well, I would have thought so, but I am starting to wonder. Are we moving toward a society bifurcated on religious grounds, where believers and unbelievers can't even talk to one another in a reasonable fashion?

I have had several conversations with nonbelievers which I have found enjoyable and worthwhile. I remember getting my first discussion with Keith Parsons when I was in seminary, who lived in the same house I did on North Decatur Road in Atlanta. He was using the Bultmann line that modern persons cannot accept miracles, and I responded with Lewis's critique of chronological snobbery. I thought I got the better of that discussion, but I thought he got the better of most of the discussions that followed, because he was already a grad student in philosophy and knew more philosophy than I did at that point. I remember another discussion I had with a fellow graduate student when I got to the University of Illinois. He told me that had an easy time debating with theists, but arguing with me was a good deal more difficult.

Later, I presented a paper at the APA meetings in 1988 which eventually became my first philosophy publication, "Miracles and the Case for Theism."  Apparently my paper inspired an undergraduate student at Claremont-McKenna college to write a paper in response to me (and several other defenders of miracles) called "Miracles and Testability," which he published in an undergraduate philosophy journal. I wrote a response to him, pointing out what I thought was the naive philosophy of science which underlay his paper. I didn't think much more about it until he wrote me, thanking me for my courteous critique and telling me that he had become a Christian in the meantime. What effect my response might had in producing such a conversion I do not know, but I was of course happy to hear about this.

Nevertheless, in thinking about what my goal might be in engaging in philosophical dialogue, I would have to say that what I am doing is not attempting in any way to convert anyone, since conversion involves far more than intellectual assent. If I were to describe what I am trying to do it is to engender intellectual sympathy for what I believe. You may not end up agreeing with me, and we may be very far apart on our positions, but I always hope when we get finished that you will get more of a feel for what it is like to think as I do, and will have more intellectual sympathy and less contempt (if you have any) for what I believe than you came in with.

This doesn't always work, especially when dealing with people who operate from what I call a zero-concession mindset.

Lewis founded the Oxford Socratic Club to follow the argument where it leads on the topic of Christianity. But maybe the Internet is not the place for this sort of thing.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Lewis the reluctant convert

This contains a discussion of the T. D. Weldon incident.