Thursday, January 30, 2014

Miracles and Presidential Pardons

You can't have miracles unless you have an order of nature for them to stand out from. A Presidential pardon is only possible because there is a stable system of laws that require punishments for certain crimes, yet our system of laws allows the President to alter the penalty and release someone from those penalties. There is no inconsistency in a system of laws that permits Presidential discretionary pardons.

Who has done the most for the present world?

If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.
C. S. Lewis 

Should God have made his existence perfectly evident? Should he have?

Many of the things that it is supposed that God could have done to make his existence perfectly evident could be passed off as the work of powerful (but evolved) aliens. And no matter how much evidence God provides, there is some additional piece of evidence that an atheist could say God didn't provide, and if God really cared for us, he would have provided. The amount of evidence God could have provided has no intrinsic maximum.

The Firing Squad Argument and fine-tuning

Defended against Elliott Sober, here.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Central Christian belief, according to C. S. Lewis

The central Christian belief is that Christ's death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work. I will tell you what I think it is like…. A man can eat his dinner without understanding exactly how food nourishes him. A man can accept what Christ has done without knowing how it works: indeed, he certainly would not know how it works until he has accepted it. 
    We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed. Any theories we build up as to how Christ’s death did all this are, in my view, quite secondary: mere plans or diagrams to be left alone if they do not help us, and, even if they do help us, not to be confused with the thing itself. All the same, some of these theories are worth looking at.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 54-56. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Loftus' account of a world in which he would believe: Gosh, I wish the gaps were bigger!


Suppose we transport Loftus to this possible world, and he believes on the basis he provides here. Could he be charged with God of the Gaps reasoning? 

Let's look at this passage. 

 God could’ve made this universe and the creatures on earth absolutely unexplainable by science, especially since science is the major obstacle for many to believe. He could’ve created us in a universe that couldn’t be even remotely figured out by science. That is to say, there would be no evidence leading scientists to accept a big bang, nor would there be any evidence for the way galaxies, solar systems, or planets themselves form naturalistically. If God is truly omnipotent he could’ve created the universe instantaneously by fiat, and placed planets haphazardly around the sun, some revolving counter-clockwise and in haphazard orbits. The galaxies themselves, if he created any in the first place, would have no consistent pattern of formation at all. Then when it came to creatures on earth God could’ve created them without any connection whatsoever to each other. Each species would be so distinct from each other that no one could ever conclude natural selection was the process by which they have arisen. There would be no hierarchy of the species in gradual increments. There would be no rock formations that showed this evolutionary process because it wouldn’t exist in the first place. Human beings would be seen as absolutely special and distinct from the rest of the creatures on earth such that no scientist could ever conclude they evolved from the lower primates. There would be no evidence of unintelligent design, since the many signs of unintelligent design cancel out the design argument for the existence of God. God didn’t even have to create us with brains, if he created us with minds. The existence of this kind of universe and the creatures in it could never be explained by science apart from the existence of God.

Isn't he just saying here "Gosh, I wish the gaps were bigger?" 

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Unity of Consciousness (again)

V. The Argument from the Unity of Consciousness
Consider once again the inference “All men are mortal, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal.” Now if there is one entity, namely me, that has all these thoughts, then it might be supposed that we have a rational inference here. If Bill has the thought “All men are mortal,” and Dennis has the thought “Socrates is a man,” and I have the thought “Socrates is mortal,” then we have a problem. No one person has actually performed the inference, and so the inference has not been performed at all.
Hasker, who has been both one of the chief proponents of the Argument from the Unity of Consciousness and the Argument from Reason, nevertheless thinks that there are separate arguments, and that the argument from the unity of consciousness should not be counted among the arguments from reason. Carrier thinks the argument is really an argument from consciousness rather than an argument from reason, and he thinks that in the last analysis what is plausible in the arguments from reason is simply the argument from consciousness. As Hasker put it, “The issue of unity of consciousness, after all, applies to conscious states that are in no way concerned with reasoning, including the states of sentient beings incapable of reason.”
True enough. But some people, confronted with the problem of the unity of consciousness, attempt to show that this unity is an illusion of some kind. I have in mind Dennett’s “multiple drafts” model from Consciousness Explained, and other theories like it. According to Susan Blackmore,
Each illusory self is a construct of the memetic world in which it successfully competes. Each selfplex gives rise to ordinary human consciousness based on the false idea that there is something inside who is in charge.
Or Steven Pinker, who writes,
There’s considerable evidence that the unified self is a fiction—that the mind is a congeries of parts acting a synchronously, and that it is only an illusion that there’s a president in the Oval Office of the brain who oversees the activity of everything.
Now if this is really true, if there is really no one individual who thinks the thoughts we think, then it follows straightforwardly that no one performs any rational inferences, including the rational inferences that have been used to reach the conclusion that the unified self is a fiction.
Now a philosophical naturalist can be a fictionalist about all sorts of things, but he cannot be a fictionalist about the sorts of inferences scientists make. So the Argument from Reason comes to the aid of the Argument from the Unity of Consciousness, and block the "eliminativist" response with respect to the unity of consciousness.
Kant argued, in the Second Paralogism
Every composite substance is an aggregate of several substances, and the action of a composite, or whatever inheres in it as thus composite, is an aggregate of several actions or accidents, distributed among the plurality of substances. Now an effect which arises from the concurrence of many acting substances is indeed possible, namely, when this effect is external only (as, for instance, the motion of a body is the combined motion of all it parts). But with thoughts, as internal accidents belonging to a thinking being, it is different. For suppose it be the composite that thinks: then every part of it would be part of the thought, and only all of them taken together would be the whole thought. But this cannot be consistently maintained. For representations (for instance, the single words of a verse) distributed among different beings, never make up a whole thought (a verse) and it is therefore impossible that a thought should inhere in what is essentially composite. It is therefore possible only in a single substance, which, not being an aggregate of many, is absolutely simple.
A formalization of the argument, which is developed in William Hasker’s The Emergent Self, goes as follows:
1. I am aware of my present visual field as a unity; in other words, the various components of the field are experienced by a single subject simultaneously.
2. Only something that functions as a whole rather than as a system of parts could experience a visual field as a unity.
3. Therefore, the subject functions as a whole rather than as a system of parts.
4. The brain and nervous system, and the entire body, is nothing more than a collection of physical parts organized in a certain way. (In other words, holism is false).
5. Therefore, the brain and nervous system cannot function as a whole; it must function as a system of parts.
6. Therefore, the subject is not the brain and nervous system (or the body, etc).
7. If the subject is not the brain and nervous system then it is (or contains as a proper part) a non-physical mind or “soul”, that is, a mind that is not ontologically reducible to the sorts of entities studied in the physical sciences. Such a mind, even if it is extended in space, could function as a whole rather than as a system of parts and so could be aware of my present visual field as a unity.
8. Therefore the subject is a soul, or contains a soul as part of itself.
Hasker’s example is the synchronic unity of being aware of my visual field, but in rational inference we find a diachronic unity; the inferring subject, who holds the premises of the argument in mind and draws the conclusion from them.
Now it will not do to simply point out that the brain is a highly complex system that is interconnected functionally and has billions of neurons. A genuine physical system is a system whose properties must be “summative” properties of its proper parts. If that is what a brain is, then no matter how complex it is, it is a set of parts.
A braking system of a car, a nutcracker, and even a chess-playing computer are all systems whose operations are the sums of the operations of their proper parts. Sometimes human beings are able to provide a framework of meaning for these objects that, if taken literally, would attribute to the system characteristics that they lack individually. But in human consciousness we find a subjective unity.
Carrier responds to this argument by sayingBut the point is the same: just as a collection of cells can organize and cooperate into a body that can walk—even though no one of those cells can walk at all or even has legs, much less the other needed organs, like hearts and lungs—so also can a collection of brain systems organize and cooperate into a mind that can think. And it does this by producing the virtual appearance of a singularity of consciousness, just as it produces the mere appearance that unified patches of color exist—when in fact only streams of various distinct particles exist.
But I am not talking about a unity of function that can exist in a braking system, I am talking about a unity of perspective experienced by the thinking agent itself. When a person infers “Socrates is mortal” from “All men are mortal” and “Socrates is a man,” that person infers the conclusion from his own perspective. There are truths that we know from a first-person perspective that cannot be known from any other perspective. For example, the truth that “I am Victor Reppert” is significant from my own perspective that cannot be discovered from a physical perspective. By taking an outside, third-person point of view, something is invariably lost.
It seems to me that Carrier, like Blackmore and Pinker, has fallen back on the fictionalist view of the unity of consciousness. But this position, I maintain, undermines rational inference.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The pros and cons on same sex marriage


Augustine predicts our discussions

HT: Bob Prokop

From The City of God, Book II:
Even after the plain truth has been thoroughly demonstrated, so far as a person is capable of doing, the confirmed skeptic will insist on maintaining belief in his own irrational notions. This is due to either a great blindness, which renders him incapable of seeing what is plainly set before him, or on account of an opinionative obstinacy, which prevents him from acknowledging the truth of what he does see. Thence arises the woeful necessity of going to ridiculous lengths to expound yet more fully on what we have already made perfectly clear, in hopes that we might get through to those who close their minds to reason.

And yet how shall we ever profit from our discussions, or what bounds can be set to our discourse, if we forever fall to the temptation of replying to those who reply to us? We must acknowledge that those who are so hardened by the habit of contradiction will never yield, but would rather reply out of stubbornness, even when they recognize their own error.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Did Hume Refute Paley before he even wrote Natural Theology?

V. J. Torley says no, Julian Biaggini says yes.

The dualists are coming the dualists are coming

According to this piece in the New Scientist. Moreland and Menuge reply here. 

Pinker argues that science makes belief in God obsolete

Here.  Here we run up once again against the claim that science shows that materialism is true. But, does that mean that science could have shown something else to be true, that, had the evidence been difference, science would have told us that we have souls? If you argue that science shows that we don't have souls, then it seems to follow from that that it could have shown that we do have them. Yet, arguments in support of souls are often thrown out on methodological grounds.

Consider, for example, the subtitle of The Blind Watchmaker: Why the evidence of evolution shows a world without design. Does that imply that if science had found something else, it would have concluded that we have a universe that WAS designed? Otherwise, the evidence isn't doing anything, since by definition it couldn't have discovered evidence for design even if it had been there. Right?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Saturday, January 18, 2014

John D Barrow on God and Astronomy

A redated post. Barrow's essay is here. 

Cambridge mathematician finds God in astronomy. I think there are overtones of the argument from reason in this discussion, such as the following:

There are some who say that because we use our minds to appreciate the order and complexity of the Universe around us, there is nothing more to that order than what is imposed by the human mind. That is a serious misjudgment.

Were it true, then we would expect to find our greatest and most reliable understanding of the world in the everyday events for which millions of years of natural selection have sharpened our wits and prepared our senses. And when we look towards the outer space of galaxies and black holes, or into the inner space of quarks and electrons, we should expect to find few resonances between our minds and the ways of these worlds. Natural selection requires no understanding of quarks and black holes for our survival and multiplication.

And yet, we find these expectations turned upon their heads. The most precise and reliable knowledge we have about anything in the Universe is of events in a binary star system more than 3,000 light years from our planet and in the sub-atomic world of electrons and light rays, where we are accurate to better than nine decimal places.

And curiously, our greatest uncertainties all relate to the local problems of understanding ourselves - human societies, human behaviour, and human minds - all the things that really matter for human survival.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Turning Weinberg on His Head

I wouldn't say morality has no basis without God, because we are still social beings. But there do seem to be cases and situations in which having a God to which one must account provides a basis for much moral conduct. In fact, I am inclined to turn Weinberg on his head: Good people will always do good things, but getting bad people to do good things, that takes religion.

Killing in the name of anything

I posted this on the comment line, but I think I should make it a post as well.

As I understand it, some atheists have been using the admittedly bloody history of Christianity as grounds for atheism, claiming that atheism is pure in that regard. I find this patently absurd. You get the blood when the power of the state is attached to any ideology, whether it be a Christian ideology, a Jewish ideology, a Hindu ideology or an Islamic ideology, or an atheist ideology. Can people be fanatical enough about atheism to kill for it? I realize that they don't believe in hell, but some of them are exclusivists in the sense that they think everyone who is on the atheist side is right and everyone who is committed to "religion" is doing damage. When someone can't recogize the fact that Gandhi received profound inspiration from his Hindu beliefs while challenging the worst in Hinduism, if you call Martin Luther King insane because he was caught up in the "God delusion" and can't see how important his faith was in undergirding the social transformation he spearheaded, then you are an ideologue, and I'm going to start getting worried if you ever have a gun in your hand.

State-sponsored Christianity, state-sponsored Islam, state-sponsored atheism. Is the problem with the beliefs, or with the misguided attempt to support these ideologies with coercive power. The bad news for atheists is that the bloody history of Christianity does nothing to support a case against Christianity. The good news for atheists is that these things do support something that I think most atheists believe in: the separation of Church and State. That is the correct use of the"holy horrors" argument, and atheists who want to use it in that way can be my guest.

Monday, January 13, 2014

From Theism to Moral Objectivity

Many people hold that God exists, and that he has given certain commandments (such as the Ten Commandments)
But if moral values are subjective, then these commandments would reflect God’s subjective opinion, and would be no more legitimate than the opinion of, say, Bill Clinton.
But that is absurd. If there is a God, then his “opinion” has to occupy the position of fact.

Therefore, moral values are objective and not subjective.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Why are Buddhists considered religious?

One idea is that  Buddhists see the basic human problem as internal rather than external. They also not philosophical naturalists, in that they don’t maintain that everything can be analyzed completely in scientific terms. They do believe in a cycle of birth and rebirth, which a contemporary naturalistic atheist such as Dawkins would deny. 

Thursday, January 02, 2014

What makes life meaningful?

This is a discussion in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on the meaning of life.

Some, like Craig, argue that life is absurd and meaningless without God. I guess I am more interested in a different type of issue. If atheists find their lives to be meaningful, what does it mean to tell them that, no, your life REALLY isn't meaningful. A more interesting question might be whether the possibility of finding a meaningful life is possible for everyone, or whether some people, in virtue of their circumstances, can't find one. It seems to me that the circumstances of a particular life might result in someone thinking their life has no meaning, and Christian theist might offer Christianity as a solution to this difficulty to everyone, where as the viability of atheistic solutions is contingent on circumstances.