Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Dion DiMucci's Catholic Testimony

Inspiring to, I think, all of us, Catholic or Protestant. Here.  

Monday, August 25, 2014

C. S. Lewis on the Socratic Club

“In any fairly large and talkative community such as a university, there is always the danger that those who think alike should gravitate together into ‘coteries’ where they will henceforth encounter opposition only in the emasculated form of rumor that the outsiders say thus and thus. The absent are easily refuted, complacent dogmatism thrives, and differences of opinion are embittered by group hostility. Each group hears not the best, but the worst, that the other groups can say.”

Lewis Scholar Christopher Mitchell on the Oxford Socratic Club

This seem to me to be the model for discussion that Christians and their opponents ought to strive for.


In this post, I made the mistake of saying that Lindsay was implying that believers are stupid or idiots. He never actually explained the existence of educated believers in terms of stupidity. But he claiming that theism is a stupid position, undeserving of serious discussion, and supported by  no evidence whatsoever. There is a tone of intellectual superiority in these sorts of statements, which  is why I used the word "idiot." But it's important to be accurate. Of course, IDiot is a common term used for ID advocates, but they don't strike me as stupid.

Well, besides stupid, there is ignorant, wicked, and insane. Some people argue that educated theists are simply unwilling to consider evidence that calls their beliefs into question. But I remember choosing philosophy as a major largely because I thought that if there were good arguments to be made against Christianity it wanted to know about them sooner as opposed to later. I have been a Christian minority in most of the philosophy departments I studied and taught at.

Then there is the line "faith makes intelligent people seem stupid." But I got my credentials in philosophy working mostly on issues relevant to my religious beliefs, and my dissertation had to pass a committee of people skeptical of my line of argument.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Lecture notes on the multicultural problem in ethics

Ethics: The Multicultural Approach
How moral issues arise in our culture
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Perhaps no statement captures the moral consciousness of our country. On the one hand, human equality is a powerful idea. On the other hand, the author of those words owned slaves, nor was he particularly known for treating women as equals.
Moral debates in America
A lot of moral issues arise in America in an attempt to apply the concept of equality. Consider the issue of slavery, which ripped the country in half in the 19th Century. Or consider the women’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, and even the gay rights movement. The idea in all of these movements is that people shouldn’t be treated as inferiors because of differences that are not morally relevant, or for differences that are not under the person’s control.
Equality and multiculturalism
Our belief in equality is perhaps one of the most significant motivation for looking at things multiculturally. If people are equal, then we might want to avoid treating people or ideas as inferior if they came from some culture other than our own.
Blum’s motives for multicultural educaton
Lawrence Blum mentions three values motivating a multicultural approach: antiracism, a sense of interracial community, and treating persons as individuals.
These values are more common in our own culture than they are in many others. In many other countries race (and gender) is a basis for treating others as inferior, there is no interracial community, and people are not treated as individuals.
Arranged marriages and female genital mutilation
Something that reflects the individualism of our own society is the fact that we select our own mates. We do not countenance the idea, for example, of being given in marriage by one’s parents. But in some cultures not only are marriages are arranged, but people are forced into them as children. Similarly, in some cultures women are forced into genital mutilation, which is the subject of Martha Nussbaum’s essay.
The value of tolerance
We value tolerance in our culture quite a bit. I think historically we found ourselves having to live in a democratic society with many different religious standpoints, so we needed tolerance to get along with one another.
One idea that people think will encourage tolerance is the idea of relativism. If morals are relative, and there is no truth about what is really right or wrong, then we will be less inclined to be judgmental toward others.
Or will it?
One surprising result is that if relativism is true, then it is a virtue to be tolerant of other cultures just in case your culture approves of tolerating other cultures. If it doesn't, then you are supposed to be intolerant. So relativism doesn't lead to tolerance, it can just as easily lead to intolerance.
Dealing with other cultures
How should we respond to things going on in other cultures. One side of us wants to say that we shouldn’t be critical of what other cultures do. On the other hand, sometimes in other societies we find that some people are treated as inferiors, and what we would consider to be their rights are violated. So, how do we respond to that?
The paradox of multiculturalism
The paradox of multiculturalism is the fact that the values that drive us toward multiculturalism are exactly those values that are rejected in other cultures.
For example, we have a conviction that people should be treated as equals, regardless of their origin or background. Otherwise we could look at other cultures and just say “those barbarians.” But other cultures often approve of treating certain peoples as inferiors.
The Caste system in India
Prohibiting women from driving in Saudi Arabia
Arranged marriages, and even child marriages, in India and other countries.
Anti-gay laws in Kenya and Uganda: Both male and female homosexual activity is illegal. Under the Penal Code, "carnal knowledge against the order of nature" between two males carries a potential penalty of life imprisonment and executions/torture are allowed with no legal liabilities for the executioners.”
Criminal punishment for rape victims in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Ireland, Somalia, and India.
Executing people for adultery in places like Afghanistan
Female Genital Mutilation
The Good Old USA
Well, we had slavery until the Civil War, and women got the right to vote in the 1920s, which means that during most of our country’s history, women have NOT had this right. The civil rights movement culminated in the 1960s, in my lifetime.
Two ways of responding
1)It’s their culture. Who’s to say what’s right or wrong
2)People’s rights are being unjustly violated. It’s wrong no matter whether the culture approves or not.
It comes down to the whole issue of moral objectivity.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Eastern Religious Traditions and the Supernatural

Eastern religions don't seem to draw the nature-supernature distinction. On the other hand, they hold positions like reincarnation, which seem impossible if the natural world, as presently understood by science, is all there is. 

An important difference between Islam and Christianity

I find a great deal to admire in Islam. However, it seems to be essential to Islam that it aspire to be implemented from the top down through government, and that makes it very difficult for Muslims to buy in on the idea that they ought voluntarily to refrain from using government to pursue their goals, if it is indeed possible.

Remember how Islam was founded. Muhammad had been exiled from Mecca, then conquered by force of arms. The Qu'ran is written as a law-book. The idea of separating religion from state does violence to essence of Islam.

How was Christianity founded? Well, if was founded by people who didn't have political power, so the New Testament provides almost nothing about government except "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's." Now after Constantine, Christians did assume political power, and they did use political power to advance the cause of their religion. So, yes, Christians had the Crusades, the attacks on the Albigensians,  the Spanish Inquisition, the Wars of Religion, and the Salem Witch trials. But after the Wars of Religion and the damage that these things did, Christian leaders started to back away from wanting to implementing their religion through government, and there is nothing in this that contradicts the essence of Christianity. Most of the people responsible for getting church and state separated were Christians, not secularists.

Yes, you can be violent on behalf of Christianity. You can also suppress religion violently. But there is nothing in Christianity that requires you to use violence to uphold Christianity, anymore than there is anything in atheism that requires atheists to use the state to suppress theism.

The "religion leads to violence" idea is based on a profound confusion. ANYTHING can lead to violence. But the idea that non-religious people have "nothing to kill or die for" while religious people do have something to kill or die for, is absurd. Some atheists believe that the progress of civilization depends on whether we "outgrow" religion or not. Why would people who believe that eschew the use of force to accomplish so important a goal, if the opportunity presented itself. OK, it doesn't involve anyone's eternal destiny, but the progress or regression of civilization? Important enough, for at least some, to use ridicule and peer pressure on its behalf.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The doctrine of causal closure

Let us take a pair of electrons, Eric and Ed. Eric the electron is an electron in the body of Richard Dawkins. Ed is an electron inside the body of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Knowing this, we might know that Ed is far more likely to be inside of an Anglican Church this Sunday morning than is Eric. But if the physical is causally closed, then where Eric and Ed will be on Sunday morning is either fully determined by the present state of the world at the physical level plus the laws of physics (assuming determinism), or else where Eric and Ed are also affect by quantum-mechanical indeterminism. But this indeterminism, given causal closure, is brute chance and nothing more. It is not a “window” for intentional states to affect the physical. Imagine a being omniscient with respect to the state of the physical world. That physically omniscient being could learn nothing useful about where Eric and Ed will be if it learns that Eric is in the body of an atheist, while Ed is in the body of a Christian. The electrons will go where the laws say they must go, or where chance places them. To say otherwise would be to deny the causal closure of the physical world. 

Supervenience theory and the reflexivity problem

If something supervenes on the physical, we need to know why it supervenes. To say that it is just a brute fact that mental state X supervenes on physical state Y will not do. The reason is not hard to seek. If supervenience theory is true, then everything supervenes on the physical, and that would have to include the supervenience relation itself.  If everything supervenes on the physical plus a supervenience relation, then it is not quite true that everything supervenes on the physical. So we need an account as to why the supervenience relationship obtains, in order to avoid a reflexivity problem. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

They don't call it the cult of gnu for nothing

It's the atheist equivalent of television evangelists. Tuck in your love gift, as they used to say on TBN.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Thick and Clear Religions

A redated post.

From C. S. Lewis's essay "Christian Apologetics, " found in God in the Dock.

“I have sometimes told my audience that the only two things really worth considering are Christianity and Hinduism. (Islam is only the greatest of the Christian heresies, Buddhism only the greatest of the Hindu heresies. Real Paganism is dead. All that was best in Judaism and Platonism survives in Christianity.) There isn’t really, for an adult mind, this infinite variety of religions to consider. We may [reverently] divide religions, as we do soups, into ‘thick’ and ‘clear’. By Thick I mean those which have orgies and ecstasies and mysteries and local attachments: Africa is full of Thick religions. By Clear I mean those which are philosophical, ethical and universalizing: Stoicism, Buddhism, and the Ethical Church are Clear religions. Now if there is a true religion it must be both Thick and Clear: for the true God must have made both the child and the man, both the savage and the citizen, both the head and the belly. And the only two religions that fulfil this condition are Hinduism and Christianity. But Hinduism fulfils it imperfectly. The Clear religion of the Brahmin hermit in the jungle and the Thick religion of the neighbouring temple go on side by side. The Brahmin hermit doesn’t bother about the temple prostitution nor the worshipper in the temple about the hermit’s metaphysics. But Christianity really breaks down the middle wall of the partition. It takes a convert from central Africa and tells him to obey an enlightened universalist ethic: it takes a twentieth-century academic prig like me and tells me to go fasting to a Mystery, to drink the blood of the Lord. The savage convert has to be Clear: I have to be Thick. That is how one knows one has come to the real religion.”

A critique of scientism


Feser's Three Varieties of Atheism

1. Religious belief has no serious intellectual content at all.  It is and always has been little more than superstition, the arguments offered in its defense have always been feeble rationalizations, and its claims are easily refuted.

2. Religious belief does have serious intellectual content, has been developed in interesting and sophisticated ways by philosophers and theologians, and was defensible given the scientific and philosophical knowledge available to previous generations.  But advances in science and philosophy have now more or less decisively refuted it.  Though we can respect the intelligence of an Aquinas or a Maimonides, we can no longer take their views seriously as live options.

3. Religious belief is still intellectually defensible today, but not as defensible as atheism.  An intelligent and well-informed person could be persuaded by the arguments presented by the most sophisticated contemporary proponents of a religion, but the arguments of atheists are at the end of the day more plausible.

It seems to me that there is another division of atheists. There are those atheists, even if they think theism is irrational, they don't think we have a good reason to make a concerted effort to "win souls for atheism." I remember in the debates against Craig, both Douglas Jesseph and Keith Parsons said that they were, of course, not trying to convert anyone to atheism.

Now we have sites like this, which looks a heck of a lot like a Chick tract. And then there's this Loftus post. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Bertrand Russell on searching for causes

From the debate with Frederick Copleston: 

I think — there seems to me a certain unwarrantable extension here; a physicist looks for causes; that does not necessarily imply that there are causes everywhere. A man may look for gold without assuming that there is gold everywhere; if he finds gold, well and good, if he doesn’t he’s had bad luck. The same is true when the physicists look for causes. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The ending of my Infidels paper on miracles

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]


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Feser on some varieties of atheism

What makes someone a gnu? I think this explains it best. My way of describing the difference is the difference between someone who thinks that religious belief is something to debate, and someone who believers that religion must be dealt with via a culture war.


I'm in a rehab care facility, giving my repaired hip time to heal so I can put weight on my right leg again.

For purposes of the First Amendment, atheism is a religion

Here.  The "not collecting stamps" argument doesn't work here.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Against Ann Coulter

There is only one rebuttal to the claim that political conservatism is un-Christian, and that is to say that while Christian conservatives are as concerned about the less fortunate as liberals, this concern should be rightly expressed through private, as opposed to governmental, agency. Such governmental efforts invariably, the conservative says, do more harm than good and undermine freedom.

The above is an interesting, and debatable position.

Ann Coulter, however, criticizes private efforts to respond to the Ebola virus in Africa. This strikes me as hopelessly unbiblical.

A critique of The Last Superstition

Dan Gillson on Recalcitrant Skepticism

A recalcitrant skeptic demands evidence to stack the deck in favor of whatever it is that he is denying. There is never enough evidence to sway him. He knows this, so he asks for it to say that it either doesn't count or that it's not enough.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on what constitutes evidence


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Atheist Quentin Smith on the Philosophy of Religion

This is relevant to the "end of the philosophy of religion" debate, although I suppose someone probably brought this up already.

If each naturalist who does not specialize in the philosophy of religion (i.e., over ninety-nine percent of naturalists) were locked in a room with theists who do specialize in the philosophy of religion, and if the ensuing debates were refereed by a naturalist who had a specialization in the philosophy of religion, the naturalist referee could at most hope the outcome would be that “no definite conclusion can be drawn regarding the rationality of faith,” although I expect the most probable outcome is that the naturalist, wanting to be a fair and objective referee, would have to conclude that the theists definitely had the upper hand in every single argument or debate.[3]

I got this from this source. 

Thursday, August 07, 2014

A response to the Skeptic Zone on the old "What would it take to make you give it up" issue


A couple of things. The Catholic Church has repeatedly condemned fideism as heresy. Lewis says that he isn't asking anyone to believe if the weight of the evidence is against it, and says that is not the point where faith comes in. Is Lewis a heretic? I there are some who will quote Bible verses here, but I know the verses and I don't interpret them as requiring suppression of doubt, 

A lot of confusion arises when these questions are asked because it looks like a request for a one-sentence answer. But if you read stories of people who move from theism to atheism, or vice versa, it's a lot of things put together. 

When I was younger I had a lot of doubts and questions, and drove everyone nuts by asking questions. I did hear the "We're not to question" response from some people, but most of the time people tried to provide something intellectually responsive. The Christian community, as I experienced it, did not, as a whole, try to get me to simply quash doubt. If it had, I might very well not be a Christian today. 

And then you have P. Z. Myers, who says that belief in God is something so defined that there couldn't be any evidence for it. 

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

The New Anti-Intellectualism and the Passion for Certainty

I think that at the back of this is the desire for absolute certainty. If you are in the intellectual community, living as a Christian means living with doubts and uncertainties. I don't mean worrisome doubts necessarily, but you can't make the people who say you are mistaken go away. "God said it, I believe it, that settles it" is something intellectuals are going to have trouble saying. But Dawkins says he offers near-certainty (which is what someone in science has to say), and that is the closest anyone in the intellectual community is going to get. All the "evidence" is on our side, all the "motives" are on the other side, so that's as close to settling it as anything can be. 

Gnus can't imagine in their wildest dreams that they're anti-intellectual. But that is exactly what they are.

I'm right, you're an idiot, so it's time to shut the discussion down

This is from James Lindsay, quoted on Loftus' blog. What do you say when someone wants to shut down the dialogue? 

It is very difficult to see the matter of theism as something to treat seriously as a philosophical object. We shouldn't. It is a theological object, and theology is only "pseudo-philosophical," as Carrier puts it, and pseudo-academic, as I outlined above. No one is required to take such a thing seriously or engage its "best" arguments, as if it has any, as if the real contenders haven't already been dealt with thoroughly and repeatedly, and as if any argument stands up to the simple and straightforward question that's been waiting for them all along: "Where's the evidence?"

But because the idea that we should engage any position's best case is generally true in philosophy proper, and all academic debate, it is an easy value to turn into a false virtue. The principle simply doesn't apply here because theology is pseudo-academic, though. Misapplying it as a false virtue, a moral value defining a particular kind of thinker, I think, is exactly what apologists for the philosophy of religion are doing, and I think it constitutes a confusing and unproductive avenue in the conversation that should not continueLINK.

Monday, August 04, 2014

A reply to Wielenberg on naturalistic moral realism: C. S. Lewis's Second Moral Argument

I had a look at the Wielenberg Faith and Philosophy paper, and one problem jumps out at me. For moral properties to do the work we expect them to do, they have to  be causal properties. Something being right has to at least potentially play a role in my doing what is right. But even if there are these moral properties, they aren't physical, and if all causation is physical, then these properties can't affect my behavior without violating the causal closure of the physical. In theism is true, then these moral properties can be at least possibly causally relevant. So we have, I think, still a reason for choosing a theistic account over a non-theistic one. To paraphrase Lewis, "Even if moral truths exist, what exactly have they got to do with the occurrence of a right decision as a psychological event?"

Lewis's moral argument in Miracles chapter 5 emphasizes the causal role of morality, though it is not as apparent Mere Christianity.

Wielenberg's paper is here, Lowder's recommendation of Wielenberg is here. 

Sunday, August 03, 2014

A little exercise

Provide a convincing argument against slavery that would be convincing to anyone  who thinks slavery isn't wrong, without any explicit or implicit theological appeals.

I actually think that, at least for long periods of history, the institution of slavery is defensible from the standpoint of utilitarianism, for example. It is now a socially unpopular idea. But so is infanticide and bestiality, but Peter Singer is prepared to defend both.

I don't think it can be done. It's a dog eat dog world, only the fittest survive, if we have the power to enslave others, what's wrong with it? It will certainly help me pass on my genes. Owning slaves gives people a selective advantage.

Believe, me I despise slavery. But I don't see a universally convincing secular argument.

Would a secular case against slavery have been persuasive? I doubt it!

Another critical question is whether we could have ever come upon the idea that slavery is wrong if Paul's point had not been made. People became slaves historically because of military defeat. Slaves were the spoils of battle. On a polytheistic view, if you lose a war, your god was defeated by the other country's god, and so they had the right to treat you as human refuse. Paul says that the slave has to be treated in certain ways because you and the slave are both creatures of the same God, and God plays no favorites. 

But what if we had gone from a polytheistic view to the view that we weren't created at all, but were spat up by evolution. Wouldn't it be natural to think that a country who had just won a war was the country that was "selected for," as if were, and could do what it wanted to do with the people of the country that lost? It's a dog eat dog world, and natural selection supports those who can enslave others and get them to do hard labor. Did the free people of Egypt build the Pyramids? How did ships cross the Mediterranean sea. Could you have gotten a galley full of rowers with volunteer labor? Could a convincing case against exploitation have been made without the kind of theological appeal that Paul makes? 

Of course, nowadays we all hate slavery (though believe me, it's still around!) But it came naturally for a lot of people to treat it as perfectly acceptable. We all imagine that if we had been in, say, the antebellum South, we would have seen through the detestable practice. But the moral force of the abolitionist arguments came from their Christianity. It did not come from secular humanism.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Ephesians' indirect critique of slavery

Discussed  here. 

Here is the indirect attack:

And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.

Now if you really internalize the message that the slave and the master have the same Lord, and that the Lord shows no favoritism, how can you own slaves? Nevertheless, we might wish Scripture had spelled that out for us. 

Friday, August 01, 2014

Theism, atheism faith, and placing our bets

Atheism is possibly false, yet the atheist must act as if it is true. Christians place their bets as well. Faith in the sense Lewis talks about in Mere Christianity must be exercised by anyone who has a developed world-view. Faith in the sense of belief in the teeth of evidence is something I don't expect from anyone.