Wednesday, December 30, 2015

William Lane Craig on the size of the universe argument


Materialism and Hyper-Freudianism

I think there may be some limits on what questions can reasonably be considered to be empirical questions. Let’s take the Freudian view of religious belief as an example. According to Freudians, (and many other atheists as well) even those who think they believe in religious beliefs for reasons are really believing them for emotional reasons, and the “arguments” they provide are merely rationalizations. But why stop with religious beliefs? Isn’t it possible that we don’t believe any of our beliefs for reasons, but rather, we believe them for other reasons. If we looked at how we actually form beliefs, couldn’t we discover that, in fact, we never believe anything for the reasons we think we do? Is the statement “No one ever believes anything for a reason” at least possible? I like to refer to this position as hyper-Freudianism.
Unfortunately, such a position involves what Lynne Rudder Baker calls cognitive suicide. If a hyper-Freudian is asked why she believes in hyper-Freudianism, and she offers evidence for her belief, then by offering such evidence she falsifies hyper-Freudianism.
Now, I actually think that if categories are not fudged, and the material is defined, as it often is, in terms of the absence of the mental, then materialist theories of mind actually entail hyper-
Freudianism. It results in a proof that there are no proofs, which has to be nonsense.
It follows that no account of the universe can be true I unless that account leaves it possible for our thinking to be a real insight. A theory which explained everything else in the whole universe but which made it impossible to believe that our thinking was valid, would be utterly out of court. For that theory would itself have been reached by thinking, [22] and if thinking is not valid that theory would, of course, be itself demolished. It would have destroyed its own credentials. It would be an argument which proved that no argument was sound–a proof that there are no such things as proofs–which is nonsense.-C. S. Lewis: Miracles, chapter 3. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Fallacy of Tendentious Terminology

Magic is "The pretended art of influencing events, and of producing marvelous physical phenomena, by processes supposed to owe their efficacy to their power of intervention of spiritual beings..."

Except, if God performs a miracle, he's not pretending to perform it, he is performing it. So God, by definition, cannot engage in magic. If he exists. If he doesn't exist, then he can't do magic or anything else. But the use of the term "magic" here begs the question, as do most uses of the Argument from Tendentious Terminology." Or should I call it the Fallacy of Tendentious Terminology.

Rauser on Spiegel on atheism

There is an aspect of this that I am not sure comes through the discussion. As a Christian, I care about whether atheists conduct their critiques in the way that Richard Dawkins does, or the way that Jeff Lowder does. I think the methods of New Atheism are culturally harmful in a way that the methods of other atheists are not. But if I want to criticize New Atheist methods, then I have to also be critical of similar methods coming from within the Christian fold. So I applaud Rauser's response.

The response, from both extremes, is to say that I am concerned about being nice. It's not about niceness. It's about maintaining productivity in discussion even when what we believe matters to us a lot. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

New book on the Inklings

Reviewed here.

The true meaning of Christmas

Luke 2: 1-20, New International Version

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Josh McDowell and a certain atheist meme

Here is a version of that meme, from Dawkins:

Well, science is not religion and it doesn't just come down to faith. Although it has many of religion's virtues, it has none of its vices. Science is based upon verifiable evidence. Religious faith not only lacks evidence, its independence from evidence is its pride and joy, shouted from the rooftops. Why else would Christians wax critical of doubting Thomas? The other apostles are held up to us as exemplars of virtue because faith was enough for them. Doubting Thomas, on the other hand, required evidence. Perhaps he should be the patron saint of scientists.

It seems to me that the existence of a book like Evidence that Demands a Verdict refutes this version of the meme. Christians do claim that they have evidence, the don't typically shout from the rooftops that they don't have any and it shouldn't matter. That doesn't mean that they might not have misunderstood the idea of evidence, or that there isn't a lot of popular fideism out there. Discussions here between Dawkins defenders and others have often involved the claim that Christians think they have evidence when they really don't, that to have evidence you have to have thus and so, and McDowell and those like him don't have that. But Dawkins isn't even saying that. This is either ignorance on a massive scale of what Christians have been saying, or intellectual dishonesty.  Or since it's coming from and Oxford professor, both.

Here is Lewis on Doubting Thomas:

The saying "Blessed are those that have not seen and have believed" has nothing to do with our original assent to the Christian propositions.  It was not addressed to a philosopher enquiring whether God exists.  It was addressed to a man who already believed that, who already had long acquaintance with a particular Person, and evidence that that Person could do very odd things, and who then refused to believe one odd thing more, often predicted by that Person and vouched for by all his closest friends.  It is a rebuke not to skepticism in the philosophic sense but to the psychological quality of being "suspicious."  It says in effect, "You should have known me better."  There are cases between man and man where we should all, in our different way, bless those who have not seen and have believed.  Our relationship to those who trusted us only after we were proved innocent in court cannot be the same as our relation to those who trusted us all through."

Great moments in censorship

A school in Eastern Kentucky is forced to leave the Christmas Bible verses out of A Charlie Brown Christmas. 

So, do we have another thing to celebrate during Banned Books Week?

Friday, December 18, 2015

Naive evidentialism and transcendental argumetation

If it turns out that we can't avoid realism about the external world because the alternative is self-undermining, does that mean that the evidence supports realism, or does it mean something else? It seems to me that the case for realism is transcendenal rather than evidential.

Are there certain things we have to presuppose before evidence even becomes an issue? If so, there are positive claims that don't require evidence, and naive evidentialism is false.

What if white supremacy had been true?

Suppose, for example, whites were really superior to blacks. Would there be any moral advantage in suppressing that belief in the interests of equality? Now, in fact, blacks are not inferior, but if they were inferior, should be, on the supposed basis of avoiding racism, deceive ourselves into believing that this was not the case?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Is there good evidence for the resurrection?

I have yet to see a good theory that explains the historical events without running into serious problems when you look at it closely.


It is interesting that atheists say Christians are not interested in evidence when one of the most popular Christian books of the last 50 years is Evidence that Demands a Verdict.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Positive claims require evidence

'Positive claims demand evidence'.

OK, here's a positive claim for you. "My sense experience gives me veridical knowledge of a physical world independent of my mind."

What is the evidence for this one?

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Rape and abortion

People assume that impregnated rape victims will be the ones first in line at the abortion clinic. But is that armchair psychology?

HT" Michael Pieters.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Secret Agent Man

I didn't realize that this song was about C. S. Lewis. See here. 

There is evidence on both sides of the God question

A lot depends on what exactly one means by evidence. My own view of evidence, in the context of the discussion of God, is something that is more likely to be there if God exists than if God does not exist. Evidence against God would be something that is more likely to exist if there is no God than if there is a God. With that understanding, I think the fine-tuning of the universe is a clear case of something that is more likely to exist if there is a God than if there is no God, so it's evidence for God. The degree and kind of pain and suffering that exists in the world does seem to be something that is more likely without God than with God, so that's evidence against God. 
Whether the positive evidence outweighs the negative evidence, to me, is the interesting issue. The no-evidence claim looks like a non-starter. 

C. S. Lewis's We Have No Right to Happiness

Very relevant to present-day issues on matters of sexual ethics. A lot of argumentation on the same-sex marriage issue seem to rest on a "right to happiness" premise that Lewis objects to here.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Is gay marriage destroying normal marriage?

I wonder if many of the people who supported same sex marriage just think that marriage for them is going to be like opposite sex marriage, they just expand the class of persons you can marry. They still think it has to be one person and you have to be faithful, it is just that you can now marry someone of the same sex. Some might think a broader re-evaluation of marriage is not warranted. 

Greta Christina, however, thinks that same-sex marriage is part of wider re-evaluation of marriage. 

When does a fetus become human?

When does a fetus become human? 

From conception, obviously. It is a homo sapiens fetus, not a canis familiaris fetus or a felix domesticus fetus. The question is whether species membership is sufficient for an overriding right to life. 

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Apparently it's not just pro-lifers who think there is no difference between aborting fetuses and killing infants


Religious reasons and legislation: Does legislation have to pass the materialist test?

When we talk about "religious" positions, do we mean positions which are based on something we think God has revealed, or do we mean something that is based on what is called natural law, which isn't based on particular Bible verses, but is nonetheless built on a concept of human nature whereby there is a purpose for human nature, and we can satisfy it of fail to satisfy it based on what we do? Someone like Paul Ryan, for example, bases his opposition to things like abortion and gay marriage on the latter, not the former. 
Positions like his tend to be adopted by people of religious persuasions, but if you were to ask him why he believes what he does, his argument will NOT typically say "The Bible says" or "It is the teaching of the Catholic Church.  But I strongly suspect his reasoning would not be accepted by, say, a materialistic atheist. 
When we say we don't want religious views imposed on us through legislation, does that mean that the case of our laws has to pass the "materialistic atheist test." that is, the arguments for it have to be acceptable from the standpoint of materialism is they are to be legislated? 

Judge not?

“Judge not, lest you be judged”- Matt 7:1-2

This verse is the favorite Bible verse of non-Christians, to fend of criticism for violating Christian standards of conduct.

When we talk about judging, we are talking about the claim that a person deserve something bad for doing something bad. Unless we are charged with the job of assigning criminal punishment, then we have to recognize that we lack knowledge of people's circumstances to know what someone deserves. On the other hand, I don't think that anti-judging mandate makes it impossible for us to say that certain types of actions are morally wrong. We could use the same reasoning for theft, or murder, or adultery, for example, and argue that we can't judge people who do those things.

See here. 

Friday, December 04, 2015

A woman has the right to do as she pleases with her body, but how far do we push it?

Suppose a whole village of about 1000 tiny people were living in a woman's left arm. Suppose the presence of the village in her arm makes her arm itch and is a mild nuisance. But since it's her body, does she have the right to holocaust the village? 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Calvinism and responsibility, a question for secular compatibilists

Think about the Calvinist doctrine of predestination (or deterministic versions thereof). According to that view, before the foundation of the world, God determines that some people will sin and not repent, and go to hell for their sins. Nevertheless, they are held responsible for their actions even though God is the ultimate cause of whatever they do, they are thought to deserve to go to hell because they did not perform those actions against their will. The immediate cause of their actions is their own will, just as in secular compatibilism, but the ultimate cause is God's eternal decree.

If Calvinism were true, would sinners be responsible for their sins? Does having God as the ultimate cause, as opposed to nature, change your compatibilist position? If so, why?

Chesterton on Determinism and Criminal Punishment

Determinism is not inconsistent with the cruel treatment of criminals. What it is (perhaps) inconsistent with is the generous treatment of criminals; with any appeal to their better feelings or encouragement in their moral struggle. The determinist does not believe in appealing to the will, but he does believe in changing the environment. He must not say to the sinner, “Go and sin no more,” because the sinner cannot help it. But he can put him in boiling oil; for boiling oil is an environment. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Virtue, Happiness, and religious views

If there is no God, if death ends everything, then there are people for whom it is accurate to say that they will be happier if they do what is morally wrong. Two examples would be the main protagonists in two Woody Allen movies, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Match Point. In both of these movies, these protagonists were involved in extramarital affairs. However, to sustain these affairs, they would have to give up the financial benefits their marriages provided. However, their mistresses threatened to expose their affairs to their wives if they were to stop the affairs. So in Crimes the protagonist has his mistress killed, and in Match Point the protagonist actually killed his mistress.  And in both movies we are left with the sense that these protagonists would not have been happier had they not gotten involved in murder.

Thus, on atheism, there is at least a possible disconnect between virtue and happiness. Religious views tend to eliminate this. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Hard and Soft Determinism

Soft and hard determinism are the same kind of determinism. The difference is that hard determinists say that since determinism is true, we aren't responsible for our actions. Soft determinists say that even though determinism is true, we are still responsible for our actions. The ultimate causes of our actions are outside our control, but the immediate cause of our action is our desire to perform the action, and that makes us responsible.

Or does it? Shouldn't the ultimate cause be what counts?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

An Easter service at the Cardinals' stadium, with a couple of live Cardinals

A local megachurch, Christ's Church of the Valley, had their Easter service at University of Phoenix Stadium. It featured a discussion with QBs Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton. Palmer leads the NFL in QB rating. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

C. S. Lewis passed away today 52 years ago

On Nov. 22. 1963. So did a couple of other famous people.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What is NOT acceptable?

Let me make something clear. There are ways on the atheist side of keeping things civil. Before I ran into new atheists I had many, many, respectful discussions with nonbelievers, and that includes passionate nonbelievers. What I have noticed, and it's something I trace back to Dawkins, is a shift in the nature of the discussion. I remember being surprised by it in a couple of discussion groups I got into before I even opened this blog. There are people on the other side who see the disagreement between belief and unbelief to be not just a debate but a war, and who want to mobilize a people who use ridicule, not in a offhanded way, or a way that is aimed at entertainment, but aimed at providing people with a social, not an epistemic, motivation for abandoning belief based on fear of ridicule. This ridicule is not for the benefit of the believers they are debating. They are written off as hopeless. No, it is used as a tool to demotivate religious belief amongst the low-information believers in the flock, who might be influenced by "naked contempt." Your debating partner is a pawn in a game, the end justifies the means. 

Now, it is quite true that Christians have not always, historically, been willing to leave an open marketplace of ideas and have not always treated nonbelievers fairly. How Christians got to the place where there were willing to use the power of government to uphold their beliefs raises some difficult questions. I think the lessons of history have taught Christians, the hard way, that using force on behalf of one's beliefs is a self-defeating enterprise.

Violence on these matters is only possible when it looks to us as if our cause will benefit from it. Even if I decide that Dawkins is the worst influence on society possible, it would be silly to kill him, that will prove his point on a number of issues and benefit his cause. But even if that were not the case, it would violate the teachings of my religion to kill him. That was an important part of my point, that the failure to engage or not engage in violence is partly a function of what one sees as useful, and this is true of both theists and atheists. One response to the recommendation that the Pope be assassinated in the name of atheism would be that it doesn't work. But that better not be the only reason. 

I am willing to ask anyone who thinks whether one believes or not really matters, what means they are willing to use to get people to get the right answer. The charge I am responding to is the charge that RELIGION leads to violence. The road to violence, however, is open to everyone. I think, if anything, Christianity has some safeguards that limit the damage, which may be why, as Dinesh D'Souza points out, the death tolls are actually lower in the religious cases. For Christians, it is hard to argue that the end justifies the means, that the course of history is really in our hands. My claim is that you get ideological violence when you have the power to commit it, when you think the end justifies the means, and when you really think it will benefit your cause to commit it. 

When I hear that religion is a mind virus, when I hear that everything depends on curing that mind virus, then I have to wonder what means are NOT acceptable in achieving that goal, should the opportunity arise. That is the basis of what I said here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Jennifer Roback Morse on the harms of same-sex marriage


Why not?

OK, suppose you think that religion really does harm, and we really have to do what we can to stamp it out. Most of us don't have the opportunity to help establish or eliminate religion by the use of violence. But suppose an opportunity arises. Through a violent act, we can, as we see it, greatly decrease the influence of religion on the world. Now what do you do? Do you say "No, violence is wrong, we have to let the God delusion die of other causes. The end does not justify the means." or do we say "OK, yeah, we're doing violence, but this is how we vastly decrease the influence of religion on the world. The end does justify the means."

The Grand Inquisitors, the prosecutors at the Salem Witch Trials, the Crusaders, etc. all thought that they were doing good and promoting the kingdom of God. 

In Tolkien's writings, the moral fate of many of the characters depends upon their willingness or unwillingness to use power (such as the power of the Ring) to do what they perceive to be good. What possible reason do we have for believing that atheists, especially of the Dawkins variety, would resist the use of power and even violence to promote atheism if the opportunity would arise? I can't think of a single one.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Religion leads to violence, or thinking ideas are important leads to violence?

When people find that certain ideas are really important, they may be tempted to kill people for them. These ideas can be religious, but they can also be economic, or racial, or even anti-religious. Whenever you think an idea is important, it is always tempting to think, under certain circumstances, that "the end justifies the means" and that you have a right to harm, or even kill, people who disagree. But it does seem to be true that ideas are important, so one cure for idea-based violence, rejecting the idea that ideas are important, has some bad side effects.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Why I don't endorse Kim Davis

Let me clarify something. I make a sharp distinction between a legal concept of marriage and a moral one, or a religious one. There may be reasons for governmentally defined marriage to include marriages that might fail to meet moral standards. So even if someone accepts a moral case against gay relationships, this does not guarantee that the government shouldn't recognize such marriages. You need something else. 

This has the support of one who has a lot of authority in the Christian tradition: 

Matthew 19:1-9
After Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went southward to the region of Judea and into the area east of the Jordan River. Vast crowds followed him there, and he healed their sick. Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: "Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for any reason?" "Haven't you read the Scriptures?" Jesus replied. "They record that from the beginning `God made them male and female.' And he said, `This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.' Since they are no longer two but one, let no one separate them, for God has joined them together." "Then why did Moses say a man could merely write an official letter of divorce and send her away?" they asked. Jesus replied, "Moses permitted divorce as a concession to your hard-hearted wickedness, but it was not what God had originally intended. And I tell you this, a man who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery--unless his wife has been unfaithful." 

This seems to me to suggest that the law can be justified, for its own reasons, in accepting relationships as marriages which are, in the final analysis, not fully moral. 

Here is C. S. Lewis on the legal-moral distinction. 

Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is quite the different question—how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine.
My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christian and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.
Now let me apply this to the case of Kim Davis. I am very much opposed to people being forced to provide speech on behalf of marriages they disapprove of, if they are in wedding service occupations. However, signing a marriage license does nothing more than affirm the legal status of these marriages, and does not entail moral approval. Unless she really has a legal argument that she doesn't have to sign those licenses, she really doesn't have a defensible position. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

A summary of James Ross's Immaterial Aspects of Thought


Has matter and energy always existed?

OK, has matter and energy always existed? 

In this lecture, I would like to discuss whether time itself has a beginning, and whether it will have an end. All the evidence seems to indicate, that the universe has not existed forever, but that it had a beginning, about 15 billion years ago. This is probably the most remarkable discovery of modern cosmology. Yet it is now taken for granted. We are not yet certain whether the universe will have an end. When I gave a lecture in Japan, I was asked not to mention the possible re-collapse of the universe, because it might affect the stock market. However, I can re-assure anyone who is nervous about their investments that it is a bit early to sell: even if the universe does come to an end, it won't be for at least twenty billion years. By that time, maybe the GATT trade agreement will have come into effect. ---Stephen Hawking. 

Before Big Bang theory developed, the only people who would have agreed with that statement were theists. Now, atheists have adjusted their position to accept this, much the way, we are told, Christians have "adjusted" to accept evolutionary biology.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

What the courtier really said

The boy has said the emperor is naked, has he? Of course, to the scientifically untrained eye, the emperor no doubt looks naked. But those of us who know a few things about the science of vision know better. The perceptual skills of someone his age are clearly not sufficiently developed to allow him to assert this with any certainty. Those of us who have studied perception know how unreliable eyewitness testimony is. We know how often our eyes deceive us when we want to see something that isn’t there. This young man has not studied the science of perception and illusion, if he did, he would certainly not assert so vociferously that his perception of the emperor’s nudity was veridical.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Aquinas' Argument from Contingency

A redated post.

Perhaps the most enduring of Aquinas's Five Ways has been the argument from contingently existing things, the third way. Amazingly, some people actually think that Aquinas's cosmological argument is something like this.

1. Everything has a cause.
2. So the Universe has a cause.
Therefore, God exists.

Now let's set aside the question of whether that which causes the universe has to be God. Surely there is something God-like about anything that has the power to cause the universe to exist, even if that being is not, strictly speaking, God. At the very least, naturalism, the view that they there is nothing over and above the physical universe, would be false if this argument were to be correct.

But the problem is obvious. If the universe has to have a cause because everything has to have a cause, then the universe not only has a cause, it has a cause of its cause, and a cause of the cause of the cause, and the cause of the cause of the cause of the cause....There are people, Like Bertrand Russell, who have suggested that you can refute Aquinas, or even all forms of the cosmological argument, by asking the question that an 8-year-old child knows how to ask, namely "Who made God?" Aquinas may have been called the Dumb Ox, but you don't get to be the Angelic Doctor by being stupid. I was a little surprised to find an article, published in Philo in 1998, which attributed this kind of argument to Aquinas.

The range of what needs a cause, in other words, has to be restricted, so that the things in the physical world do need causes, and God does not need a cause. One way to do that it in the way that is employed by the present-day Kalam Cosmological Argument:

1. Whatever begins to exist, must have a cause of its existence.
2. The universe began to exist.
Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.

This argument doesn't require that God needs a cause, because God never began to exist. However, Aquinas did not argue in this way either. The reason for this is that Aristotle had said that even though the universe is caused to exist by the Unmoved Mover, it nonetheless never began to exist. It has existed from eternity. And Aquinas maintained that while you couldn't prove Aristotle right on this score, you couldn't prove him wrong either, and so premise 2 is an article of faith rather than an article of reason; that is something that is must be believed on the basis of the revelation delivered through the Bible and the Church. (Aquinas' concept of faith is not what a lot of people today mean by faith; belief that is contrary to reason). But articles of faith are going to be useless in arguments for the existence of God, since obviously anyone you are trying to persuade will not accept the Bible and the Church as authorities. (You may be able to use the Bible as ancient historical documentation, but not as the Word of God).

So how did St. Thomas Aquinas argue for theism? Peterson, Hasker, Reichenbach, and Basinger, in their book Reason and Religious Belief (OUP, 1991) present the following argument, which they call the Thomistic cosmological argument.

1. A contingent being exists.
2. This contingent being has a cause of its existence.
3. The cause of its existence is something other than itself.
4. What causes this contingent being to exist must be a set that contains either only contingent beings or a set that contains at least one noncontingent (necessary) being.
5. A set that contains only contingent beings cannot cause this contingent being to exist.
6. Therefore, what causes this contingent being must be a set that contains at least one necessary being.
7. Therefore, a necessary being exists.

Here, we can respond to any challenge coming from the "Who made God" quarter by pointing out that a the causal principle in 2 requires only that contingent beings need a cause for their existence.

The critical premise here seems to be 5. One could argue, and I that Aquinas does argue, that if the series is a series of contingent beings, then there would have to be an infinite number of contingent beings. But the number of contingent beings in the universe is finite, so this can't be right.

Further, if there were an infinite number of contingent beings, each explanation would be an explanation in terms of something that needs an explanation as much as did the thing we were explaining. If you explain the position of the earth by saying it rests upon a turtle, is it really a satisfying answer to say that it's turtles all the way down.

We might want to ask this question: Why are there any contingent beings at all? The existence of particular contingent things that explain the existence of particular other things is not a satisfying answer to this question.

Russell responded to this question by saying "The universe is just there and that's all." If everything in the universe is contingent, does that make the universe contingent. But if each particle in the universe can cease to exist, doesn't it make sense to suggest that they all can cease to exist collectively?

But how do we know that everything in the physical world is contingent in the required sense? I believe that my car exists contingently because I have seen cars fall apart and go to the junkyard. I believe that people and animals exist contingently because I have seen them die. But what happens when I die? Since this is a theistic argument, we have to assume that our discussion partner is an atheist. What an atheist most likely believes is that we are all conglomerations of material particles. While we are alive, those particles work together organically, when we die, the functional unity that exists amongst the particles in our bodies is dissolved.

But while we know that organized unities of things in the world invariably fall apart, do we have equal confidence that the basic particles we find in the world (atoms, quarks, strings, or whatever they finally tell us it is) exist contingently. Scientists actually tell us that matter is not created, and matter is not destroyed. So couldn't the basic stuff of the physical universe be the thing that exist non-contingently, the existence of which does not depend on anything else for its existence.

So, does the basic stuff of the physical world exist contingently? I can't find anything in Aquinas that gives me a reason to think that it does. But suppose we have good reason to suppose that the universe began to exist. This was an article of faith for Aquinas, but if the standard interpretation of Big Bang cosmology is correct, then it has a basis in modern science. Historically, the atheist has answered the question "But why does the matter in the universe exist" by answering that the matter in the universe has always been there, and since it has always been there its existence does not need to be explained. If this response isn't available, then doesn't the beginning of the universe at the Big Bang provide a reason for supposing that the stuff of the physical universe exists contingently and not non-contingently?

Are opponents of gay marriage all religious?

No, some of them are gays who don't what to be put in an institution, the institution of marriage. Here. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Oceanfront property

CM: I don't know who apologists think they're fooling when they step forward and try to solemnly, double dog declare that imagining living forever surrounded by the ones they love is so much more chilling than their existence ending in a universe that doesn't seem to care. Because I sure as heck don't buy that one.

VR: But the doctrine of heaven isn't all there is to it, is there? First off, the belief that there is a heaven doesn't guarantee that we are sure to enjoy it. Admittedly there are some Christians who think they are eternally secure, but a lot of them think they could end up being lost eternally. 

Second, most people, especially the younger among us, deal with death by not thinking about it. Christianity tells you that you have a chance to live forever with God, but that's going to be a long time in the future. It also tells you that if you want to get laid tonight you can't (if you want to remain in God's will), unless you are married to your prospective bed partner. If you have done wrong, you have to repent of that wrong, which means you have to reverse your course of action and accept consequences for having done wrong. Forgiveness doesn't imply that your actions lack consequences, and that there won't be a painful process you have to go through to reverse the effects of sin in your life. That isn't fun at all, and it isn't supposed to be. It means that someone in control of the universe has laid down rules of proper conduct which you have almost certainly broken, and as your maker he has the right to lay those rules down and expect you to obey them. You don't own yourself. Whose life is it anyway? Not yours! If you go to heaven, you don't reign there, God does. Milton's Satan said that it is better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven, or was that Christopher Hitchens? Do you never have thoughts like that? Really???? You don't have any of what Nagel called the Fear of Religion? 

I sure as heck don't buy THAT one. If you'll buy that, I've got some oceanfront property in Arizona, from my front porch you can see the sea.

Do same-sex marriage opponents need the choice thesis, and do same-sex marriage supporters need to deny it?

By the choice thesis I mean the claim that sexual orientation is chosen, that someone can make a choice which results in their being gay or not gay.

A version of the no-choice thesis would be the genetic thesis. I remember finding out that a pair of identical twins my family knows have one straight twin and one. My first reaction was that this closed the case against the gay gene thesis, but biologists have made the argument that a genetic disposition to homosexuality might be the result of epigenetics.

I am going to argue that the answer is no to both questions, and that the choice thesis is probably true in some cases but not in others, unless you define everyone who can make a choice as bisexual.

Same-sex marriage opponents Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet write:

Note that we did not say that homosexual inclinations are necessarily a sin. Unfortunately, some Christians, often our of deep concern for those struggling with same-sex attraction, promise that Christ will change one's orientation from gay to straight. He might. Many, like Rosario Butterfield, have experienced a change in their sexual orientation. Others, like Wesley Hill, did not. We should neither make false promises about change in orientation nor ignore its possibility. We must tell the truth. 

On the other hand, too many Christians conclude that God must be OK with homosexual behaviors or else He would take those inclinations away. This denies the historic, consistent witness of the Church to the testimony of Scripture. Any sexual activity outside the given norms of marriage is sin. We must tell the truth. 

The book by Wesley Hill that I linked to was a book entitled. Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian. In other words, McDowell and Stonestreet hold that there are unchangeably gay people, but that they are morally obligated to be celibate. Now some might be thinking that it is an awfully cruel God who would demand such a thing, but if you are congenitally attracted to little boys and only little boys, it seems to me the only reasonable thing to conclude would have to be that there is no moral way to have a sex life. If you are married and your wife has contracted a health condition (and there are conditions like this) that makes intercourse always painful, does this give you the moral right to find other partners?

I suppose it might be possible to deny the choice thesis by arguing that everyone who goes from gay relationships to straight ones were really bisexual. But this would, of course, suggest that the population of bisexuals is considerably greater than most of us would have initially thought. If the case in defense of gay relationships depends on the "no choice" thesis, then not only could traditionalists argue that those in that class ought to be celibate, but it also opens a "weak" version of
traditionalism which suggests that if you have no choice, then gay might be OK, but if you have a choice, you ought to choose hetero. There are large portions of the LGBT community who are not going to like this, especially the Bs.

On the other side, defenders of gay rights are moving away from the "born this way" argument, claiming that if one is really able to defend homosexuality, then one ought also to be able to defend it as a viable and morally acceptable choice. See here. 

Sunday, November 08, 2015

An online edition of Josh McDowell's Evidence That Demands a Verdict


Ridiculousness is in the eye of the beholder

CM: But your religious beliefs are ridiculous. Demanding that others treat them not marginalize them because.... is special pleading. No thank you.

VR: True and false, correct and incorrect, these are objective categories. Ridiculousness is in the eye of the beholder. Truths can be ridiculous to some people. People who are worried about the opinions of others are influenced by ridicule. But such worries about how strongly others disapprove of what you believe is a bad motive for belief-formation. If Einstein had been more worried about that than he was he would have stayed in his patent office, and we would never have gotten the theory of relativity.

What are religious reasons

Cal: These terrorists based their actions on ancient documents, an imagined afterlife, and the pronouncements of men imbued with religious authority. (I can't think of a much more uncritical and irrational approach to belief.)

And likewise,  Christians who oppose homosexuality basically use a "because He said so argument." 

When I mentioned divine commands in the last thread, I was rightly corrected by two commentators who pointed out that the case against gay marriage typically comes in the form of natural law argumentation rather than divine command argumentation. People on this issue don't typically just say "because He said so." I brought up divine commands because 

I remember when I went to groups like Campus Crusade for Christ, where very often speakers (such as Josh McDowell) would make a case against premarital sex. The argument was almost never in the form of "God said it, I believe it, that settles it." Nor was hell threatened.  There reasons presented always had to do with achieving stable happiness on earth. 

That doesn't mean that arguments were all necessarily or equally good. But I think atheists are sometimes naive about what kinds of reasons religious people have for what they believe. 

A good friend of Bob's and mine from college days, Bill Patterson was an atheist. He also gave some of the most forceful anti-abortion arguments I have ever heard. 

The arguments against SSM typically take the form of natural law arguments. I suppose you could argue that these are implicitly religious, in that they appeal to the idea of inherent purposes which materialistic atheists might reject. But it's very far removed from "God said it, I believe it, that settles it. 

Here is an example. 

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Why William Jennings Bryan Opposed Evolution

"Science is a magnificent material force, but it is not a teacher of morals. It can be perfect machinery, but it adds no moral restraints to protect society from the misuse of machinery. ... If civilization is to be saved from the wreckage threatened by intelligence not consecrated by love, it must be saved by the moral code of the meek and lowly Nazarene."

Here is the article on Bryan from PBS. In a lot of ways, politically, he had a lot more in common with Bernie Sanders than he did with Rush Limbaugh. Although history is right in viewing him as a supporter of obscurantism, it's hard to fault his motives.

Mind-virus thinking

I think we are in trouble if we think that we can infer from the fact that someone holds a view based on a religious conviction, it must therefore be an uncritical and irrational belief, and therefore we have the right to deputize the government to punish you if you try to act on it. This kind of "mind-virus" thinking concerning one's opponents is precisely what is going to turn the atheist movement in a totalitarian direction. I'm not going to argue that atheism always leads to totalitarianism, but well-intentioned anti-religious philosophies have produced the worst forms of totalitarianism the world has ever seen. How does this happen? It happens because people think there is a right answer to the world's problems, and to get us to the end, any means is justified. 

The simple fact is that there are people at the top of every major academic field, from theoretical physics, to evolutionary biology, to philosophy, who are serious, orthodox Christians. These are people who think very hard about these issues, and come out where they come out. They are not going away, and they are not going to go away in response to anti-Christian bullying. Simplistic ways of explaining them away won't wash. If they are mistaken, the explanation for their error is more complex than the simplistic answers I am used to (and tired of hearing) from atheists.

Religious freedom is foundational to our country. People are going to disagree about religion, and we have to find a way to deal with it. Gay marriage? Maybe. But, oh, that's not enough. We have to protect gay people from anyone expressing openly the idea that they might not be doing the right thing before God, and therefore they are unable to produce speech congratulating them for doing what they are doing. 

You can tell me that the deity I worship is "the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” and that's not hate speech. You can say that biology instructors who teach intelligent design should be fired from their jobs. But we have to punish people who won't do wedding photographers for a gay wedding when the couple can go right across the street and find a photographer who will? Ohhh, that's discrimination, you're just like George Wallace and Lester Maddox. 

You're kidding. No?

Friday, November 06, 2015

Speech and service: why the racist comparison doesn't work

Typically, a couple doesn't just say "Just bake the damned cake, I want it white with chocolate frosting." They want something that helps to celebrate their relationship and upcoming marriage. If I were going to marry a man at long last because of Obergfell, I would probably want something like a rainbow arrangement and two grooms on top of the cake. Wedding photographers pose pictures to accentuate the romance between the couple. Ours certainly did. If they didn't, they wouldn't be good photographers. That is why at least some wedding services are engaged in what seems to me to be more like speech than just cooking a meal. And if they are traditional Christians and they are being asked to do this for a same-sex wedding, they are being asked to produce, and do a good job of producing, speech that celebrates something that their religion says should not be celebrated. 

There is a principled basis within the religion for taking this position. It's not just a cover for hating certain people. I am not saying it can't be challenged within Christianity. I have a lot of sympathy for people of Christian conviction who find that they are unavoidably gay and become convinced that the best way they can serve God is to have the kind of commitment in a gay relationship that is required of Christians in their marriages. Other Christians are convinced that such people have reached the wrong answer. In my view, neither side in this is stupid, ignorant, insane or wicked, nor is it right to call them bigoted. 

On the other hand, I don't see a principled Christian reason for opposing interracial marriage. So far as I can tell, race isn't even a biblical concept, except for Jew and Gentile, and Paul explicitly bridged that barrier. If someone convinced me that they had a principled religious reason for not providing wedding services to a racially mixed wedding, I actually think I would argue that they have the right to refuse service. Some people are going to get mad at me for this, but there can be cases where freedom of religion trumps equal rights. Convincing me that the religious objection to mixed-race marriage was motivated by religious principle and not racial prejudice would be the trick. 

Freedom of religion is central to any free society. For example, democracy is going to have a lot of trouble working in a country like Iraq where the two types of Muslims are unwilling to grant religious freedom to the other branch. 

The comparisons between defenders of traditional marriage and the KKK don't wash. Traditional marriage defenders may, at the end of the day, be mistaken. If people can't see the real differences between them, then I strongly suspect that they are not primarily concerned about equal rights for gay people, they are primarily concerned about bashing traditional religion and bringing it down a peg, and gays are just a tool for doing that.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Suggestion for traditionalist wedding providers

If you are having a gay wedding, it seems to me that LAST thing you would want would be a photographer or a baker who really doesn't believe in gay marriage. That is, if I were a wedding service provider opposed to gay marriage but asked to do a gay wedding instead of just saying no, I might just point out to them that, based on my convictions, I have trouble seeing their wedding as something to celebrate, and that I would unrecommend myself as a wedding service provider. Now, a gay couple with any sense is going to head for the door. If they don't head for the door, then I am have to suspect that they are not looking for a wedding service provider, they are looking for someone to sue or shame as a bigot. 

Is science coming to an end?

See a discussion of this here. This is a follow-up.

A typical argument is goes this way.

1. Human beings are inherently biased. They will believe what they were taught to believe, or what they want to believe, unless this is somehow corrected.

2. Science, as a way of knowing the world, has a system of inherent safeguards against bias. By adopting a scientific perspective, one will not simply be exchanging one bias for another, one will be able to free oneself from bias.

3. Therefore, regardless of what seems to oneself to be true, we stand the best chance of overcoming bias by adopting a scientific perspective.

4. A scientific perspective has within it no room for faith, and no room for any belief in a supernatural being such as God.

5. Therefore, religious faith should be rejected, including the belief in God.

On the contrary, I think the value of science is context-dependent and contingent. It is a  human institution, and it can be corrupted by human weaknesses. It operates most effectively through the use of high levels of specialization, but success in a highly specialized enterprise does not always translate to effective cognition across the board. There are numerous failed attempts to extrapolate results from some area of scientific success beyond their proper limits.

Here is a interesting set of warnings about what to watch for in science journalism.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Sociological research on same-sex parenting: The Regnerus Dilemma

It seems to me that you have to wonder about bias on the part of researchers on this issue----on both sides.


On Galileo


Friday, October 30, 2015

Pope Francis on evolution


What creationists don't say

Religious believers, if they are creationists, typically challenge the science behind evolution. They don't just say "Sure science says that, but science is wrong." 

But I suppose they could, if they wanted to. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The truth value of unprovable statements

Many statements which are not provable, at least not by us, are either true or false, and we agree that they are either true or false even if we have no way of determining whether they are true or false. A good example would be
1)______ committed the Jack the Ripper murders. For any name you put in, they either did or did not commit those crimes. Yet we have no doubt that there is someone (or more than one person) for which that statement is true, just as it is false of everyone else. 

2) There is life of comparable intelligence to our own on other planets. 

Is there a population bomb?

Apparently, fears have been exaggerated.


God and Obamacare: Fact or opinion?

The fact-opinion distinction is less than clear. By fact do we mean something which can be true or false, or is it something that can be proven true of false. Is an opinion something that is neither true nor false, or is it something that cannot be proven true or false. 

There are a lot of things that can be true or false, about which evidence is certainly relevant, which nevertheless there is no proof that ought to convince all reasonable persons. The existence of God is one of them. Whether Obamacare is doing more good than harm, or harm than good, is another. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Notes on the Philosophy and Politics paper.

I think you have to sign into before you can download. But the idea is that academics have to analyze the issues and come to terms with them fairly and honestly, and not pay attention to what the political implications of their statements are. 

An example of this would be criticisms of Thomas Nagel. Nagel is a non-theist who develops a lot of the arguments against naturalistic materialism that I do. But he thinks you can accept the arguments supporting the idea that reason and "the mental" is fundamental to the universe without becoming a theist. In the process he is critical of the overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything. Now, I can understand why many secularists think that he's mistaken, that materialistic naturalism doesn't have quite the severe problems Nagel thinks they do. But, on top of this comes strong message that he's giving aid and comfort to religious believers and even (gasp!) intelligent design advocates, and they virtually imply that if that is what he really thinks he ought to shut up about it because of the bad political implications of making his case. After all, you don't want someone giving ammo to those "armies of the night." When people criticize them for heresy hunting, they just reply by saying "We're just criticize arguments we don't accept. Shouldn't all ideas be open to criticism?" But no, you aren't just doing that, you're saying his ideas lead to "mischief" and one philosopher, perhaps jokingly, said that his books should be put on a modern secular version of the Index of Forbidden Books. 

To them, I want to say, cut the political correctness and follow the argument where it leads. 

The paper argues that the political involvement of philosophers may lead them to not give fair consideration to positions that could be used to support their political opponents. I am inclined to agree.

Why Philosophers Should Stay Out of Politics


Thursday, October 22, 2015

The LGBT divide

I think there's actually a split in the pro-LGBT community on the issue of marriage. There is a conservative wing of it that basically says that traditional marriage is just fine, it just needs to be extended to same-sex couples. This is typical of Christian supporters of SSM such as Matthew Vines. They believe in such things as lifetime commitment, two and only two partners, marital fidelity, etc., they just think that for people who are gay in their orientation, they should exercise that with a partner of the same sex. Such people would be embarrassed, I think by Richard Carrier's adaptation of LGBT rhetoric to support polyamory.

People like Gessen are on the radical wing of the pro-LGBT movement, they are happy to see the opposite sex requirement eliminated for marriage, but they reject the rest of traditional marriage as well.

The difference between these two wings has been de-emphasized during the battle for SSM. After Obergfell, I strongly suspect that this disagreement develop more and more into a debate within the pro-LGBT community.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Is polygamy next?


Debunking the wrong answer

I noticed John Loftus objecting to my comments by, typically, bringing up Scandanavian countries. However, PL's point is relevant here, that strong secularization tends to move a country toward underpopulation, which makes it difficult for them to avoid a Muslim majority. And, I would also have to make the note that the secularization of those countries took place with very little of the religion-bashing typical of new atheism. If religion dies within a culture, I think it is more likely to die of neglect than anything else.

There is a sense in which writing books like the God Delusion and running websites like Debunking Christianity is a self-defeating enterprise. What you are saying by doing that is that God and Christianity are so important that someone needs to take lots of time and effort attacking it. I know they don't intend to leave this message, but that is still the effect. These people spend a lot of time and energy on what they don't believe, in debunking the wrong answer. If it's really worth the time and energy to criticize something, then there are rules, such as the principle of charity, that have to be followed. If not, then you are better off pursuing the right answer than attacking the wrong answer.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Commercial services and expression

CM: First, who wants to give a business, carrying out a commercial transaction, authority of approval? Should fat people not be allowed to buy iPhones because they make the technology look unattractive? Should book stores refuse to sell to people who wear crosses around their necks because the bookseller doesn't approve of religious garb? 

VR: The answer to this involves a distinction between commercial services that provide expression, or speech, on behalf of gay weddings, and those that don't. For the former, I there is a problem with a business putting a sign up in their hardware store that says "no gays." (So if a gay person needs a screw, they have to get it somewhere else). However, businesses that provide celebratory expression should be able, if this is a stated policy, to provide that expression only if that is what they support. If you are a professional speechwriter, should you be accused of discrimination if you will only provide your services for Republican candidates and not Democratic candidates?

Apologies for the bad pun.