Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Kant vs. Dawkins on evidence of absence

Kant maintained that what we know about the world around us can only be about the way the world appears to us, not the world as it is in itself. Therefore, we are left with just putting our appearances together, and given this we can't expect there to be evidence either way. So, Kant said, we have to decide whether to believe in God or not depending on whether we think it would make us a better person if we believed. And, he thinks that belief in God would be better for our character, and therefore we should believe. 
Contrast him with someone like Richard Dawkins, of God Delusion fame. Dawkins thinks that if there were a God, there would be evidence for his existence. But, there isn't any evidence that isn't better explained by evolution. He thinks we can know reality, and it makes more sense without belief in God. In fact, he actually thinks God couldn't possibly explain anything at all, and it would be the ultimate wrong answer whether or not there was a good evolutionary explanation for everything. For him, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. To believe in God is to embrace a belief that is almost certainly false, and therefore cannot be moral. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Del Ratzsch on design arguments and the ID debate


We will not pursue that dispute here except to note that even if the case is made that ID could not count as proper science, which is controversial,[24] that would not in itself demonstrate a defect in design arguments as such. Science need not be seen as exhausting the space of legitimate conclusions from empirical data. In any case, the floods of vitriol in the current ID discussion suggest that much more than the propriety of selected inferences from particular empirical evidences is at issue.

Eric Hyde on the no-evidence charge

1. There is no evidence for God’s existence.
There is at least one major problem with this line as it is typically presented.
One often hears, “there is no evidence for God, therefore Christians believe in fairytales,” (or something to that effect) when what is actually meant is more like, “there is no physical proof of God’s being in the physical world, therefore Christians believe in fairytales (since all ‘real’ things are physical).”
The fact that Christians have never claimed to believe in a physical God – as merely one more physical being among all other physical beings in the universe – does not stop these sorts of atheists from thinking they have laid waste to 40 centuries of religious thought, experience, and refinement with the mere mention of this evidentiary boogieman. It rarely occurs to them that such physical proof would actually run 100% counter to Judeo-Christian theistic claims. Their argument against a physical God is actually applauded and defended by Christians.
This fact is not, of course, proof that the Christian claim is true, but merely proof that with such attacks the atheist has not even begun to swing in the direction of Christianity.
However, if what they mean is something more like, “There is no logical evidence of God’s existence…” then the straw man suddenly becomes a brick wall. The logical arguments for God are vast and time tested against some of the greatest minds of all time working tirelessly against them. They are well-known arguments and can be easily found online or in print, but let me give one quick example. I recently read someone who claimed that I conceded the atheist’s argument that God is not real since the faith teaches He is not physical. Let me help those who might struggle with this idea using a quote from David Bentley Hart: “Why can’t there be a physical explanation of existence? Because anything physical is, by definition, something that exists. So there cannot be a physical cause of existence.” The faith claims this non-physical, yet real, entity is God. His absolute “existence” is more real than physical existence by order of priority.

But besides logical arguments an additional reason why atheists often fail with this approach is because they run up against Christians with living experiences with God. There is no amount of speculative babbling from the uninitiated that can oppose the one whose faith is built on a living subjectivity to the presence of God. On these matters Kierkegaard had it right – in objectivity there is no truth for the single individual; the truth is subjectivity.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Is faith avoidable?

The definition of faith is as complicated one. Lots of people study the issue of religion, but no one can examine every parameter of the issue. So, we have to live on the basis of some view of ultimate reality or another, fully acting on the view we accept, even though it is always possible that there is some feature of reality that we haven't considered that might give us a reason to believe and act in the opposite way. Defined this way, faith is impossible to avoid. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Why the brain presupposes a mind

Why are mental states not states of the brain? Well, what is a brain, after all? A brain has to be described as a set of particles. No individual particle of the brain is the brain, it is as set. But what makes a set a real object? If you don't accept essences of some kind or another. 

What is a naturalistic perspective on what a "whole" is? Here is David Hume. 

“The WHOLE, you say, wants a cause. I answer, that the uniting of these parts into a whole, like the uniting of several distinct counties into one kingdom, or several distinct members into one body, is performed merely by an arbitrary act of mind, and has no influence on the nature of things. Did I show you the particular cause of each individual in a collection of twenty particles of matter, I should think it very unreasonable, should you afterwards ask me, what was the cause of the whole twenty. This is sufficiently explained in explaining the cause of the parts.” (Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion)

What is a whole? It is a product of AN ARBITRARY ACT OF THE MIND," and not something in the nature of things. If the brain is a whole, then it can't exist without there being a mind. It s a mind-dependent object. 

About that theon

The point about the theon is simply this. You are trying to define naturalism. I maintain that I really have nothing at stake in calling what I believe in natural or supernatural. I know Lewis likes to uses the term "supernaturalism" for his position, and I have no problem with that, but what I do have a problem with is the failure on the part of some to provide some criteria for what is natural. With no principled criteria, I can simply baptize my ontology as naturalistic. If you are trying so say, "You can't being that into science, you IDiot, you can't believe in that, it's supernatural, it's a bunch of woo, etc., then we need some criteria for doing that kind of exclusion. I don't need the criteria, you do. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

What are you excluding?

My AFR argument is perfectly clear on the kind of naturalism that it is attacking. It makes a distinction between mentalistic and non-mentalistic world-views, and it maintains that any world-view that is meaningfully naturalistic has to exclude certain things from the basic level of analysis: normativity, intentionality, subjectivity, and purpose. So whether we use the term physicalism or naturalism or materialism doesn't matter. What matters is what has to be excluded from the "natural" level. If you can't come up with anything that makes something meaningfully naturalistic, then I will advance my Christian theism as a liberal form of naturalism. God then becomes an unusual physical particle, which I will call the theon.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Defining the natural

Well, how do you define the physical, or the natural? I would have no problems whatsoever if, for example, the Apostle's Creed were true, but everything was "natural" in some sense. The word "supernatural" does not appear in the Creed at all. So, maybe it's all natural, but nature has more in it than what we used to think it did.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Is dualism and empirical question?

I am not sure that dualism is an empirical question. The implications of materialism might be such that, if materialism were true, no one would believe anything on the basis of evidence. After all, inference based on evidence logically entails mental causation, but if materialism is true, then all causation is physical, and therefore nonmental causation. Thus the success of science doesn't support materialism, it refutes it. The more evidence we have that science works, the more proof there is that there is real mental causation, which is logically incompatible with materialism. 

Is the claim "No one believes anything for a reason" an empirical question? If we look at the world and conclude that that proposition is true, then that would work only if it is possible to reach conclusions on the basis of reasons, which in turn is impossible unless there is mental causation and materialism is false. Science could never reach the conclusion that it is true unless it is prepared to blow itself up and condemn itself and every other human epistemic endeavor as hopelessly irrational.

We should be tolerant of everyone, except, of course, for bigots

Here.  On the intolerance of tolerance. HT: Bob Prokop

Thursday, September 10, 2015

10 Questions for Materialist Atheists


1.      Consider this assertion: Nothing exists but those things with which science can experimentDo you believe this because of scientific reasons, or it is a dogma for you?

2.      Many materialists believe, with Steven Weinberg [1], that the more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointlessDo you really believe that everything is pointless? In that case, why do you get up in the night when your child is ill?
3.      Science seems to have discovered many things about the universe and the world around us. But some materialist thinkers, like Stephen Hawking [2], say that objective reality in unknowableDo you believe that scientific discoveries are real, or are they just mental constructs of man? In the second case, why does technology work?
4.      Science has discovered that nature is subject to surprisingly simple laws, if they are expressed in mathematical form. Materialist philosophers believe that there is no need to find an explanation for the existence of the laws. They are just there, with no reason.Do you agree with this assertion? Do you have scientific reasons to believe it, or do you believe it without reason? In other words, is it a dogma for you?
5.      The evolution of living beings takes place through a combination of chance and necessity. Materialists say that this proves that there cannot be design in evolution. In our experiments on artificial life (a branch of computer science that simulates the behavior of living beings with a program) we use a combination of chance and necessity, parallel to that in biological evolution. It is evident that our experiments are designed. Knowing this, do you still affirm that biological evolution is not designed? Do you believe it for scientific reasons, or is it a dogma for you?
6.      Materialism affirms that we are not free, that we are programmed machines, thatwhenever we act or think, we have no option but to act or think as we actually act or thinkAre you a materialist because you have meditated and found reasons for this position, or because you have been programmed to accept it?
7.      Materialists assert that in nature there are only efficient causes, that there are no final causes or purposesYou are a part of nature. How then can you have purposes, how can you set goals and work to achieve them? Or is that just an illusion? In that case,why should we work to achieve anything, if everything is decided beforehand?
8.      Is man just an animal, as materialists say? If we analyze the matter carefully, we can see that the differences between man and the animals are overwhelming [3]. Are you sure that man is just an animal? Why do you believe that? Is it a dogma for you, or do you have reasons to believe it, apart from having read about it?
9.      To come to the conclusion that God does not exist, have you studied carefully the Christian idea of God? Or perhaps, following Richard Dawkins [4], do you think that, as God does not exist, you don’t have to lose your time studying what other people say about Him? In other words: Is the inexistence of God a start point for you, a dogma?
Antony Flew
10.  One of the most important atheist philosophers of the twentieth century (Antony Flew, 1923-2010) changed his mind in 2004 and published a book [5] explaining the reasons for his decisionHave you read Flew’s book, or  will you take care not to read it, so that your atheistic convictions won’t be in danger?

[1] Steven Weinberg, The first three minutes, 1977, Basic Books.
[2] Stephen Hawking, L. Mlodinow, The grand design, 2010, Transworld Digital. See
[3] Manuel Alfonseca, Is man just an animal?
[4] Richard Dawkins, The God delusion, 2008, Mariner Books. See
[5] Antony Flew, There is a God: how the world’s most notorious atheist changed his mind, 2008, HarperOne.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

What is religion for legal purposes?

If it is unconstitutional to establish a religion, then it might sometimes be important to determine whether something is a "religion" for Establishment Clause purposes.  For example, Malnak v Yogi (1979, 3rd Cir.) considered whether SCI/TM (scientific creative intelligence/transcendental meditation), offered as an elective course in New Jersey public schools, was a religion.  If so, offering such a course--even on an elective basis--might be unconstitutional.  Those challenging the course produced evidence that instructors told students that "creative intelligence is the basis of all growth" and that getting in touch with this intelligence through mantras is the way to "oneness with the underlying reality of the universe."  They also pointed out that students received personal mantras in puja ceremonies that include chanting and ritual.  On the other hand, supporters of the course showed that SCI/TM put forward no absolute moral code, had no organized clergy or observed holidays, and had no ceremonies for passages such as marriage and funerals.  Is SCI/TM a religion?  Judge Adams of the Third Circuit applied these three criteria before  answering the question in the affirmative:
1. A religion deals with issues of ultimate concern; with what makes life worth living; with basic attitudes toward fundamental problems of human existence.
2. A religion presents a comprehensive set of ideas--usually as "truth," not just theory.
3.  A religion generally has surface signs (such as clergy, observed holidays, and ritual) that can be analogized to well-recognized religions.

God is not Tinkerbell

Some people seem to have the strange idea that God really exists for the people who believe in God, but does not exist for atheists. No side is in error, reality is just what you believe.

This makes no sense to me.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Niceness and productivity

As many of you know, Bob Prokop and I go back a long ways, to our days as ASU undergraduates in the mid-seventies. We were members of a science fiction club called OSFFA, the Organized Science Fiction Fans of Arizona. Bob and our late friend Joe Sheffer were the resident Catholics, I was the token Methodist, and the President, as I recall, was an atheist and Heinlein fan named Bill Patterson. There were a lot of very passionate discussions. I don't think we ever were paragons of disputational civility. In fact, at one of the discussions was cartooned by an artistic member, showing Bill with a T-shirt that said "Heinlein is Power," Bob with one that said "I agree with nothing!" and Joe with one that said "I am wise." (I wasn't there that night).

Alas, Joe passed away in 1989, and Bill passed away a couple of years ago. He was known as the official biographer for Heinlein. And, to my knowledge, he remained an atheist throughout his life. But he ended up being heavily influence by St. Thomas Aquinas, and described himself at one point as a Thomistic atheist. He also was an opponent of abortion.

It isn't just niceness that makes productive discussion possible. But there is a state of mind that really tunes out people on the other side.

On multicultural ethics

Isn't ethics just the business of determining which moral beliefs are right or wrong? Foreign cultures practice

1. Female Genital Mutilation
2. The Caste system in India
3. The forced marriage of prepubescent girls in India
4. The execution of adulterers and active homosexuals, and the flogging of women who engage in suspicious behavior in places like Afghanistan
5. The bribing of rape victims' families in South Korea. 
6. The strict authoritarianism and glass ceilings of Japanese corporations. 

All of these practices have a common element, they treat people unequally based on who they are. So, egalitarianism makes us on the one hand makes us want to treat other cultures as equals, and yet at the same time the very practices of those cultures that we are considering are anything but egalitarian. 

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Jeff Lowder

I want to say, for the record, I think people like Jeff do an enormous service to the whole community of dialogue. It was at his invitation that the first Argument from Reason paper appeared on Internet Infidels.

The question that I am concerned with is whether there is a place for an open forum of debate and dialogue between believers and unbelievers. Some people engage discussion in ways that has a tendency to shut down discussion and polarize believers and nonbelievers. In the spirit of I Pet 3:15, and in the spirit of Lewis's founding of the Oxford Socratic Club, I think it wrong for believers or unbelievers to shut down discussion.

He takes as lot of abuse from more militant types taking the position he takes, and has dealt with it with far more grace than I would have.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

How do you get good people to do bad things?

You start with a greater good and a higher purpose, and then you buy in on the idea that the end justifies the means, and if they believe in God, that the means are acceptable to God. With Christianity at least, you have a belief in place that people are supposed to have a choice if their obedience is to be meaningful, and that the future course of the great events of history are ultimately under the control of God, not ourselves. Christianity does not encourage people to think that the end justifies the means. 

Just to give you an example, you hear a lot of anti-gay preaching from Christians in America, but even when you hear of queerbashings, religious condemnations of homosexuality, in almost all cases, aren't even used as a pretext, much less a motivation. Why? 

Why were there these mass killings in countries like China, Nazi Germany, and revolutionary France, and Soviet Russia. The French and Russian revolutions started off with what appear to be good motives about overthrowing tyrannical monarchs and fair treatment for workers. The French started with liberty, equality and fraternity and ended up with Madame la Guillotine. The Russian revolution overthrew the Tsar, and put in the Party. 

Some atheists today think that they have a great purpose of saving the world from religion. I am starting to hear "the end justifies the means" reasoning from some of them. Let's be honest, these people have no qualms about stirring up anti-religious hatred. What other than their lack of power to do so will prevent them from doing the kind of harm these previous revolutionaries did, all in the name of reason and science.