Sunday, January 31, 2016

Hard questions for scientism

The difficult part in science-oriented philosophy is to get science to do the type of thing we don't normally think of it as being good at doing. Science is great at showing how things work. But a lot of people struggle with the idea of using a scientific approach to asking certain types of questions, such as
1) Why do I exist?
2) Why is there a material world at all?
3) What should I do with my life?
4) Is there a given purpose for my life that I ought to fulfill?
5) What kinds of social and economic structures promote happiness the most? 
6) Is my wife faithful? 
The last question is an interesting one because while there is a scientific approach to it, actually having to answer it scientifically (by having your wife followed everywhere she goes) is precisely thought of by most of us as being a good reason for thinking that one's marriage is in real trouble, either because of your lack of trust, or because she has given you good reason to doubt her fidelity. If you need science for this one, you are already in trouble. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Hey, what happened to the Five Ways?

This is considered to be the most common theist arguments.

Very often, however, this silly procedure is adopted by people who are not silly, but who, consciously or unconsciously, want to destroy Christianity. Such people put up a version of Christianity suitable for a child of six and make that the object of their attack. When you try to explain the Christian doctrine as it is really held by an instructed adult, they then complain that you are making their heads turn round and that it is all too complicated and that if there really were a God they are sure He would have made "religion" simple, because simplicity is so beautiful, etc. You must be on your guard against these people for they will change their ground every minute and only waste your tune. Notice, too, their idea of God "making religion simple": as if "religion" were something God invented, and not His statement to us of certain quite unalterable facts about His own nature.

---C. S. Lewis

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Anti-apologists are almost always apologists

What is anti-apologetics? People can often be anti-apologists for certain answers they consider to be wrong. But normally, we don't do anti-apologetics simply to get someone to stop getting a particular wrong answer. Think of a Christian who does Mormon anti-apologetics. They wouldn't say that all they were doing was getting people to stop getting a particular wrong answer (Mormonism), but they don't care at all what answer they accept in its place. They do care, and care very much.

Someone persuaded to stop being a Christian might become a secular humanist, might become an Objectivist, or might become a nihilist or a communist revolutionary. Or they might come to think that if there is no hope beyond this life, there is no reason to continue living this one, and commit suicide. Nothing in the logic of atheism requires any of these responses as opposed to others. But most atheists who do anti-Christian apologetics do care which of those options are embraced. They are not merely anti-apologists. They are apologists.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Part I of a series on John Lennox's God's Undertaker

I received John Lennox’s God’s Undertaker as a Christmas present, and I thought it would be a nice idea to share my study of that book here. The book’s goal is to evaluate the claim that science has buried belief in God, that, at least if we extend scientific thinking as far as it will go, we get to the end of religion.
            The discussion begins with a quote from atheist Peter Atkins.
            Science, the system of belief founded securely on publicly shared reproducible knowledge, emerged from religion. As science discarded its chrysalis to become its present butterfly, it took over the heath. There is no reason to suppose that science cannot deal with every aspect of existence. Only the religious---among whom I include not only the prejudiced but the underinformed, hope there is a dark corner of the physical universe, or of the universe of experience, that science can never hope to illuminate. But science has never encountered such a barrier, and the only grounds for supposing that such reductionism will fail are pessimism on the part of  scientists of fear the minds of the religious.
Peter Atkins, “The Limitless Power of Science,” In "Nature's Imagination - The Frontiers of Scientific Vision, Ed. John Cornwell, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1995.

Lennox replies:
And yet, and yet… Is this really true? Are all religious people to be written off as prejudiced and underinformed? After all, some of them are scientists who have won the Nobel Prize. Are they really pinning their hopes on finding a dark corner of the universe that science can never hope to illuminate? Certainly that is scarcely a fair or true description of most of the early pioneers in science who, like Kepler, claimed that it was precisely their conviction that there was a Creator that inspired their science to ever greater heights. For them it was the dark corners of the universe that science did illuminate that provided ample evidence of the ingenuity of God.

God’s Undertaker, (Lion-Hudson), 2007.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Steve Hays on Skywriting

Here.  Of course some atheists have said that even if God were to skywrite, they still wouldn't believe.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Rights and moral objectivity

I think that one implication of rejecting moral objectivity is the conclusion that rights are given by societies, and are not inherent in people in virtue of being human. If someone has the right not to be enslaved, then that means that potential slaveholders have an objective obligation not to own them. 

Moral Subjectivity and the Holocaust

When people tell me that they believe that moral values are subjective, I often wonder whether they are willing to take their subjectivism to its logical conclusion. The statement "The holocaust was morally wrong," is a moral statement. Now if someone says "The Holocaust never happened," we regard it as a matter of fact about which the speaker can be mistaken. But if someone says "The Holocaust was morally acceptable," then if subjectivism is true, then a person cannot be mistaken about that. Does that make sense? 

David Bentley Hart on Dennett


Who is an apologist?

I often hear the word "apologist" used for defenders of religious belief. But isn't anyone who advocates for a positions with respect to religion and apologist for that position. Why aren't people like Dawkins and Loftus considered apologists, that is, apologists for atheism?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Contrast these two statements

If atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby.

If atheism is a religion, then not eating meat is a diet.

Monday, January 18, 2016

If naturalism is true, then belief based on evidence is metaphysically impossible

The evidential relation is not a physical relation. So if physicalism is true, evidence never has anything to do with what anyone believes. On that view, only spatial, temporal and causal relations have anything to do with anything that goes on in reality. So rather than being the correct conclusion of evidentialism, naturalistic materialism actually makes evidentialism impossible. If theism is true, then it is possible for beliefs to be based on evidence. Otherwise, it's metaphysically impossible.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Is Ted Cruz eligible to be President?

Maybe not. 

Euthanasia for the non-terminal

The Oregon Death with Dignity law is very clear about requiring a terminal diagnosis. Now, in highly secularized Belgium, this requirement is being waived. Here. Also, in the Netherlands, the consent requirement for euthanasia is being relaxed.

Does anyone see a dangerous trend?

Does the left have myths science can't challenge?

Apparently so.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Craig Keener on miracles


Richard Purtill on the fantastic element in ancient miracle reports

A redated post. 

One possible way of generating a case for the Christian miracles is to envision what we should expect from a man-made religion. There are, I think, features of Christianity which we should not expect to find if there were not reality behind it.

There is a very interesting discussion of Apollonuis of Tyana, written by Philostratus in 220, found in Richard Purtill’s contribution to the second edition of Louis Pojman’s Philosophy or Religion volume. It’s on pp. 330-331 of that volume. Purtill is a both a professional philosopher and a fantasy and science fiction writer.

RP: It might be worthwhile to take a quick look, for purposes of comparison, at the closest thing we have around the time of the Gospels to an attempt at realistic fantasy. This is the story of Appollonius of Tyana, written about 220 A. D. by Flavius Philostratus, which is sometimes referred to by controversialists as if it were a serious rival to the Gospel accounts of Christ’s ministry and miracles. Penguin Classics publishes an excellent little paper back edition of this story, to which you may go for details, but let me note a few points in passing.
The story concerns a wandering sage who allegedly lived from the early years of the first century until about A. D. 96 or 98. Philostratus mentions some earlier sources for his work but at least some of those sources are probably his own invention. For one thing, Philostratus’ account contains serious historical inaccuracies about things like dates of rulers, which seem to rule out reliance on any early source. (Contrast with the Gospels duly noted-VR). The work was later used to discredit the uniqueness of Christ’s miracles by setting up a rival miracle worker, as Socrates was sometimes set up as a rival to Christ as a martyr and teacher of virtue.
Still, there is some evidence that a Neo-Pythagorean sage named Apollonius may have really lived, and thus Philostratus’s work is a real example of what some have thought the Gospels to be: a fictionalized account of the life of a real sage and teacher; introducing miraculous events to build up the prestige of the central figure. It thus gives us a good look at what a real example of a fictionalized biography would be like, written at a time and place not too far removed from those in which the Gospels were written.
The first thing to notice is the fairy-tale atmosphere. There is a rather nice little vampire story, which inspired a major poem by Keats, entitled Lamia. There are animal stories about, for instance, snakes in India big enough to drag off and eat an elephant. The sage wanders from country to country and wherever he goes he is likely to be entertained by the king or emperor, who holds long conversations with him andsends him on his way with camels and precious stones.
Interspersed with picturesque adventures there are occasional accounts of miracles, often involving prophecy and mind reading. A ruffian threatens to cut Apollonius’s head off and the sage laughs and shouts the name of a day three days hence; on thatday the ruffian is executed for treason. Here is a typical passage about healing miracles;
There came a man about thirty who was an expert lion-hunter but had been attacked by a lion and dislocated his hip, and so was lame in one leg. But the Wise Man massaged his hip and this restored the man to an upright walk. Someone else who had gone blind went away with his sight fully restored, and another man with a paralysed arm left strong again. A woman too, who had had seven miscarriages was cured through he prayers of her husband as follows. The Wise Man told the husband, when his wife was in labor, to bring a live rabbit under his cloak to the place where she was, walk around her and immediately release the hare: for she would lose her womb as well as thee baby if the hare was not immediately driven away (Bk. 3, Sec. 39).
RP again: Now the point is not that Appollonius no serious rival to Christ; no one ever thought he was except a few anti-Christian polemicists about the time of some of the early persecutions of the Church. The point is this is what you get when imagination goes to work on a historical figure in classical antiquity; you get miracle stories a little like those in the Gospels, but also snakes big enough to eat elephants, kings and emperors as supporting cast, travelers’ tales, ghosts and vampires. Once the boundaries of fact are crossed we wander into fairyland. And very nice too. But the Gospels are set firmly in the real Palestine of the first century, and the little details+ are not picturesque inventions but the real details that only an eyewitness or a skilled realistic novelist can give.

VR: This is part of reason for thinking the evidence we have is more like what we should expect if the story were true than if it were false. There seems to be a reality check on the scope of the miraculous element; Jesus doesn’t to miracles to show off, but only to advance His mission.



Saturday, January 09, 2016

Natural theology and God of the Gaps

A redated post.

Is there any theistic argument that can't be accused of being a god-of-the-gaps argument? Is this an all-purpose reply to all natural theology? If so, then it seems that someone who subscribes to these responses would have to say that there couldn't be enough evidence for God's existence--that atheism is unfalsifiable, because anything that might require theistic explanation could be answered by saying that this is just a gap that naturalism hasn't filled quite yet. So if the stars in the sky were to spell out the words "Turn or burn Parsons this means you" (oops I did it again), and Parsons were to turn, he would be guilty of god of the gaps reasoning.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

If ID is not science, then the denial of ID is also not science

I wrote:
If ID is not science, then the denial of ID is also not science. If the denial of ID is science, then ID is science. You can't have you cake and eat it too. 

Well, let’s take the subtitle of The Blind Watchmaker, “Why the evidence of evolution reveals a world without design.” What this suggests to me is that we investigated the evidence of evolution, and concluded on the basis of that that the world is without design. What implies, at least to me, is that prior to investigating the evidence of evolution, we could either have concluded a world with design or a world without design, but the evidence leads us to think that there was not design. The dog, the evidence, is wagging the tail, the no-design conclusion. But if that is the case, then someone ought to be free to explore the possibility that this conclusion is not true, and still be doing science. You might be doing bad science, or mistaken science, but you should be able to be mistaken and still do science.

Consider the statement “The DNA evidence reveals that O. J. Simpson killed Nicole and Ron.” The statement clearly implies that the evidence could have implicated O. J. or exonerated him, but it implicated him. If any conclusion but “O. J is guilty” would have been thrown out on methodological grounds, then we would have to question the methodology. It is presupposing the answer, not deciding the question for us.

Now let’s look at another statement. According to Judge Jones, ID isn’t science because it “violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation”. Well, if in order to follow the grounds rules of science we have to rule out design, then the evidence of evolution didn’t reveal a world without design, it presupposed it in order for its work to count as science. The investigation could not have gone either way, it could only go one way.

Or take Richard Lewontin’s statement:
"Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. "

On this view the tail, materialism, wags the dog, the evidence, and not vice versa. The evidence of evolution didn’t tell us there’s no divine foot in the door, our a priori adherence to material causes does that. 

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Why Scientism's Progress Narrative Fails


Deep down inside, atheists really believe in God

See here.  But in my experience claims like this, on both sides are a whole lot easier to make than to show to be true.