Sunday, July 18, 2021

John Beversluis, 1934-2021

 Admirers of C. S. Lewis were upset and very critical when John wrote "C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion." But while I strongly disagreed with his views on Lewis, he, like Socrates, asked the kinds of critical questions that people in Lewis studies were all too unwilling to raise before his book was written. His revised book on Lewis was a great improvement over the first edition.  Even those who think more highly of Lewis's apologetics than he did should recognize that the study of Lewis's work is richer, not poorer for his efforts. And his writings also point the way for those who don't accept Lewis's arguments to find a great deal to appreciate, as he did. 

 The book was first published in 1985 by Eerdmans, a Christian publisher who had published a couple of Lewis anthologies, and later revised in 2007 for Prometheus Books, an secularist publishing house. 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

On useful discussions

 Discussion with intellectual opponents is something I have valued over time. Sometimes people are convinced that you are right, but not usually. Sometimes you can convince them that not everyone on your side of the issue is ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked. That's a victory not to be sneezed at. But sometimes you really end up talking to a brick wall. John Loftus, for example, started out as someone that you could have a dialogue with, and then, under the influence of New Atheism, he ceased to be one. Sometimes coming up with a realization on both sides of the issue of exactly what your disagreement consists in is a major accomplishment, even if no one is persuaded. 

I am pretty much a free speech guy when it comes to these discussions, and ban people only with the greatest reluctance. Others are, to be sure, more selective. 

I remember one time reading a paper that someone had written about miracles for an undergrad philosophy journal. I wrote a detailed critique of it, and then forgot all about it. Years later I heard from the person, telling me how appreciative they were of my response and that they were no a Christian. 

I do think that if you cut everyone on the other side off from your discussion you lose the opportunity to be told when you are misrepresenting the other side. That's the downside. You are also out of the business of trying to show people on the other side that you are right and they are not. For me, the downsides of doing this outweigh any upsides I can think of. But that's just me. 

Friday, June 25, 2021

On the belief that the other side can't be reasoned with

 One philosopher and blogger that I know has indicated that he now will accept friend requests on Facebook only from those who share his conservative political views. Liberals, he says, are anti-logic and inaccessible to reason. 

On the other hand, if conservatism is true, it isn't the conservatives who stand in need  of persuading. 

I suppose you could take that attitude on either side of the political spectrum, or the religious spectrum for that matter. On religious questions, sometimes Christians bring out Rom. 1: 18-20 to explain nonbelief. 

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

This may be true, but bringing this up to an atheist leaves you with the job of proving that it is so. Just asserting it does nothing and accomplishes less. 

At the same time I have seen atheists, under the influence of the new atheists, go from fostering real discussion between themselves and believers to treating them as if they cannot be reasoned with. John Loftus is who I have in mind  here. 

C. S. Lewis founded the Oxford Socratic Club on the idea that Christians should open a dialogue with those who don't believe and have real discussions. In politics, I don't think American democracy can survive the conviction that the other side can't be reasoned with. Nor can it survive the widespread belief that the other side is so evil that anything done to support one's own side is OK, since the alternative is, well, the eeevil other side. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

A Jewish Scientist Defends His Faith--and uses the argument from reason

 Benjamin Fain was a Russian Jewish scientist, a dissident who worked for the welfare of Soviet Jewry. He wrote three books: Creation Ex Nihilo, (2007), Law and Providence (2011), and the Poverty of Secularism (2013). He has an interesting discussion in Creation Ex Nihilo of J. B. S. Haldane, whom crossed swords with Lewis, but whom Lewis quotes in the third chapter of Miracles. 

If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason for supposing that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms. (Possible Worlds, 1927). 

But he changed his mind in 1954 in "I Repent an Error." 

Fain explains: The objection to his original explanation can be phrased as follows: computers act in accordance with the laws of physics, and despite this they can act in accordance with the laws of logic. The human mind can be represented by the brain, which we can compare to the computer. It is simultaneously a physical and a logical being. Out of this comes the completely materialistic explanation of the mind, or the self.

But Fain criticizes this rebuttal claiming rightly that adherence to logic is not internal to the computer itself. In the last analysis, if materialism is true, then physical laws, not logical laws, determine behavior. 

JImmy Carter

 Carter is often trotted out as the counterexample to the claim that personal virtue is important in selecting a President. We have seen what NOT considering personal virtue has gotten us. On the world stage he did more for world peace than any other President, and he made a serious effort to apply the teachings of Christianity to public life in a way that has not been seen before or since, including those Presidents so favored by the majority of white evangelicals.

Carter is interviewed here. 

Friday, June 11, 2021

C. S. Lewis's exchanges with philosophers


Looking at the Socratic Club record, it looks as if Lewis had memorable exchanges with four notable philosophers: C. E. M. Joad, H. H. Price, A. J. Ayer, and Elizabeth Anscombe. The responses to Joad and Price are found in God in the Dock. The exchange with Ayer was in response to Ayer’s harsh critique of a paper by Michael Foster in which Lewis took up Foster’s defense. In addition to these exchanges at the Oxford Socratic Club, there was also the response by Lewis to a critique of his paper on the humanitarian theory of punishment by the Australian philosopher J. J. C. Smart. It need not be concluded that Lewis won all the other exchanges, although Joad subsequently converted to Christianity and credited Lewis with playing an important role in his conversion. But none of the other exchanges with philosophers could reasonably thought of the kind of resounding defeat the Anscombe exchange is portrayed as being. Had Lewis been as incompetent as his is sometimes portrayed as being, it would not have taken an Anscombe to wipe the floor with him; Joad, Price, and Ayer would have done so as well.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

God, how did you do it?

 We normally ask "how" when we wonder if someone or something has the power to do something. "How did you make an A on that exam? You usually make Cs in chemistry." "How did you make that long three-point shot?" "I've been practicing for hours a day every day." Naturally if God does something, he often uses processes, and it is helpful for us who want to harness the world to learn how to do the same thing. We like mechanistic, naturalistic, "hows" because they give us blind processes that we have the power to predict and control. If we ask how did the universe come into existence where there was no universe beforehand, we are asking where the power came from to produce the universe. If "how" means "where does the power come from?" God has the power within Himself, being omnipotent.

The Ambiguities of Emergentism

Emergentism is an ambiguous idea. Does it mean that a radically different kind of causation emerges, If the laws of physics are complete (except for maybe a chance factor), and no other kind of causation is considered physicalistically acceptable, then thought that occurs in the world occurs because there is good evidence that is is true. Only blind causes, the work of the blind watchmaker, are considered scientifically acceptable. But if that's really true, then we can never, for example, believe that evolution is true because the evidence for it is good. We can only believe in evolution, or not believe in it, depending on whether the atoms in our brain happen (blindly) to put us in the positions they need to be in to believe in evolution, or whether they put us in the positions they need to be in so that we will not believe in evolution. Only physical laws an facts, not logical relationships, can be relevant to where the atoms go, and our beliefs are functions of where the atoms in our brain are at any one time. This is a description of chance-and-necessity physicalism, from Taner Edis: 

Physical explanations combine rules and randomness, both of which are mindless…Hence quantum mechanics has an important role in formulating chance-and-necessity physicalism, according to which everything is physical, a combination of rule-bound and random processes, regardless of whether the most fundamental physical theory has yet been formulated…Religions usually take a top-down view, starting with an irreducible mind to shape the material world from above. Physicalism, whatever form it takes, supports a bottom-up understanding of the world, where life and mind are the results of complex interactions of fundamentally mindless components.

Taner Edis, “Arguments Involving Cosmology and Quantum Physics,” in Joseph M. Koterski and Graham Oppy ed., Theism and Atheism: Opposing Arguments in Philosophy (New York: Macmillan, 2019), pp. 599-600.

Sunday, June 06, 2021

The Groundhog Day Massacre

 The Anscombe-Lewis exchange took place on Feb. 2, 1948, Groundhog Day. I can see a movie about the two participants repeating the exchange over and over with different results. But Andie McDowell as Anscombe is a stretch. And Bill Murray as C. S. Lewis??? 

Lucas's Godelian argument against materialism


I had the chance to meet Lucas at a Wheaton Conference in, I think, 1989. 

Apparently, Godel reached the same conclusion in his Gibbs lecture of 1951, but it never came out until 1995. 

J. R. Lucas's treatment of The Abolition of Man

 Among students of C. S. Lewis J. R. Lucas is known as the philosopher who took Lewis's part in a re-run debate some 21 years later with Elizabeth Anscombe, and who was generally thought to have gotten the better of the discussion. 

Here is his paper on Lewis. 

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Skeptical Threats and Best Explanations

distinguish between what I call skeptical threat arguments, which assume that we have the faculties we have but then say that theism, not naturalism, can answer skeptical questions we might raise about them, and best explanation arguments, where the argument is that it is rational inference is a reality that neither theist nor naturalist is inclined to deny, and then goes on to argue that if the naturalistic ontology is all there is, rational inference either cannot happen or is unlikely to happen. Bill Hasker thought I should call these arguments transcendental arguments rather than best explanation arguments, and I think he's right. Rational inference requires intentionality (aboutness), truth, mental causation in virtue of mental content, the existence of logical laws, the psychological relevance of those laws, the identity of a real person throughout the process of a rational inference, and the reliability of our rational faculties. Yet, according to most modern naturalists, the physical realm is the basic reality, it's causally closed, and at that basic level there is no intentionality (about-ness), no first-person perspective, no purpose, and no normativity. Whatever else exists has to supervene on that, and to me that means the mental has to be epiphenomenal. Naturalists respond back that in making this argument I am committing the fallacy of composition, in that what isn't true at the basic level might be true at the "system" level. But, really, to allow for rational inference you have to allow a kind of causation (for example, teleological) that is disallowed at the physical level, and if all causation is really physical causation, then how can there be mental causation on any level? Furthermore, rational inference requires that we perceive implications. But implications do not exist at any particular location in space and time, so how could we perceive them if we are purely space-time bound physical creatures.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Distinguishing two theses in Anscombe's reply to C. S. Lewis

 From an essay I am writing on the Anscombe legend. 

Now most of Anscombe’s argumentation is aimed at establishing what I will call thesis A:

A) The argument Lewis presents in the third chapter of the first edition of Miracles overlooks some crucial distinctions, and therefore fails to show that naturalism is incompatible with the validity of reasoning.

However, at the end of her piece Anscombe goes on to say the following:

I do not think that there is sufficiently good reason for maintaining the “naturalist” hypothesis about human behaviour and thought. But someone who does maintain it cannot be refuted as you try to refute him, by saying that it is inconsistent to maintain it and to believe that human reasoning is valid and that human reasoning sometimes produces human opinion.

In other words she asserts what I will call thesis B:

B) You cannot refute the naturalist position by saying his position is inconsistent to say that naturalism is true, that human reasoning is valid, and that humans reasoning sometimes produces human opinion.

This goes beyond saying that Lewis didn’t refute naturalism because he overlooked the distinctions Anscombe insisted upon, this is to say that you can’t refute the naturalist on the basis of the validity of reasoning, because of these distinctions. 

            Did Lewis concur with A? Almost certainly he did. I have known some philosophers who have thought that Lewis really didn’t need to revise his chapter at all, including the late philosopher Richard Purtill, but Lewis did not concur. (Neither would I).  Even in his initial brief response to Anscombe’s critique, which was published in the same issue of the Socratic Digest in which her essay appeared, he acknowledged the difficulty surrounding the use of the term “valid” and employed one of Anscombe’s central distinctions, between the cause and effect because, and what  he called the ground and consequent because. He indicated in his reply to Norman Pittenger that the third chapter of Miracles contained a “serious hitch” and that it “needs to be rewritten.” Establishing A is a good day’s work for a philosopher, particularly in that she persuaded the very person to whom she was responding that one of his central arguments, as stated, had serious problems and needed to be reworked.

            Now, if this is what winning the debate amounts to, Anscombe won, and Lewis agreed that she did. But she did go on to assert B, and if winning the debate requires establishing B, Lewis dissented. He wrote in his short response in the Socratic Digest:

It would seem, therefore, that we never think the conclusion because GC it is the consequent of its grounds but only because CE certain previous events have happened. If so, it does not seem that the GC sequence makes us more likely to think the true conclusion than not. And this is very much what I meant by the difficulty in Naturalism.

Lewis would go on to make this claim the centerpiece of his argument when he revised the chapter. He wrote:

But even if grounds do exist, what exactly have they got to do with the actual occurrence of the belief as a psychological event? If it is an event it must be caused. It must in fact be simply one link in a causal chain which stretches back to the beginning and forward to the end of time. How could such a trifle as lack of logical grounds prevent the belief’s occurrence or how could the existence of grounds promote it?

            I am inclined to be resistant to talking about winning and losing in philosophical debates. They are not football games.  The Christian philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig often does public debates on apologetical issues, and usually comes out looking better than his opponents. But skeptics have complained, with some justification, that doing well in a public debate format is not the same as proving one’s central thesis to be true from a philosophical standpoint. Now, if we are going to assess a winner in the exchange, there are, as Bassham notes a few different ways this can be assessed. Do we look just at the exchange on that day in at the Oxford Socratic Club, or do we look at the overall exchange between the two parties over time? Do we go by what the audience thought had happened? In a couple of important senses, Anscombe was the clear winner, especially if you look only at what happened on Feb. 2, 1948. There is no reason to doubt Carpenter’s report that many in the audience thought that a conclusive blow had been struck against one of Lewis’s fundamental arguments. On the narrow question of whether Lewis’s formulation of the argument is philosophically adequate, Anscombe contended that it wasn’t, and Lewis agreed. However, the most interesting philosophical question of whether or not you can refute naturalism based on the validity of reasoning cannot be settled the outcome of a particular exchange at a debating club. When Walter Hooper asked Lewis if he said he lost the debate with Anscombe, and Lewis said he didn’t, Lewis was probably thinking in terms of the question of whether Anscombe had shown that B is true. He was convinced that she had not. And looking at Anscombe’s responses to Lewis’s revised work, both in the introduction to her collected papers, and in her longer response given to the Oxford C. S. Lewis Society in 1985, she does not reassert B. So far as I can tell from her responses, she does not think that Lewis had established that B is false, but she no longer confidently asserted that B is true. I would summarize this by saying that I think Anscombe won a significant, but only partial, victory, and in this I believe Lewis would concur.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Did C. S. Lewis come to think that Christian Apologetics is a Misguided Enterprise?


The Anscombe incident is often trotted out as an object lesson for those foolish enough to engage in Christian apologetics. An example of this comes from Ruth Tucker, a Christian author from Calvin Theological Seminary who uses the Anscombe incident as part of her critique of Christian apologetics and defense of fideism. Tucker thinks it was a good thing that Lewis left some of his apologetics behind and came to the foot of the cross, taking the line that Lewis gave up apologetics for, mostly children’s fantasy tales, after the Anscombe incident.  She thinks this was good because apologetics is an enterprise that renders the Christian intellectually arrogant and domineering (and, of course, we all love Narnia). She does note that Lewis revised his chapter to repair the “serious hitch” that Anscombe had revealed (something not usually mentioned by those who use the Anscombe incident to prove some anti-apologetic point), but seems not to ask the question of why anyone would bother to revise an apologetic argument if they had been persuaded that this argument was simply bad, or that arguments for God don’t work, or that apologetics is a bad idea. In fact Lewis wrote lots of fiction prior to the Anscombe incident, and plenty of apologetics after it,

She chides me as someone who defends Lewis’s original argument (I don’t, I defend his revised argument, with amendments), and she thinks it telling that I wasn’t able to persuade my dissertation committee that my argument was a good one. Hers seems to be a version of the argument against the apologetic enterprise that says, “Well, these arguments don’t persuade people, so why spend time on them?”

But anyone who spends time in secular academic circles knows that one can be made to feel that Christianity, or even theism, is a nonstarter and that everyone is entitled to simply assume its claims are false. I remember a friend of mine once telling me about a philosophy professor who told his students “Let me clue you in. There’s no God.” Many discussions in the philosophy of mind take materialism for granted as a basic assumption. Encountering this, as many do, I asked whether this was the result of overwhelming evidence, of whether there were deep and serious problems with atheistic materialism toward which Lewis was pointing. Studying the argument in grad school (it took me awhile to be fully convinced), I concluded that the latter was true. I’ve never assumed that the case for Christianity is necessarily going to overwhelm people, or even to provide absolute certainty for the believer, but rather that, at the end of the day, there are good enough reasons for reasonable people to conclude that Christian theism provides the most adequate understanding of the world. If people are persuaded that intelligent people don’t accept Christian beliefs, then faith tends to suffocate. Austin Farrer put it very nicely in his essay on Lewis as an apologist.

It is commonly said that if rational argument is so seldom the cause of conviction, philosophical apologists must largely be wasting their shot. The premise is true, but the conclusion does not follow. For though argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish. So the apologist who does nothing but defend may play a useful, though preparatory, part.

Saturday, May 08, 2021

On the definition of naturalism

Here is a DI2 post on the definition of naturalism. 

Friday, May 07, 2021

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

An interview on the AFR

 An interview of me on the AFR. 


Saturday, May 01, 2021

Materialism and morally motivated actions

1. No act is morally motivated if it can be fully explained in terms of nonmoral causes.
2. If materialistic atheism is true, then all actions can be fully explained in terms of nonmoral causes.
3. But some actions are morally motivated.
Therefore, materialistic atheism is false.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Abortion and stigma

 Supporters of abortion are concerned about women being stigmatized for getting abortions. I wonder if women who refuse abortions and have children under difficult circumstances now run the risk of being themselves stigmatized, i. e., women who choose to carry Down's Syndrome babies to term.

Quite apart from pro-choice, there is a pro-abortion movement that really does encourage people to get abortions. I think pro-lifers put too much emphasis on winning a political battle over abortion laws and even abortion funding. The real abortion battle takes place in the minds and hearts of women making choices about difficult pregnancies. I think the mainstream position at Planned Parenthood is to push the idea that women should never be stigmatized for getting an abortion. In this way they minimize the serious moral decision that has to be made, and I think it's going to have the effect of stigmatizing people who DON'T get abortions when other people think they should. "Well, you had a choice. You knew this was going to be difficult. Why do you go ahead and have the baby?"

This article, by a pro-choice philosopher, illustrates the problem.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

What would happen if you vaporized Planned Parenthood?

 Planned Parenthood does more than abort babies. If you defunded it, or vaporized it, would the abortion rate go up or down? I think Hillary Clinton talked about a county in Texas the defunded Planned Parenthood, and the abortion rate went up. 

Of course, these consequential issues remind me of another question. Is the point of murder laws to prevent murder? What if we lived in a possible world in which murder laws actually resulted in there being more murders than there would otherwise be. Should murder be illegal if that were true? 

Thursday, April 15, 2021

A debate on the argument from reason

 Between Max Baker-Hytch and the Cosmic Skeptic. 


Friday, April 09, 2021

Chesterton on determinism may say, if you like, that the bold determinist speculator is free to disbelieve in the reality of the will. But it is a much more massive and important fact that he is not free to raise, to curse, to thank, to justify, to urge, to punish, to resist temptations, to incite mobs, to make New Year resolutions, to pardon sinners, to rebuke tyrants, or even to say "thank you" for the mustard.

Orthodoxy CW1:228

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

J. R. Lucas on the Philosophical Climate at Oxford

 The philosophical climate in which I grew up in Oxford was one of extreme aridity. The ability not to be convinced was the most powerful part of a young Philosopher’s armory: a competent tutor could disbelieve any proposition, no matter how true it was, and the more sophisticated could not even understand the meaning of what was being asserted. In consequence, concern was concentrated on the basic questions of epistemology almost to the exclusion of other questions of larger import but less easy to argue in black and white terms. The undergraduate who wanted to write essays on the meaning of existence was told to confine himself to the logical grammar of ‘is,’ and was not even allowed to ask what truth was, or how one ought to live one’s life.

Lucas, J.R. (1976), Freedom and Grace, London: SPCK, ix. 

Lucas passed away a year ago yesterday. 

Saturday, April 03, 2021

The least needed Lewis book?

 For Easter.

Christopher Derrick wrote: "Of all C. S. Lewis's books, I suggest the one the world needed least is Miracles." I find this statement strange. Miracles seems to be aimed not at the philosophical community, but at lay people trying to deal with modern biblical scholarship. There you find people committed to evaluating miracle claims with an explicit (in the case of Rudolf Bultmann), or an implicit methodological naturalism, and given the fact that Christianity is founded at its core on certain miracle claims being the case, Lewis, responding to a suggestion by Dorothy Sayers, was making a case against evaluating biblical accounts with a bias against the supernatural. The argument against naturalism fits in in that he is arguing that even the reasoning processes we use to reason about matters such as the miracle claims in Scripture presuppose the falsity of what would eventually be known as the causal closure of the physical, so why assume closure in biblical studies? This is an ongoing issue in biblical studies, and is has come up in Derrick’s Catholic Church, so I find Derrick’s remarks puzzling. However, the argument is also of considerable interest from the standpoint of philosophy, given the widespread presumption of materialism or naturalism in the philosophy of mind.

Lewis on retribution, revenge, and mercy

 For Lewis punishment is about retribution,  which is different from revenge. Revenge is not limited by what someone deserves, and typically when people take revenge, the do more to them than what they did to the other person. When you give someone what they deserve, you can't hurt them more than they deserve, and Lewis is open to saying that courts can be merciful and, for a good reason, give people less than they deserve. 

See here. 

Two Australian penologists responded, here, as did Australian philosopher J. J. C. Smart, here, who in spite of famously becoming an act utilitarian, seems to have been a rule utilitarian at this point. Lewis responded here. 

Friday, April 02, 2021

Materialism and determinism

If we are simply material beings, aren't our actions determined by the laws of  physics? Particles in the brain are governed by the laws of physics, and if this is so, doesn't that mean that the brain is determined by the laws of physics? 

Saturday, March 27, 2021

The Catholic Church, Dawkins, and the sexual abuse of minors

 The Catholic Church clearly teaches that sexual abuse of children is a grave sin. They may have failed to penalize and remove offenders the way they should have and failed to protect their parishioners as they should have, but they do teach that this is very wrong. Atheist Richard Dawkins, on the other hand, has said that being molested as a child was not such a big deal

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Does universal causation entail determinism?

 If you mean by a cause something that contributes to the occurrence of an event, then the statement "every event has a cause" does NOT entail determinism. This is why I object strongly to the textbook's definition of determinism, when the text says that if every event has a cause, then determinism is true. Now you can define a cause as a guarantor of a subsequent event, and if you do that, you can go from universal causation to determinism. But only if you do that. 

This is the textbook, if anyone is interested. 

Monday, March 22, 2021

Dawkins on science informing morality

 He seems to think anti-abortionists are misguided absolutists. 


Saturday, March 20, 2021

America first?

 It's hard to argue against the idea that you should care for you own family before others, although this goes against utilitarianism. What interests me are the people who say we should care for Americans before we spend any money trying to help people in foreign countries. Is that just national prejudice, or is there a reason for saying "America first?" 

Friday, March 19, 2021

How can you argue for universal human dignity without religious premises--if you are facing a skeptic on the issue?

Are there any "tribal" or "status"  limits to who deserves to be treated as a real human being. Cultures develop strong rules for how you treat someone, but there are all sorts of limits on who gets treated as a real person. Human inequality was thought to be a basic fact of existence. Good citizens of Greece and Rome treated boys of low birth as sexual objects, and dumped them when they were no longer desirable. Christianity played a role in changing this, in that Christians saw every person as someone for whom Christ died, so would it really make sense to believe that Christ died for human garbage? But Christians have not absorbed this message consistently, as some of them owned slaves and treated them like human garbage. We've become convinced, in theory, that every human being is worth of respect, in society as a whole, but if someone needed to be persuaded that all humans deserve respect and there is no human garbage, I am not sure how you'd argue it without religious premises. 

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Is scientism self-refuting?

"Whatever knowledge is attainable, must be attained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know."

― Bertrand Russell, Religion and Science

Isn't this self-refuting? Unless of course you can devise a scientific experiment that can test the claim, that "Whatever knowledge is attainable must be attained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know." 

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Relativism vs. Objectivism

 If one person says "McDonald's hamburgers are tasty" and another person says "No, they taste awful," arguably the statements have a "for me" clause implied, which makes them not really contradictory (I like them, you don't, where's the contradiction). Moral relativists think that moral statements are statements about what an individual, or a society , prefers. And if you see it that way, the contradiction evaporates and the Law of Noncontradiction does not apply. 

Moral objectivists think that there is a real right and wrong that our moral judgments can either match or fail to match. The law of noncontradiction does apply. 


Thursday, March 04, 2021

On what it is to be a skeptical inquirer: Not enough evidence, or a mind not open enough?

Here is an argument from an essay in psychology on psychic phenomenon. 

We did not examine the data for psi, to the consternation of the parapsychologist who was one of the reviewers. Our reason was simple: The data are irrelevant. We used a classic, rhetorical device, adynaton, a form of hyperbole so extreme it is, in effect, impossible. Ours was “pigs cannot fly”— hence data that show they can are the result of flawed methodology, weak controls, inappropriate data analysis, or fraud. (Reber & Alcock, 2019b, p. 8)

Reber, A. S., & Alcock, J. E. (2019b). Why parapsychological claims cannot be true. Skeptical Inquirer, 43(4), 8–10. 

 I once wrote this in a paper on Hume on miracles. 

Bertrand Russell was reportedly once asked what he would say to God if he were to find himself confronted by the Almighty about why he had not believed in God's existence. He said that he would tell God "Not enough evidence, God, not enough evidence!"[1] But perhaps, if God failed to give Russell enough evidence, it was not God's fault. We are inclined to suppose that God could satisfy Russell by performing a spectacular miracle for Russell's benefit. But if the reasoning in David Hume's epistemological argument against belief in miracles [2] is correct, then no matter how hard God tries, God cannot give Russell an evidentially justified belief in Himself by performing miracles. According to Hume, no matter what miracles God performs, it is always more reasonable to believe that the event in question has a natural cause and is not miraculous. Hence, if Russell needs a miracle to believe reasonably in God, then Russell is out of luck. Russell cannot complain about God's failure to provide evidence, since none would be sufficient. But God cannot complain about Russell's failure to believe.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Atheist philosopher Jonathan M. S. Pearce maintains that materialism is an article of faith (compared to idealism)

 Idealism was the position that C. S. Lewis adopted (not Christian theism) when he was persuaded by the argument from reason. 


As for the role of idealism in Lewis's history, see here. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2021


Obama: “Like if I tweet or hashtag about how you didn’t do something right or used the wrong verb, then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself. ‘Cause, ‘Man, you see how woke I was? I called you out’.” “That’s not activism. That’s not bringing about change.”
RWCC: Sorry, Barack, you’re cancelled. You are part of the Left, and the Left supports cancel culture.
Biden: Black Lives Matter protestors have a concern about systemic racism that is well taken. But property crimes or acts of violence in support of BLM is still criminal, and should be punished by law.
RWCC: Sorry, Joe, you’re cancelled. You are part of the Left, and the Left excuses violence and looting on behalf of the causes it supports. It is only crimes on behalf of Donald Trump that are inexcusable.
Biden: I oppose Medicare for All. I defended my opposition to it in the primary campaign against its leading advocate, Bernie Sanders.
RWCC: Sorry, Joe, you’re cancelled. You are part of the Left, and the Left supports Medicare for All.
Biden: I oppose defunding the police. We need to fund the police more in order to better equip them to handle sensitive and difficult racial situations.
RWCC: Sorry, Joe, you’re cancelled. You are part of the Left, and the Left wants to defund the police.
Biden: Even though I support a woman’s right to choose abortion as a matter of law, as a Catholic I nevertheless believe abortion to be morally wrong.
RWCC: Sorry Joe, you’re cancelled. You are part of the left, and the left loves abortion, and wants women to shout their abortions.
Etc. Etc. Etc.
I keep hearing Biden (and Obama, and other Democrats) attacked for what they don't believe, and have said they don't believe, because we know they're on THE LEFT and hence if you vote for one of them, you must somehow support everything THE LEFT supports, even if you don't support it and the don't support it. Why?

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Pro-choice vs. Pro-abortion: does it matter

Apparently there is a split in the pro-choice camp. Some reject the idea that they are pro-abortion, others embrace it.  Apparently to be truly pro-abortion, it implies that you see the fetus as outside the range of moral consideration, so that abortions are morally equivalent to other kinds of medical procedures.  Someone who is merely pro-choice, I take it, opposes efforts on the part of the state to outlaw abortion, but believe that nonetheless, the fetus's life is valuable and that abortions can certainly take place of immoral reasons. I heard of a case in which a woman got an abortion because she didn't want to appear fat in her wedding pictures. To refrain from disapproving of that, you would really have to be pro-abortion and hold an strict interests view of the value of the fetus's life (the fetus is not valuable because it is not well-enough developed to have an interest in its own survival). 

One could make the case that the President and Vice-President are split on this matter, although Harris has never, to my knowledge, indicated whether she considers some abortion to be immoral, or not. Biden I know thinks they are pretty much all morally unacceptable, in spite of his pro-choice politics. Harris just throws out pro-choice rhetoric when the issue comes up. 

For those who are pro-life, should this matter? Pro-choice or pro-abortion, the legal outcome is the same. But there is another abortion debate, the debate occurring in the minds of pregnant women who have to decide whether to get an abortion. And the difference comes there.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Space, Time, and Logic

 Causal and sorting processes seem to me to be qualitatively different processes from reasoning. Reasoning involves the knowledge of logical truths and the capacity to be affected by logical truths. Naturalistic processes have causes that are restricted to entities within space and time. But logical truths are not located in space and time. If you believe something because you perceive an entailment, this implies that a) there are entailments, and b) we can perceive them. But since these entailments do not exist in space and time, something other than nature has to exist to enable us to perceive them.

Unless, of course, we recollect perceiving those entailments ina past life, as suggested by Plato. I suppose that's possible, too. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Taner Edis on chance-and-necessity physicalism-a bottom-up understanding of the world

 This is from atheist Taner Edis: 

Physical explanations combine rules and randomness, both of which are mindless…Hence quantum mechanics has an important role in formulating chance-and-necessity physicalism, according to which everything is physical, a combination of rule-bound and random processes, regardless of whether the most fundamental physical theory has yet been formulated…Religions usually take a top-down view, starting with an irreducible mind to shape the material world from above. Physicalism, whatever form it takes, supports a bottom-up understanding of the world, where life and mind are the results of complex interactions of fundamentally mindless components.

If this is true, how could it be possible, at the same time, to say that you believe this because the evidence is good. If everything that happens in the world is, in the final analysis, the result of mindless causes, then your belikef that this is so is also the result of mindless causes, and is therefore unjustified. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

An exercise in political science

 Here's an exercise for people. Provide definitions of liberalism and conservatism, or definitions of socialism and capitalism, in such a way that no one will be able to tell after you are done what position on these matters you yourself hold. And while you're at it, do the same thing for pro-life and pro-choice.