Saturday, October 16, 2021

Calvinists on free action and God's glory

 Calvinists will argue that to act freely is to act on one's own desires. You are excused from doing an action if you wanted to do otherwise, but somehow God forced you to do it against your will. But, when you sin, you do what you want to do. You had the desire to sin,  you were able to sin, and  you did sin. So it is your responsibility, whether God predestined  you to do it or not. 

According to Calvinists (and many secular philosophers who are called soft determinists), you are free just in case you want to do something, and have the power to carry out  your will. They maintain that the idea that you could have done otherwise given the actual past is a false and incoherent concept of free will, and one that does not obtain in the real world.

On the face of things, this position adds strength to the atheistic argument from evil, since it deprives the theist of free will as an explanation for human (and demonic) wrongdoing. Rowe's argument from evil, for example says: 

1) An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

Now Calvinists believe that some people go to hell, and even if they meet the soft determinist's definition of free will, it is still the case that those people could have been saved if God had chosen to save them. But what they maintain is that what is good, in the final analysis, is what gives God greater glory, not what makes humans happy, even for eternity. Hence, they maintain, having millions of people (and fallen angels) in hell is better than God saving everybody, since if he damns millions of people he gets not only to exercise his mercy on those he forgives and saves, but also gets to exercise his wrath against unrepentant sin. That renders God a more glorious being than he would be if he just saved everyone, and therefore it is right for God to do, even though it inflicts intense suffering on millions of people and fallen angels. 

On the standard of divine goodness

 It seems appealing to say we shouldn't judge God, or that God himself is the standard of goodness. The problem with attempts to avoid having some standard of goodness to which one appeals is that without such a standard, the term "goodness" is deprived of meaning. If I say that Kyler Murray is a good quarterback, and you ask me what I mean by that, I can point to the fact that the Cardinals are the team with the only perfect season in the NFL, and then go over his completion percentage, quarterback rating, rushing and passing touchdowns, number of interceptions, etc. If he started losing games and getting bad numbers, and you came to me and told me he should be benched, it would be no argument to say, no Kyler is the standard of goodness, and by definition everything he does is worthy of approval.

Part of the standard definition of God is to say that that being is perfectly good. So before we call someone God, we have some idea of what that is supposed to mean--we are presupposing a standard of goodness that some being, such as Yahweh, meets. If someone were to say "Who are you, O man, to answer back to God," the answer would have to be that this would make sense except that some who says that Yahweh is not good is arguing, in fact, that Yahweh doesn't merit the title of God. In virtue of what is some being, however powerful, entitled to the title of "God?" Answering back to a being who really is God would be mistaken by definition, but to assume that this being merits the title of God would be to beg the very question at issue.

If there is no standard of goodness that we are claiming that God meets when we say that God is good, then the phrase "God is good" doesn't mean anything. Is it an expression of subjective approval on our part (we like the Big Guy, or think we had better because of what the Big Guy might do to us), or is it an actual statement? And if it is a statement, what is it?

Monday, October 11, 2021

Get ready, get ready, the worrrld is coming to an end

 Oh, not this again. 

When I was a young Christian Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth was popular. If Lindsey had been right, the Rapture would have happened around 1981. 

But here is a new book saying that Jesus will return in our lifetime. 

What part of “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." don't you understand? 

On the other hand, I was starting to wonder when the Antichrist was elected President in 2016. (Just kidding). 

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Lucifer and miracles

 Can Lucifer perform miracles? In the Temptation story, Lucifer implies that he has the power to perform them, and Jesus never disputes this

What about alien life?

 Why believe there are, or are no, aliens? I don't think we've been visited (and if we have I don't think they are very interested in us), but I wonder how you would settle the question of life on other planets?  

Saturday, October 09, 2021

Even in the ancient world, we thought most events had natural causes

 People accept natural causes for most events, science or no science. Otherwise, miracles wouldn't get anyone's attention. Jesus's walking on water wouldn't have meant anything if fisherman on the sea of Galilee routinely walked on water to find better fishing spots.

Phony miracles

 Peter Popoff is notorious for this sort of thing. 


Does religion cause wars?

 Is religion the cause of most wars? 

This is a popular myth. 

God and life after death

 The case for life after death seems closely tied to the case for God. If there's a God, then having us live 70 years in the veil of tears and then just having it all end seems hard to understand. Think about all the virtuous people who had have to suffer in this life, and think about all the nasty people who have exploited others and died in their beds of old age. Life ain't fair, and if this life is all there is but there is a God, then God ain't fair. But, the concept of God is of a just being. Therefore, it seems as if, if God is going to be fair, he's going to have to provide some kind of afterlife for those he creates. 

Sunday, October 03, 2021

A premise of the argument from evil

 An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

Is this premise open to question? 

Saturday, October 02, 2021

Hume's arguments against miracles do not imply atheism

 The arguments against miracles by Hume do not imply that God does not exist. In fact, Hume explicitly says that his arguments are not affected by the existence or the nonexistence of God. If God exists, he says, we can know about what he does through the course of nature, but miracles contradict the course of nature, therefore, we should reject all miracle claims even if we are theists. 

Monday, September 27, 2021

Things science can't answer


Are there some things science can’t answer in virtue of the fact that it deliberately limits its domain. I don’t know of a scientist who can answer scientifically the question of why something exists rather than nothing. But we can ask the question, and it has some answer.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

The aliens want to serve man. But are they benevolent?


Bertrand Russell's A Free Man's Worship, and C. S. Lewis's response


Lewis said it was what  he at one time believed. 

However, he concluded (before his conversion) that: 

In his “Worship of a Free Man” I found a very clear and noble statement of what I myself believed a few years ago. But he does not face the real difficulty – that our ideals are after all a natural product, facts with relation to all other facts, and cannot survive the condemnation of the fact as a whole. The Promethean attitude would be tenable only if we were really members of some other whole outside the real whole: [which] we’re not.24,25 L

Friday, September 24, 2021

If evil is the problem, physicalism is not the solution

 What is the alternative to believing in God. Is it believing that the physical world is all there is? The argument from evil, while raising difficulties for the goodness of God, also raises three difficulties for physicalism. 

1) In order for the argument from evil to work, people have to be able to reason. We have to be aware of logical connections, and these logical connections, as opposed to prior physical states, have to cause states of our brain to occur. C. S. Lewis and others (including me) have argued that this is a serious difficulty for the view that the physical world is all there is. If evil refutes theism, could we ever know this if physicalism is true? 

2) In order for the argument from evil to work, there have to be conscious states. But if they physical world is all there is, this is a hard problem. Pain is a problem only if there is real pain, not just the firing of C-fibers. 

3) In order for the argument from evil to work, there either have to be moral facts, or consensus amongst theists as to what God must do if he is good. If there are moral facts, this is a hard problem for physicalism. The argument contends that if God exists, and is perfectly good, then God will not allow unnecessary suffering. Sometimes atheistic ethical subjectivists will argue that this is not a problem for the argument from evil, since this is an internal difficulty for, let us say, Christian theism. But is it guaranteed that all Christians will believe that God, if he exists, won't allow unnecessary suffering? I don't think so. 

Now there may be other alternatives to theism that just physicalism. But it seems to me that if evil and suffering is the problem, physicalism is not the answer. 

Thursday, September 23, 2021

On replacing pain

 Doctors have actually tried to replace pain in the human body with some other kind of warning system. It doesn't work. The philosopher David Hume said that God could have given us something less unpleasant than pain in order to warn us the way pain does but is less unpleasant. I remember talking to someone who did pain research but who was going into philosophy, and he told me that the work of pain can't be done without the awfulness of pain. 

Monday, September 20, 2021

The problem of evil--with some references to Calvinism

 If God is good, why is there so much evil? Or any evil at all? This is, without doubt, the most powerful argument for atheism. Those who don't accept this argument for atheism have, it seems to me, three strategies. 

One strategy is to explain evil. A typical explanation for evil is to explain it in terms of free will. The idea is this. An obedience that is caused by God isn't real obedience, it is the obedience of a robot. God wants real love and real obedience, which entails the possibilty of non-love and disobedience. If God opens the possibility of disobedicence, then bad consequences are bound to result when creatures violate his will. And there are other explanations. Things that appear bad to us at first turn out, on further examination, not to be so bad after all, or perhaps, better than the hoped for alternative once the consequences of that alternative are more fully examined. Tough practices lead to good performances on the football field, for example. Suffering is at ;least sometimes good for us and is redemnptive. These are what I call explanatory responses to the problem of evil. The defender of theism explains why God permits the evil. 

However, atheists have responded to these explanatory responses in various ways. They have argued that God didn't have to allow sin, all God has to to to provide us with free will is to make us in such a way that we always desire to do what is right, and then empower them to fulfil those desires. This goes to a debate about what is meant by free will. Incompatibilists think that for us to have free will our actions have to not be determined by God (or the laws of nature), while compatibilists maintain that nature or evein God can determine our actions, and our actions will still be free. And, while some religious believers think that God limits his control over events in order to allow free will, others maintain that God strictly controls everything. For example, many Calvinists believe that God controls all of our actions, and predestines some people to heaven and others to hell. 

And there are certainly evils which don't seem to fit in with the free will response, since they are not the result of choice. Natural evils don't come from free will. Consider two disasters in the Gulf of Mexico: the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, and Hurricane Katrina. Humans are arguably responsible for the oil spill, but we didn't cause the hurricane. So, why did God set up the world in such a way that natural disasters kill thousands of people and ruin the lives of even more people? And thjen there are what I call problems for "special victims"--the suffering of small children and the suffering of animals. These sufferers. surely, have not done wrong in order to suffer, yet they suffer nevetheless. Why does God permit this?

Defenders of theism, it seems to me, have to respond by saying that we can't expect to know the reason God permits at least a significant amount of suffering.

God knows all the alternatives, and their consequences, and chooses the course of action he does based on a greater knowledge and awareness of the results than we could possibly have. Given our finitude and God's infinite knoweldge, our level of  understanding of God's purposes for suffering is about what we should expect. 

But there is, I contend, a third type of response, I have been assuming here that if God is good, God will maximize, as far as possible, happiness for his creatures. But some people believe, as I indicated earlier, that God predestined some to heaven and other to hell. Why not save everyone? If you think God has to give us free will which limits his contol then people could end up in permanent rebellion and therefore permanently separated from God, but if God predestines everything, then his control is not self-limited. What Calvinists contend is that what makes God's actions good is not the happiness of creatures but glory for God himself, and that is achieved best through exercising both his mercy for some sinners and justice for others. But this calls into question not only our knowledge of outcomes, it challenges certain common-sense ideas of what is and is not morally good. 

So, theists can respond to suffering by a) explaining it b) being skeptical or our knowledge of the results of possible divine actions or c) being skeptical of our knowledge of what constitutes goodness when it comes to divine actions. 

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Spiritual reality

A spiritual reality is something that is not material or physical. It is possible to hold that people who have religious experiences perceive something nonmaterial, but not something along the lines of a personal creator God that, for example, Christians worship. Advaita Vedanta Hinduism or British Absolute Idealism would be views like that. While Christians typically think there is a real material world, it was created by someone and we have souls which interact with the material world. But there is a real material world. But other views collapse the distinction between the world and God and maintain that Ultimate reality is somehow mental but not personal. On these views traditional theism and materialism are both false.

Friday, September 17, 2021

On religious experience

 I think you have to divide positions on this issue into three parts. 

1) There is no spiritual reality--everything is material. People who have religious experiences percieve nothing real.

2) There is a spiritual reality, but it is not personal. 

3) There is a spiritual reality and it is personal. 

It seems a lot easier to use religious experience to show that 1 is false than to show that 3 is true, since many who have religious experiences (which have a lot of commonality with theistic experiences), perceive a  nonpersonal spiritual reality. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Fideism, Faith, and Reason

I think the word "faith" occupies the same role in religious discussions that the word "socialism" occupies in political discussions. Once you hear the word in conversation, you simply have to check with your discussion partner to see if you and he or she are using the word in the same way. For some, faith is believing absent any evidence, or in the face of a mountain of counterevidence. For others faith is just proceeding confidently on what one take to be sound evidence in support of one's beliefs. 

Now there is a position out there called fideism. According to, this is what fideism is. 

Fideism, a philosophical view extolling theological faith by making it the ultimate criterion of truth and minimizing the power of reason to know religious truths. They defend such faith on various grounds—e.g., mystical experience, revelation, subjective human need, and common sense. .

But many people in religious traditions reject fideism. Typical would be C. S. Lewis:

I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of evidence is against it. That is not the point at which faith comes in. But supposing a man’s reason once decides that the weight of the evidence is for it. I can tell that man what is going to happen to him in the next few weeks. There will come a moment when there is bad news, or he is in trouble, or is living among a lot of other people who do not believe it, and all at once his emotions will rise up and carry out a sort of blitz on his belief. Or else there will come a moment when he wants a woman, or wants to tell a lie, or feels very pleased with himself, or sees a chance of making a little money in some way that is not perfectly fair; some moment, in fact, at which it would be very convenient if Christianity were not true. And once again his wishes and desires will carry out a blitz. I am not talking of moments at which any real new reasons against Christianity turn up. Those have to be faced and that is a different matter. I am talking about moments where a mere mood rises up against it.


Now faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding onto things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian, I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable; but when I was an atheist, I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why faith is such a necessary virtue; unless you teach your moods “where they get off” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of faith.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, ch. 12

For Lewis, faith does not contradict reason. 

Consider the phrase "I have faith that Biden will do a good job for the rest of his term as President." People who do that are not saying they have no good reason to think he will do a good job, though they do not know what Biden will do during the remainder of his term. But if you find Biden's track record so far to be one of good leadership, then you might say you have faith that his remaining actions will also be good. (Of course, if you think his track record so far has been bad, you understandably don't have so much faith). But your using the word "faith" in this context is not an admission that  you have no good reason to believe that Biden will do well, only that you are not in a position to perceive his actually doing well, since you are talking about future events you can't now perceive. 


Saturday, September 11, 2021

Was God invented to control people?

 The way some people picture it, a bunch of people got together who were trying to control other and said "I know. We'll come up with this idea of God, so that people will obey us." Human authorities, like Mao Tse-Tung, often don't want people to believe in God because belief in God entails that there is a higher authority than the Dear Leader. For his followers, Mao was literally the Supreme Being.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Does mystical experience undermine materialism?

 From the Scientific American. I was a little surprised to find this there. 

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

The gender of God

 God is referred to in religious traditions in male terms typically, but God is not, and cannot be a literally gendered being. God, after all, does not reproduce.

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Is God pro-life?


Not to mention God's ordering the Hebrews to kill everyone in Amalek, including pregnant women. How do Christians who are pro-life respond to this sort of thing? 

The case against the argument from religious experience

 A critique of the argument from religious experience, from John Danaher. 


Monday, September 06, 2021

Russell and Copleston on religious experience

 From a scientific point of view, we can make no distinction between the man who eats little and sees heaven and the man who drinks much and sees snakes. Each is in an abnormal physical condition, and therefore has abnormal perceptions. --Bertrand Russell

This is Russell's debate with Copleston on religious experience. 

How Science Fiction Found Religion


Friday, September 03, 2021

The fine-tuning design argument

The fine tuning design argument appeals to conditions at the Big Bang. Many people explain design by evolution, but the Fine Tuning version of the design argument appeals to conditions prior to the occurrence of any evolution whatsoever. So, the atheist has to rebut this one some other way. 

See here. 

Thursday, September 02, 2021

Cosmological arguments and the question of why made God

 With cosmological arguments, the issue is what needs a cause. According to the Kalam Cosmological Argument, whatever has a temporal beginning must have a cause of its existence.

If the principle you are using is the idea that whatever begins to exist needs a cause, then we don't need to ask who made God, since God by definition never began to exist in the first place.
In Aquinas's argument from contingency, whatever exists contingently needs a cause of its existence. Once again, God doesn't exist contingently, so, once again, God doesn't need a cause of his existence.
The idea that you can refute cosmological arguments by asking who made God, which is a popular idea, is one that ignores what these cosmological arguments actually say.

Reason in a world without design

  If there is no design, then all instance of design are analyzed in terms of mechanism. Purpose is only apparent purpose, not real purpose.The purpose of your heart is to pump blood through the human body, and it is a good place for doing so, not because some intelligent being put it there, but because blind processes selected for it. In other words, the effects of purpose are produced without actual purpose. If the universe is a nonteleological system, then the human brain is, in the final analysis, a nonteological system. But claim that, for example you believe in evolution BECAUSE there is good reason to believe it, seems to imply a real teleology aimed a truth. . How can real purpose appear in the human thought process if the  universe is a nonteleological system? 

On psychoanalyzing religious belief

The psychology of religious belief does matter to philosophy of religion. But we can't start there. The temptation is to assume that what you already believe is right, and then produce explanations of why other people might come to believe what they do even though it isn't true. So a lot of people come at religious questions thinking "I know I am right about God, what I need to know is how people who disagree with me came to be so screwed up. The trouble is I can explain away theism or atheism pretty easily if all I have to do is come of with psychological explanations for belief or unbelief. Believers can be explained away in terms of their hope for a future life or fear that the universe should be meaningless, or the idea that if they disbelieve and they are wrong, they might be punished eternally, while there seems to be no similar risk in believing. (Actually there is, you could be a Baptist and get to the Great White Throne and be sent to hell for not being a Muslim.) But unbelievers can be similarly explained away. Unbelievers, one could argue, want there to not be a being who requires obedience, do not want to believe that we humans are not the supreme beings, and do not want to believe that they will be held accountable inescapably for everything they do. Plus religious put restrictions on sexual behavior, and if you don't like those restrictions, atheism can be pretty appealing. We can't read the minds of our fellow humans, so ideas of why people believe what they do is to extent a speculative enterprise. 

So, philosophy of religion looks at what we have good reason to believe, rather than getting in to the business of explaining why people on the other side believe what they do. 

Saturday, August 28, 2021

If materialism is true, do brains exist?

 If materialism is true, do brains exist? The particles of what we call the brain exist, but the brain, as an entity over and above the parts that make it up, does it exist?

Hume said "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 the mind, and has no influence on the nature of things.

The mind is the brain? The brain is a product of the mind, if Hume is right.

A summary of Lewis-Anscombe (at least in part)


            Lewis had originally argued that if naturalism/materialism is true, then all thoughts are produced by irrational causes, that is, the motions of atoms in the brain. Since atoms in the brain move the way they do because of the laws of physical and their original positions, if naturalism is true, then our beliefs would end up being no more likely to be true than false.

            We ordinarily distinguish between people who, to use Lewis's example, form the belief that the neighbor's black dog is dangerous by inferring it from evidence (they have seen it muzzled, messengers avoid the house), and people who form the belief that the dog is dangerous because they were bit by a black dog in childhood and have been terrified of black dogs since. One of these people is being rational, the other isn't. But, he argued, the real causes for everyone's beliefs, if naturalism is true, have to be blind physical causes, and therefore the distinction between people who form their beliefs rationally and those who don't breaks down. If naturalism is true no one ever believes anything for a reason, and if we are forced to assume that some people believe some things for a reason (which is certainly what scientists imply when they claim we should believe something because scientific evidence supports it), then we have to reject naturalism.

I think a lot of materialists would respond to this either by appealing to computers or appealing to evolution (though Lewis anticipated the argument from evolution). Anscombe does neither. She starts by distinguishing irrational causes from merely nonrational causes--she says that irrational causes are, basically, causal mechanisms that typically produce errors, while non-rational ones need not be shown to show that proclivity. However, to get an anti-naturalist result through this kind of argument is to confuse reasons-explanations with causal explanations. If someone gives an argument to the effect that the dog is dangerous based on evidence you can't rebut that argument by saying that the real reason the person believes the dog dangerous is because he was bitten in childhood. That's the fallacy that Lewis himself criticized as Bulverism, and is known in the logic books as the ad hominem circumstantial fallacy.

            However, Anscombe then considers the response that what Lewis is claiming is that if naturalism is true, then, as a matter of actual fact, logic and evidence are never relevant to the actual production of any belief, because a full explanation of every belief can be produced in terms of physical, not rational causes. However, full explanations for every event are simply explanations that answer completely what we want to know about the event. And if I ask for why you believe something I am asking for grounds, not causes, what I want is what I get if I ask you why you believe something. Casual laws are based on observed regularities, but reasons are elicited from people when you ask why they believe something or did something. Wittgensteinians typically held that reasons weren't causes at all, and that Wittgensteinian position seems to be built into Anscombe's response to Lewis.  Naturalism, Anscombe says, just says we can have causal explanations for all our thoughts in terms of causal laws, but that doesn't mean, as Lewis implies, that there are no reasons. One way of looking at this would be to say that talk of reasons and talk of causes occur in different language games, so there is no real conflict.

I maintain that although Anscombe has provided an attack on an anti-naturalist argument, but a modern naturalist might not, or should not, be inclined to stand up and cheer. Naturalism, I maintain, is an attempt to provide a comprehensive ontology, it is committed to the idea that other non-scientific explanations have to be either absorbed into the universe of naturalistic explanation or eliminated. While anti-causalist theories of reasons were popular in the 50s and early 60s, most naturalists today, I think, would follow Donald Davidson in saying that reasons are causes. I once gave a paper on the Anscombe exchange at a faculty colloquium at a secular philosophy department. The consensus  was I had a good critique of Anscombe, but that Anscombe's criticisms of Lewis's argument weren't interesting.


        First of all, explanations, causal or not, have an ontology, and naturalism isn't just a claim about causal explanations, it makes ontological restrictions. If I explain the presence of presents under the Christmas tree in terms of the munificence of Santa Claus, I imply that Santa is real. If I explain my belief in terms of reasons, then I imply that reasons exist, whether that explanations is a causal explanation or not.

            They do maintain that a total causal story, from big bang to big crunch, can be given for every event, and that causal story is part of a closed and nonteleological system. Lewis asked,

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?

And Anscombe said “We haven’t got an answer” to the question Lewis asked here.



Saturday, August 21, 2021

Would contemporary materialists like Anscombe's response to Lewis?

Maybe not.

 What happens to Lewis's argument before and after Anscombe is interesting. He had a number of versions of it, and some of them actually had strengths that the Miracles presentations do not have. In addition, the argument had plenty of advocates before Lewis, so Lewis thought of himself as defending a "philosophical chestnut." At one time this type of argument actually prevented militant atheist Haldane from embracing materialism, at least until he changed his mind (for reasons that were very different from Anscombe's). I looked at J. J. C. Smart's Philosophy and Scientific Realism, published, I think in 1961. Lewis's argument is mentioned, Anscombe is not mentioned, but Flew's exchange in the Rationalist Annual is (my dissertation advisor thought Flew's original essay was out and out plagiarism of Anscombe), and Haldane's argument and retraction are mentioned. When materialist theories of mind become prominent in the 1960s, arguments of the Lewis variety seem to be almost completely marginalized.

It is an interesting question as to whether a contemporary materialist would be entirely happy with Anscombe's paper. She claims, of course, that it gets Lewis-type arguments off their backs, but it seems to imply a lot of language-game theory that materialists would not like much at all. (Are science and religion just different language games, with no conflict between them? And saying that reasons-explanations are not causal explanations doesn't answer how such explanations can be given within the constraints of naturalism, or whether they make naturalistically unacceptable ontological commitments. Don't materialists today say that reasons ARE causes, just, in the last analysis, physical causes?

My interview with Reasonable Faith


Friday, August 13, 2021

Climates of opinion


In The Problem of Pain Lewis indicated that he took a very low view of “climates of opinion.” They do tend to shift. When I was in college, psychology departments were dominated by behaviorists. When I was getting my doctorate in philosophy, some 10 or so years later, the behaviorist era was being dismissed as “the bad old days.” In biology sociobiology is still considered debatable. In philosophy movements like Absolute Idealism, or Deconstruction, or Logical Positivism, or Naturalized Epistemology, or Eliminative Materialism, or Critical Race Theory, or even New Atheism, have their ups and downs.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Good and bad reasons for restricting immigration

On what grounds do we justly restrict people from entering out country? Well, we don't want criminals, weapons, drugs, or infectious diseases coming in, so we should screen those out. If we are refusing to let people into our country because we don't want too many s****s, n*****s, and k***s in America, those are bad reasons. You'd think that would be obvious, but one of the main advisors on immigration in the last administration was an out and out white nationalism. See here.

Between the obvious good reasons, and obvious bad reasons, what reasons are valid?

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Everything old is new again

 Heard any new arguments against vaccination? Probably not. All the arguments against the COVID vaccine were used by opponents of the smallpox vaccine. 


By the way, have you run into anyone lately who as contracted smallpox? How 'bout polio. Those  used to be dreaded diseases. I wonder what  happened to them. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

There's a new article out on Jesus mythicism, so it must be Christmas

A redated post. No it's not Christmas. 


This article compares them to anti-vaccinationists.

Monday, August 02, 2021

Legal immigration

 The REAL issue between me and people like Trump administration supporters is this. I think that most of who or what that tries to come over the border is benign, consisting mostly of people looking for a better life in much the way our ancestors did. Due to our prohibitive requirements for LEGAL immigration, people end up trying to come into the country illegally, and sometimes succeed and for the most part become law-abiding citizens. I have been a sub in public schools and have taught a lot of their kids. They weren't on their best behavior for me, but they are not bad kids, and they are certainly not murderers and rapists. Their undocumented parents work for a living. They should have had the opportunity to come here legally. We would need a lot less border security if we turned the ports of entry on the Southern border into little Ellis Islands instead of trying to build the Great Wall of China down there. Think about asylum seekers. They're trying to come here LEGALLY. Yeah, we would become a majority-minority country sooner, but so what? Yeah, they might need public assistance sometimes, because we let people work in America, in many cases, without paying them a living wage. This is NOT an open borders position because there still criminals, and drugs, and weapons that we need to keep out, and we would still need border security to keep those people and things out. But I think we can go a long way toward fixing illegal immigration by creating more fairness in the area of legal immigration. "Give me your tired, your poor," shouldn't just be pretty words on a statue. It's still good public policy.

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.