Sunday, December 19, 2021

A case for government regulation



 We might ask the question of why we value human life as something valuable in itself, as opposed to the preservation of life as something that will sustain the overall balance of pleasure over pain. With animals, we consider animal pain to be something to avoid, but animal death is not taken as seriously, even by the likes of Peter Singer.

Strictly speaking, for utilitarians, life is not a value. If you kill someone, and you spare them or the world a pleasure-pain deficit, then it is a good act. If you kill someone, and it hurts the balance of pleasure over pain, then of course it's a bad thing.

so a pure utilitarian could say of the pro-life movement, "The trouble with your pro-life movement is that it places an inordinate value on human life." Someone from Utilitarianland might say "In our society, if there is a homicide, we calculate utilities to see if the homicide produced an overall benefit or an overall deficit. If we determine that the homicide was beneficial, we don't punish it. Why do you punish homicides without checking to see if the homicide maximized utility.

Of course the utilitarianism practiced in utilitarianland is Act Utilitarianism.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

We treat animals differently

We do seem to treat animals differently. We eat them, but some people think they ought to be slaughtered humanely. On the other hand, people who kill and eat other humans are not excused because the people were slaughtered humanely. 

Whoever quotes a movie in the combox will be summarily shot. 

Thursday, December 16, 2021

The hypocrisy fallacy

 (W)e live in an idiotic age where people believe that the alleged hypocrisy of a critic nullifies the merit of criticism. A parent who smokes is a hypocrite for telling his kid not to smoke—but that doesn’t mean the kid should therefore smoke.--

Jonah Goldberg. 


Monday, December 13, 2021

You play you pay? Probably a bad argument against abortion

 I've never thought the "you play, you pay" argument is very strong. In our male-dominant society men can push women into sex in various ways when they don't really want it, and then avoid responsibility. Some will object to this, but I'm convinced it hurt the pro-life cause to have a pro-life President who bragged about grabbing women by the you-know-what and has never officially repented of the sentiments he expressed on that tape. Whatever you think as a pro-lifer, you probably don't want to say that it is usually the woman's fault if she ends up with an unwanted pregnancy.

Is this the end of American Conservatism?

 David Brooks, a conservative, thinks conservatism is no longer recognizable today. 

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Can we stop the slippery slope?

 Where assisted suicide is legal, insurance companies can use assisted suicide as an excuse for not paying for end-of-life treatment. I have trouble seeing how you stop the slippery slope from allowing assisted suicide to pushing people into using it in order not to be a burden.

Death with Dignity???

 Why is assisted suicide a death with dignity? What does dignity mean here, and does using it in this context fit with the ordinary use of the term? (Or is it just a piece of propaganda?)

Are there two kinds of marriage?

 Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is the quite different question — how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mahommedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognise that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.--C. S. Lewis 

Is there an argument for the legality of same-sex marriage along these lines? 

If assisted suicide is legalized, will vulnerable people be less protected

I can understand the case for legalizing assisted suicide. I can. But will suicide be put forward as the preferable option not to save those who are dying from suffering, but for the convenience of the rest of us? It is easy to imagine, for example, insurance companies refusing payment for end of life care because, well, you had the right to commit suicide, and if you don't avail yourself of that, we shouldn't have to make any more payments.

(My trust in insurance companies is extremely limited).

Margaret Battin did a study where she claimed that vulnerable persons are not at risk in assisted suicide. But not everyone is convinced.

Friday, December 10, 2021

The central pro-life argument

The central prolife argument is that abortion is homicide--that the differences between fetuses and those already born are not substantial enough to justify treating those born and those unborn differently with respect to protecting their lives. With those already born, you may be greatly burdened by allowing someone to live, but you still can't kill them expect under special circumstances.

If you believe in the right to abortion, that is the argument you have to come to terms with, first and foremost. Arguments about whether, for example, women get depressed who choose abortion, or whether abortion leads to a higher instance of breast cancer, are secondary.

Ross Douthat's Anti-Abortion Case


Believe it or not, this was published in the eeevil New York Times. 

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

A house divided

 Lincoln: "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.

Can we endure half pro-life and half pro-choice? 

Does it make sense for states to determine abortion law? Can we tolerate that level of division? 

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

An anti-abortion argument

1. Infants, however undeveloped, are considered persons whose lives are protected by law.
2. Fetuses differ from infants in four ways represented by the acromym SLED. The differ in size, in level of development, in their environment, and in their dependency.
3. Size is not a morally relevant difference when it comes to the right to life. The fact that I am bigger than my wife, but smaller than Shaq, doesn’t affect the right to life that we all possess.
4. The unborn is less developed than an infant, but I am more developed than an infant. So this can’t be a basis for discrimination with respect to the right to life.

5. The unborn in a different environment from an infant. It’s inside a womb, and the infant is outside the womb. But this is not a relevant difference. We would consider a law silly that said you can’t kill me inside my house, but you can kill me outside my front door.
6. Degree of dependency is not a relevant difference. Toddlers are more dependent than adolescents, but does that mean that an adolescent has a greater right to life than does a toddler? An elderly person becomes more dependent with time, but we don’t’ question the right to life of the elderly, do we?
7. All beginning points for the right to life, except for conception, are matters of degree, of a person having something that you can have more or less of. But that raises the question of how much is enough.  You either are conceived or not conceived, but you can have more or less of the SLED properties. Therefore, conception is the relevant difference that confers a right to life. 

Monday, November 29, 2021

Christianity and partisan politics

 I think you can make pragmatic and tentative choices of party as a Christian, but Christian ought to be, in an important sense, independent of any party. Parties are coalitions that combine godly and ungodly interests, almost by definition.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

The devil and soft determinism

 If soft determinism is true, your total past circumstances, not just being poor, guarantees that you steal. It "makes" you steal, but it doesn't make you steal against your will. And because you wanted to do it, your act is considered free even though it's determined. But the past guarantees that you want to steal and do. It would be the same if the devil gave you the desire to steal and the made it so you would. You would still be considered free.

The Bible and the Death Penalty

 The Old Testament is loaded with death penalty offenses, though Christ said the only ones who could carry a death sentence against one adulteress in particular were ones who were without sin. (They were executing ONE person after catching her in the very act of adultery. What's wrong with this picture?)

Friday, November 26, 2021

On Karma

 Looking at the world around me, I have a lot of trouble believing in Karma, at least as it concerns life in this world. The fact is, cold-blooded murderers die in their beds of old age with no regrets, living off the benefits of the crime they committed. That's just a fact. Watch the movie Crimes and Misdemeanaors, which makes the point very forcefully. Unless there is something like God, or else a law of Karma that governs not this life, but reincarnation into the next life (that is how Karma is understood in Eastern traditions like Hinduism and Buddhism), what goes around does NOT come around. Or, at least, it doesn't have to. 

How free should a free market be?

How free does the market need to be? Does a regulated market cease to be a free market? If so, we lost our free market long ago. Free markets can create monopolies. In fact, that is what players in the Game of Capitalism are aiming for.

Friday, November 19, 2021

A (misguided) defense of the election fraud claim


This is a case for the election fraud claims, made by someone getting a degree in apologetics from Trinity Evangelical Theological Seminary. I think very poorly of it, and I think Christians who pursue the MyPillow Delusion are bound to hurt the credibility of both Christianity and the Republican Party. 

I'd rather talk about C. S. Lewis and Bertrand Russell. But this is so harmful. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Facts, opinions, and rights

The fact-opinion distinction, along with the idea that you have a right to your opinion, is the bane of my existence as a philosophy instructor. Intellectual rat poison.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Shoving your religion (or lack of it) down someone's throat

 It is natural, if you think something is both true and important, which Christianity (and atheism) are certainly believed to be by their adherents, in wanting others to believe it also. What constitutes "shoving it down someone's throat", I think, takes some analysis.

I don't hear people say "Don't shove your atheism down my throat." But some atheists clearly do just that. 

Douglas Groothuis on Bertrand Russell


The world's leading Heinlein scholar.

 Bill Patterson.  

Also a leading figure in Phoenix fandom during the Golden age of same. 

God the micromanager?

There are two schools of thought on free will and God. One of them says that God can predestine and strictly control all of our actions, but so long as we have the desire to do what we do and act on that, we are still free. At this point, though, atheists will say that if all God has to give us is that kind of freedom, then he could have made us all in such a way that we always act freely while guaranteeing that we act rightly, and why on Earth would a good God refuse to do that if he could? The other view is that God's being in charge of everything includes the power to leave some things up to us, so that given the actual past, we have the power to do one thing or another thing. That way, if we obey His will, we are really obeying his will and not just doing what He programmed us to do in the first place. To say God is sovereign is not to say that God is a universal micromanager.

Thinking one's religion (or religious view) is true

 Any belief system is thought to be true by its adherent, and therefore other views are considered false. That is as true for atheist materialism as it is for Christian theism. And people tend to think that those who agree with them about what is true are in some sense superior to those who don't. But different religious groups look differently at those who differ from them religiously, in that some people think that people outside their religion are all going to hell, and others do not.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Socialism for the goose, socialism for the gander.

 If you allow enough "socialism" to permit the government to bail a company out to keep it from failing, can't you also allow enough "socialism: to allow government to control executive salaries to help sustain the ethics of the company thus bailed out?

Does ethics pay?

 Even though ethics may often pay, the idea of ethics is that you ought to be ethical even if it doesn't pay. The Mafia, after all, has been pretty profitable organization over the years, but its ethical record has been somewhat questionable.

Religion, Morality, and Kitty Wells

A redated post/ 

Country music, as most of us know, is  the most theology-laden form of popular music. The lyrics of this song, sung by Kitty Wells in the early 60s, illustrates, I believe, something interesting about the effect of religion on morality. It is a song of a woman who supposes herself to have been a wrongly deserted wife whose husband has given her divorce papers, all legal and proper. However, she asks whether "God is satisfied" with his actions, telling him that he will be called to account for what he has done by God, and implies that his lawyer won't do him any good when he stands before God and must be held accountable for his actions.

Your lawyer called and said he had the papers all prepared
To sign my name was all I had to do
He saw the judge, now he seen me, there's only one thing left
Will your lawyer talk to God for you?
Will your lawyer talk to God and plead your case up on high
And defend the way you broke my heart in two?
Manmade laws to set you free on earth but is God satisfied
Will your lawyer talk to God for you?
We all face that final judgment and it's very strict they say
When your time comes, I wonder what you'll do
Will you bow your head in shame or will you turn your head away
Or will your lawyer talk to God for you?
Will your lawyer talk to God and plead your case up on high
And defend the way you broke my heart in two?
Manmade laws to set you free on earth but is God satisfied
Will your lawyer talk to God for you?

I am not saying anything about the morality of divorce in general. Clearly, it is evident that at least some people desert marriages without adequate moral justification, and the law, as we currently conceive it, cannot prevent them from doing so. I bring these lyrics up because it seems to make nonsense of the popular idea that somehow religious belief, or lack of same, isn't a game-changer when it comes to morality. Assuming atheism, this appeal would be plain nonsense. Again, I am not arguing that no one can follow a moral code without a belief in God. But I think we must admit the force of this sort of consideration, and face that fact that many people, over the centuries, have turned away from a wrongful act because they believed that God would hold them accountable if they performed that action. I am thinking primarily here of the accountability and shame for these actions, as opposed, say punishment in hell. If someone can't see the moral force of this sort of thing, then I would have to say there is a screw loose somewhere.

What polytheists and atheist agree on

 Polytheistic religions have been, for the most part amoral. It was the Jews who, in going monotheist, connected morality to religion. How THAT happened has to be one of the most amazing facts of history. Interestingly enough the pagans of the past and the atheists of today agree on one thing, there is no righteous being in charge of everything.

Friday, November 12, 2021

What difference does religion make to morality

 . There is one way in which religion on the face of things makes a difference, and that is if there is no God (or no law of Karma), then morally bad actions can be beneficial in the long run to those who perform them. If you get away with murder, you get away with murder. On the other hand, if there is a God, then some sort of balancing of the scales of justice awaits  us all. 

Do religions agree on morality?

Do religions agree on more than they disagree with when it comes to morality? Do any religions, for example, say that murder, adultery or bearing false witness is OK?

Saturday, November 06, 2021

Is the free market ever really free?

To what extent is our economy really a free market economy? Is government involved in the economy to a large extent even when it appears as if we have a free market?

Tuesday, November 02, 2021

What does it mean to say we are entitled to our opinion?

A redated post. 

What does it mean to say that someone is entitled to their own opinion? People say that a lot, but I am not sure what they are saying when they say it. To say I am entitled to something, I take it, implies someone might want to take it away from me, and either shouldn't or shouldn't be permitted to. But who might be taking out opinion away from us, and what kind of protection do we need from whoever it is that is trying to take our opinion away from us? Further, it isn't clear what an "opinion" is in this context. That can mean a personal preference that can be neither true nor false (country music is better than rock-n-roll), or it can mean a claim which can be true or false, and for which there can be evidence, but is not completely settled to everyone's satisfaction. Consider the "opinion" of Kirilov in Dostoyevsky's The Possesed, who believes that "he who kills himself, becomes God." Is this something that Kirilov is "entitled to," even if it may lead him to suicide (and did, in the novel).
And then we can look at the various means that people might use to get people to stop holding an opinion. We can torture someone to make them change their minds, we can disown them or give them a lot of disapproval and make them feel bad for believing what they do, or we could try to give them reasons why their beliefs are false. Does our being entitled to our opinion mean that no one should attempt to give another person a logical reason for rejecting what he or she currently believes? I would say, certainly not.

This essay is entitled "Sorry, but you are not entitled to your opinion."

I believe I have linked to it before.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Executive pay and socialism

  Should government control executive pay? If it does, would that be socialism? 

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Could God be wrong?

 Suppose it is God's opinion that adultery is wrong. He is said to have asserted this. Could we say to God that that is just his opinion, and while He has a right to his opinion, we have a right to ours? 

Wouldn't it be a little silly to tell the almighty something like that? 

Of course, God has to exist for this to be true. But many people think there is a good reason to suppose that God really does exist. On the assumption that God exists and has commanded us not to commit adultery, is there any way to argue that adultery can sometimes be OK? 

Could God be wrong? I can see a new theology, fallibilist theology. God may be great, but he goofs up on some of his commandments and has to be corrected by humans. 

How odd it would be if God made it so that fideism is true

 . If reason has no valid statute in religion, it follows that religion has no reasonable status in human life. Therefore it is unreasonable for a man to be religious. The reasonable man is the atheist.

"How odd of God/To choose the Jews." So runs the celebrated couplet whose lightness of humor does not cancel the seriousness of its statement of the initial mystery of the redemptive economy. A greater oddity, however, could be conceived. How odd of God it would have been had he made man reasonable so that, by being reasonable, man would become godless. This brings me to my third subject—that most mysterious of all the oddities on the face of God's earth, the godless man.--John Courtney Murray The Problem of God. 

Do androids have a first person perspective?

 Would androids have a first person perspective. My computer, running a chess program, can beat me in chess. But it doesn't seem to know the joy of victory or the agony of defeat, though we might be able to program it to behave as if it does.

In honor of the World Series

 Sister Wynona Carr. 

Monday, October 25, 2021

Are unprovable statements objective?

 Objectivity does not depend on provability. There are unprovable statements that have to either be true or false. "There is intelligent life on other planets" would be one. I don't know how to prove it one way or the other, but it's got to be true or false. 

Consider the claim "An omnipotent being exists." Many people think that statement can't be proven one way or the other. But even if those people are right, there either is one or there isn't. 

If there is a God, does God know that adultery is always wrong, or is God in the dark about it? It's hard to imagine the latter position as even conceivably true. 

ethics and contradictions

 Ethics is a study of right and wrong. Sometimes we know what is right to do, and the question is whether or not we find the will to do it. If there is an universal interest in something, we sometimes choose to follow our private interests or to do what is moral. A course in ethics won't necessarily enable you to resist temptation.  But at other times there are moral reasons that someone can  provide for opposing actions. Take war for example. War kills people, but there do seem to be reasons that many people think justify war. Suppose we have a choice between performing an action and killing one person, or not performing an action, in which case five people are killed, but not as a direct result for our actions. What is right to do? 

Are there ethical statements that can be true or false? Now, a statement can be true or false whether or not there is proof available to us. For example, consider the belief that there is intelligent life on other planets. Being right here just means that the belief conforms to reality. You can be right without being reasonable--for example if I had thought that the Cardinals would win their first seven games, I would have been right. But if I thought that because I am a fan of the Cardinals, then I wouldn't be reasonable in forming my belief, even though it turned out to be true. It would still be wishful thinking, and no less so because I turned out to be right. 

Or consider the idea of life after death.  People disagree about whether or not it is real. But eventually we are all going to die, and when we do, we will either experience life after death,  in which case the people who said that there is life after death would be right and the people who denied it would have been wrong. On the other hand, if there is no life after death, then the people who thought there was no life after death were in fact right, though of course they won't be in existence to collect their bets. 

So what about the moral claim that some shouldn't get an abortion if the only reason for getting it is so as not to look fat in her wedding pictures. People disagree about that--some people think that a fetus is not yet a person, so getting an abortion for any reason or no reason is justified. But others disagree. People produce arguments about this issue. People on different sides of this sort of an issue think that their opponents are making a mistake. that they are getting their ethics wrong. 

Can you get your ethics wrong? Is Hannibal Lecter's murder and cannibilism not just distasteful, or illegal, or impolite, but really and truly wrong? If something is objective, then once you clarify what the terms mean, then the statement is has to be either true of false and the law of noncontradition applies. If it is just relative to a person or a society's feelings or preferences, then the law of noncontradiction does not apply. 

The law of nontradiction says that a statement cannot be both true and false. But if the question is whether McDonald's burgers are better than those of In-N-Out's, then there is an implied "for me" clause which prevents the law of noncontradiction from applying. If you ask whether or not belching after dinner is rude, then there is an implied "for my society." But what about moral judgments, ranging from controversial claims like "Abortion is nearly always wrong," to "It is wrong to inflict pain on little children for your own amusement." Are these statement relative to some person or society, or are they straighforward statements to which the law of noncontradiction should apply. When you ask yourself whether you can apply the law of noncontradiction to moral statements, think of a controversial case, and then a noncontroversial case. 

In these cases it is tempting to apply the "fact vs. opinion" distinction. Be careful. Both of those terms are ambiguous. "Fact" can mean either true, or provably true. "Opinion can mean either "Reasonable people can believe either the claim or its denial," but it can also mean that it's a matter of personal or societal taste, and therefore it cannot be true or false. 

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Exclusivism on truth, pluralism on rationality and salvation

 You could be an exclusivist about truth (Religious claims are true or false, and when there is a contradiction only one side can be right), but a pluralist about reasonableness (reasonable people can hold contradictory positions when it comes to complex issues without being open to charges of irrationality), and a pluralist about salvation (People can be saved even if they don't believe certain things about God or Christ). 

I personally lean toward all three of those positions. 

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?