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.