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.