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.