Saturday, December 24, 2022

A skeptical Christmas question

 It is, I believe Christian doctrine that Jesus was born of a virgin. But in Matthew the biblical text maintains not merely that Jesus was born of a virgin, but was prophesied to be so born. 

Matthew 1: 22-23, NIV

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”[g] (which means “God with us”).

This is, of course, a quote from Isaiah 7: 14. There is some controversy as to whether the Hebrew word in the prophecy really means "virgin" or "young woman." But that is not my worry about the use of this. But that is not my concern. My concern is that it looks as is Matthew has ripped the Isaiah prophecy out of its context. The context is this: Pekah the King of Israel, and Rezin the king of Syria are threatening to attack Ahaz king of Judah. Ahaz is scared, and wants to go get protection from the Assyrians. Isaiah is telling Ahaz to trust God, not Nineveh, for protection against Pekah and Rezin, and tells him to look for a sign from God. The sign is supposed to be that a virgin or young woman (however you translate it) will conceive and bear a son, showing Ahaz that God is with us (and that he doesn't have to go do business with the stinking Assyrians (not nice people, by the way) to maintain the security of Judah. 

But if that's the sign Isaiah is talking about, then the birth of Jesus, which takes place several centuries after Ahaz is dead, doesn't do the job.  Ahaz needs a sign NOW that God is with us. So how is the Isaiah verse a prophecy of Jesus? 

Monday, December 12, 2022

What does the right to an opinion amount to?

 What does it mean to have a right to a belief or an opinion. Is part of the right to your opinion the right to express your opinion? If it doesn't involve this, then what kind of a right is it? What does such a right protect you from. If I have a right to life, then I have the right to be protected from someone else's attempt to take my life. No one has the power to take my opinion away from me by force, so what does a right to an opinion amount to? 

Homosexuality and the need for approval?

 One right that I believe sometimes get neglected is the right to disapprove of someone's conduct. I'm not particularly hostile to homosexuality but I fear that people in the LGBT community equate disapproval with some sort of assault or endangerment. (Microaggression?) Does my love life need everyone's approval?

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Can we trust our elections?

 Well, it's either ballots or bullets. Here is an argument against excessive election skepticism. 

Saturday, December 03, 2022

An atheistic justification for violence

 An atheistic argument for violence:

1) Atheism is true, and so obviously so that religious believers must be insane.
2) Insane people can do outrageous things.
3) The people who promulgate belief in God are putting other people's sanity in danger.
4) Even if we have to forcibly stop them from doing so, we can prevent them from leading other people on the road to insanity, and hence possibly outrageous actions.
5) Therefore, the use of force in the name of suppressing religion is justified.

Monday, November 28, 2022

What's wrong with this picture

 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?)

Wokeness and nonsense

 A lot of nonsense comes out of an interest in being woke. Even more nonsense comes from the attempt to avoid wokeness at all costs.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Is it wrong to kill a vegetator?

  I have run this thought experiment on myself. Suppose human beings were such that when they died, their central nervous system shuta down first, leaving them to continue to exist in a vegetative state for nine month before their biological life expired. These "vegetators" just lie around taking up bed space unless, before they die, they give the hospital the right to give them a lethal injection and put an end to their continued existence as vegetators. (The vegetators invariably smell pretty awful, too). If I sign off on the lethal injection (which I think I would do in an instant), I can't see that I would be committing the sin of suicide. So I fail to see how ending the life of a human entity which has never experienced anything is somehow equivalent to ending the life of someone or something that is undergoing experiences, has hopes, desires, beliefs, and dreams, etc.

Monday, November 07, 2022

Can we stop inflation by not printing any more money?

 Not according to this. 


 Hypocrisy on the part of a speaker does nothing to invalidate the speaker's point. A chain-smoking doctor has every right to tell you to quit smoking.

Yet, in a lot of political discussion, if you criticize someone in the other party for doing something wrong, the defense is not "No that wasn't wrong," or "He didn't actually do (or say) that, but "Someone in your party did something just as bad, or worse." And the proper answer to that would have to be "So what."

Thursday, November 03, 2022

Secular humanism

 Secular humanism

The belief that humanity is capable of morality and self-fulfillment without belief in God.

Secular humanism is comprehensive, touching every aspect of life including issues of values, meaning, and identity. Thus it is broader than atheism, which concerns only the nonexistence of god or the supernatural. Important as that may be, there’s a lot more to life … and secular humanism addresses it.
Secular humanism is nonreligious, espousing no belief in a realm or beings imagined to transcend ordinary experience.
Secular humanism is a lifestance, or what Council for Secular Humanism founder Paul Kurtz has termed a eupraxsophy: a body of principles suitable for orienting a complete human life. As a secular lifestance, secular humanism incorporates the Enlightenment principle of individualism, which celebrates emancipating the individual from traditional controls by family, church, and state, increasingly empowering each of us to set the terms of his or her own life.

Is this the reasonable conclusion if atheism is true? 

Sunday, October 09, 2022

Shoving your religion down someone's throat

 We often hear the statement "Don't force your religious views on me?" What would constitute forcing your views on others. I take it no one can force another person to worship at their church. So, what would "forcing" amount to, exactly? Can some shove their atheism down your throat, for example.

Friday, September 30, 2022

How do people get rich?


This cartoon was clearly not created by a conservative. 

Monday, September 26, 2022

What if you can't decide about God?


What if you think about theism and atheism, and just can't decide which one is true based on the evidence? You can
a) Not decide. But then if you have to make decisions which are based on whether or not you believe in God, what do you do? Sleep in on Sunday, or go to church? (Or maybe you try a synagogue, mosque, or church on even weeks, and stay away on odd ones).
b) Disbelieve. Believe only what you can prove. (Can I prove that I am not a brain in a vat being given my experiences by aliens?)
c) Believe. Theism has higher payoffs, so if you can't decide, bet on God. (This is Pascal's solution.)

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Brain death, brain birth, and abortion

 Pro-choicers believe that even though a human fetus is species member, it lacks those characteristic that endow it with a right to life. One argument is that fetuses do not have functional brains until very late on, and therefore have not experienced anything. You can either see life as the career of a biological entity--that begins at conception. Or you can see it as a series of experiences or mental occurrences, and that doesn't begin until late in pregnancy. At the end of life we think of a person as dead (and therefore lacking a right to life), once the brain has died, even if there is some biological function still going on. So, at the beginning of life, when there is some biological functioning going on it's life has started even though it doesn't have a functioning brain? (If I only had a........) Mind you this may not be the last word on the abortion issue. But it does make it difficult to see how the same level of heinousness attaches to abortions (at least before brain development) that attaches to infanticide. In my view the lack of a developed brain is a morally relevant difference even if you believe, as I do, that abortion inflicts a significant loss and requires a high standard of justification.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

What are the core claims of critical race theory?

This is from Education Week. 

Critical race theory is an academic concept that is more than 40 years old. The core idea is that race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.

The basic tenets of critical race theory, or CRT, emerged out of a framework for legal analysis in the late 1970s and early 1980s created by legal scholars Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Richard Delgado, among others.

A good example is when, in the 1930s, government officials literally drew lines around areas deemed poor financial risks, often explicitly due to the racial composition of inhabitants. Banks subsequently refused to offer mortgages to Black people in those areas.

That's it. It is true that people go from the idea that racism can be systemic and institutional to other kinds of conclusions, but this part of it seems to be just true. Racism is not just individual, and not a matter of being a bigot. The idea is that just going color-blind is an insufficient response to the problems posed by racism. If  you don't use the n-word, you don't support segregation, you have friends in minority groups, etc., you can still be supporting institutionalized racism. 

It doesn't seem to be adequate to answer the problem of racism by saying "We're all  individuals," while denying racial identity.  If all you need for critical race theory is to deny individualist race theory, count me in. Objectionable conclusions might spin out from critical race theory, but this is not a reason to deny the central claim. 

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Facts and ideology

 There are no right-wing facts and left-wing facts, there are just, well, facts. Alternative facts are what is known in logic as falsehoods. 

C. Everett Koop, an icon of the pro-life movement, who was Reagan's Surgeon General, remembered this when he refused to state that getting an abortion is traumatizing to the women who get them. 

People on both sides of the political aisle can learn from his example. 


Friday, August 12, 2022

Is it necessary for a superintendent of public instruction to learn how to read?

 You would think so. Tom Horne, who actually held the position a few years ago, is running for the post again in the State of Arizona on the Republican ticket. His principal campaign is directed against Critical Race Theory and the 1619 project which emphasizes the history of slavery in America. 

Here is what Horne says that the 1619 project asserts: 

1. The American revolution was not fought for life liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but because American slave owners feared a threat of abolition by the British authorities.

Here is what Nikole Hannah-Jones actually says:

Conveniently left out of our founding mythology is the fact that one of the primary reasons some of the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery. By 1776, Britain had grown deeply conflicted over its role in the barbaric institution that had reshaped the Western Hemisphere. In London, there were growing calls to abolish the slave trade. This would have upended the economy of the colonies, in both the North and the South. The wealth and prominence that allowed Jefferson, at just 33, and the other founding fathers to believe they could successfully break off from one of the mightiest empires in the world came from the dizzying profits generated by chattel slavery. In other words, we may never have revolted against Britain if some of the founders had not understood that slavery empowered them to do so; nor if they had not believed that independence was required in order to ensure that slavery would continue. It is not incidental that 10 of this nation’s first 12 presidents were enslavers, and some might argue that this nation was founded not as a democracy but as a slavocracy.

This doesn't actually say that the Founders were PRIMARILY motivated by the preservation of slavery. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2022



u  In most societies historically people have been concerned about underpopulating since people historically depended upon children (particularly males) to take care of them in their old age, and because a strong male population was needed to protect the people from attack and to do the manual labor needed to keep everyone fed. Underpopulation, not overpopulation, was feared. 

Friday, August 05, 2022

Fess up or cover up: Does it always pay to be ethical?

 It seems easy to imagine situations in which it doesn't pay to be ethical. This is particularly true if you have already done something unethical  Then you have to fess up or cover up. Fessing up might be very costly, whereas you can at least delay the ill effects of wrongdoing if you cover up (and by the time it's caught, you  might be gone). 

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Ontology and shaving

 If you are trying to avoid theism because it's a violation of Ockham's razor, and then you say you believe in the multiverse, then your shaving habits are highly questionable.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Can you get away with murder

 If atheists are right, someone could commit a murder, never get caught, and end up happier than they would have been If they had not committed the murder. According to religions, you can get away with murder on earth, but eventually you'll have to face your maker. Does that make a difference in anyone's conduct?

If materialism, then determinism?

 In the physical realm, a lot of things seem to be determined. Even assuming some indeterminism at the quantum mechanical level, the effect of this on macro events seems to be minimal. The amount of force and spin you put on a bowling ball guarantees whether how many pins will go down. If we are physical systems, should we not expect our actions and decisions to be determined in much the sameway that bowling balls are? We are more complex than bowling balls, butwe are simply "meat computers" then isn't it highly likely that determinism is true? 

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Abortion and democratic choice

 People, I suspect, on both sides of the abortion issue, would like to deal with the most extreme people on the other side. Sure, the pro-abortionist hard core is out there. They think the fetus should receive no moral consideration until it's born, and be viewed as a blob of tissue. These people are out in the marches making outrageous statements. Then you have the people who want laws that will force a 10-year-old rape victim to carry her pregnancy to term. But it's time for people to stop treating abortion moderates as if they don't exist, and recognize that people who are pro-choice are not necessarily pro-abortion. People who don't want Draconian abortion laws can and do recognize that there is a deep question of conscience that women have to make who are considering abortion. How would you like it if liberals were to consistently assume that if you are a conservative, you were really just fine with storming the Capitol and overturning election results without proof? (Actually, a lot of liberals make that mistake). Some conservatives really believe in that, but plenty don't. It's the same with abortion. Some pro-choicers really women to consider abortion with no qualms whatsoever, and are afraid of "stigmatizing" anyone who gets an abortion. They're very loud. But they don't speak for everyone who is concerned about access restrictions to abortion. Now, these more moderate pro-choicers could be WRONG, and you can argue that they are, but they actually do exist. Biden, whatever his faults may be, is one of them. Planned Parenthood has not been too crazy about Biden through most of his career.

Now here's the problem. The Supreme Court didn't decide that fetuses were persons from conception, and they never challenged Roe's contention that the fetus's right to life is not guaranteed in the Constitution. They just argue that the woman's right to an abortion isn't rooted in the Constitution either, leaving it up to democratic choice whether to ban abortion or not. I have my doubts as to whether deciding this on a state basis is Constitutional either, it seems to fly in the face of the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, which indicates to me that fetuses and pregnant women need to have the same rights across the country. (A house divided against itself cannot stand). Be that as it may, because of the nature of partisan politics, state legislatures have enacted abortion laws that majorities in their states do not want. In Republican states majorities in the Republican party want strict abortion laws, but if the state if 55 percent Republican and 80 percent of Republicans want strict abortion laws, then Republicans elect only strictly pro-life candidates in the primaries and constitute a majority in the legislatures, but actually only 44 percent of the people want strict abortion laws, if Democrats are all pro-choice. But if Republicans go for abortion laws that are stricter than what the people want, they are going to hurt themselves in future elections. If the process of determining abortion laws is truly democratic, you might get some restriction over and above what Roe permitted, but not the kind of strict abortion bans that pro-lifers want. And the actual practice of bringing abortion restrictions into the real world is likely to produce collateral damage that will make people think twice. For example, the drug methotrexate is a drug used for lupus. But because it can be used to produce and abortion, pro-lifers are inclined to ban it, keeping lupus patients from drugs they need. IUDs are sometimes used for medical purposes that have nothing to do with family planning. Do we ban those because they are thought to be abortifacient? It is yet to be seen whether reversing Roe will really activate the democratic process and produce the laws that people want, which is what the jurisprudence in Dobbs implies, or whether our democratic process is so broken by partisan politics that we won't be able to come to any kind of sensible solution.

Do you believe in karma?

 I'm a little skeptical about karma myself, or least without the inclusion of some explicitly religious ideas. Some people commit murder, never regret it, benefit from the murder, and never get caught. Unless there's an afterlife (and for HIndus that's  a matter of reincarnation), what goes around does NOT come around. 

America First?

 Suppose you can spend X amount of money to help starving people. You can pay the amount you have set aside for this and save 2 people, but those two people live in America. Or you can save 10 people for the same amount of money, but those people are live in foreign countries. Who do you spend your money on? 

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Biden and his pro-life critics

 On the face of things, there is no conflict between thinking something is wrong, such as divorce and remarriage, and believing that we ought not to impose this as a restriction as a matter of law. There are many things I think are wrong that I oppose legislating against. I think you're a real slimebag if you lie to a woman in a bar in order to go to bed with her. But I don't think people who do that should be arrested. 

The argument that is thrown back at people like Biden is that abortion, on the Catholic view, takes the life of an innocent human person. And, they argue, even the most minimal of governments ought to protect the lives of innocent human persons. 

What Biden seems to think is that even though he as a Catholic has good reason to believe that every fetus has a right to life, he doesn't think that he has good reasons that he can provide to people who don't share his religion that every fetus has a right to life. The Jewish tradition, for example, seems for the most part opposed to the idea. 

However, Catholics who disagree with Biden think that the beginning of life at conception isn't a matter of faith, but is rather a scientific fact. In other words, they not only think that abortion is in fact the taking of innocent human life and therefore unjustified, they think that good reason can be given to show people who aren't Catholic that abortion is that taking of innocent human life and therefore unjustified. 

St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, argued that even though the Catholic Faith teaches that God exists, there are good reasons (five of them) that can be given to show everyone that God exists. The belief that the Universe had a temporal beginning, however, was something he thought you couldn't prove to the satisfaction of everyone, and so that was an article of faith that couldn't be proven. 

Biden thinks the Catholic view of abortion is a matter of faith. His pro-life opponents think it is supportable by reason. 

Thursday, June 16, 2022

On St. Athansius

 For people like Athanasius, the central issue was a basic theological issue. The Church was worshiping both God the Father and Jesus, so unless Jesus and the Father are two persons within a single godhead, the Church would be worshiping two distinct beings and would be guilty of polytheism. Second, without the deity of Christ, we would be saved by someone other than God. The Emperors after Constantine sided with the Arians, which is why Athanasius had to go into exile four times. No, it was not about politics for the Church, and CERTAINLY not for Athanasius, though the politicians tried to force resolutions on this issue. Actually, the whole thing finally got resolved when a pagan, Julian the Apostate, became emperor, and the Church was left to its own devices without Imperial interference.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Peter's transfusion of guts

 Historically, people came to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. They thought that Jesus being God's son was the best explanation for what was happening to them. Look, you go from Peter being so terrified of the authorities that he tells people he didn't even know Jesus to getting up in front of the gate in Jerusalem and telling everyone "You know the Jesus guy YOU put to death? Yeah him. You know what? God has resurrected him from the dead and vindicated him despite the fact that YOU had him put to death in the most humiliating way possible. In other words God vindicated him (and what does that say about you?). How does this sort of thing happen? How much guts does that take, and how did Peter get such a massive infusion of intestinal fortitude all of a sudden? He's getting in the faces of people who exercised the powers of government to have someone executed, and is telling them that God has vindicated the very man they disgraced and executed.

I was never taught blind faith

 I was never taught to have blind faith, I was taught that reasonable people could believe the central teachings of Christianity based on evidence. Here is 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

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Assisted Suicide


In the case of euthanasia and assisted suicide, there is a tendency to look for death as a way, not to escape pain, but to escape disability. We do have pretty strong pain drugs and effective  hospice care. But some people find the disability that goes with severe illness more traumatic than the pain itself. But what if we give into this? Are we telling people who are struggling, in many cases successfully, to make a meaningful contribution in the face of disability, that their life is not worth living?

These considerations push me toward the "no" side on assisted suicide.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

C. S. Lewis and his interactions 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 09, 2022

Markets and Justice

 Do markets ever produce unjust results that government has to correct? Markets supported racial discrimination in restaurants and in housing. It took government interference to put a stop to that.

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

The case for determinism

 A philosopher gives nine arguments for determinism. Here. 

The concept of murder

 The claim that abortion is murder requires some clarification concerning the concept of murder. The first thing to notice is that the concept of logically implies, or seems to, a lack of moral justification. One of the Ten Commandments says "Thou shalt not murder," but the Old Testament is filled with instances of homicide which are not only considered justified, in many cases they are prescribed by God. I remember reading a book about assassination in which one author, a well-known philosopher from the  University of Indiana, wrote an essay with the title "Murder is Sometimes Morally Justified." But he immediately backed off and acknowledged that to call something murder is to imply that it isn't morally justified. In any event, to call something justifiable murder is to commit semantic mistake, to call something justifiable homicide is to refer to a well-known class of actions which only extreme pacifists would claim to be empty. 

People in this discussion, however, seem to  have missed the semantical point.

So murder is at least unjustifiable homicide. But is that all there is to it? Can there be unjustifiable homicides that are not murders? What if there is a homicide that is morally unjustified but legal? On some definitions of murder you have a illegality as a requirement, which of course would exclude abortions where it is legal. And sometimes malicious intent is required. So, what that would mean is that there could be a class of homicides that are unjustified (in the final analysis it was the wrong thing to do), but don't qualify as murder because they were not done for malicious reasons. 

And yeah, semantics matters. Unjustifiable homicide carries less emotional weight than does murder, but it may be a more descriptive way to talk about abortion and why you oppose it. It is a clearer concept.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Is in an amendment, or a religion

 Why can someone too young to buy a beer in a bar buy an AR-15. It's an amendment, not a religion.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Bertrand Russell on the search for causes

. A man may look for gold without assuming that there is gold everywhere; if he finds gold, well and good, if he doesn't he's had bad luck. The same is true when the physicists look for causes. --Bertrand Russell

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Is the law of non-contradiction a source of intolerance?

 Christians assert certain things. That is what being a Christian means. They assert that God exist, that Jesus rose from the dead, that God gave the Ten Commandments, etc. That means they are, by definition, also maintaing that the claim that God does not exist, the claim that Jesus did not rise form the dead, and the claim that God did not give the ten commandments, are false. If you affirm one claim,you deny its contradictory. That is what it means to say something. It is not tolerant, but incoherent, to maintain both that Jesus rose from the dead, and that Jesus did not rose from the dead. The same is going to be true if you, for example, believe that evolution is true, or that tthe 2020 election was not stolen, or if you believe that vaccines are an effective response to COVID-19 that people ought to receive if they can. If you believe these things, then you believe that it is false to say that evolution is false, it is false to say that the 2020 election was stolen, and it is false to say that vaccines are an effective response to COVID-19 that people ought to receive if they can. 

The law of noncontradiction is not intolerance. it is simple logic.

Now, what do we think of people who hold false positions? Are Christians harsher to people who disagree with them that non-Christians? I wonder what the evidence is for that kind of a claim? It is true that for lots of people,including Christians, the truth matters. 

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Explaining the sixth commandment

 Does the moral requirement not to kill innocent people require explanation? If so, what would it be? If you say that God has commanded us not to kill innocent people, what is His explanation for why he gave such a command. (The Bible does seem to include commands to kill innocent people, see I Sam. 15:3 as an example). Can he justify the Sixth Commandment? If so, how? If he can't, is his commandment invalid?

One response to this would be to ask "Are you saved? If you were, why would you dare ask such a question?" I find that the more I understand why something is wrong, the easier it is for me to avoid doing what is wrong.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

The similarity between polytheism and atheism

 A famous quote from Stephen Roberts says "I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” If you look at that quotation, it would appear that monotheism is more similar to atheism than polytheism. But in another important sense, atheism and polytheism are similar. Both polytheists and atheists believe that what controls events in the universe, what will determine everyone’s ultimate destiny, has not interest in right or wrong. The causal structure of the world is morally indifferent, in the case of polytheism because there are many deities but none with ultimate power or moral authority, and in the case of atheism because events in the universe are ultimately purposeless, and once again no being is morally authoritative. The monotheistic religions and philosophies maintain, by contrast, that events in the universe are aimed at a moral purpose, moving toward a final triumph of righteousness.

Sunday, May 01, 2022

Hugh Chandler, RIP

My doctoral dissertation advisor, Hugh Chandler, passed away on New Year's day. Most professional philosophers would have discouraged me from writing a dissertation on C. S. Lewis's argument against naturalism, but Chandler directed mine. Our numerous conversations made my defense of Lewis's argument possible. 

Friday, April 29, 2022

Tax fairness and the "free" market

 How free is our market, really? Let's look at that tax loophole mentioned in this article. Corporations have to be taxed one way or another. Why not tax them in such a way that they are encouraged to pay their executives in an ethical manner?

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Logic: An extra-sensory perception?

 The cat is on the mat. That's a relation. I perceive the cat on top and the mat below it. Now, without any of our five sense to produce this perception, we somehow perceive entailment relationships. We don't have science, mathematics, or philosophical arguments for naturalism unless we can do this. As Lewis puts it, it must be the case that one thought can cause another thought not by being, but by being seen to be a ground for it. That mean's the fact of A's being the ground for B, or even A's entailing B, has to be central to the production of our belief that B. But if look at the forces in the universe that physicalism allows, that kind of fact is ruled out as a possible cause for anything. We have a perception of logical relationship, and since it can't be a sensory perception, it has to be an extra-sensory perception. How is THAT naturalistically possible?

Thursday, April 21, 2022

C. S. Lewis on homosexuality

 C. S. Lewis never abandoned the belief that homosexual conduct was wrong from a Christian standpoint. But he also never accepted the idea that there is something particularly bad about homosexuality as opposed to other kinds of sin. To hear many Christians talk, this is the one sin that makes God really angry, so angry that he sent down fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah. 

A lot of people see the entire source of opposition to homosexuality as coming from Christian conservatives. Yet Lewis thinks that the really virulent opposition to homosexuality comes from other sources. 

This is from Surprised by Joy. 

And that is why I cannot give pederasty anything like a first place among the evils of the Coll. There is much hypocrisy on this theme. People commonly talk as if every other evil were more tolerable than this. But why? Because those of us who do not share the vice feel for it a certain nausea, as we do, say, for necrophily? I think that of very little relevance to moral judgment. Because it produces permanent perversion? But there is very little evidence that it does. The Bloods would have preferred girls to boys if they could have come by them; when, at a later age, girls were obtainable, they probably took them. Is it then on Christian grounds? But how many of those who fulminate on the matter are in fact Christians? And what Christian, in a society as worldly and cruel as that of Wyvern, would pick out the carnal sins for special reprobation? Cruelty is surely more evil than lust and the World at least as dangerous as the Flesh. The real reason for all the pother is, in my opinion, neither Christian nor ethical. We attack this vice not because it is the worst but because it is, by adult standards, the most disreputable and unmentionable, and happens also to be a crime in English law. The world may lead you only to Hell; but sodomy may lead you to jail and create a scandal, and lose you your job. The World, to do it justice, seldom does that.

For a discussion of this, see here. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Christianity's contributions

 The idea that Christianity has not made any contributions to science, mathematics, or medicine is puzzling. Of course, Christians have made enormous contribution to all three of these fields. Isaac Newton was no secular humanist. Of course, you can then say that just because Christians made a contribution doesn't mean that Christianity made a contribution, but you could make the same argument about atheism or agnosticism. The Scientific Revolution of the 16th and 17th Century happened on Christians' watch. Not on the watch of the Hindus or the Buddhists. C. S. Lewis said "Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator." Monotheism supplanted polytheism, and it is hard to imagine belief in a uniform system of natural laws if people really think the sky is run by Zeus and the sea is run by Poseidon.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

The Resurrection


  • 1 Corinthians 15:3-8: "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance. Or you at the first: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas. That is, Peter and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born."
Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Alvin Plantinga

This is a piece on Alvin Plantinga from Kelly James Clark. 

Friday, April 15, 2022

Bronze Age Superstitions

 From Matthew Flannagan on Facebook: 

I often correspond with religious sceptics. Countless times I have been informed by people that they don't share my religious beliefs because, apparently unlike me, they are educated, intelligent free thinkers who don't believe in the bronze age stories found in the New and Old Testament.
I had another person inform me of this today.
Here is some friendly advice to people who confidently say things like that:
Suppose, I told you, that Abraham Lincoln was President of the United States during the renaissance period. Or imagine I told you that Martin Luther was a contemporary of Augustine of Hippo and lived during the fall of Rome. Would you take me seriously? I suspect you wouldn't. Comments like that would show I had no clue at all about historical events, didn't know the basic historical facts, and literally did not know what you were talking about.
In light of this, can you please take note of the following fact: the bronze age refers to the historical period which occurred from approximately 3300 BC to 1200 BC.

Friday, April 08, 2022

The value of money

Money is less valuable the more of it you have. The money you need to keep a roof over your head, food out your table, and keep your creditors paid contributes more to your well-being than the money you  have over and above that. So the money paid to wealthier people has less utility than it would have were it paid to people further down the economic scale. 

This helps to explain why Bernie Sanders is appealing to so many people. 

Political discomfort

 Political parties are coalitions of interests of various groups of people. Some of those interests coincide with Christianity and other do not. A politician who says, either explicitly (they normally aren't that stupid) or implicitly that "A vote for me (or my party) is a vote for Jesus" is blaspheming.

People need to read C. S. Lewis's Meditation on the Third Commandment. Over, and over and over, and over, and over.
Christianity will make you uncomfortable with the ideology of ANY party. If you are completely comfortable with the ideology of any party as a Christian, you are not thinking clearly.

Friday, April 01, 2022

Breaking News

 Breaking News: Biden admits election theft, will be vacating the Presidency in favor of Trump later today. Dominion CEO arrested on fraud charges.

Argument from explanatory vacuity

 On this old post I came up with an argument for atheism. It got over 300 comments. 

This is the argument. 

1) If Billy Graham were to fall ill, many Christians all over the world would pray for his recovery.
2) If Billy were to recover, they would all praise God and credit him with the healing.
3) If Billy were to die, they would say that it was not God’s will for Billy to recover.
4) But if God can be used to explain why something occurs but also why something does not occur, then it really does not explain it at all.
5) But if this is so, the appeal to God explains nothing.
6) If God explains nothing, then we should simply deny God’s existence.
7) Therefore, we should believe that God does not exist.

Monday, March 28, 2022

The golden rule

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  

So, if I wouldn't mind someone playing loud music at 3 AM in the next apartment, it is OK for me to do it?

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

That was then, this is now


u  If you oppose vaccine mandates for COVID, would you have sided with vaccine opponents in dealing with previous diseases? Would you, for example, have opposed the vaccine mandate for smallpox in the early 20th century? If you would have supported vaccination then, why oppose it now?


Friday, March 18, 2022

The Moral Wager

 What if all you had to go on in deciding whether there is a God is what you think will make you a more moral person.  Kant thinks that our knowledge of nature is of reality as it appears to us and not as it is in itself, so for him I think it knocks out all the standard evidential arguments and leaves us with what we can postulate as a matter of practical reason. But I am asking what the argument is for people in a wager-like situation, where you are making the wager not based on what is in your personal best interest, but based on what is in your moral best interest. 

If this is your view of things, do you wager on God? Or not? 

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Air Jordans and Hakeem Olajuwon

When Air Jordans came out, the price was so high low income kids couldn't afford it, and sometimes kids were murdered for their Air Jordans. Hakeem Olajuwon, the Houston Rockets' superstar center who led Houston to two NBA titles (at the expense of my Phoenix Suns), was a Muslim who refused based on his religion to allow his name to be used on overpriced athletic shoes. Instead, he endorsed a shoe that was about 1/3 the cost of Air Jordans.

Nike Sweatshops and Catholic Ethics

 Jim Keady maintains that for a Catholic University to support Nike products puts them in conflict with Catholic social principles. Here. 

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

My book was translated into Polish

 Yesterday I got four copies of a Polish translation of C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea. It was translated into Korean a number of years ago, but I was really surprised to see this. 

Business Ethics: A contradiction in terms?

What is the ethical responsibility of business? According to Milton Friedman, it is to increase its profits.

Tuesday, March 01, 2022

Atheism and ethics

 Atheists often bristle at the suggestion that, given their rejection of religion, they are any more likely be unethical. Many of them are ethically motivated. But I have trouble believing that religion makes no moral difference.

Monday, February 28, 2022

LSD and AR-15s don't mix

 Ted Nugent, a rock and roll singer, began his career with the Amboy Dukes, who recorded a hit song called "Journey to the Center of the Mind," clearly to be accomplished through the use of psychedelic drugs. More recently, he has been an advocate of exercising your second amendment rights. But I hope he doesn't think we ought to journey to the center of the mind and exercise our second amendment rights at the same time. As they say in A Christmas Story, "You'll shoot your eye out."

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Monday, February 21, 2022

No problem

 Is insisting in human rights forcing our values on people in foreign countries? If so, I'm all for forcing my values on people in foreign countries. No problem.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Calvinism and the worship-worthiness of Yahweh

 Imagine the following person, call him Smith. Smith is convinced, based on various arguments (presuppositional or evidential) that an infinite being, called Yahweh, exists. Yahweh, Smith believes, raised Yeshua from the dead, and the Yeshua is Yahweh's son, the second Person of a Trinity.  He believes, further, that the Old and New Testaments are factually inerrant. Based on an exegetical analysis of Scripture, (Rom 9, John 6:44, et al.) that the Reformed Doctrine that Yahweh predestines some to receive saving grace, while predestining others to suffer the punishment of hell, to be an accurate account. He's a good Calvinist, except for one thing. Given the fact that, for millions of people, Yahweh could have given them saving grace but did not, and instead inflicts everlasting punishment upon them, he concludes that Yahweh is unworthy of worship. With respect to those we care about, we are inclined to give up anything of ourselves, even our own life, to prevent them from suffering disaster. And eternal punishment is surely a fate worse than death, or prison, or being tortured on earth, or being publicly shamed, etc. If goodness is definable in terms of lovingness, then a deity who exemplified perfect goodness would do everything possible to keep people from suffering eternal torment, and on this score, Smith reasons, Yahweh falls short. 

A good Calvinist could, it seems to me, give a prudential argument for why Smith should worship Yahweh. God, ex hypothesi, has either condemned Smith to hell or elected him for heaven, but his choosing to worship Yahweh no doubt renders it more probably that Smith is among the elect. But what I can't find here is a moral argument as to why Smith ought to worship Yahweh. That Yahweh is Smith's creator seems insufficient, because that would mean that someone created by Lucifer ought to worship Lucifer. So, if there is a moral argument, what is it? 

(Notice that I don't use the word God for Yahweh, because the concept of God seems to entail moral goodness, and that is what is at issue in this discussion). 

Thursday, February 10, 2022

C. S. Lewis on Total Depravity


Though it's actually about the argument from total depravity to the conclusion that our concept of good and evil are worth simply nothing applied to God. 

Saturday, February 05, 2022

Reformed schools

 When I was a fellow at Notre Dame I went out to dinner with Al Plantinga. He was telling us how he liked the Catholic school his daughter attended. So I asked him "So, you couldn't find a Reformed school for her?" Only, I deliberately failed to enunciate the "d" in Reformed, prompting a disquisition by AP on the difference between a Reformed school and a reform school.

Friday, February 04, 2022

Burning and banning books.

 Burning or banning books always seems like a self-defeating enterprise-- it calls attention to the very books you are banning or burning.

But some people still do it. 


On Wittgenstein

 My dissertation advisor was Hugh Chandler, who did his own dissertation under Wittgenstein student Norman Malcolm. (Chandler admired Wittgenstein but as no disciple) I also took a Wittgenstein course from Wittgenstein disciple Peter Winch. But for a defender on naturalism, Wittgenstein is a double-edged sword. Winch applied the Wittgensteinian idea of language games to argue (and I think this really is consistent Wittgensteinianism) that the Genesis story and the Darwinian theory of evolution are not in conflict because they occur in different language games. Imagine what Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett would say about that! Naturalists invariably claim that while religious people are playing language games, we in science are nailing down reality, and that is precisely what Wittgenstein's position, taken to its logical conclusion, prevents you from doing. In fact, it's hard to see how far Anscombe could follow Wittgenstein. If she were to explain Catholic Eucharistic doctrine to Wittgenstein he would say "Yes, in the Catholic language game, the elements really are the Body and Blood of Christ, though that is not part of the Protestant language game." Anscombe would never be satisfied with that!

Thursday, February 03, 2022

Is the Holocaust strong evidence against theism?

Jeff Lowder thinks so. 

C. S. Lewis as wartime apologist.

 The evidence suggests that he saw apologetics as a wartime duty, and his workload at Oxford was smaller when so many British men were fighting the Nazis. Lewis loved debate and believed in the rationality of his faith (and this didn't at all waver), and he continued his Presidency of the Oxford Socratic Club until he went to Cambridge. But he never envisioned himself as the go-to guy for Christian apologietics. Even John Beversluis, the arch-critic of Lewis's apologetics, recognized that the Anscombe exchange had nothing like the kind of impact that Humphrey Carpenter, George Sayer, and A. N. Wilson claimed that it did. It is weird that none of these authors so much as mention Lewis's revised chapter, which makes their accounts of the Anscombe incident rather like an account of the Kennedy assassination that omits the fact that Jack Ruby killed Oswald.

Miracles was published in 1947, but was written during wartime.

What if Anscombe had never replied to C. S. Lewis?

74 years ago yesterday on Feb 2, Elizabeth Anscombe read her paper replying to Lewis on his argument against naturalism. But Ludwig Wittgenstein, her mentor. did not approve of her attending the Oxford Socratic Club and did not think C. S. Lewis to be worth refuting. What if Anscombe had listened to Wittgenstein. How would Lewis's apologetic and literary output have been different?

My view is "not much." (Though there would have been no revised chapter). What do you think?

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Act and rule utilitarianism

Utilitarians have rules, too, not just deontologists. But those rules are chosen in accordance with what will maximize happiness for the greatest number. There is a split amongst utiltiarians between people who think we should do what maximizes utility even if it is against the rules chosen based on utility, and thoso who think we should act based on the rule chosen based on utility, even if the act we perform might not maximize utility. This is the split between act utilitarians and rule utilitarians. 

Errors and slavery

 The case for slavery in America. 


How did people defend positions we now think are obviously morally deficient? How do moral errors take place? 

Rate yourself ethically

 Are people as ethical, or less ethical than they think they are?

If people were to rate themselves on a scale from 1 to 10 where 1 is least ethical and 10 is most ethical, wouldn't most people put themselves in the top 25%? But most of us can't be in the top 25%.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Temptations and moral dilemmas

 Also, there are two types of moral decisions. One is a temptation. With a temptation it's pretty obvious what the morally right thing to do is. The hard part might be doing it. An example would be finding a wallet on the street. it's your duty to turn it in and get it back to its owner. But  you have bills to pay, so you might not do it, but you know you should. The other is a dilemma, where you have moral reasons to do two opposing actions. . An example of a dilemma would be whether to honor a patient's request for assisted suicide. On the one hand, a doctor is trained to keep a patient alive, but is also taught to abide by the wishes of the patient. Coming to an answer as to what is right requires further ethical consideration. 

A transnational federal government??

From Humanist Manifesto II:  (1973) 

TWELFTH: We deplore the division of humankind on nationalistic grounds. We have reached a turning point in human history where the best option is to transcend the limits of national sovereignty and to move toward the building of a world community in which all sectors of the human family can participate. Thus we look to the development of a system of world law and a world order based upon transnational federal government. This would appreciate cultural pluralism and diversity. It would not exclude pride in national origins and accomplishments nor the handling of regional problems on a regional basis. Human progress, however, can no longer be achieved by focusing on one section of the world, Western or Eastern, developed or underdeveloped. For the first time in human history, no part of humankind can be isolated from any other. Each person’s future is in some way linked to all. We thus reaffirm a commitment to the building of world community, at the same time recognizing that this commits us to some hard choices.

So, in addition to paying taxes to the local, state and federal government, we would then have to pay taxes to the transnational federal government? 1040T for Transnational? 

Moral facts

 When it comes to adultery, we have some people who think that God, (who presumably knows what is right or wrong) has told us not to do it in the Seventh Commandment. If there is a God, a take it that it more than just His opinion that adultery is wrong. But if there is not God, or God never said that, then we can still ask whether or not adulterous affairs are good things. One aspect of this has to do with whether marriage necessarily implies a promise to be faithful, which of course would be broken by the adulterous affair. Religious traditions that include the idea behind the Ten Commandments think that there are what philosophers call moral facts: that is, something true about what is right and wrong regardless of what anybody thinks about it. Religious nonbelievers disagree with one another as to whether there are moral facts: J. L. Mackie was a philosopher who thought that moral facts do not exist, Erik Wielenberg is an atheist philosopher who thinks that moral facts do exist.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Why be moral in business?

 I am somewhat conflicted about how much you can make the argument that good ethics in business pays. I think in most cases unethical conduct will bite your company in the rear end eventually. But if decision-makers are not with the company for the long haul, as they often are not, then they can reap the rewards of short-term benefits and then leave before the results of their policies start harming the company. 

So my main argument in response to the question "Why should I be moral ib business" is that you'll sleep better at night. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

My dad's Invictus parody

 Apologies to W. E. Henley. 

It matters not

How crooked the used car salesman

How charged with punishment his scroll

He is the master of his fate

He has a bankroll

Have we heard the last Presidential concession speech in American history?

 Hillary Clinton is famous for being the first woman to run for President as the candidate of one of the major parties, and tried to become the first woman President of the United States. Nevertheless, will she be remembered as the last candidate to do something, namely the last person ever to concede an election to her opponent? It's a chilling thought.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The difference principle

 The value of the first, say 60,000 for a person is much greater than the second 60,000.  From the standpoint of maximizing happiness, it is better for two people to have 60,000 each than it is for one person to have 100,000 and the other have 20,000, since the one 20,000 is going to be close to the poverty line, while the other one will just have a few more luxuries. 

But some inequalities benefit the people on the bottom. Doctors make more money than street sweepers, and when street sweepers need a doctor, they would have to agree that this is a good idea. But are other inequalities morally acceptable? 

According to John Rawls's Difference Principle, the answer is no. 

The difference principle provides that inequalities are unjustified unless they make the least advantaged better off. But in order to apply this principle, we must make predictions about the future economic effects of current economic policies, predictions that are notoriously difficult to make.

See here. 

Sunday, January 09, 2022

A Debate on God's Existence

 Between Richard Swinburne and Peter Millican. 

I met Swinburne at Notre Dame in 1990. I remember him telling me he thought my rebuttal to Mackie on miracles was decisive. 


Thursday, January 06, 2022

Tuesday, January 04, 2022

Is God changeless?

 This article explores just this issue. Here's a topic with zero political overtones. Probably, it will get zero comments. 

Monday, January 03, 2022

Arsenic, old lace, and the value of life

 Suppose you were asked by a skeptical person why you value human life. Not happiness, or quality of life, just life itself. Why do you believe that we ought to preserve life even if in doing so we decrease the overall balance of pleasure over pain. 

I once knew a thoroughgoing skeptic about the value of life. He considered the old women who killed their boarders in Arsenic and Old Lace to by public benefactors. When asked "Well, based on your argument, why shouldn't I just kill you now?" He replied "It would be OK so long as you could do it painlessly."

I suppose someone could question this position's sincerity through an exercise of one's Second Amendment rights. But I am not sure this argument works.