Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Craig on religious experience

Here is Bill Craig's argument from religious experience (from his first debate with Doug Jesseph).

(4) Finally, God can be immediately known and experienced.

Now this isn't really an argument for God's existence. Rather it is the claim that you can know that God exists wholly apart from arguments simply by immediately experiencing Him. This was the way that people in the Bible knew God. As Professor John Hick explains,

God was known to them as a dynamic will interacting with their own wills, a sheer given reality … as inescapably to be reckoned with as destructive storm and life-giving sunshine. … They did not think of God as an inferred entity, but as an experienced reality. … To them God was not … an idea adopted by the mind, but the experiential reality which gave significance to their lives.{9}

Now if this is the case, then there is a danger that proofs for God could actually distract our attention from God Himself. If you are sincerely seeking God, then I believe that God will make His existence evident to you. The Bible promises, "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you."{10} We mustn't so concentrate on the external proofs that we fail to hear the inner voice of God speaking to our own hearts. For those who listen, God becomes an immediate reality in their lives.

Now Dr. Jesseph would dismiss this experience as being purely based on psychological factors and wish-fulfillment. But the point of the argument that I am giving here is that belief in God, when you experience Him and know Him, is a properly basic belief. It is like the belief in the existence of the external world. Sure, it's possible that there is no external world, that you are really a brain in a vat being stimulated with electrodes by a mad scientist to believe that you are here in this auditorium experiencing this lecture, when actually you are not. You are just a brain sitting in a vat of chemicals being stimulated to think that. But why believe such a hypothesis? Why doubt your experience of the external world? In the absence of good reasons to doubt that, you are within your rational rights in believing that experience to be veridical and genuine. Similarly, in the absence of any reasons to adopt atheism, why should I give up or deny my experience of the existence of God, which is so real and significant to me?

A possible rebuttal:

The main objection to a belief in God based on a strong personal experience is that people throughout the world have different experiences of "God" which seems to vary depending upon the indigenous religion of the society. So in Mexico as strong religious experience would most likely include the Blessed Virgin Mary, while in South Georgia a Virgin Mary experience is far less likely. So, skeptics say that people bring to their "powerful" experiences the beliefs of the society around them, and therefore the experience cannot be used as evidence that the beliefs the acquire from that experience are true.

Christianity without God

This site says it's possible. Keith Parsons disagrees.

Perhaps when we stop believing in God it is best to leave religion in the way that the advice columnists tell us to leave a soured romantic relationship: A clean break may be initially painful, but it is healthiest in the long run.

Conservative or liberal

Is the bank bailout conservative or liberal? Are warrantless wiretaps conservative or liberal? Is the unitary executive conservative or liberal? Is the use of waterboarding conservative or liberal? Is pre-emptive war in Iraq conservative or liberal? (William F. Buckley opposed it). Is pro-life conservative or liberal? (Goldwater was staunchly pro-choice). Is gay marriage conservative or liberal? Is theism conservative or liberal?

Monday, December 29, 2008

These guys want a theocracy

And they come right out and say it! Wow!

Sam Harris on Myths and Truths about Atheism

HT: Eric Koski.

Sam has managed to outdo Keith Parsons, who only came up with seven misconceptions about atheism.

Let's take them in turn.

1) Atheists believe life is meaningless. Well, it depends which atheist you talk to. Sartre and Camus seemed to look at atheism as the basis for believing in the absurdity of life. It seems to me that atheism, or rather a full-blown naturalism, removes the possibility of finding the correct meaning to life. Whether this is a biggie or not, I suppose, depends on the person. The trouble with meaninglessness of life arguments on the part of theists is that you don't want to be telling someone who finds life meaningful by, say, doing evolutionary biology, that their life only appears meaningful to them but really isn't. Other people, however, might be psychologically disposed to be unable to find meaning in a godless world. It is natural, and not unhealthy, to crave the kind of ultimate meaning that Christianity, for example provides. It may be unfortunate, however, if it turns out that God does not exist. However, I do have trouble seeing the kind of reforming moral energy found in people like Gandhi, King, or Mother Teresa, without religion.

2) Atheism is responsible for the greatest crimes in history. No, atheism doesn't kill people, people kill people. And some of the killiers are atheists. Others are not. It is true that atheists do not believe in the sort of deity who disapproves of these crimes and will hold them accountable if they are not punished for them in this life.

Harris says that these regimes are bad because they are too dogmatic. But religion doesn't have a monopoly on dogmatism. There are dogmatic Christians, not so dogmatic Christians, dogmatic atheists, and not so dogmatic atheists. The desire to employ the power of the state to support either religion on anti-religion is what puts you in danger of abusing that power. That can happen to you if you are a believer or an unbeliever.

3) Atheism is dogmatic. No, it isn't dogmatic. But atheists can be. As I tried to argue on an evolution forum once, I think it's absurd to make the sort of claim that atheists often make, that there is no evidence for theism. There are a lot of things in our world that are more likely given theism than atheism, and therefore there are things that you can set in the scale on the side of theism. Now I can see someone saying, when all the Bayesian calculations are done, that atheism is better confirmed than theism. But to say there is nothing to be said for theism evidentially? That's dogmatic.

We might want to ask Harris the question I once asked Keith Parsons. "Suppose I were God, and I wanted to get you, Keith, to have a justified belief in me. What would I have to do?" Keith, memorably, replied by saying "If the stars in the Virgo cluster were to spell out the words 'Turn or Burn, This Means You Parsons,' I'd turn." If Harris says he wouldn't turn, maybe we have reason to suspect dogmantism.

4) Atheists think everything arose by chance. If by that you mean that this is a world without design, then that is what they do believe. However, is it just chance that your heart is in the right place, meaning that in an atheist universe it could just as easily be in your rear end or just beside your nose? No atheists don't have to believe that.

5) Atheism has no connection to science. Again, it depends on what you mean. If you mean to say that atheism follows necessarily from anything science might have discovered, then the statement is true. If you mean that there are no arguments from science to atheism, of course not. But before we start comparing polls, as Harris does, we've first got to understand if the conception of God in both polls is the same. Also, science groups are just as subject to intellectual peer pressure as anyone else. It's not clear that members of the National Academy of Sciences are more reliable than the rest of us humans when they are operating "off the clock."

6) Atheists are arrogant. They can be. I've met some arrogant ones, and some that aren't nearly so arrogant. They don't recognize the existence of anyone superior to themselves to whom they are accountable. Harris's arguments here assume Russell's maxim that "What science cannot discover, mankind cannot know." Why science provides us with the only way of knowing anything is not at all clear to me. Whether science is, as Sellars said, the measure of all things, or as C. S. Lewis said, a truncated mode of thinking, is the subject of epistemological and metaphysical debate.

7) Atheists are closed to spiritual experience. Given what they believe, they are not inclined to allow that such experience provides genuine evidence for the existence of realities that cannot be discovered using a scientific method circumscribed by methodological naturalism.

There is, in fact, not a Christian on this Earth who can be certain that Jesus even wore a beard, much less that he was born of a virgin or rose from the dead. These are just not the sort of claims that spiritual experience can authenticate.

Really? So if you saw what Paul saw on the road to Damascus, you'd just say it was a piece of underdone potato and go on about your business? If you were to experience what you thought was death, and you were to, as philosophers would say, "be appeared to hellishly," you would consider it an illusion? And you're not dogmatic? What would it take to falsify your atheism?

8) Atheists believe that there is nothing beyond human life and human understanding. Of course atheists believe there are some things we don't now understand. But a scientistic epistemology says that we could potentially understand everything if we just did enough science. I'm not so sure.

9) Atheists ignore the fact that religion is extremely beneficial to society. Again, it kind of depends on the atheist. Some recognize the contributions of religion to society, others don't. And many Christians realize that some things can be beneficial to society but at the same time be false. Atheists sometimes argue that religion is entirely harmful (Hitchens says it "poisons everything"), and when atheists talk like that, then they are ignoring or unreasonably downplaying the benefits religion has given to society. But not all atheists are as blinkered as Dawkins and Hitchens.

10) Atheism provides no basis for morality. That's true, but then I wouldn't expect unbelief about God to actually provide the basis for morality. However, atheists do have social needs just like everyone else, and so they are at least going to have to come up with some rules for conduct.

The most you can say about the Bible and slavery is that it doesn't condemn it outright. However, I believe that the idea that the meanest slave has a soul that Christ died to save is the idea that eventually provided the moral foundations for the abolition of slavery. Wilberforce was a secular humanist, right? Douglass? Garrison?

I do think that a logically consistent philosophical naturalism does logically lead to the conclusion that morals are either person-relative or society-relative. If so, then it is not objectively true that slavery is an abomination. To affirm this is to affirm that we can discover moral truths. But, as Russell pointed out, science cannot discover that it is true, or that it is false that slavery is wrong.

So if we mean that atheists can't have moral codes that they follow, yes, atheists can and do have codes of conduct and they do follow them. If we mean that in a fully naturalistic universe, you can have statements like "Slavery is wrong" be literally and unequivocably and non-relatively true, then no, I think J. L. Mackie is right. Such truths are "queer" in an naturalistic universe, in the sense that they "don't fit" in epistemologically or metaphysically.

None of this shows that atheism isn't true, or that we ought not to believe it. But I don't think atheists have a monopoly on good sense, or rationality, or intelligence. Yes, Christians make exaggerated claims about atheists. Atheists make exaggerated claims about theism. Once these claims are set aside, the discussion can continue.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Joe Markus on Van Inwagen on the Argument from Evil

A redated post.

Hello Professor Reppert,

Peter van Inwagen has an interesting approach to the problem of evil in his new book. He makes an initial argument that we should be suspicious of the argument from evil simply because it is a philosophical argument with a substantive conclusion. He argues that because no philosophical argument with a substantive conclusion has been successful in the history of philosophy, we should doubt that any argument for God's nonexistence could be successful.

He says:

Now if it is indeed true that no philosophical argument for any substantive conclusion is successful in the sense that I have proposed, it immediately follows that the argument from evil is not a success in that sense---given, at any rate, two premises that I don't think anyone would deny: that the argument from evil is a philosophical argument and that the nonexistence of God is a substantive philosophical thesis. If we think of what I have just said as an argument for the conclusion that the argument from evil is (in my sense) a failure, I don't think it's a bad argument. But even if it's a good argument, it has an important limitation: it doesn't really tell us anything of philosophical interest about the argument from evil; it doesn't interact with the content of the argument from evil. I might have offered essentially the same argument for the conclusion that the private-language argument or the ontological argument or the analogical argument for the existence of other minds was a failure. It is my project in these lectures to try to convince you that the argument from evil does not have the power to turn ideally rational and serious and attentive and patient neutral agnostics into athesits. And, of coursee, I mean to do this by actually coming to grips with the argument. Even if it's true (as I believe it is) that no philosophical argument for a substantive conclusion has the power to convert every member of an ideal and initially neutral audience to its conclusion, I don't mean to argue from that premise. I mean to show how Theist can block Atheist's every attempt to turn the audience of agnostics into atheists like herself. I mention my general thesis about the inability of philosophical argument to produce uniformity of belief even among the ideally rational simply because I think it is a plausible thesis, and if you agree with me on this point, your agreement will predispose you to accept a conclusion that I will defend on other grounds. (The Problem of Evil p. 53)

JM: It seems to me that there are problems of self-reference here. Is van Inwagen's argument here an instance of an argument with a substantive philosophical thesis? It seems to be. If so, then we should doubt this argument.

Granted, his only purpose in presenting the argument is to predispose us that arguments from evil aren't successful. But should we grant even that much to him?

Also, I'm not so sure about his criterion of success for a philosophical argument. He states it as:

PVI: An argument for p is a success just in the case that it can be used, under ideal circumstances, to convert an audience of ideal agnostics (agnostics with respect to p) to belief in p---in the presence of an ideal opponent of belief in p. (p. 47)
I don't think the criterion is unreasonable. But I'm not terribly enthusiastic about it either. Something about the word "ideal" bothers me.

Anyway, that's one of the many topics of van Inwagen's new book. Have you had an opportunity to check it out? You might be interested in some of his themes which resemble arguments from C.S. Lewis' Problem of Pain.



This brings me to one of the most interesting topics in philosophy, something I call argument metatheory. What can arguments do, and what can they not do? First of all, maybe something is gone wrong when we start talking about the problem of evil as opposed to the argument from evil.

I have been criticized by some people who otherwise like my arguments because I make too modest of claims on behalf of my arguments. The problem is that any argument concentrates on one relevant factor in understanding the whole question of God, and kind of puts all the other factor in neutral, when in the real world these other factors have a whole lot to do with why we make the world-view choices we do. So I will say "Look at the fact that we draw rational inferences, think about what that entails, and ask yourself if that fits better in a theistic universe than an atheistic universe. What is the probability that it will arise given theism, as opposed to the probability it will arise given atheism." But I don't think any argument is so good that it could undergird the claim, for example, that atheists are all intellectually dishonest.

An argument in world-view controversy is often of the form "You can't explain this!" And the problem here is that, of course, logically no world-view, however good, is going to put you in a position where you can explain everything. Still, some explanatory failures seem more devastating than others.

In the absence of that silver bullet argument, how do we proceed? I use a Bayesian metamodel to help me here. It shows how an argument can be modestly successful in a world-view debate.

Find the #1 song in any day in history.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Cosmology and the evidence for God

Does cosmology support theism? This site thinks so.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Narnia for Skeptics

Laura Miller provides an appreciation for Narnia for people skeptical of Lewis's Christianity. She finds, racism, sexism, and elitism in the series, but also some things that can still be appreciated.

I am inclined to welcome people who find Lewis worthy of appreciation who don't buy in on his overall world-view.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Does Logic Presuppose God?

Michael Martin says no.

Blog entry on the parallel between ID and SETI

A redated post.

This is a blog entry on the supposed parallel between ID and SETI, courtesy of Ahab. At the same time, my own use the SETI-ID parallel may be different from that used by people like Dembski. In my account we decide that these messages must have come from an embodied source, but of course we can't be sure of that, and then evidence strongly suggests that there is not evolved, embodied source. Then, in order to avoid pseudoscience, do we stop perceiving the messages as designed, even though we built spaceships on the assumption that they were designed?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Evidence, Deterrence, and the Death Penalty

What type of evidence is relevant to the question of whether the death penalty deters? It seems to me that one kind of evidence, statistical comparison of relevantly similar jurisdictions which have, and do not have, the death penalty, is relevant and acceptable. But defenders of the death penalty suggest another type of evidence, the fact that convicted capital criminals, when given a choice in the matter, choose life imprisonment over death, is given as a reason supporting the deterrence claim.

This just strikes me as a bad argument. It seems to me that what a prisoner decides in his jail cell has little to do with what he might choose when he is thinking of committing a murder and thinks he probably will get away with it.

In any event, even if it is evidence, it is not very good evidence compared to statistics.

My diagnosis of Drange vs. Wilson

This is a very old post that someone commented on just recently, so I thought I would update it.

I have decided to work through the dialogue in the Drange-Wilson debate to see what sense can be made of it. It was my contention that Wilson drops the ball, and I was hoping that some of you supporters of presuppositonalism can pick the ball up for him.

I am following the thread through Wilson's opening statement, going to Drange's first rebuttal and on into Wilson's second rebuttal, Drange's third rebuttal, and the final statement by Wilson.

The opening statement presented a version of the argument from reason, and I have few if any complaints about that. I would, however, not argue that any argument from reason establishes the Christian God as opposed to, say, an Islamic conception of God. So Drange's use of the Other Gods objection would not be a concern for me.

But Drange argues that one can be neutral with respect to world-view and try to explain the existence of reason while remaining agnostic on whether or not there is a God. Of course to do that you'd have to explain reason naturalistically, as if it had emerged from an atheistic universe. And insofar as such universes do not allow reason as basic explanations, this would be something I would find objectionable. On the other hand there are non-theistic world-views which are mentalistic at bottom (Absolute Idealism would be one of those) and I don't think AFR refutes AI, though I might argue against it in other ways.

He then mentions nonmaterialist atheism. I would admit that perhaps absolute idealism would be a version of nonmaterialistic atheism, and again I would admit that AFR does not attack that. But what he seems to be proposing here is a view in which there are propositions in existence as well as material things, and here I would just point out that if one's world-view is basically materialism plus propositions, then how there timeless entities can be relevant to the actual occurrence of belief as a psychological event is going to be severely problematic. In other words Drange is going to be hard put to show that the fact that A entails B, which is something that does not occur at a particular place or time, can possibly affect S's being in brain state B, which does occur at a particular place and time.

Drange also claims that there are materialists who attempt to show how reason can emerge from matter. It is not just like the shaking of a Pepsi can, but it involves a long evolutionary process. I of course, will argue once again that such scientific accounts will be hard put to show how an eternally existing logical relation can be causally relevant to a space-and-time bound brain state. You can refer to some of my anti-Carrier responses on this blog from last summer to see how I am likely to go about arguing that.

Drange thinks that since Wilson is trying to prove the existence of God he has to establish each step beyond a reasonable doubt. I don't think this is required, though to get the kind of certainty the TAGger wants, perhaps he must assume that kind of burden of proof.

And then Drange offers the Inadequacy Objection, which I spent an entire chapter dealing with in my book.

Now this was a fair batch of arguments by Drange, and it was time for Wilson to step up to the plate and answer them, perhaps the way that I have sketched out my response here.

Instead, we get complaints from Wilson about the way Drange formulates his argument. He complains that there instead of there being only two frameworks in which to consider the emergence of rational thought there is only one-Christianity. But that is to state the conclusion of the debate. The debate must first begin with two opposing viewpoints. One could just as easily say that in agreeing to the debate Wilson lost it, because he had to allow the legitimacy of the atheist viewpoint in order to get the debate going, when in fact his own position denies the very possiblity of an atheist viewpoint.

And here also the dreaded "Circularity? No problem!" response comes up.

Another problem can be seen in Dr. Drange's formulation of the TAG. As he states it, "As shown by ART, the fact that rational thought exists entails the conclusion that the Christian God must exist." Again, he has assembled the key elements, but he is not holding the thing right side up. The fact that rational thought exists does not entail the conclusion that God exists. It presupposes God's existence. The argument is not "rational thought, and therefore God." The argument is "God, and therefore rational thought." God is never the conclusion; He is the only necessary premise of any argument. This is why many people accuse those who present the transcendental argument of committing the fallacy of petitio principii, that of begging the question. How can one debate the existence of God by assuming or presupposing that God exists? Are you not assuming you are supposed to prove? Exactly so.

But this is not a problem because all ultimate questions involve circularity, and we might as well get used to it. The virtue of the Christian transcendental argument is that this feature which is necessary to all creaturely thought is simply embraced and understood, and the right ultimate question is properly identified. But the process of necessary circularity can be still seen when anything is falsely elevated to the level of ultimacy. To the fellow who says, "You can't tell me that God exists just because He does. By contrast, I base all my thoughts on reason." I would reply, "Oh? What is your reason for doing so?" He may not like transcendental circularity, but he is stuck with it too. How can an embrace of reason be justified through an appeal to reason? That is no different (at least as far as circularity is concerned) than the fellow who says that God must exist because otherwise He could not have written John 3:16.

Now on the face of things I would have to say someone who really believed this should not be agreeing to a debate. What it looks like is that Wilson wants to shape the argument to meet the demands of presuppositionalist theory, but what he actually does is effectively destroy the debate. If Van Til's position is more complex on the question of epistemic circularity, we need some development of that position. It is interesting that the disciple of Bahnsen doesn't employ a more sophisticated conception of epistemic circularity, if indeed the Van Tillian position has one.

Here you get a mere assertion that reason cannot arise from matter, with no explanation as to why. He does say that there is a difference between describing thought in materialist terms and explaining it in materialist terms, and this is a valid point worth developing, but without further development it's just an assertion. For example, he says:

In his science objection, he rallies to a quasi-defense of the atheistic materialism he does not hold. He concludes by saying that science "has come a long way towards explaining rational thought in materialist terms." But here, Dr. Drange has actually confused an explanation of rational thought with a description of rational thought. Materialist scientists observe and describe various phenomena, and then give it a scientific name to conceal their helplessness. When it comes to explaining immaterial phenomena, such as reason, scientists as scientists have absolutely nothing to say.

But surely we should expect a statement like that to be backed up. Neuroscientists are able to explain a lot of things. So I wouldn't make this kind of statement about science, even though I don't, for example, see them on their way to unlocking the key to intentionality.

So the arguments remain underdeveloped. If you are really going to argue against the atheist, then argue against him. If you don't have to argue against him, don't agree to a debate.

A Critique of Lewis's Views on Scripture

A more serious critique of Lewis from conservative evangelical quarters.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Religion and personalness

What do we mean when we say religion is very personal to every individual. It sounds so very American (and so un-American to deny) but what does it mean?

William Lane Craig on the Anthropic Argument

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sam Harris Faces Aslan

Reza Aslan, that is. This is an MP3 debate.

Russell's Why I am not a Christian

A well-known essay attacking Christianity. It has always struck me loaded with straw men. Try, for example:

Perhaps the simplest and easiest to understand is the argument of the First Cause. It is maintained that everything we see in this world has a cause, and as you go back in the chain of causes further and further you must come to a First Cause, and to that First Cause you give the name of God. That argument, I suppose, does not carry very much weight nowadays, because, in the first place, cause is not quite what it used to be. The philosophers and the men of science have got going on cause, and it has not anything like the vitality that it used to have; but apart from that, you can see that the argument that there must be a First Cause is one that cannot have any validity. I may say that when I was a young man, and was debating these questions very seriously in my mind, I for a long time accepted the argument of the First Cause, until one day, at the age of eighteen, I read John Stuart Mill's Autobiography, and I there found this sentence: "My father taught me that the question, Who made me? cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question, Who made God?" That very simple sentence showed me, as I still think, the fallacy in the argument of the First Cause. If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. It is exactly of the same nature as the Hindu's view, that the world rested upon an elephant, and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, "How about the tortoise?" the Indian said, "Suppose we change the subject." The argument is really no better than that. There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor, on the other hand, is there any reason why it should not have always existed. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination. Therefore, perhaps, I need not waste any more time upon the argument about the First Cause.

Please, Bertrand, can't we do better than this? Cosmological arguments always tell you what needs a cause. Contingent things. Things that begin to exist.

A critique of inerracy

Anyone care to tackle some of these?

Lewis wasn't a Christian

According to this guy.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Actually, it was the milk

They had us all fooled. We thought the commies were trying to brainwash us by flouridating the water. Actually they were trying to undermine our moral fiber by giving us homo milk. It was right on the cartons, but we never noticed.

How many Darwinists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Somehow I missed this when it came out.

Richard Dawkins: To say that it took a Darwinist to do the screwing in of the lightbulb is to explain precisely nothing. The obvious question becomes: Who did the screwing to create the Darwinist screwer? And who did the screwing to create that screwer? There would have to be an infinite regress of screwers. And if you invoke some invisible, mystical Unscrewed Screwer (for which we have no credible evidence) to start the whole thing off, why not just say that the lightbulb screwed itself in and be done with it?

Elton John the Bulverist.

The opening paragraph of my essay on miracles

Tom Gilson's comment on Sam Harris reminded me of the first paragraph of my paper on miracles.

Bertrand Russell was reportedly once asked what he would say to God if he were to find himself confronted by the Almighty about why he had not believed in God's existence. He said that he would tell God "Not enough evidence, God, not enough evidence!" But perhaps, if God failed to give Russell enough evidence, it was not God's fault. We are inclined to suppose that God could satisfy Russell by performing a spectacular miracle for Russell's benefit. But if the reasoning in David Hume's epistemological argument against belief in miracles is correct, then no matter how hard God tries, God cannot give Russell an evidentially justified belief in Himself by performing miracles. According to Hume, no matter what miracles God performs, it is always more reasonable to believe that the event in question has a natural cause and is not miraculous. Hence, if Russell needs a miracle to believe reasonably in God, then Russell is out of luck. Russell cannot complain about God's failure to provide evidence, since none would be sufficient. But God cannot complain about Russell's failure to believe.

Bill Craig's personal testmony

Is he entitled to believe that God exists because of this kind of experience?

Evidence and Intellectual Dishonesty

What is it to be intellectually honest? What is the duty of honest, in deciding what is true.

One example was given by a philosophy professor of mine who said that when he presented the case for the existence of God in class, a student took careful notes. When the arguments against the existence of God were presented, the student covered her ears.

Or someone who says that, if the case for and against God were to be assessed rationally, atheism would surely emerge victorious, but they nevertheless choose, as a personal existential choice, to believe anyway? Or to disbelieve in the face of contrary evidence. Someone could say "I see some good evidence for Christianity, but if I believed it, I'd have to change my sex life. I don't want to do that, let me click on over to Internet Infidels, so they can get me nice and convinced that atheism is true."

But, of course, in most discussions, we find people on both sides of the issue claiming to be rational. And here it is still, of course, possible to accuse the other side of dishonesty. Russell, for example, thinks that the case for God is so strong that the only way any otherwise intelligent person could accept orthodox Christianity would be if they were to be affected by a desire to disbelieve the unpleasant.

Do we have a duty to fix beliefs in a certain way, so as to be honest? What are those methods? The trouble I have is that dishonesty charges are made by people who just think the case is just overwhelming on their own side and can't see how intelligent people who are interested in the truth could be on the other side.

The problem I've got is that people make these charges, and what it amounts to is the fact that they assessed the evidence differently and can't see how an intelligent person could fail to assess it the way they did. It's a kind of personal incredulity claim: I can't believe anybody could think the evidence was in favor of that.

What kind of evidence do we need to make charges of intellectual dishonesty against others? My claim has been that this is a claim that we should make very cautiously. We do not know what the total evidence another person is looking at.

If someone were accused of taking a position which implied a contradiction, one might be tempted to make this kind of charge. But of course, we don't see all the contradictions, and what may seem contradictory to you may seem so to someone else; they may see a relevant difference where you see none.

I'm trying to make a case against an itchy trigger finger on these charges. Again, I'm asking, what kind of evidence do we need?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Avery Dulles on C. S. Lewis

Dulles notes that the Argument from Desire is the prime theistic argument used by Karl Rahner and Henri de Lubac. This was news to me.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Exonerations and the death penalty

Though I had a commentator on this site say that the number is a fraud.

Lewis on Christian Apologetics

Lewis on translating into the language of our hearers, and what we can expect, or not expect, people to understand.

4) We must learn the language of our audience. And let me say at the outset that it is no use at all laying down a priori what the “plain man” does or does not understand. You have to find out by experience. Thus most of us would have supposed that the change from “may truly and indifferently minister justice” to “may truly and impartially” made that place easier to the uneducated; but a priest of my acquaintance discovered that his sexton saw no difficulty in indifferently (“It means making no difference between one man and another,” he said) but had no idea what impartially meant.

On this question of language the best thing I can do is to make a list of words which are used by the people in a sense different from ours.

ATONEMENT. Does not really exist in a spoken modern English, though it would be recognized as “a religious word.” Insofar as it conveys any meaning to the uneducated I think it means compensation. No one word will express to them what Christians mean by atonement: you must paraphrase.

BEING. (noun) Never means merely “entity” in popular speech. Often it means what we should call a “personal being” (e.g. a man said to me “I believe in the Holy Ghost but I don’t think He is a being!”)

CATHOLIC. Means papistical.

CHARITY. Means (a) alms (b) a “charitable organization” (c) Much more rarely--indulgence (i.e. a “charitable attitude toward a man is conceived as one that denies or condones his sins, not as one that loves the sinner in spite of them).

CHRISTIAN. Has come to include almost no idea of belief. Usually a vague term of approval. The question “What do you call a Christian?” has been asked of me again and again. The answer they wish to receive is “ A Christian is a decent chap who is unselfish, etc.

CHURCH. Means (a) A sacred building, (b) the clergy. Does not suggest to them the “company of all faithful people.” Generally used in a bad sense. Direct defense of the church is part of our duty; but use of the word church where there is not time to defend it alienates sympathy and should be avoided where possible.

CREATIVE. Now means merely “talented,” “original.” The idea of creation in the theological sense is absent from their minds.

CREATURE means “beast,“ “irrational animal.“ Such an expression as “We are only creatures” would almost certainly be misunderstood.

CRUCIFIXION, CROSS, etc. Centuries of hymnody and religious cant have so exhausted these words that they now very faintly --if at all--convey the idea of execution by torture. It is better to paraphrase; and, for the same reason, to say flogged for the New Testament scourged.

DOGMA. Used by the people only in a bad sense to mean “unproved assertion delivered in an arrogant manner.”

IMMACULATE CONCEPTION. In the mouth of an uneducated speaker always means Virgin Birth.

MORALITY means chastity.

PERSONAL. I had argued for at least ten minutes with a man about the existence of a “personal devil” before I discovered that personal meant to him corporeal. I suspect this of being widespread. When they say they don’t believe in a “personal God” they may often mean only that they are not anthropomorphists.

POTENTIAL. When used at all is used in an engineering sense: never means “possible.”

PRIMITIVE. Means crude, clumsy, unfinished, inefficient. “Primitive Christianity” would not mean to them at all what it does to you.

SACRIFICE. Has no associations with the temple and altar. They are familiar with this word only in the journalistic sense (“The nation must be prepared for heavy sacrifices.”)

SPIRITUAL. Means primarily immaterial, incorporeal, but with serious confusion from the Christian use of “spirit” hence the idea that whatever is “spiritual” in the sense of “no sensuous” is somehow better than anything sensuous: e.g. they don’t really believe that envy could be as bad as drunkenness.

VULGARITY. Usually means obscenity or “smut.” There are bad confusions (and not only in uneducated minds) between: (a) The obscene or lascivious: what is calculated to provoke lust. (b) The indecorous: what offends against good taste or propriety. (c) The vulgar proper: what is socially “low.” “Good” people tend to think (b) as sinful as (a) with the result that others feel (a) to be just as innocent as (b).

To conclude-- you must translate every bit of your theology into the vernacular. This is very troublesome and it means you can say very little in half an hour, but it is essential. It is also of the greatest service to your own thought. I have come to the conviction that if you cannot translate your thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts were confused. Power to translate is the test of having really understood one’s own meaning. A passage from some theological work for translation into the vernacular ought to be a compulsory paper in every ordination examination.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Obama: Not pro-choice enough for some

Pro-choice "extremist" Obama isn't pro-choice enough for some people. Sometimes, you can't please anybody.

'I have repeatedly said that I think it's entirely appropriate for states to restrict or even prohibit late-term abortions as long as there is a strict, well-defined exception for the health of the mother. Now, I don't think that 'mental distress' qualifies as the health of the mother," Obama said. "I think it has to be a serious physical issue that arises in pregnancy, where there are real, significant problems to the mother carrying that child to term. Otherwise, as long as there is such a medical exception in place, I think we can prohibit late-term abortions."

OK. Let's start writing the bill. Put a closely defined medical exception in.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

This is the Eastboro Baptist Church

The Westboro Baptist Church is for wimps.

Reformed Epistemology and the Great Pumpkin Objection

This is the Wikipedia entry on Reformed Epistemology and the Great Pumpkin objection, which I alluded to earlier.

It is tempting to raise the following sort of question. If belief in God can be properly basic, why cannot just any belief be properly basic? Could we not say the same for any bizarre aberration we can think of? What about voodoo or astrology? What about the belief that the Great Pumpkin returns every Halloween? Could I properly take that as basic? Suppose I believe that if I flap my arms with sufficient vigor, I can take off and fly about the room; could I defend myself against the charge of irrationality by claiming this belief is basic? If we say that belief in God is properly basic, will we not be committed to holding that just anything, or nearly anything, can properly be taken as basic, thus throwing wide the gates to irrationalism and superstition? (p. 74)

Monday, December 08, 2008

Should incompatibilists be libertarians

This is to be found in Hasker's book Metaphysics.

1. If determinism is true, then human beings are not responsible for their actions.
2. But it is clear that human beings are responsible for their actions.
3. Therefore determinism is false.

1. If determinism is true, then human beings are not responsible for their actions.
2. But is is clear that we ought to believe that human beings are responsible for their actions.
3. Therefore, we ought to believe that determinism is false.

Let us assume that a person is persuaded that incompatibilism is true. If that is so, then do we accept, in the absence of overwhelming evidence that determinism is true, that it is false.

intellectual dishonesty

Intellectual dishonesty charges (as opposed to simple charges of lying) require information about other people's internal states that I don't see how anyone other than the person can be privy to.

Let's take someone who believes, quite firmly, that abortion and infanticide are justified. These activities, according to Peter Singer, were attacked by people with Christian assumptions which need to be questioned. That is what the person says, that is what the person believes, that is what the person argues for. They offer criteria for personhood which fetuses and infants flunk, and they are bloody consistent about it. I may think they're cuckoo, but how do I get to intellectual dishonesty? What does the charge of intellectual dishonesty amount to here?

When John Beversluis's book C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion came out, a lot of people friendly to Lewis suspected some sort of dishonest effort on Beversluis's part. How could he say these things about Lewis? How could he fail to find in Lewis what we more sympathetic readers find? Beversluis's subsequent review of A. N. Wilson's biography, and his 2007 revision of his own book, make the charge of intellectual dishonesty very difficult to defend.

It's tempting to say to someone you disagree with, "surely you really know, deep down, that you're wrong about this." But how do you prove such claims? Intellectual dishonesty claims invariably poison dialogue, they make parties less willing to engage the discussion. A price in civilized discourse is paid when these charges are made. (Look at the quality of discussion in the Intelligent Design debate if you doubt me). That's why I think intellectual dishonesty charges carry with the a heavy burden of proof, and most of the time they are not worth making.

Russell's Teapot and the Great Pumpkin objection

This links to an Russell's essay "Is there a God."

Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of skeptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them.
This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.

From Russell's essay "Is there a God."

The context here seems to be in establishing the burden of proof in debate about God. That debate, over the past few decades, has centered around Alvin Plantinga's controversial claim that belief in the existence of God can be properly basic, and in that context, the Teapot objection is known as the Great Pumpkin Objection. It is a strong, or as weak, as the Great Pumpkin objection to the proper basicality of theism.

This is a paper on the proper basicality debate.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

C. S. Lewis's Evolutionary Hymn


Lead us, Evolution, lead us
Up the future's endless stair;
Chop us, change us, prod us, weed us.
For stagnation is despair:
Groping, guessing, yet progressing,
Lead us nobody knows where.

Wrong or justice, joy or sorrow,
In the present what are they
while there's always jam-tomorrow,
While we tread the onward way?
Never knowing where we're going,
We can never go astray.

To whatever variation
Our posterity may turn
Hairy, squashy, or crustacean,
Bulbous-eyed or square of stern,
Tusked or toothless, mild or ruthless,T
owards that unknown god we yearn.

Ask not if it's god or devil,
Brethren, lest your words imply
Static norms of good and evil
(As in Plato) throned on high;
Such scholastic, inelastic,
Abstract yardsticks we deny.

Far too long have sages vainly
Glossed great Nature's simple text;
He who runs can read it plainly,'
Goodness = what comes next.'
By evolving, Life is solving
All the questions we perplexed.

Oh then! Value means survival-
Value. If our progeny
Spreads and spawns and licks each rival,
That will prove its deity
(Far from pleasant, by our present,
Standards, though it may well be).

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Wikipedia page on the Trilemma

The most interesting part of this is the claim that the first to use it was a Scots preacher named Duncan. But remember, the argument had a Latin name: aut deus aut homo malus. Something invented in 1870 usually doesn't get a Latin name. So we've got to do better than that.

The earliest use of this approach was possibly by the Scots preacher "Rabbi" John Duncan (1796-1870), quoted in 1870 as a saying used by him during his preaching career:[1]

Is the ad hominem charge overused?

This guy thinks that you can't charge your opponent with arguing ad hominem just because he's not being nice.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Dmitry Chernikov critiques Beversluis on the Trilemma

Love Potion #9: A Problem For Compatibilists?

I am redating this post because it is getting still getting some active discussion, and has been visited by Dave Baggett, a co-editor of Harry Potter and Philosophy and C. S. Lewis as a Philosopher.

How would a compatibilist analyze the case of an effective love potion, which the Hasker passage appeals to in his reference to Harry Potter? In the case of Voldemort's mother Merope, she cast a spell on Tom Riddle, Sr., causing him to love her, only to become frustrated by the fact that the love produced by the potion was compelled. So she stopped using the spell, and he dumped her.

What accounts for the frustration and disappointment with a love compelled by the one being loved?

Are we ever justified in hating persons

Ilion wrote:

'Hate' is good ... and necessary ... in the correct context. 'Hate' is bad ... and harmful ... in the incorrect context.

But I think there are some clear indications of where hate is not acceptable. Now hatred of certain attitudes, or beliefs, or concepts, may be acceptable. The hatred of persons, which is the context of this discussion, is always unacceptable. We are never to hate persons.

My point was to say that so long as we are talking about individual cases of hateful action toward persons, we don't have the right to accuse any group of persons of hatred, even if the actions are taken in the name of, or on behalf of, that group.

Are Christians guilty of anti-homosexual hatred? Well, there are times when I think they are. But they are not guilty of it simply in virtue of disapproving of it (there are those who don't disapprove, spare me the boring debate about whether they are "real Christians" or not). However, when people go to funerals of AIDS victims carrying God Hates Fags signs, I think they are guilty of hatred. If gay people disrupt church services the way these people in the link did, I think they are guilty of hatred against Christians.

Although I like Tom Gilson's site, I am less than satisfied with using this incident to say "Aha, see, it's not the Christians who hate, it's the gays. It seems to me a gay person would say that these people no more represent the gay community than Fred Phelps represents the Christian community.

What the Bible says about hate

Thursday, December 04, 2008

C. S. Lewis's The Inner Ring

Does this sound like your philosophy department?

A dialogue about moral objectivity

When you google "moral objectivity," my entries on this blog come up second.

Why the Buddha is fat

Hint: He's not.

It's Ukraine, not The Ukraine, dummy

In case you were confused.

Bill Vallicella on why Russell's Teapot leaks

This also might explain why the Flying Spaghetti Monster has so much trouble flying.

A Critique of Carl Sagan's Naturalism

By Mark McKim

Hate is hate, period.

Hate is not moral disagreement. It is not hateful to oppose gay marriage, or to support it. But hate can crop up on all sides of the political and the religious spectrum.

This is a link to an account, on Thinking Christian, of an attack on a church by gay fanatics. But the problem isn't the church or the gays, it's the hate. Period.

A critique of Brian McLaren

From the A-Team blog.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Different Hindu conceptions of Moksha or release

Is morality relative to the society

This links to the text of the Dred Scott decision. It was accepted by large portions of our society. Was this a moral error, or is morality just subjective. I mean, who's to say what's really right or wrong.

World Religions in Two Minutes

HT: James Sennett.

A blog for people getting out of academia

Was Jesus Crucified

The Muslim position seems to be no. God wouldn't let something like that happen to a true prophet.

The Philosophical Lexicon

Dennett's greatest contribution to philosophy, by far.

D'Souza debates Peter Singer

peter song, n. Related to the patter song (e.g., "Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it.") a popular ditty exhorting one to love all creatures great and small, except those born deformed. Hence peter singer, n. a singer of peter songs.

The Queerness of Morality and the Queerness of Logic

In response to some new replies on the Ethics Without Metaphysics post. The link tracks back to the original post.

RD said:
The argument you've given is very close Mackie's argument from queerness, posited in "Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong." For Mackie, an error theorist, the argument purports to be a problem for all moral realists, whether they happen to be theists or atheists. Why is it a problem specifically for atheists?

Gordon Knight said:
The argument from queerness is a bad argument. By the same lights, mathematics and logical truth are "queer."

RD and Gordon: Yes, to my mind, a "matter-first, mind-later" ontological hierarchy is going to have trouble with the mathematics and logic, that's what is known as the argument from reason!
However, naturalism puts a restriction on what can be fundamental properties of objects in a naturalistic universe. Moral properties are not permitted. Mental properties are also not permitted. They have to be "system properties" that arise at a higher level of organization, when brains show up. However, while there is something incoherent about the idea of a piece of matter being intrinsically morally good, there is nothing about God being intrinsically morally good that is incoherent. So I think this is an asymmetrical problem that afflicts the naturalist but not the theist.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Ed Feser's New Book on the New Atheism

Christianity and Wicca

I run into either Wiccans or Wicca dabblers rather often in my classes. This article says that Christians should pay more attention to Wicca.

More on Conservatism and Economic Luck

In response to Mike.

This isn't an argument exactly. It's more of a challenge. I am trying to raise some questions about the absolute sense of ownership that conservatives often appeal to when they oppose even modest redistributionism.

The graduated income tax is already a little bit redistributionist. Obama made a comment about "spreading the wealth around" but McCain did not come out for a flat tax, and along with Obama and the Bush administration signed the bailout package. So by the time McCain started using the "Joe the Plumber" anti-redistributionist argument, it seems to me he was being a tad hypocritical. But one can be a more consistent conservative than McCain is.

If you read what conservatives often say, the implication is that redistribution of any kind takes money from those who merit and and places it in the hands of those who don't. I am asking whether this is a bit of a naive picture, given all the effects of economic luck which result in my having more than the Smiths but less than the Joneses.

Conservatives have to either say:

1) There is no economic luck. (Not plausible).
2) The extent of economic luck is overrated. Differences in income reflect differences in desert to a much larger extent than liberals are willing to admit.
3) Economic luck is real, but the losses incurred when you use government to correct that economic luck are not worth it.

By the way Mike, I am glad someone finally tackled this.

J. P. Moreland on Evolution and Accurate Knowledge

This link is to a youtube video.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Stanford Encyclopedia paper on Desert

But when it starts talking about "the ingredients of desert" I ask "what dessert are you making?"

Conservatism, Liberalism, and Economic Luck

In reading the responses of conservatives to what they consider to be the threat of socialism, there is the presupposition, which I have yet to see specifically defended, that what ends up in our pockets before taxation is genuinely distributed in accordance with merit. People who work with their brains earn more, and deserve more, than people who work with their hands. Therefore, deliberate use of the tax system and government welfare to "spread the wealth around" are bad, because they are in effect theft. The money was where it belonged in the first place, and those dirty socialists want to put it somewhere else that they think is fair.

This view has a tendency to deny, or downplay, the role economic luck plays in the distribution of wealth and income. I seem lucky to have been born in America than in the Congo, had I been born in the Congo, chances are I would be a good deal poorer than I am today.

John Rawls seems to think that the influence of economic luck is quite extensive.

"It seems to be one of the fixed points of our considered judgments that no one deserves his place in the distribution of native endowments, any more than one deserves one's initial starting place in society. The assertion that a man deserves the superior character that enables him to make the effort to cultivate his abilities is equally problematic; for his character depends in large part upon fortunate family and social circumstances for which he can claim no credit. The notion of desert seems not to apply to these cases" (Rawls, p. 104 A Theory of Justice).

I never see this issue of economic luck explicitly debated. Yet, what people think of ecomonic luck pushes a lot of people toward one of the other of the major parties.

Can the Pro-Life position be defended on secular grounds?

Tom Clark, of the Center for Naturalism, says no. Yet many of the pro-life arguments seem not to be especially religious.