Thursday, April 30, 2009

100 living philosophers of religion

From Common Sense Atheism. I'm in pretty good company here.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Relativism and tolerance

One surprising result is that if relativism is true, then it is a virtue to be tolerant of other cultures just in case your culture approves of tolerating other cultures. If it doesn't, then you are supposed to be intolerant. So relativism doesn't lead to tolerance, it can just as easily lead to intolerance.

Getting clear on naturalism

I have been working through Barbara Forrest's essay "Methodological Naturalism and Philosophical Naturalism: Clarifying the Connections." In this she argues on the one hand that there is a difference between methodological naturalism and philosophical (or metaphysical naturalism). However, the supernatural, if it is real, is not knowable by humans in any systematic, intelligent fashion. Therefore, we must proceed naturalistically if we are to get to know the world around us at all, and this gives us a powerful reason to accept naturalism metaphysically, while leaving open the bare logical possibility that naturalism is false.

The tricky part, however, is getting an account of naturalism that doesn't simply presuppose a conception of the natural. Natural, you know, just whatever ain't supernatural. And you know what supernatural is, right? It's anything having to do with God, that they talk about in church and stuff.

She starts of with a quote from Kurtz:

First, naturalism is committed to a methodological principle within the context of scientific inquiry; i.e., all hypotheses and events are to be explained and tested by reference to natural causes and events. To introduce a supernatural or transcendental cause within science is to depart from naturalistic explanations. On this ground, to invoke an intelligent designer or creator is inadmissible....

There is a second meaning of naturalism, which is as a generalized description of the universe. According to the naturalists, nature is best accounted for by reference to material principles, i.e., by mass and energy and physical-chemical properties as encountered in diverse contexts of inquiry. This is a non-reductive naturalism, for although nature is physical-chemical at root, we need to deal with natural processes on various levels of observation and complexity: electrons and molecules, cells and organisms, flowers and trees, psychological cognition and perception, social institutions, and culture....

OK let's work with these definitions for a minute. The first of these definitions assumes that we know what a natural cause is. Surely, we say, God must be supernatural. But must he? If you are enunciating a principle of methodological naturalism, then it is incumbent on you to tell me what it is about the theistic God that would make him not a part of nature. If nature is what is, and there is a mentally driven what is and a non-mentally driven what is, have we really excluded anything?

The other requires that naturalism maintain that the world is at root physical. Whatever is real either is physical or supervenes on the physical. But now we have to define what "physical" means, and here we have the same difficulties as we find for defining "natural."

My dissertation advisor once said that a scientific theory could possibly quantify over God, in which case it would make God physical. But surely, in defining the physical, or the natural, God is precisely the very sort of being you are trying to exclude. Can we define methodological naturalism in any kind of systematic way, such that advocates of intelligent design can't just embrace the principle?

A piece of political cynicism I put in the combox of an abortion discussion a few months ago

Both parties have turned abortion into a political football. The Democrats can count on a body of voters to vote for them to protect "a woman's right to choose." They benefit from the idea that abortion rights are truly in danger. The Republicans have their army of pro-life voters, and leaders like Karl Rove, who care nothing for fetuses, want to keep this army of voters voting and volunteering. Both sides at least say they agree that the abortion rate is too high, (safe, legal and rare, you know) but neither side wants to alienate their base by doing things that could seriously lower the abortion rate.

Too cynical?

Keith Parsons' critique of the argument from common consent

THE LIE: Heliocentrism

This is funny. I see that nobody has corrected me and pointed out that the lie would have to be heliocentrism; geocentrism is the truth they are purportedly defending.

Another instance of Poe's Law, I suppose.

“Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won't mistake for the real thing."

I would just add that the same would have to be true of fundy atheism.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Jonathan Edwards on the Blessed enjoying the Torments of the Damned

When the saints in glory, therefore, shall see the doleful state of the damned, how will this heighten their sense of the blessedness of their own state, so exceedingly different from it! When they shall see how miserable others of their fellowcreatures are, who were naturally in the same circumstances with themselves; when they shall see the smoke of their torment, and the raging of the flames of their burning, and hear their dolorous shrieks and cries, and consider that they in the mean time are in the most blissful state, and shall surely be in it to all eternity ; how will they rejoice!

The link links to the entire essay on why the blessed should not at all be concerned about the fate of people in hell. There either has to be something wrong with him, or something wrong with me.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

ET phone home---to Satan??

“I have become thoroughly convinced that UFOs are real....I believe these beings are not only extraterrestrial but supernatural in origin. To be blunt, I think they are demons.”
- Hal Lindsey

Scripture: The word of a demon, or just a Paine for sinners

Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon rather than the Word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and for my part, I sincerely detest it as I detest all that is cruel (Paine, 1974, p. 60).

Friday, April 24, 2009

What are you doing, Jesus?

I wonder what would have happened if someone were to walk up to Jesus during his lifetime and ask him what he thought he was doing. I can imagine a number of answers, but "founding a religion" is not one of them.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

This is a discussion of the Bible and homosexuality

Is the anti-gay reading of Scripture a slam dunk? There are alternative interpretations available.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Is there a morally relevant difference between late-term abortion and infanticide?

This is what I call the Melissa Drexler dilemma. She did hard time, but an abortion doctor could have done the same thing and had it be perfectly legal.

Unless someone can explain to me the morally relevant difference.

Does the Argument from Reason have a basis in Peirce?

See this discussion on Bill Vallicella's blog.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The real issue: More arguments that don't mix

I think the discussion in the last post picked up on a soft target in Ross's discussion that is tangential to the issue I wanted to bring up.

Yes, I do have a problem with him saying that if there is an intelligent cause of the universe, it has to be the God of the Bible. I suppose the Allah of the Qu'ran would be equally unacceptable to philosophical naturalists, but would also be unacceptable to Christians like Ross. But this is not the point I wanted to make. The point I wanted to make was to question whether someone could, at one and the same time, accept the multiverse hypothesis as a response to the fine-tuning argument, and at one and the same time think that atheism is to be preferred to theism on the basis of parsimony. That just seems really implausible to me.

The Multiverse Hypothesis

The weight of evidence for a divinely designed universe is now so overwhelming that it has forced astronomers and philosophers who reject the God of the Bible as the Author of the cosmos to propose the existence of an infinite number of universes. - Hugh Ross

Well, there goes parsimony!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Some hallucination debate from the Christian Think-Tank

This is some discussion at the Christian Think-Tank on the hallucination hypothesis.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Welcoming Ilion to the Blogosphere

This is a long overdue development. All of you intellectually dishonest people will welcome the opportunity go comment over there.

Friday, April 17, 2009

An online Meynell paper on rational theism

Meynell's The Intelligible Universe

Meynell wrote a book defending a sort of Lonerganian version of the AFR. I read it around the time it was written; I think Darek Barefoot has referenced it a couple of times in the course of his trench battles on behalf of the AFR on DI2.

I took a class from Meynell during my last semester at Emory's Candler School of Theology. Meynell was then a visiting professor from the University of Leeds. I remember I wrote a critique of Josh McDowell as my paper for him.

Let's stop beating Basil's car: Richard Dawkins on moral responsibility

A redated post.

Ilion linked to this little piece of Dawkiana, in which Our Hero maintains that holding a person morally responsible for their actions is absurd as Basil Fawlty beating his car for not starting. No namby-pamby soft determinism for Dawkins! I guess Dennett's Elbow Room didn't convince him. (Oh well, it didn't convince me either). Of course, that means that the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials (duck-scales from which are, I'm told, preserved in the Salem City Museum), the Great Wars of Religion, and the 9/11 attacks are really no one's fault. It's no one's fault if you don't believe in evolution, or if you invade Iraq without sufficient reason. In fact, it isn't your fault if you have Dawkins burned at the stake. This is sounding better all the time.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Dawkins on agency: Fawlty philosophy

Can Richard Dawkins truly claim credit for his brilliant book, The God Delusion? If he is right, it's a silly as Basil Fawlty blaming his car for not starting.

A redated post.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Is atheism the most rational option

Not according to my former teacher Hugo Meynell, who mentions the argument from reason as a primary reason for thinking so.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A. N. Wilson returns to faith

Maybe he will rethink his atrocious biography of Lewis.

The Coathanger Argument

Regardless of your position on abortion, it seems to me that this argument is just bad. Is it a good reason not to make something illegal that people will break the law and harm themselves in so doing?

I think we can put this one in the applied ethics wing of the gallery of worst arguments of all time.

Frank Beckwith also rebuts this effectively.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A quote from Richard Vitzthum

A redated post.

"Materialism should no longer wink at such nonsense but insist that the foundations of all human thought and feeling are grossly irrational." - Richard Vitzthum, Materialism: An Afiirmative History and Definition.

Talk about handing me my case on a plate.
HT: Triablogue

Friday, April 10, 2009

Some notes in response to Paul

First, my primary argument against Calvinism is semantic rather than moral. I think that there are biblical passages that say that God loves all persons, that God wants all persons to be saved, that God is grieved by sin, etc. etc., that Calvinists in the main don't simply use "reference class" arguments to criticize these positions, but rather accept them and reconcile them with Calvinism. Yes, God loves everyone, but no, that doesn't mean God is out to save everyone. An analysis of the ordinary usage of these terms (and if you accept a verbal special revelation you are bound by ordinary usage) suggests that to say this is to distort the use of those terms beyond all recognition. This argument, you will notice, requires no appeal to moral intuitions.
To defend this objection, I would have to answer the standard "two wills" argument that comes down from Dabney through Piper. But for various reasons, I don't think that argument washes.

Yes, of course, my moral intuitions tell me that a loving God would not choose a world containing reprobates over a universalist world, assuming there is no need for libertarian free will. That objection is, however, in principle defeatable, although, because of the considerations I presented in the paragraphs above, not in fact defeated.

The "divine noble lie" case I had in mind was the fact that, at least on some readings of Scripture, Christ places a short time limit on his return. He leads the church to believe, perhaps by saying so directly, that He will return within the generation. These sorts of considerations have led exapologist to abandon Christianity. Exapologist mentions one Christian biblical scholar (Allison) who takes this position and says "so what?" and I was trying to see if Allison's position could be defended.

The scenario I sketched was one in which God wants people to spread the gospel, giving them the belief in an immanent parousia is the way to do that, as a result the gospel is spread and salvation maximized, even though the claim of an immanent parousia is false.

The point is often raised in the pro-inerrancy literature (at least when I read a lot of it back when Pinnock was a traditional inerrantist), that God cannot lie. And I have been wondering what sense to make of that claim, given that most of us would agree that lying is sometimes morally justified for humans. Pointing out that there is a argument that could support the claim that God cannot lie is different from actually saying that God did. So don't overstate what I am claiming here.

Steve responds to my paradox

Steve responds to my paradox in the direction I thought the reply would have to go. God, with providential control over the circumstances, can and does see to it that his message is delivered inerrantly. avoiding the necessity of false speaking of any kind. He maintains that God could avoid all situations that would require lying for beneficent purposes. But would a world in which God never utters a false statement be a better world than any world in which He does utter at least one false statement. That's not perfectly transparent to me. Intuitively...., oops, I can't trust those.

Of course the Titus 1:2 in the NIV, whereas in the KJV it says God cannot lie. But this does seem to leave the inerrantist with having to defend perfect divine veracity. But the first reading makes it easier, one can accept my argument that there are possibile circumstances in which God ought to lie, but he never in fact gets into them. And I guess if you accept Steve's view of God's complete providential control, that would be easy to see. Nevertheless, you would think that with that kind of providential control that God could.... oh never mind. God reprobates people but he always tells the truth.

There are the wide range of difficulties, however, in God's getting his message across to prescientific peoples, so that it isn't always perfectly obvious to figure out what would constitute an errantist interpretation and what would not. Inerrantists like Bill Craig oppose lead-footed literalism on Genesis 1, for example.

There can be certainly a subset of divine utterances that God seals with a covenantal promise, where God in effect says "God strike me dead if I'm lying," which of course is pretty effective coming from, well, God. I think that's what the Hebrews 6:18 passage is all about. But I don't think you can argue that inerrancy is backed up by that sort of thing.

Reply to Paul on Calvinism, lying, and God

I was trying to pose a problem for the claim that God cannot lie, indicating that there was an argument against it. I was asking whether there was some way to believe in divine moral perfection, believe that lying is sometimes morally justified for benevolent purposes, and at the same time hold that God cannot lie. The kinds of lies that I have in mind have fairly transparent beneficent purposes behind them, and the overall effect is of course has to be for the eternal benefit of human beings. The title of Kant's reply to Constant is "On the Supposed right to Lie for Beneficent Purposes."

So far I haven't seen any attempt to resolve the paradox. It may turn out that the claim that God cannot lie can be defended. But I wish people would at least take a shot at the argument I provided.

To contrast this with the Calvinism case, you have reprobations which don't seem to have a beneficent purpose. With most of the problem of evil, if I use the range of responses available to someone who believes in libertarian free will, I can get a picture of why God permits various types of evils. There's a dim outline there, even though I can't come anywhere near to seeing how the details work out in particular cases. There's plenty of noseeum, but there is a good deal that I think I can see, which makes my position more acceptable overall, given the positive reasons I have for believing in God.

With reprobations, I'm just blind as a bat. Explanations like "God chooses a world with damned people in it so that the blessed will realize that they are blessed by grace alone" just don't wash at all. So this looks like a serious disadvantage.

This disadvantage could be overcome by 1) strong reasons for belief in God, 2) a strong case for biblical inerrancy and 3) a strong case for a Calvinistic reading of the scriptural evidence, involving not only a) a defense of a Calvinistic reading of the "positive" Calvinist texts, and b) an good explanation for passages which are ordinarily taken to show a universal intent to save. I'm pretty pessimistic about the Calvinist establishing 3b, however.

Dawkins on C. S. Lewis and the trilemma

I redated this post on the God Delusion, in case people think I'm not interested in the substance of Dawkins' arguments.

From p. 92 of The God Delusion

"There are still some people who are persuaded by scriptural evidence to believe in God. A common argument, attributed among others to C.S. Lewis ... states that, since Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, he must have been either right or else insane of a liar: 'Mad, Bad or God'. Or, with artless alliteration, "Lunatic, Liar or Lord'.

Wrong already. Lewis doesn't use the argument as a theistic argument. It's an argument for Christ's divinity, or perhaps even less than that, an argument against a certain misunderstandings of who Jesus was.

The historical evidence that Jesus claimed any sort of divine status is minimal.

Supporting argument for this claim please?

But even if that evidence were good, the trilemma on offer would be ludicrously inadequate. A fourth possibility, almost too obvious to need mentioning, is that Jesus was honestly mistaken. Plenty of people are. In any case, as I said, there is no good historical evidence that he ever thought he was divine.

OK, so now we get the head-slap argument. There's a third option, he was sincerely mistaken! I never thought of that, therefore I disappear in a puff of logic! Let's see, if I were to tell my intoductory philosophy class that I was God almighty, they wouldn't call the men in the white coats to come and take me away. They'd just figure I was sincerely mistaken.

The fact that something is written down is persuasive to people not used to asking questions like" 'Who wrote it, and when?' 'How did they know what to write?' 'Did they, in their time, really mean what we, in our time, understand them to be saying?' 'Were they unbiased observers, or did they have an agenda that coloured their writing?' Ever since the nineteenth century, scholarly theologians have made an overwhelming case that the gospels are not reliable accounts of what happened in the history of the real world. All were written long after the death of Jesus, and also after the epistles of Paul, which mention almost none of the alleged facts of Jesus' life. All were then copied and recopied, through many scribes who, in any case, had their own religious agendas."

This is how we settle the question of the reliability of the New Testament? An effective refutation of everyone from C. S. Lewis to William Lane Craig to Stephen Davis to N. T. Wright and Joachim Jeremias?? Many theologians and biblical scholars have studied the evidence and the arguments and concluded that the Scriptures are largely reliable. Dawkins makes it sound like there is some kind of a consensus here. There is a consensus amongst those with Humean presuppositions. Big deal.

Lewis himself was one of the leading literary critics of his time. He offered reasons, based on his reading of a lot of ancient literature, that the NT was, as ancient documents go, a reliable document. He could be very wrong, but he can't be refuted by the kind of hand-waving two-paragraph argument Dawkins offers. Read the two Stephen Davis articles on the trilemma, and even the Howard-Snyder essay that is critical of Davis, and contrast it with this two-paragraph demolition by Dawkins, and ask yourself which of these two men has done his homework.

It may be that although Lewis's argument was rhetorically stronger using this multiple choice format, I prefer changing to to a fill in the blank. Given what the Scriptures say that Jesus said an implied about himself, what could he have been if he wasn't God. It's one thing to mention a possibility, it's another to show that, on close examination, that alternative is plausible. Ken Samples offers sevem alternatives: Man, Myth, Madman, Menace, Mystic, Martian or the Messiah. But hey, there could be still more. Bring them on! Fill in the blank.But then show me that, on close analysis the alternative is plausible, that it makes sense of the facts.

The argument may be a bad one. But it can't be refuted on the cheap, without doing your homework.

The following is a link to a set of articles on the trilemma, see especially those by Davis. (Actually, is no longer a free site).

I prefer the old atheism, personally

A redated post from '07.

I recently exchanged some e-mail with Keith Parsons, who told me he was looking into teaching a class on the New Atheism. I told him that I found the old atheism preferable. But honestly, it seems that beating up on God is a good way to get on to the New York Times best-seller list. Harris, Dawkins, and now Christopher Hitchens' God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Now I haven't actually read these works, but I have seen reviews of them, and what I have seen disinclines me to read them. I'm sure they are entertaining reads, especially for the people who buy these talking points, but the portions of them that I have read tells me that they never bother to even try get theistic positions and arguments right. Further, they seem to think that the end of theistic faith will result in the end of war or something like that. I've heard those sorts of sentiments before, in the words of John Lennon:

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...
Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Now this actually sounds pretty good when John sings it, but as sociopolitical analysis it's sheer snake oil. As another singer says:

if you'll buy that
I got some oceanfront property in Arizona
From my front porch you can see the sea
I got some oceanfront property in Arizona
If you'll buy that I'll throw the Golden Gate in free

Look, if you want an entertaining anti-religious diatribe that unfortunately, isn't any good at getting religious arguments and positions right, I recommend Bertrand Russell's esasy "Why I am Not a Christian". I'd like to know one good reason why I should read Dawkins or Hitchens (the Josh McDowells of atheism) when I have Russell. If you want some more serious atheist philosophy, read Mackie's The Miracle of Theism or Keith Parsons' God and the Burden of Proof.

Finally, I do speak out sometimes when fellow Christians embarrass me. I find our (then)
"faith-based" President to be a constant embarrassment. Are atheists at least somewhat embarrassed by people like Dawkins?

Thursday, April 09, 2009

In defense of the genuineness of NDEs

God, lies and inerrancy

One of the arguments in the inerrancy debate is the assertion that God cannot lie. I want to suggest that although this claim is initially intuitive, (I mean who wants a liar for a God?), there is what seems to me a forceful argument against the claim.

1. God always does what is morally right, and never does what is morally wrong. (The doctrine of divine moral perfection).
2. Possibly, lying is morally obligatory, and truthfulness is morally reprehensible.
(I will call this position anti-Kantianism about lying.)
3. Therefore, possibly God lies.

Now of course you can avoid this conclusion by accepting the Kantian position that if you were hiding Nicole Brown Simpson, and OJ were to come to your door with a knife and ask you where she was, you couldn't tell her that she went to LAX and that if you hurry up in that White Ford Bronco, you might be able to catch her before she leaves for New York. But most of us suppose are on the side of Benjamin Constant on this issue, and accept 2.

But how can you accept 1 and 2 but deny 3? I don't think I've committed some horrid modal fallacy, have I?

P. S. This would neatly solve exapologist's false prophecy problem. God wanted the gospel spread quickly, so he planted a noble lie that he was coming back soon. It worked!

Ben Witherington on Ehrman

BW: One of the problems however with some of Bart’s popular work, including this book, is that it does not follow the age old adage--- “before you boil down, you need to have first boiled it up”. By this I mean Bart Ehrman, so far as I can see, and I would be glad to be proved wrong about this fact, has never done the necessary laboring in the scholarly vineyard to be in a position to write a book like Jesus, Interrupted from a position of long study and knowledge of New Testament Studies. He has never written a scholarly monograph on NT theology or exegesis. He has never written a scholarly commentary on any New Testament book whatsoever! His area of expertise is in textual criticism, and he has certainly written works like The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, which have been variously reviewed, not to mention severely critiqued by other textual critics such as Gordon D. Fee, and his own mentor Bruce Metzger (whom I also did some study with). He is thus, in the guild of the Society of Biblical Literature a specialist in text criticism, but even in this realm he does not represent what might be called a majority view on such matters.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Does conservatism go together?

Conservatism seem to revolve around three central ideas. One of the ideas is economic conservatism, the idea that we deserve what we earn unless it was taken by force, theft, or fraud. The second is national security conservatism, the idea of taking threats to our country seriously and being pro-active in dealing with them, as Reagan was during the Cold War and as Bush was when we launched a War on Terror that sent us into Iraq. This, I suspect, doesn't mix terribly well with economic conservatism, since war is expensive, and the money for guns and tanks probably can't be got from bake sales. And then there is social conservatism, the use of the government attempting to uphold traditional values, leading to anti-abortion/gay marriage positions. The last two increase the involvement of government. If government is out there trying to stop abortions fighting enemies, this has to be paid for.

It would be fair enough to ask if liberalism goes together as well. I suppose we could say liberals accept

1) The proactive role of government to alleviate poverty and its consequences.
2) Restraint in fighting against supposed threats to our country (not going into Vietnam or Iraq).
3) Upholding a strong doctrine of the separation of church and state, not attempting to bring the state into controversial question of value.

Bobby Fischer

A really depressing story, to be honest. I'm a chess child of the late 60s and early 70s. Perhaps someday America will produce a top chess talent who is mentally balanced. Perhaps hell will freeze over, or Dawkins will join the Catholic Church.

Right brain or left brain?

Suppose you were under the control of a mad scientist. That scientist told you he was going to split your brain up, and put your left brain into a body that he was going to torment, and the other brain into a body that would be given a pleasant existence. Which one would you choose?

Monday, April 06, 2009

A kind of conservatism

On why we deserve what we earn, and why government should get out of the business of compensating.

A nonhostile question for Calvinists

I have to put it this way because of my history of debating against Calvinists. Here I am just looking for some Calvinist responses. To what extent can a person know one's own election status, if one is a Calvinist? It seems to me that you can go all the way from:

1) We can have no idea whatsoever, prior to judgment day.
2) Acceptance of Christ, and the holiness of one's life, is inductive evidence, but not certain, since we could end up pulling a Loftus sometime down the road.
3) We can be completely certain of our election, if we know Jesus as Lord and Savior.

This is a site where the Hadith can be found

The traditions concerning what Muhammad said or did.

Wahhabism, Islam, and bin Laden

It is frequently asserted that Osama bin Laden is a product of the Wahhabi movement in Islam. The odd thing is, that it looks as if the Saud family also has Wahhabi background, yet we do business with them. This site, and the book it refers to, suggest that the connection between bin Laden and the Wahhabi movement is overstated, and that bin Laden's real intellectual parentage comes for Qutbism.
HT: Joetta Thomas

From C. S. Lewis's The Poison of Subjectivism

From Lewis's The Poison of Subjectivism

If "good" means only the local ideology, how can those who invent the local ideology be guided by any idea of good themselves? The very idea of freedom presupposes some objective moral law which overarches rulers and ruled alike. Subjectivism about values is eternally incompatible with democracy. We and our rulers are of one kind only so long as we are subject to one law. But if there is no Law of Nature, the ethos of any society is the creation of its rulers, educators and conditioners; and every creator stands above and outside his creation.

You can read the entire essay on the link.

Understanding the concept of objectivity

• What is it for something to be an objective matter? An objective matter is about which it is possible to be mistaken. Let’s take
1) 2 + 2 + 4 or
2) The earth is round.I
f someone says something that contradicts these claims, we quite straightforwardly say that they are wrong. There is, for example a Flat Earth society, headquartered in Illinois. (If you’ve ever been to Illinois, you might understand why people who live here are tempted to think the earth is flat). These people sincerely believe that the earth is flat, but there is little temptation to say that they the earth is really flat for them, even though it is round for the rest of us.
• Contrast this with
3) McDonald’s burgers are better tasting than Burger King’s
4) Belching after dinner is rude
In the first instance, we are inclined to suppose that the statement in incomplete; in order to assess its truth or falsity we have to ask “better tasting to whom?” It’s a matter of individual preference, and no further debate or discussion is necessary. In the second case, most of us are inclined to suppose that while it may have been true in our home, there are cultures elsewhere in the world where it is manifestly false, where an after-dinner belch is required by good manners to indicate that one is satisfied with the meal that has been prepared. In neither case are most of us inclined to think that the people who differ with us about 3 or 4 have false beliefs.

Russell's Science and Ethics

Sunday, April 05, 2009

A defense of the AFR, and the Trinity

From Phantaz Sunlyk. I didn't know this paper was still on the internet.

J. P Holding's Top 10 Fundy Atheist Arguments

OK, it's Holding. But does anyone doubt the existence of fundy atheists?

Exclusivism and Inclusivism

Some information about those terms. If I recall correctly even the ultraconservative Pope Pius IX was not an exclusivist.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Del Ratzsch criticizing a critique of ID

Ratzsch isn't exactly in the ID camp, but he's sympathetic enough to see problems with the standard issue attacks on it. See his review of Niall Shanks' book.

Are temporary marriages acceptable in Islam?

This is an Islamic source on the Muta marriage.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Reply to Scott on Christianity

Scott: The essence of my comment was as follows. The ability to construct a "logically possible" theology around a belief in the supernatural shouldn't be a sufficient reason to claim "you're stuck" with a specific definition of God's nature. IE. what you already believe. Since the supernatural is defined as that which you consider not nature, it is unclear as to what you would consider evidence that it is not true. Sure, things that we once thought were supernatural, such as opening a woman's womb, can cross over when they become transparent, but given the abundance of phenomenon that are still opaque and God's supposed omni-properties, it seems there could always be something you can point as "supernatural."

Well, we could, for example, find the unresurrected body of Jesus. That would cause massive revisions in my conception of who God is, and leave it up for grabs as to where I would go next.

VR (previously): We could not literally do mathematics, which is the very foundations of the science on which naturalism rests its case. If naturalism is true, then there are no scientists, and there is no scientific method, and we're all epistemically screwed.Naturalism doesn't imply that we cannot think of abstract things. Nor does naturalism claim that abstract things, such as circles and squares, have a causal effect on their own, such as creating universes or designing human beings.

The definition of 'naturalism' isn't necessarily limited to physical things with mass. Quantum teleportation allows the polarity of an photon to be transmitted instantaneously without any known method of transmission. There doesn't appear to be any "matter" involved, yet we can repeat it time and time again in a laboratory. it's science, not the supernatural.

In my detailed development of this line of argument, I maintain that there are four things that have to be left out of the causal order at its most basic level: subjectivity (all facts are objective from the point of view of scientific naturalism), normativity (things aren't the way they are at the level of physics because it's better for them to be that way), intentionality (it can't be part of a physical description of something that it is about something else) and free of purpose. If you are putting any of those things on the ground floor of the universe, you are moving in at least the direction of a mentalistic world-view which is creates a significant break with orthodox naturalism.

VR (previously) But if naturalism is true, then everyone has natural, physical causes for all beliefs, and this got to be ten times more damaging than sociological causes.

Scott: From my perspective, sociological interactions ultimately result in physiological changes that shape our beliefs. There is no dualism here. This seems to indicate a misunderstanding of my position as I think they are part of the same system.

VR: I'm sure that is your position. However, if my beliefs have sociological causes, and physicalism is false, then maybe there can be rational inference and mental causation. Hasker and I have argued at length, though, that even if the weakest form of naturalism is true, supervenient physicalism, there can't be any genuine mental causation.

I'm not saying that all beliefs acquired though social means must be wrong, or that such an acquisition method is "bad". It's one of many natural factors that ultimately results in physiological changes which determine our beliefs. However, social factors, geographical location and chronological presentation appear to be a unusually strong factors in accepting a particular religious belief. In addition, religions also make specific, yet conflicting claims about what is reasonable to expect from God and his nature, based on revelation and religious scriptures.

VR: If Christianity depends on a "word" that has to be spread, then some people are going to get an easier access to the truth than others. The same would be true of religious unbelief. It is, I think, less prevalent in Saudi Arabia than it is in the United States.

VR (previously) If naturalism is true, then there is no real mental causation, just physical causation that mimics mental effects.

Scott: It appears that your position is that beliefs are opaque and somehow except from causation.

VR: Nope. The perception of a logical connection between one proposition and another can cause a conclusion to be drawn. However, we are perceiving a logical connection, something that does not exist in a particular place and time. Therefore this is possible only if the physical (or natural) is not a closed system.

Scott: If I were to make an educated guess, this seems tied to the Biblical idea that we are made in God's image or that we must somehow be able to disengage our beliefs from causal factors since God judges us for them.

VR: If you mean that I think determinism is false, and that libertarian free will is true, then I do accept that, but that is distinct from my argument. And of course some of my fellow Christians are Calvinistic determinists who think that God can be the ultimate cause of our actions and judge them just the same, because we wanted to do them.

Scott: It's likely that our decision to distinguish phenomenon as being "mental" was based on our lack of knowledge about neurobiology, it's complex nature and the intimate relationship with have with our thoughts. As such, it seems it would make more sense to say we did the best with what we had at the time. Today, evidence strongly indicates that our beliefs are a culmination of our experiences, which are stored as electro-chemical patterns in our brain.

VR: No. The problem arises because the definition of the physical makes it impossible to make attribute determinate mental states to any genuinely physical system. You have a bunch of non-mental information at the basic level, you have the ways that non-mental stuff is put together, but however you put it together it will invariable fail to entail a determinate result as to what I believe. The reason it appears to do so is that we surreptitiously attribute properties to brains that are not really characteristics that a truly physical system can possibly have.

VR (previously) I think that Christian theism has some problems in the area of the problem of evil, but these are not worse problems than naturalists have in explaining consciousness, for example.

If we currently can't explain consciousness, then a supernatural being created the universe specifically for human life, who is actually three persons; one of which became a God-Man born of a virgin, who died for our sins, was resurrected three days later and ascended to a non-material realm by traveling through the earth's atmosphere? This simply doesn't follow. Instead, "we don't know all the details right now" seems to be the most reasonable response. Until we can gain a more thorough understanding the enormous amount of observable activity going on in our brains, saying that we cannot account for consciousness is like saying you know an particular event doesn't occur in a three thousand page novel despite only having read one word. Claiming an unobservable "God did it" is an argument from ignorance.

No, there's a fundamental problem of property incompatiblility. There is a conceptual chasm, and you can't cross that chasm by exploring the territory on one side of the chasm. What physical facts entail the truth, which I know, that I am Victor Reppert. That statement is false when you say it, even though there is no physical difference which explains the difference.

Vr: Previously: No other religion has the kind of archaeological support that Christianity does. Have they found that battleground in Palmyra, New York, where the book of Mormon says a huge battle took place? Thought not. Is there a good DNA match between Jews and American Indians? You mean they look more like Orientals? Who witnessed Muhammad reciting and transmitting the Qu'ran?

Scott: Out of all religions, Just because Christianity has the most plausible description of God's nature doesn't mean such a description must be accurate or is plausible when compared to agnosticism. If you say we must use faith to "plug the holes" in God's nature, then why plug them with a God who judges our choices based on incomplete information? Why plug them with a God who eternally exiles us from his presence without a chance to learn from such an exile? Why plug them with a God who found the smell of burnt offerings "pleasing" or demanded the violent death of a himself as a man, before he would forgive us of our own nature, which he himself supposedly created?

VR: These are common, but, so far as I can tell, by no means universal theological positions.

VR: Previously" But maybe some naturalists need to take the Outsider Test and see how things look from the perspective that miracles are possible. I could argue that you have been brainwashed by the scientific establishment to rules these possiblities out. But I won't. The world just makes more sense from the perspective of Christian theism than it does from any other perspective.

Did Hume say that miracles are impossible? No. He said it would be incredibly difficult to tell if one actually occurred. Today, his argument is much stronger due to our current understanding of human behavior and our process of observation. And if miracles are possible, then why have they decreased in number along with eye-witness literacy rate and technological advances in reporting, such as video and still cameras, orbiting satellites and a more detailed understating of biology? I'd think these factors would cause reports to go up exponentially, even if the overall number that actually occurred dropped. And why does God still only appear to perform miracles in what could be mistaken for statistical chance, even when our ability to detect them increases? This doesn't seem to really make sense from any perspective.

Maybe God doesn't want to give us demonstrative knowledge of his existence. God doesn't perform miracles to show off.

Anyway, Scott, thanks for an interesting and challenging post!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

A self-replicating Jeep?

Mascall's Christmas Carol

Eric Mascall's Bultmannian Christmas Carol--the whole thing this time.

Hark, the herald angels sing:“
Bultmann is the latest thing!”
(Or they would if he had not
Demythologized the lot.)

Joyfull, all ye nations, rise,
Glad to existentialize!
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and Science reconciled.

Lo, the ancient myths disperse,
Hence, three-storied universe!
Let three-decker pulpits stay:
Bultmann has a lot to say,

Since Kerygma still survives
When the myths have lost their lives,
Hark, the herald angels sing:
“Bultmann shot us on the wing!”

…Let us with a gladsome mind
Leave the ancient world behind.
Modern man, rejoice with us!
We have read Copernicus.

While the herald angels sing:
“Bultman ist ein gutes Ding!
”We respond in simple trust:“
Demythologize or bust!”

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

William Lane Craig on Richard Dawkins

William Lane Craig in his essay "Dawkins' Delusion" in Copan and Craig ed. Contending with Christianity's Critics forthcoming in Broadman and Holman (2009).

Several years ago my atheist colleague Quentin Smith unceremoniously crowned Stephen Hawking’s argument against God in A Brief History of Time as “the worst atheistic argument in the history of Western thought.” With the advent of The God Delusion the time has come to relieve Hawking of this weighty crown and to recognize Richard Dawkins’ accession to the throne.

My essay, "Confronting Naturalism: The Argument from Reason" is chapter 3 of the book.