Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Reformed Defense of Infant Damnation

Well, it does defuse an argument for a woman's right to choose.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Two Plus Two is.....

Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living."
Russell said, "Most people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so."

Does that mean that most people's lives are not worth living?

On worshipping Mary

A charge frequently leveled at the Catholic Church is that Catholic worship the Blessed Virgin Mary, which would make the guilty of idolatry. The answer of Catholic theology it that this charge is untrue. The devotion given to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is designated by the Latin term latria. The high veneration given to the Virgin is called hyperdoulia, and the veneration given to saints is called doulia.

Protestants sometimes don't find this response satisfactory, because they think that the actual practice of Catholics in the devotion to the Blessed Virgin turns the distinction between hyperdoulia and latria into a distinction without a differences. Pilgrims to Our Lady of Lourdes will walk for miles on their knees, an act of dedication that few perform in devotion to the Godhead.

Nevertheless, the answer of Catholic theology is quite clear: Catholics do not worship Mary.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A biblical defense of universalism

The words rendered hell in the bible, sheol, hadees, tartarus, and gehenna,

shown to denote a state of temporal duration.

All the texts containing the word examined and explained in harmony

with the doctrine of universal salvation.

This was 1888. Talbott before Talbott.

The AFR makes in into a bioethics journal

In an article by William Cheshire.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Red Alert: Cardinals take out Giants in the Meadowlands.

Arizona Cardinals 24, New York Giants 17.

Calvinism as an eliminativist solution to the problem of evil

The purpose of this post is not to criticize Calvinism, but to provide an exposition of why I think Calvinist theology dissolves, rather than solves the problem of evil. It looks to me as if the logical conclusion of Calvinism is that the idea of gratuitous suffering, the centerpiece of the argument from evil, is a misguided notion, given the fact that we all deserve not only to suffer, but to suffer eternally.

I think you can just get rid of the problem of evil if you make the kind of move that Calvinists make here, namely that alongside an obligation to alleviate suffering there is an obligation not to let sin go unpunished. Therefore, since we are all sinners (if for no other reason than being descended from our federal head, Adam), God has, for any instance of suffering, no undefeated reason not to permit it or even to inflict it.

The concept of goodness, according to Calvinists, is rooted in God's nature, but rightness is rooted in God's commands. This isn't strictly speaking voluntarism, since God's nature determines his commands; he can't just command anything. However, goodness is defined, as I understand it, on God's glory, which involves the expression of all of his attributes. He exercises the attribute of mercy in sending his son to die for the sins of the elect, and in giving irresistible grace to the elect so that they can repent and believe. He also exercises his attribute of justice by inflicting just punishment on those who oppose his will. Both of these are good outcomes from God's perspective, even though they are bad outcomes for the damned.

What I think this does is actually eliminate the problem of evil. If you can make the step of believing that the the just punishment of sin is an intrinsic and not a remedial good, then not only can you accept the idea that God is justified in predestining people for hell, but you can also justify the claim that whatever humans suffer while on earth, they had it coming and shouldn't complain to God.

We are not commanded to mirror God's nature in every respect; so we have obligations to alleviate suffering that God lacks, though a Calvinist would say that we have obligations to inflict retribution is some cases ourselves. But the limitation on our obligation to punish is not shared by God.

It seems to me that this is a dissolution rather than a solution to the problem of evil. One doesn't try to find explanations why a God who loves everyone permits so much pain even though he has everyone's best interest as heart. God doesn't have everyone's best interests at heart, God has his own glory at heart, which coincides with our interests only if we are among the elect.

I have trouble seeing the punishment of sin as an intrisic good; I see it as a sort of plan B; a remedial good in response to that which God removes from his control by providing us with libertarian free will.

But the purpose of this is not engage the Calvinist debate, it is rather intended to exposit what I take the Calvinist position to be.

I hope this doesn't start the charges and countercharges of sock puppeting again. I suspect this hope is vain, however.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Davis Young on Bible-based geology

A leading Christian geologist thinks that you can’t get detailed geological science out of the Bible, and when you do, you get the wrong answer.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Correcting a misleading Reppert quote in Loftus

John Loftus includes this statement in his widely posted review of John Beversluis's new edition of C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion.

In the book The Problem of Pain, coming at the heels of WWII, Lewis deals head-on with the Problem of Evil. How Beversluis tackles Lewis’ argument is probably best summed up by Christian philosopher Victor Reppert, who wrote: “If the word ‘good’ must mean approximately the same thing when we apply it to God as what it means when we apply it to human beings, then the fact of suffering provides a clear empirical refutation of the existence of a being who is both omnipotent and perfectly good. If, on the other hand, we are prepared to give up the idea that ‘good’ in reference to God means anything like what it means when we refer to humans as good, then the problem of evil can be sidestepped, but any hope of a rational defense of the Christian God goes by the boards.” (

Now Loftus' use of my statement is a tad misleading, because what I was doing was summarizing Beversluis's argument from his 1985 edition, not endorsing it. I have defended Lewis's treatment of the problem of evil in response to the first Beversluis edition, both in the context of The Problem of Pain and A Grief Observed, in my essay "The Ecumenical Apologist", in the four-volume Lewis encyclopedia that came out a couple of years ago from Praeger Press.

I am just mentioning this to set the record straight.

On Skinning Cats: Keith Parsons on Human Depravity as the Best Argument for Christianity

G. K. Chesterton called original sin the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved. 

Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.  Some followers… in their almost too fastidious spirituality, admit divine sinlessness, which they cannon see even in their dreams.  But they essentially deny human sin, which they can see in the street.  The strongest saints and the strongest skeptics alike took positive evil as the starting-point of their argument.  If it can be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can draw only draw one of two deductions.  He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do.  The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat, (pg. 28).

P. Z. Myers says Plantinga gives philosophy a bad name

I fear for the reputation of my beloved discipline.

"See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy." (Col 2:8)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

If Jesus wasn't resurrected, then what?


The body was stolen by the disciples to make it look as if Jesus had been resurrected.

The body was buried in one tomb temporarily and then put in the graveyard for criminals. The women found the tomb empty and thought he had been resurrected.

The disciples had experiences of Jesus that were hallucinatory.

Jesus wasn’t quite dead on the cross, and got out of his tomb claiming to be resurrected.

The women went to the wrong tomb.

Jesus had an unknown identical twin brother who began a hoax about the resurrection.

Anybody got a better theory?

Miracles and Missionaries a redated post

A redated post.

J. D. Walters raises an interesting point in his discussion of miracles. People often say "If God performed miracles back in Bible times, why doesn't he perform them now." J. D. says in fact that there is an

- abundance of modern miracles (I don't know where you get your information, hallq; you need to spend a few years working with missionaries in Africa and China) .

What about modern miracle claims? Should we be so quick to conclude that God isn't performing miracles today? Maybe J. D. can elaborate.

William Lane Craig on Miracles

Naturalism without causal closure?

The problem has to do with causal closure. Presumably, you have matter moving in the universe without purpose, producing stars, then planets, then water, then life, (one-celled biological systems), then fish, dinosaurs, amphibians, mammals, primates, and then people. Now people presumably act for reasons, and suppose that mental causation is causally basic. Talk about a person becoming persuaded that atheism is true because of evidence from evil is not macro-talk for a physical process which is blind at the basic level but has mental characteristics as system features.

The question is how did tihs happen? What changed the physical order to make it possible for reasons to become basic causes. If people are acting for reasons, then either you've got to reduce reasons out of the causal transaction, or you've got matter acting in ways it doesn't ordinarily act when it's in a brain as opposed to when it's in a rock. Emergence of other kinds is one thing, but emergent laws? I suppose you can say that it's just a brute fact that matter is going to behave differently once a brain of a certain complexity emerges. But isn't this whole thing more probable given theism than it is given ordinary naturalism.

But suppose our motto is "anything but God." Well, then meet C. S. Lewis. According to his autobiography Lewis accepted the overall contours of the argument from reason, but he didn't become a theist at that point. No, he became an absolute idealist. He found other reasons for rejecting idealism and for becoming a theist. So while his acceptance of the AFR certainly helped to move him in the direction of theism, there were alternatives to traditional theism available to him. So while the AFR helps to get rid of certain very popular positions contrary to traditional Abrahamic theism, it doesn't eliminate all of them, nor did it persaude even C. S. Lewis to do so.

To avoid a large explanatory problem, however, I think people who are naturalists are best advised to defend versions of naturalism that include the three doctrines of mechanism (nothing mental at the basic level), causal closure of the physical, and supervenience.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Keith Ward on the Impact of Kant

Schwarz's challenge to the materialist assumptions of neuroscience

Apparently he is allied with the people who make a good deal out of quantum mechanics.

Schwarz and Begley on the Mind and the Brain

Can neuroscience criticize the causal closure of the physical? Schwarz seems to think he can.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Is spousal abuse a pre-existing condition?

It is for some insurance companies. This is sick.

Scientific Research on Top-Down Causation?

I'm redating this post because of BDK's inquiry about dualist-supporting research.

This research proposal hopes to test the possibility of top-down causation in human cognition.

I suppose a real skeptic would have to say that this is methodologically unscientific. Cranes, not skyhooks, you IDiots.

A Stanford Encyclopedia Entry on Descartes' Ontological Argument

The author argues that Descartes can rebut all the easy refutations, but doesn't necessarily endorse the argument.

Naturalism and Physicalism: A Response to Teague Tubach

This is a claim frequently urged, but I have yet to see it properly defended.
Teague Tubach: Physicalism and naturalism are not the same thing. Vic's blog and several comments here are confused about this, it seems.

I guess I do agree that they are different, all right. But how are they interestingly different, Teague? In physicalism, the basic stratum is the physical, and something can't be physical unless it lacks intentionality, subjectivity, normativity, and purpose. Everything else is a system byproduct of physics, which has nothing in it containing those four characteristics.

Naturalists, I suppose, could refuse to call the basic level the physical if they wanted to. But where would that get us? At the end of the day, we have to either affirm or deny that the mental, as I have described it, is operating causally at the most basic level of analysis. There could be naturalisms, I suppose, that were distinct from physicalism, but they would have exactly the difficulty that I have been posing for physicalism.

The Threshold Problem and the True Miami Dolphins: A Further Response to BDK

Do we need to indicate the threshold? When do we start asking "What is it like to be a....." As I said in an interview once, maybe there is a colony of dolphins off the coast of Miami who have a rich, civilized mental life similar to our own (the true Miami Dolphins). We know we have the kinds of states that cause problems for materialism. Other creature haven't communicated with us in ways that really do show that they have the kind of mental life that we do, so far as I can tell. So humans could be unique in this way. But nothing happens to my argument if chimp studies show that the kinds of states that I think cause problems for naturalists also exist in animals. To me, that makes it worse for naturalists, not better.

What makes people think that a contemporary dualist is a Cartesian about animals? Ed always acts as if he can refute the AFR by citing chimp studies. But human uniqueness is a red herring in this discussion. If the mental properties we have are problematic naturalistically, then they are problematic naturalistically if we find them in other animals.

The Transcendental Foundations of our Mental Life

We have trancendental reasons for supposing that our intentionality, normativity, purposiveness, and subjectivity is real. If our thought are not about anything determinate, then the thoughts of scientists are not about anything determinate, and the thoughts of atheistic philosophers are not about anything determinate. If there is no mental causation; if mental states do not cause other mental states, then scientists can't say that they believe what they believe on the basis of the scientific evidence. If there is no mental causation, then you can't say that you reject the existence of God because of the evil in the world.

I love the Fodor quote: if it isn't literally true that my wanting is causally responsible for my reaching, and my itching is causally responsible for my scratching, and my believing is causally responsible for my saying. . . . if none of that is literally true, then practically everything I believe about anything is false and it's the end of the world.

( Fodor, A Theory of Content and Other Essays, Cambridge, Mass, Bradford Book/MIT Press, 1990, p. 156; quoted in Stich, Deconstructing the Mind, New York, 1996, OUP, p. 169)

Is Penal Substitution Consistent with Arminianism

Former Fundy says is isn't, and that this is a reason for rejecting evangelical Christianity.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Reply to Ed on the AFR

EB: Vic, you're trying to smuggle in something "more than natural" by predefining what "nature" can and cannot do. In your opinion electro-chemical reactions in a complex assemblage of neurons connected with acute sensory apparatus and plenty of memory (and self-reflective recursive overlays) cannot explain consciousness. But in the opinion of naturalists, it can.

You use the "nothing buttery" argument when you discuss "atoms and equations" as if they represented "nothing" but themselves, and you use the thought that "that is all there is" according to naturalists. So you cannot even imagine how a naturalist might get a "mind" out of such things. Of COURSE looking at a single atom isolated and alone, and looking at an equation is incomplete. But that has nothing to do with whether or not consciousness is natural.

Vic, ask yourself how do you get ANYTHING out of atoms and equations? Molecules? Organs? Colors? Sounds? Reproducing organisms with teeny brains and then larger and more complex and faster brains? None of that is inherent in atoms and equations if you want to press your initial premise. But naturalism does not begin and END with that premise of yours, naturalism may also include concepts like emergence in their philosophy.

WHAT YOU SHOULD ATTEMPT TO DO IS LOCATE AN UNCROSSABLE BOUNDARY BETWEEN TWO SPECIES EVOLUTIONARY RELATED ALONG A SPECTRUM OF DESCENDANTS, ON ONE SIDE OF WHICH THE BRAIN IS NATURAL, AND ON THE OTHER SIDE OF WHICH IT IS "BEYOND NATURE." Have fun attempting to discover such an inviolable boundary. I'd thought at one time that perhaps the ability of a species to recognize itself in a mirror might do. But that raises other questions, since that type of consciousness exists in some monkeys, but not all monkeys, and also in species that have evolved larger more complex brain-minds along separate evolutionary lines of descent, like dolphins and elephants.

VR: You have to have some idea of what nature can and cannot do, otherwise the term is vacuous. My dissertation advisor once said that the definition of the physical is whatever physics quantifies over, and there are theories that quantify over God, and therefore, as he understands it, that would make God physical. If that is permissible, then I am hard pressed to understand why so many mainstream science types have a cow when you want to bring ID into science.

The "supernatural" is not one that I would introduce, except to define seomthing that goes beyond the limits of what naturalists will accept as natural. My argument is that "the mental" can't find a purchase in the world unless it is metaphysically fundamental. Hence "natural" for me, means something fundamentally non-mental in nature. I take it this is what Dennett is getting at when he rejects skyhooks. Blue Devil Knight accepts this kind of definition whenever I present it, and it is standard in the literature.

On a standard interpretation of "physicalism" or of "naturalism," basic physics is defined by denying mental qualities to it. I don't see any other way of solving Hempel's dilemma. Hempel's dilemma is the argument that naturalism can't mean anything, because either it tells us that everything can be explained in terms of present physics, which is absurd, or it says that everything can be explained in terms of some future physics, which could include anything and everything, and is therefore vacuous.

So long physics is mental-free and closed, there are limits on the type of emergence that is permissible. Do you mean by emergence just something that isn't quantified over in basic physics? If so, then "solidity" or "liquidity" or "gaseousness" would not be physical properties, since these properties could not be predicated of individual atoms.

I would argue that the only kind of "emergent" properties that are accepable under physicalistic or naturalistic constraints are properties that logically must exist given what is true on the level of basic physics. If we know where all the bricks are in a wall, we know how tall the wall is, even though no brick in the wall has, say, the property of being six feet tall. The physical information closes the question. Whatever facts can be entailed by "physical" information are emergent in a benign sense. If the physical information leaves the emergent state undetermined, either the mental state isn't real, or there is some reality other than the non-mental substrate that explains its existence. It is "supernatural" not in the sense of being spooky, or weird, or even religious, but just that it won't fit in to the contraints of a naturalistic system as we have defined it.

When it comes to intentional states, I maintain that there are good arguments saying that there are no strict psychophysical laws, and that being the case, whatever mental states exist are underdetermined by the physical. The physical information is compatible with seeing a rabbit or seeing undetached rabbit parts. Or, there could be no inner states of meaning this or meaning that, at all. There is no perspective from which the entity perceives his perception as a perception of a rabbit or a perception of undetached rabbit parts.

Further, in order to capture our common-sense conception of rational inference, you need for mental states to have causal relevance. However, if the "physical" or "natural" or however you want to define the non-mental substrate is causally closed, that means that unless the existence of the mental state is logically guaranteed my the physical, it can have no possible causal relevance. It can never be true that you reject belief in God because you believe that there is gratuitous evil in the world. Darwin didn't come to believe that the changes in the characteristic of finches in the Galapagos islands occurred due to natural selection. That didn't happen, because states like "perceiving changes X, Y, and Z in the Galapogos finches" cannot cause or even be causally relevant to the formation of the belief "this happened by natural selection."

Molecules seem to be entailed by the physical. Given the state of the basic particles, you can't deny the existence of molecules. Organs would set of particles. Colors and sounds are a little more complex, because there are scientific descriptions of the light or sound waves, but then there is also what it is like to see red or hear sea waves crashing. The former is OK within naturalism, the latter requires an answer to the hard problem of consciousness. Would red exist if there were no one in existence to see red?

Again, human uniqueness is not an issue, since at least by the time we get to the higher animals I think their consciousness cannot be explained physicalistically either, so monkey and dolphin studies are a red herring. If you show that monkeys and dolphins have the sort of rich, inner mental lives that include the capacity for genuine rational inference, then naturalism, as I have defined it, has a problem with monkeys and dolphins as well as for humans. That makes it worse for the naturalist, not better. (I have no problem with doggie heaven, that means I'm going to get to see my late beagle Boots someday.)

There is a type of emergence that could be applied to this kind of a case, and that is where, given mental states, the laws that govern physical states change in such a way that the mental can be causally relevant. In other words, there are emergent laws. Again naturalists are going to object vehemently if you introduce this kind of causation, and you would also have to explain just how it is fresh laws are introduced into the system, especially if you want to exclude intelligent design as a possible explanation.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The God-Obsessed Atheist

In Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy we find a character that I thought was Antony Flew back when it came out.

Oolon Colluphid is the author of several books on religious and other philosophical topics. Colluphid's works include:

Where God Went Wrong
Some More of God's Greatest Mistakes
Who Is This God Person Anyway?
Well That About Wraps It Up for God
Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Guilt But Were Too Ashamed To Ask
Everything You Never Wanted To Know About Sex But Have Been Forced To Find Out

Adams writes:

Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God. The argument goes something like this: "I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing." "But," says Man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves that you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. Q.E.D." "Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic. "Oh, that was easy," says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing. Most leading theologians claim that this argument isn't worth a pair of fetid dingo's kidneys, but that didn't stop Oolon Colluphid from making a fortune with his book Well That About Wraps It Up For God.

Adams, an atheist, couldn't have been making fun of atheists who obsessively attack religion, could he? Naaaah.

Does anyone besides me see the irony in all of this?

Lewis on Obstinacy of Belief

An essay also known as "faith and evidence."

Willard on Searle on non-reductive materialism

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Abortion, the death penalty, and the charge of hypocrisy

It is not a contradiction to support both the right to choose abortion but not the death penalty. If you believe you shouldn't kill persons without adequate moral justification, then you may support abortion because you think that fetuses aren't really persons. That is, you may think that a fetus really hasn't started its life, and therefore has no life to lose. But you may oppose the death penalty, because capital criminals have fully developed brains and know they are losing their lives. Many Democrats accept these two positions.

It can go the other way, too. Someone can believe in the death penalty because they think capital criminals deserve it. But they may also think that the fetus is a real person whose right to life has to be respected. Many Republicans are in this boat.

You may disagree with these pairs of positions, but the people who advocate them are not contradicting themselves. The death penalty issue and the abortion issue are two different questions that have to be assessed on their own merits.

Lewis on Christianity and happiness

I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew that a bottle of Port would do that.

(In this passage, Lewis is not thinking of happiness in Aristotelian terms).

Intentionality, Water, and the Obama Configuration: A Reply to Clayton and BDK

I was going to respond to Clayton as soon as I got the time. And the water=H20 example occurred to me when I read what he wrote.
But look at how the water case went historically. We started calling something water that had certain phenomenal properties. We were prepared to call anything water that had those properties. We figured out that the only thing that ever had those properties had a particular chemical structure. We melded the idea of water with the idea of having just that chemical structure. In other words, it looks as if when the discovery was made, language made a shift to the chemical structure conception. The class of objects now referred to as water changed intension but extension remained the same.

When we get to intentional matters, we are being told that we are not going to get a single brain-structure that will be present in all cases of, say, thinking about Obama. Correct me if I'm wrong about this, but if we examined everybody's brain who is thinking about Obama right now, neuroscience would not be able to go in and say "Aha. There it is. The Obama configuration. That's what he's thinking about. Hmmm. This looks like a Republican brain, since his endorphins drop every time he thinks about Obama. You don't get that with a Democratic brain."

So I'm not sure these water examples help at all.

And then you have the problem of non-normative information entailing something normative. If you don't think you can derive "morally good" from physical configurations, why do you think you can get "thinking about Obama" from those same configurations.

I think the prospects of getting an entailment from the left hand side to the right hand side are not good.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A paper delineating different positions on creation and evolution

HT: Alan Rhoda.

Lowder's response to Craig on the Empty Tomb

A redated post.

A simple statement of the argument from reason

You take all the physical descriptions and put them in the left-hand side of the equation. On that side, there can be no intentionality, normativity, subjectivity, or teleology. Add them together, and it looks as if they can't entail anything on the right hand side, the "mental" side of the equation, where we do find intentionality, normativity, subjectivity, and teleology. There is always room for indeterminacy, or, for that matter, room for zombies. The physical works just fine, but there's just no there there. 

Yet the naturalist cannot deny that there is determinate reference. The arguments of the philosophers, the observational reports of the sciences, and the equations of the mathematicians must have determinate meanings. Otherwise, science is impossible, and the case for naturalism collapses. 

Therefore, if naturalism is true, the very things that are supposed to support it, such as argument and reason, aren't real. Only in a universe where the marks of the mental are metaphysically fundamental are these things possible. 

Monday, October 12, 2009

Clifford's The Ethics of Belief

I am redating this post with a link to the actual Clifford essay. Though Internet Infidels has a longer version, here.

"It is wrong, always and everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything for insufficient evidence."

Van Inwagen on Clifford's Principle

Saturday, October 10, 2009

C. S. Lewis and the evidentialist objection

In Beversluis's C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion, he presents Lewis as someone who accepts the challenge posed by what later can be known as the evidentialist objection.

I think this is a very tricky claim to make out. The big problem is to try to figure out what is packed into the evidentialist objection.

 Consider the classic Cliffordian statement of the evidentialist objection:

 "It is wrong always, and everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence."

And compare it with C. S. Lewis's statement of "evidentialism":

 I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of evidence is against it. That is not the point at which faith comes in.

I would make note of the fact that these are two different types of claims. Clifford is talking about what is morally wrong for everyone to do, Lewis is talking about what he is asking someone to do. Clifford says there must be sufficient evidence for any belief, Lewis is just saying he won't ask for belief if a person's reasoning tells him there is evidence against the belief.

In fact Lewis's account of the ethics of belief raises questions as to whether it is a moral issue at all. He writes in Mere Christianity:

I used to ask how on Earth it can be a virtue--what is there moral or immoral about believing or not believing a set of statements? Obviously, I used to say, a sane man accepts or rejects any statement, not because he wants or does not want to, but because the evidence seems to him good or bad. If he were mistaken about the goodness or badness of the evidence, that would not mean he was a bad man, but only that he was not very clever. And if he thought the evidence bad but tried to force himself to believe in spite of it, that would be merely stupid.

Well, I think I still take that view.

So here we don't have Clifford's moral thunderbolts against those who believe for insufficient evidence, just the suggestion that it isn't a very bright idea.

Further, Lewis seems to cast the net of evidence widely; more widely that, I think Clifford would countenance.

The man who accepts Christianity always thinks he has good evidence; whether, like Dante, fisici e metafisici argoment: or historical evidence, or the evidence of religious experience, or authority, or all of these together. ("On Obstinacy of Belief")

But surely Plantingian properly basic beliefs have experience or authority backing them up, at the very least.

One way of explaining the difference between Lewis and someone like Clifford is to make the case that Clifford is a strong rationalist, who holds that the position that "in order for a religious belief-system to be properly and rationally accepted, it must be possible to prove that the belief-system is true." Further, "prove" has to be parsed in such a way that in order to prove something true one should have evidence sufficiently strong that all rational persons ought to be convinced. Of course, there are many issues on which all persons are not convinced. For example, there is a flat earth society. But this, we suppose, is not because the evidence for a round earth is lacking; rather it is due perhaps to some emotionally-driven biases.

But it doesn't look as if Lewis thinks in this way. In very confident modes Lewis comes off sounding like he thinks he can meet the strong rationalist's criteria for rational belief. Beversluis notes points at which he says "we are forced to conclude..." But he also notes that Lewis says that the evidence may be sufficiently strong to eliminate the psychological possibilty of doubt, but not the logical exclusion of dispute.

My own view is that Lewis is a critical rationalist, who believes that "religious belief systems can and must be rationally criticized and evaluated although conclusive proof of such a system is impossible." That is not to say that his language and tone do not suggest otherwise at times. If by evidentialist we mean the he thinks one must evaluate evidence when forming religious beliefs, of course he is an evidentialist. If we mean that he thinks there is some burden of proof on religious as opposed to non-religious beliefs, or that we should only believe if we have evidence that everyone ought to be able to accept, then he isn't an evidentialist in that sense.

Ham-Fisted empricism: Hasker on externalism and the AFR

It is of course true that a belief, in order to be justified, needs to have been formed and sustained by a reliable epistemic practice. But in the case of rational inference, what is the practice supposed to be. The reader is referred, once gain, to the description of a reasoning process given a paragraph back. Is this not, in fact, a reasonably accurate description of the way we actually view and experience the practice of rational inference and assessment/ It is furthermore, a description which enables us to understand why in many cases a practice is reliable—and why the reliability varies considerably depending on the specific character of the inference drawn and also on the logical capabilities of the epistemic subject. And on the other hand, isn’t it a severe distortion of our actual inferential practice to view the process of reasoning as taking place in a “black box,” as the externalist view in effect invites us to do? Epistemological externalism has its greatest plausibility in cases where the warrant for our beliefs depends crucially on matters not accessible to reflection—for instance, on the proper functioning of our sensory faculties. Rational inference, by contrast, is the paradigmatic example of a situation in which the factors relevant to warrant are accessible to reflection; for this reason, examples based on rational insight have always formed the prime examples for internalist epistemologies.

There is also this question for the thoroughgoing externalist: How are we to satisfy ourselves as to which inferential practices are reliable? By hypothesis, we are precluded from appealing to rational insight to validate our conclusions about this. One might say that we have learned to distinguish good reasoning from bad reasoning, by noticing that good inference-patterns generally give rise to true conclusions, while bad inference-patterns often give rise to falsehood. (This of course assumes that our judgments about particular facts, especially facts revealed through sense perception, are not in question here—an assumption I will grant for the present). But this sort of “logical empiricism” is at best a very crude method for assessing the goodness of arguments. There are plenty of invalid arguments with true conclusions, and plenty of valid arguments with false conclusions. There are even good inductive arguments with all true premises in which the conclusions are false. There are just the distinctions which the science of logic exists to help us with; basing the science on the kind of ham-fisted empiricism described above is a hopeless enterprise.

William Hasker, The Emergent Self (Cornell, 1999), pp. 74-75. From the chapter "Why the Physical Isn't Closed."

An outline of C. S. Lewis's Miracles

Written by Anne Carter.

Friday, October 09, 2009

A defense of Hell

A redated post, and maybe something Steve Hays can use against me in a discussion I'm having with him concerning retribution over at Triablogue. What a difference a t makes.

By Mark Talbot. One t.

A Short History of Communism

My impression with respect to Marx is that he had kind of a romantic view of human nature and thought we could get rid of capitalism and learn to share and share alike. But how we get to that stage was the hard part, and one suggestion he came up with was that a "vanguard" of the Proletariat would arise, and for a limited time have a "dictatorship" to teach people to be productive without the profit motive. Of course, to do this, the vanguard would have to do their job and then voluntarily relinquish power, and they would of course have to avoid privileging themselves. In distributing in accordance with need they were not to say that they, of course, needed the lion's share. The Party, which Lenin eagerly put in the position of the vanguard, of course did neither, and the rest is history. They privileged themselves, they didn't relinquish power, and they started eating their own. This all happened over Marx's dead body, but the Marx's lack of an equivalent to the Christian's doctrine of man's sinful nature was what ruined the "nice idea" of Communism.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Calvinism without theological determinism

I actually think five-point Calvinism is compatible with a libertarian view on free will. You can choose paper or plastic, you can even choose greater or lesser sins, but you can't choose righteousness without irresistible grace.

There are leading Calvinists who take this position, such as, I believe, J. I. Packer.

Here is some exchange on Michael Medved with Richard Dawkins

ID advicates are really creationists, so if we can beat Kent Hovind, we've nailed intelligent design.

The Case Against Medicare

Anybody want to get rid of Medicare today? Many of the arguments against health care reform today were used back in the sixties against Medicare by leading Republicans.

C. S. Lewis: Bloody Socialist

A redated post.

HT: John Gibson

In the letter to Mary Willis Shelburne dated 7th July 1959 (Letters, vol 3,
page 1064), Lewis wrote

"What you have gone through begins to reconcile me to our Welfare State of
which I have said so many hard things. 'National Health Service' with free
treatment for all has its drawbacks - one being that Doctors are incessantly
pestered by people who have nothing wrong with them. But it is better than
leaving people to sink or swim on their own resources."

Steve Lovell on the Health Care Debate

I asked British philosopher and fellow Lewis scholar Steve Lovell what he thought of the controversy surrounding health care in America.

Haven't paid any attention to the health care debate in the US. To us in the UK with the NHS the right-wing reaction to Obama's plans seems a little extreme. You have to be seriously right wing over here to say much against the NHS. Obviously everyone wants it to be improved, but no-one wants to scrap it and start over.

It seems as if the people in other countries who have "socialized" medicine never want their systems uprooted and privatized, in spite of all these complaints about death panels and long waits for treatment.

The arguments against Obama's plans can be used against Medicare. Come to think of it, I remember when Medicare was proposed, and they were used against Medicare.

Carbonman's Critique of Craig's Kalam Argument

In ordinary contexts, pretty clearly, we don't countenance the possibility that something could come into existence without a cause. For example, if you and I were eating lunch, and a bunny rabbit were suddenly to appear munching on your salad, you would rightly dismiss the possibility that it popped into existence without a cause. So we need some justification for why, in this instance, we are going to want to admit a causeless beginning of the universe.

Craig does offer arguments that a personal agent was the cause of the beginning of the universe, but he doesn't say his argument proves that it is the Christian God. He got the argument from Islamic philosophers to begin with, so he knows better than that. He admits that he needs other arguments to get to Christian theism. Something powerful enough to bring a universe into existence caused the universe to exist, assuming you accept a caused beginning of the universe.

Now people have offered reasons for why an uncaused beginning is acceptable while an uncaused bunny rabbit is not, and that has to do with the fact that the BBT says there was no time before the beginning, and that Craig's causal principle need only apply if there was a prior time. So, the bunny rabbit needs a cause, since there was a time when it was not in existence and then it began to exist. But when there was no time prior to the existence of the universe, the causal requirement doesn't apply. This is a more serious objection than that which you have provided, however.

You should also note that plenty of people have challenged Craig, and he has responded to those objections. People like J. L. Mackie, Quentin Smith, Keith Parsons, Douglas Jesseph, and Wes Morriston have written objections, and these objection have been countered by Craig and his defenders, and you can't really get a sense of where the whole discussion is unless you look at how the debate has proceeded. Your responses, I am afraid, are re-inventions of the wheel.

Why Dawkins should debate Meyer and Craig

The reason I put the word "entertaining" in the previous post is because I do have some reservations about public debate as a venue for the adequate airing of issues. The blogosphere, public debate, and peer reviewed journals all have strengths and weaknesses as loci for dialogue about issues like this.

By the same token, Dawkins' career, and even his previous academic position (1995-2008), the Simonyi Professorship for the Public Understanding of Science, are dedicated to the defense of evolution to the general public. The ordinary complaints about public debate as a setting for the exchange of ideas go by the boards here.

It is quite true that if you have a public debate between Bill Craig and someone who is a good atheist philosopher of religion but who is not at home in the debate setting, you could complain that a debate might unfairly disadvantage the atheist cause. Similarly, a good evolutionary biologist might bomb in a debate with Duane Gish, and that this might tell us little about the credibility of evolution.

But Dawkins writes for the public, not only to accept evolution in full, but also to reject belief in the existence of God. He is an excellent public speaker. So he is not in a position to use what would ordinarily be the best arguments against debating someone like Craig or Meyer.

To make a career of making the case for atheistic evolution to the general public, and then to hide behind academic snobbery when challenged to a debate by academically qualified opponents, is trying to have your cake and eat it too.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Dawkins dodges debate again

This time with Stephen Meyer. Dawkins seems intent on robbing me of really entertaining debates.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

On Being Poor

What it is like to be poor. One of them says "Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away." And one boy lost his life because of it.

When this stops happening in America, maybe I will sew up my bleeding heart.

More discussion with Hays on Obamacare

SH: vii) There’s a trade-off between universal care and the quality care. In a private, fee-for-service system, a doctor has no incentive to ration care. He will provide whatever medical service you can afford.

The incentive to ration care only kicks in when you’re attempting to equalize care.

So it’s a trade-off between lesser care for everyone, or better care for some, and lesser care for others.

VR: So we don't have to ration care because it is already rationed by affordability. We don't need death panels. All we need is for people to look inside their wallets and see that they don't have enough money to get the medical care that will keep them alive. I'm so glad the status quo takes such a strong stand for the sanctity of human life.

"Didn't have no welfare state. Everybody pulled his weight." At least, until they got sick.

Hell, Hays, and the criminal analogy

I think we have to go back to the context of your using Grayling's employment of the Polanski case in the defense of hell. There are some important differences between this kind of criminal case and the problem of sin. Grayling would not have been making his case if Polanski had served his full sentence and was about to be released. The point is that our judicial system allows people to be released from their punishment once proportionality is reached (with a lot of other considerations thrown in as well). The passage of time without punishment doesn't release one from guilt, that was Grayling's point. In our judicial system, the doing of time in prison "pays one's debt to society."

You are the one using the criminal reasoning to justify hell. But the analogy to the criminal justice system is precisely what propels the proporitionality objection. To get a defense of hell of the ground you have to argue either that the case is different with sin because it is against God, or argue that the damned sinner is unrepentant and therefore reoffends continuously. Those are precisely points at which the criminal justice analogy breaks down.
In my view the retribution analogyis too closely connected to the concepts of criminal justice to justify hell, and that is why I think of hell primarily as a natural consequence of the fact that one is rebelling against the source of goodness itself. If you're doing that, you can't be happy, and here case of Aslan and the dwarfs and the Great Divorce helps us see that. No fire and brimstone is necessary to make us miserable if we are trying forever to find happiness apart from the Source of happiness.

How the Bible defines retributive justice

VR: The concept of retribution is that the evildoer should be deprived of happiness to in proportion to the wrongfulness or harmfulness of the act.

DBT: Is it? Is that how the Bible defines retributive justice?

VR: Let me change my answer to yes.

Here's Gen 4:23-24: And Lamech said unto his wives: Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech; for I have slain a man for wounding me, and a young man for bruising me;

If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold.

By Exodus we get to an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and that puts an upper limit on what can be avenged upon another person. You can't do what Lamech did.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Site for Loftus' forthcoming book

That tireless self-promoter, John W. Loftus, has a site for his upcoming book, The Christian Delusion. (OK, I'm not known for originality in my titles, though I did raid the enemy, not my own side).

HMOs and assisted suicide

This is a paper that was given at a right-to-life meeting, and it is a case against an Oregon-style assisted suicide law. But look at what it says about the role HMOs play in protecting the sanctity of human life.

The death panels are already a reality.

Mike Newcomb on Health Care Reform

A local physician who has a left-wing radio talk show weighs in on health care reform.

Some exchange with Hays on Health Care Reform

SH: The death panelists would be presidential appointees. They wouldn’t be elected. And they wouldn’t be subject to Congressional advice, consent, or oversight.

VR: You wouldn't happen to know where this is in the bill, or what Obama statement this comes from?

SH: Indeed, the whole point is to insulate them from the democratic process so that they can make unpopular choices that politicians are afraid to make.
VR: If they are Presidential appointees, and they did something like this, it would fall back on the President's head politically. If someone were victimized in such a way, they would run straight to FOX News and tell their story (assuming the rest of the media is too biased to listen). I certainly would.

The present system is prohibitive for people of modest income who don't have a large enough full-time enployer to provide coverage (I know, since almost all my work has been part time for the last 19 years--full time in total, but part time per employer), there are pre-existing condition exclusions, people get dropped by their insurance companies when the get sick, and there are lifetime caps on what insurance companies will pay for a person's care.

All Obama's public option can do is deny payment, not deny care. To actually deny care you have to have a single-payer system in which the health care and health payment are provided by the same governmental entity. Now, if the denial of payment is tantamount to the denial of care, then we already have death panels. There are treatments the companies won't pay for, and people die as a result. If denial of payment is distinguishable from denial of care, then nothing short of a full and complete single-payer system could possibly result in death panels.

Kant, rational ethics, and arguing with a jerk

Kant's Categorical Imperative states: Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a be general natural law. This according to Kant, is a rational ethical truth.

If you were arguing with a thorougly selfish person, could you show him or her that it was somehow irrational to cheat on other people while hoping that others will not cheat on you.

Q: What if everybody did?

A: I'm not everybody! I'm me, and I'm looking out for #1.

You might call such a person a jerk, but could you call him or her irrational?

I did something on this a few months back, to which I link.

Retribution, Hell, and Roman Polanski: A Response to Hays

This has nothing to do with Calvinism, just so you know.

The concept of retribution is that the evildoer should be deprived of happiness to in proportion to the wrongfulness or harmfulness of the act. The proportionality objection to hell would not be that a certain amount of time passing is going to take the guilt away, but rather that no action is infinitely bad or infinitely harmful, and so the proporitionality requirement can be met in a finite length of time, and the eternity of hell isn't necessary.

It doesn't imply that guilt diminises with time, it just says that after a certain amount of happiness is deprived from the wrongdoer, the punishment can end, because the crime has been paid for. So the reasoning in the Polanski case doesn't apply here.

There are two standard responses to it. One if that in the case of sin, the offended party is God, and therefore sin, (unlike crime) can and always does deserve an infinite punishment. That seemed more plausible back when people were thought of as standing on different levels of the Great Chain of Being, and a crime against a nobleman was thought more heinous than a crime against a commoner, for that reason only.

The other response is to say that the damned are unrepentant sinners who continuously reoffend. I think that is surely the more plausible response, but this has little to do with the reasoning in the Polanski case.

What is more, there is a statute of limitations for many crimes, but no statute for the most heinous crimes. But hell, presumably, is for sinners of every type, and Protestants at least reject the idea that some sins are "venial" and do not threaten a person's salvation.

So I don't think that this is the right way to meet the proportionality objection to the doctrine of everlasting punishment.

From Defeating Defeaters: Those Darned Intuitions

According to William Lane Craig, one thing that makes Christianity plausible is that it fits with those worthless moral intuitions we've got.

Fern Seeds and Elephants, or Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism

The latter name is how it is known in America, the earlier how it is known in Britain. It is the essay that A. J. Mattill was bashing in the earlier link.

All this sort of criticism attempts to reconstruct the genesis of the texts it studies; what vanished documents each author used, when and where he wrote, with what purposes, under what influences - the whole Sitz im Leben of the text. This is done with immense erudition and great ingenuity. And at first sight it is very convincing. I think I should be convinced by it myself, but that I carry about with me a charm - the herb moly - against it. You must excuse me if I now speak for a while of myself. The value of what I say depends on its being first-hand evidence.

What forearms me against all these reconstructions is the fact that I have seen it all from the other end of the stick. I have watched reviewers reconstructing the genesis of my own books in just this way.

Until you come to be reviewed yourself you would never believe how little of an ordinary review is taken up by criticism in the strict sense; by evaluation, praise, or censure, of the book actually written. Most of it is taken up with imaginary histories of the process by which you wrote it. The very terms which the reviewers use in praising or dispraising often imply such a history. They praise a passage as 'spontaneous' and censure another as 'labored'; that is, they think they know that you wrote the one currenete calamo and the other invita Minerva.

What the value of such reconstructions is I learned very early in my career. I had published a book of essays; and in the one into which I had put most of my heart, the one I really cared about and in which I discharged a keen enthusiasm, was on William Morris. And in almost the first review I was told that this was obviously the only one in the book in which I had felt no interest. Now don't mistake. The critic was, I now believe, quite right in thinking it the worst essay in the book; at least everyone agreed with him. Where he was totally wrong was in his imaginary history of the causes which produces its dullness.

Well, this made me prick up my ears. Since then I have watched with some care similar imaginary histories both of my own books and of books by friends whose real history I knew. Reviewers, both friendly and hostile, will dash you off such histories with great confidence; will tell you what public events had directed the author's mind to this or that, what other authors had influenced him, what his overall intention was, what sort of audience he principally addressed, why - and when - he did everything.

Now I must record my impression; then distinct from it, what I can say with certainty. My impression is that in the whole of my experience not one of these guesses has on any one point been right; that the method shows a record of 100 per cent failure. You would expect that by mere chance they would hit as often as the miss. But it is my impression that they do no such thing. I can't remember a single hit. But as I have not kept a careful record my mere impression may be mistaken. What I think I can say with certainty is that they are usually wrong.

And yet they would often sound - if you didn't know the truth - extremely convincing. Many reviewers suggested that the Ring in Tolkein's The Lord of the Rings was suggested by the atom bomb. What could be more plausible. Here is a book published when everyone was preoccupied by that sinister invention; here in the centre of the book is a weapon which is seems madness to throw away yet fatal to use. Yet in fact, the chronology of the book's composition make the theory impossible. Only the other week a reviewer said that a fairy-tale by my friend Roger Lancelyn Green was influenced by fairy-tales of mine. Nothing could be more probable. I have an imaginary country with a beneficent lion in it; Green, one with a beneficent tiger. Green and I can be proved to read one another's works; to be indeed in various ways closely associated. The case for an affiliation is far stronger than many which we accept as conclusive when dead authors are concerned. But it's all untrue nevertheless. I know the genesis of that Tiger and that Lion and they are quite independent.

Now this surely ought to give us pause. The reconstruction of the history of a text, when the text is ancient, sounds very convincing. But one is after all sailing by dead reckoning; the results cannot be checked by fact. In order to decide how reliable the method is, what more could you ask for than to be shown an instance where the same method is at work and we have facts to check it by? Well, that is what I have done. And we find, that when this check is available, the results are either always, or else nearly always, wrong. The 'assured results of modern scholarship' as to the was in which an old book was written, are 'assured', we may conclude, only because the men who know the facts are dead and can't blow the gaff. The huge essays in my own field which reconstruct the history of Piers Plowman or The Faerie Queen are most unlikely to be anything but sheer illusions.

Am I then venturing to compare every whispter who writes a review in a modern weekly with these great scholars who have devoted their whole lives to the detailed study of the New Testament? If the former are always wrong, does it follow that the later must fare no better?

There are two answers to this. First, while I respect the learning of the great Biblical critics, I am not yet persuaded that their judgement is equally to be respected. But, secondly, consider with what overwhelming advantages the mere reviewers start. They reconstruct the history of a book written by someone whose mother-tongue is the same as theirs; a contemporary, educated like themselves, living in something like the same mental and spiritual climate. They have everything to help them. The superiority in judgement and diligence which your are going to attribute to the Biblical critics will have to be almost superhuman if it is to offset the fact that they are everywhere faced with customs, language, race-characteristics, class-characteristics, a religious background, habits of composition, and basic assumptions, which no scholarship will ever enable any man now alive to know as surely and intimately and instinctively as the reviewer can know mine. And for the very same reason, remember, the Biblical critics, whatever reconstructions they devise, can never be crudely proved wrong. St. Mark is dead. When they meet St. Peter, there will be more pressing matters to discuss.

You may say, of course, that such reviewers are foolish in so far as they guess how a sort of book they never wrote themselves was written by another. They assume that you wrote a story as they would try to write a story; the fact that they would so try, explains why they have not produced any stories. But are the Biblical critics in this way much better off? Dr. Bultmann never wrote a gospel. Has the experience of his learned, specialized, and no doubt meritorious, life really given him any power of seeing into the minds of those long dead men who were caught up into what, on any view, must be regarded as the central religious experience of the whole human race? It is no incivility to say - he himself would admit - that he must in every way be divided from the evangelists by far more formidable barriers - spiritual as well as intellectual - than any that could exist between my reviewers and me.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Stewart Goetz on Mind-Body Dualism

An answer given for Craig's Reasonable Faith site.

A Simple Test for Arguments Against Obama's Health Care Plan

A very simple problem arises when people attack Obama's health care proposals. If you are afraid "the government might have death panels," "the government might make you wait weeks for care" etc. etc., you then have to show why this either doesn't happen or won't happen if we keep the current system, with insurance companies in control of funding health care.

We know that insurance companies do exclude people because of pre-existing conditions, they do revoke coverage if you get sick, and they do put lifetime caps on the care that they will fund. We also know that they have to pay huge CEO salaries that dwarf even the President's annual paycheck. So if you are going to argue against Obama's plan, just please tell me what you are afraid the government will do and why you think you don't have to worry about United Health or whoever your private insusre is doing the same darn thing.

I'm not saying that there aren't any arguments that can be made against Obama's plan. What I am saying is that you can't make these arguments without comparing what you are objecting to with present reality.

Menuge on C. S. Lewis as a philosopher

This paper also covers the Anscombe exchange.

A J Mattill on Lewis's "Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism"

A redated post.

This is a new posting on Ed Babinski's website. Some Jack-hammering from the mid-1980s.

Love and Aristotelian Purpose

I was thinking more of an Aristotelian natural purpose rather than a Darwinian one. Of course the Aristotelian conception is a difficult one because you have the theistic tradition pushing it in the direction of intended purpose, and the Darwinian materialist tradition pushing it in the direction of Darwinian function.

But I think something can have an intended purpose without that purpose resulting in the fulfillment of the creaturely nature. If Calvinism is true, it is the intended purpose of some people to provide God the opportunity to display his wrath against sin and to serve as object lessons to make sure everyone up in heaven knows that they got there by grace, but in fulfilling that divine purpose, their desires are everlastingly frustrated. Or, to take a simpler example, we raise some animals for food. Sometimes we do in a way that pays attention to their interests (kosher laws suggest this way of thinking) and sometimes people simply exploit the animals, as in the case of veal calves cooped up in tiny pens. So I think we need the idea of an inner purpose that involves the fulfillment of the nature of the created object.

I an inclined to think that a concept of love could be developed as an active desire for the fulfillment of another being. X loves Y just in case X wants Y to fulfill itself, and does whatever is possible (consonant with other moral duties X might have) to make it possible that Y fufills itself.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Why I am not a universalist

Universalists interpret the Bible to mean that "eternal" punishment is just a long period of suffering for wicked people before they are converted and reconciled to God. My good friend Tom Talbott, professor of philosophy at Willamette University, thinks this. see this review of his book, which gives an account of how he argues.

I don't think his position is absurd. However, the direction of a sinful life is away from fellowship with God, and reversal of that direction that's got to be painful. You've got to swallow your pride and turn around. Because of that, I don't think we can deny the possibility of hell. If a person can sin once, they can keep sinning, and then God either has to reward evil, or punish it.

These discussions of hell make some valuable points.

Friday, October 02, 2009

On various kinds of purpose

There are I think four different ideas that we might be implying when we talk about the purpose for something. One of them is an intended purpose. The purpose of X is Y because the one who made X intended it to do Y. If we believe in God, we probably believe in this kind of a purpose for ourselves. The second is natural purpose, so that the nature of something drives it toward a certain goal. We are sometimes told that the purpose of sex is reproduction, because that is its natural consequence. Thirdly, there is a chosen purpose. I choose to pursue the goal of becoming and airline pilot of a concert pianist because that is what I want to become. Finally, there is Darwinian purpose. If you believe in evolution, you believe that creatures have certain characteristics because those characteristcs helped them survive and pass on their genes. So a thoroughgoing Darwinian will say that the purpose of your eyes is to see, not because someone planned them so you could see, but because creatures who developed eyes had better awareness of the environment than the creatures they were competing with, and this resulted in those creatures surviving.

Bill Craig's debates

A redated post. 

This is a summary and assessment of William Lane Craig's debate with Douglas Jesseph at Arizona State University in 1997. It was written by Jeffrey Lowder, of Internet Infidels.

And this is a source for a number of Craig's debates with various people, including the debate with Jesseph at NC State in 1996.

Narnia: The Planetary Hypothesis

By Michael Ward from Touchstone Magazine.

Beversluis's critique of C. S. Lewis: Some Background

The beginning of a review of Beversluis's new book that I am writing. 

Before reviewing the the new edition of this book, some historical background is in order. John Beversluis's C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion came out in early 1985. It was published by a Christian publishing house, Eerdmans, which had also published several works by Lewis. It was advertised as iconoclastic and critical, and it certainly was. But it also was recommended on its cover by two Christian philosophers of the first rank: William Alston and Alan Donagan.

In spite of its publishing house and the recommendation of Christians, Beversluis's book was an ambitious and far-reaching critique of Lewis's apologetics. A Christian philosopher, Thomas Morris, had written a critique of Francis Schaeffer while at the same time suggesting more modest and philosophically adequate alternatives to what he took to be Schaeffer's oversimplifications. Beversluis's project, while aimed at the "C. S. Lewis cult" of persons who write "worshipful tributes" to Lewis,  was no pruning operation. It was an attempt to cut down Lewis's apologetic tree root and branch. All of Lewis's apologetical arguments were deemed palpable failures, guilty of the twin fallacies of the straw man and the false dilemma. Further, Lewis's apologetics were filled with "irresponsible writing" and thinking that was "considerably worse than fuzzy." The impact of Lewis's exchange with Elizabeth Anscombe in 1948 led him to back away from apologetics. When his wife died, his reflections on the suffering this caused led him to abandon his "Platonistic" defense of God's goodness, found in The Problem of Pain, in favor of an implicitly Ockhamistic understanding in which God is good no matter what he does. But this understanding, Beversluis notes, renders the claim "God is good" empty of content. This apologetical problem is not Lewis's alone, Beversluis claimed. It is shared by anyone engaged in the "search for rational religion." The upshot of a close study of Lewis's apologetics not only shows that Lewis failed to successfully defend Christianity, it also shows that the problem of evil essentially dooms any attempt to make theistic religion rational. Either "good" has a recognizable definition congruous to the way we use "good" in ordinary human contexts, in which case God turns out not to satisfy the definition because of the suffering he permits, or it has no recognizable meaning and is essentially vacuous. The thrust of Beversluis's argument, therefore, is a defense of atheism, (or at least a defense of atheism given certain assumptions that Lewis accepted) although some commentators speculated taht he might be a fidiestic theist rather than a religious skeptic.

To say that this book provided a major shock to Lewis admirers would be a gross understatement. Many condemned it as not just inadequate, but also underhanded and dishonest. The use of Lewis's words as a grieving husband to undermine his prior apologetics was found offensive and "despicable", and even his praise of Lewis was considered "patronizing."

While some of Beversluis's rhetoric opened him to criticism of this sort, a 1991 review essay of A. N. Wilson's atrocious biography of Lewis showed that, contrary to popular opinion amongst Lewis fans, Beversluis was not a merely hostile critic. Not only was Beversluis critical of the ungrounded psychoanalyzing that filled the Wilson volume, he also backed away from a Lewis-basher's favorite bedtime story, the Anscombe Legend. Beversluis pointed out that he didn't abandon Christian apologetics after the Anscombe incident, and if he had, the Argument from Abandoned Subjects would prove nothing. "He wrote no more works on courtly love or Paradise Lost either."

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Answers In Creation versus Answers In Genesis on Carbon Dating

AIG and AIC are opposed to one another on this issue. AIG is the creationist organization, not the bloated insurance company that had to be bailed out because it was too big to fail.

Does God Change His Mind?

This exegetical discussion has some relevance to the debate surrounding open theism.

Does God change His mind? It all depends. If He has decreed

a certain course of action or outcome, then He will not retract a

statement or relent from a declared course of action. Verses stat-

ing or illustrating this truth must not be overextended, however.

Statements about God not changing His mind serve to mark spe-

cific declarations as decrees. They should not be used as proof

texts of God’s immutability, nor should they be applied generally

to every divine forward-looking statement. If God has not de-

creed a course of action, then He may very well retract an an-

nouncement of blessing or judgment. In these cases the human

response to His announcement determines what He will do. Pas-

sages declaring that God typically changes His mind as an ex-

pression of His love and mercy demonstrate that statements de-

scribing God as relenting should not be dismissed as anthropo-

morphic. At the same time such passages should not be overex-

tended. God can and often does decree a course of action.26

Henshaw v. Hays on I Cor 10:13

This is a link to an exchange between Ben Henshaw on Arminian Perspectives and Steve Hays of Triablogue on I Cor 10: 13. It looks to me as if I stumbled upon an argument that has already been debated. I suppose if you're a Calvinist, you think Steve won, and if you're an Arminian, you think Ben won.

Dennett debates Swinburne

This is a really good debate between Dennett and Richard Swinburne. HT: John Sabatino

In Defense of Dawkins, sort of

I think, in at least a narrow sense, I have to side with Dawkins' complaint against Expelled. Dawkins was answering the question "What if we just can't find an adequate terrestrial Darwinian explanation to the origin of life?" His answer would have to be something like Francis Crick's panspermia thesis. If you accept Dawkins' 747 argument, then this is the conclusion you have to draw. That is, if you have an argument that shows that theistic explanations for complexity are always and necessarily going to be inadequate, then if there is an explanatory gap concerning how life emerged, then any possible account of it that, using Dennett's terminology, employ skyhooks is to preferred to one that sticks to cranes, whatever difficulties the crane hypothesis might face.

Dawkins appears to merely assert that the ultimate explanation for extraterrestrial life would have to be evolutionary, and that makes him sound dogmatic. But he has an argument for it. It is quite true that William Lane Craig says that it deserves the title of being the worse atheistic argument in the history of Western thought, but nevertheless the appearance of mere assertion generates a misunderstanding.

Erik Wielenberg has argued that the 747 argument is a recycling of an argument found in Hume's Dialogues, and argument that I have called The Inadequacy Objection. I am linking to Wielenberg's analysis as it appeared on Vallicella's blog. I replied to the objection as follows in my essay in In Defense of Natural Theology:

The Inadequacy Objection gratuitously assumes that matter is what is clearly understandable, and that “mind” is something mysterious, the very existence of which has to be explained in terms of un-mysterious matter. But is this an accurate picture? According to Galen Strawson,

This is the assumption that we have a pretty good understanding of the nature of matter—of matter and space—of the physical in general. It is only relative to this assumption that the existence of consciousness in a material world seems mystifying. For what exactly is puzzling about consciousness, once we put the assumption aside? Suppose you have and experience of redness, or pain, and consider it to be just as such. There doesn’t seem to be any room for anything that could be called failure to understand what it is.

On the other hand, matter is described by modern physics in the most mystifying terms imaginable. The philosopher of science Bas van Fraassen writes, “Do concepts of the soul…baffle you? They pale beside the unimaginable otherness of closed space-times, event horizons, EPR correlations, and bootstrap models.”