Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bees and perspectives

An old DI2 post. 

BDK: Afterthought: it would be great for antinaturalists to answer Bennett's question. In general, your answer to this question starkly reveals your philosophical stripes. This is all about propositional thought and the like, truth, reference and all that.

As for what you'd have to add to make bees conscious, or whether bees are already conscious, I have no strong opinion. I think Dretske believes they are conscious. I am agnostic. Do qualia precede propositional contents in evolution? I tend to think so, but am not sure: even leeches might feel little flashes of pains and excitements.

VR: I think what is needed is the perspective of an agent who sees certain things as the case, and who is introspectively aware of what it means when it says something.

Example: I enter a conversation and misuse a word consistently. The community of language speakers makes a word mean one thing, but I meant something else, and in spite of the sniggers that I got from everyone, I think to myself "But I was using it to mean that." I can recognize two words that sound the same but mean different things, and I can identify two words that mean that same but sound different.

Add to this the perception of necessary relationships that obtain amongst proposition. We have to be people who exist at particular places and times who know that some things exist regardless of place or time. And I see difficulty with that so long as what gives us pieces of information are temporally locatable physical brains and causal connection from those brains to particular states of affairs in the world.

Now, could we solve these problems naturalistically if we could just solve the hard problem of consciousness naturalistically? My answer is that raw feels by themselves aren't going to solve it; we're going to need a connection between consciousness and the mental states involved in rationality.

Why Bill Vallicella is such a Hot Ticket on the Party Circuit

I was wondering if Bill had seen that he had been referenced in Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar, Understanding Philosophy through Jokes. He had, as you can tell from the link.

This is the reference:

Contemporary philosopher William Vallicella writes, "Metaphilosophy is the philosophy of philosophy. It is itself a branch of philosophy, unlike the philosophy of science, which is not a branch of science, or the philosophy of religion, which is not a branch of religion."
It is statements like this that have made Vallicella such a hot ticket on the party circuit.

Well, not only did I get this book in my Christmas stocking, but it's been assigned for one of the courses I'm teaching!

If only I could become that famous.

Picturing hell

What picture of hell makes the most sense to you? This is an interesting article by a Melbourne philosophy student.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Grief Observed

A redated post. 

I knew C. S. Lewis was popular, but I was surprised to find 155 reviews of A Grief Observed on Amazon, almost all very favorable, and I did not see anyone try to argue that he fatally compromised his apologetics in this book based on his own grief experience.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Deep down inside, you atheists really believe in God

According to a couple of Muslim fatwas. Have these guys been reading van Til and Bahnsen? Reformed Islamic apologetics?

Some discussion of methodological naturalism on Shallit's blog

Some interesting points in this discussion. First, it looks as if these people are ready to use words like "natural" and "supernatural' as if they, and everyone else, knew what those terms meant. I am not at all sure that we are entitled to assume this. Shallit assumes that if science is naturalistic, it won't make any references to gods of any kinds. Why? What is it about gods that makes them supernatural?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Does Climategate support the Expelled argument?

Stephen Meyer thinks it does. As much as I'd like to think otherwise, I am not at all sure that a couple of episodes of Scientists Behaving Badly is enough to support the relevant charges in either controversy.

Thought experiments

What is the role of thought experiments in philosophy and science? This is the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on the subject.

Golubev on experimenting with the Dragon

Probably the Dragon expert of longest standing and authority. This is something of an update on his analysis of the Karpov-Gik game.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Singer-Posner debate on animal rights

Refuting Calvinism on the cheap

Gosh I wish it were this easy to refute Calvinism. Here is a story I heard when I was growing up. 

The two preachers had agreed to exchange churches one day. Lyman Beecher, father of the famous Henry Ward Beecher, was to speak in a fellow-minister’s church, and the other minister was to speak in Beecher’s church. The other minister was a stanch believer in predestination. The day came when they were to exchange pulpits, and each set out for the other’s church. Midway they met.

They stopped to pass the time of day, and as Lyman Beecher began to move on, the other Preacher,
unwilling to let such an opportunity pass, said, “Dr. Beecher, I wish to call your attention to the fact that before creation God ordained that you were to preach in my church, and I in yours, on this particular day.”

“Is that so?” glared Dr. Beecher, “Then I won’t preach in your church today,” and spinning his horse
around, he rode to his own church and preached in it that morning. He believed that man has the power of choice and though God foreknows He does not force anyone.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Gettier Problem

This is the essay in which Gettier introduced the Gettier problem. He was just trying to get tenure, I understand.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Still Another Attack on "You are entitled to your opinion."

Which has an attack on that "fact and opinion" crap that kids get taught in grade school.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Kelly Clark and Brian Leiter on anti-theistic bias in philosophy departments

Towards the end of this thread, Christian philosopher Kelly Clark raises the question of anti-theistic bias in getting philosophy jobs. This is of interest to me, because I never got a permanent philosophy position back when I was job-hunting. I think it didn't help me, back then, to have my CV covered with paper presentations at the Society of Christian Philosophers and references to C. S. Lewis in those presented papers and in my dissertation description. (Of course, every person's job search experience is different, and many factors are involved). If I had it to do over again, I probably would have done it with a lower Christian profile.

Many secular philosophy departments have plenty of people in them who not only think theism is false, but think of it as a philosophical nonstarter and evidence of some sort of failing in a philosopher. They believe, with Russell, that it is not only false, it does harm. They might recognize that Plantinga is really, really smart, but kind of weird because he's a theist. Do they have an obligation to help to create an open intellectual atmosphere in their universities?

People like Dawkins walk a fine line. They feel they ought to talk about religion, yet long for the day when it can be dismissed with a horse laugh.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Global Warming and Probability

BDK mentioned Pascal's Wager in the context of global warming. I think it raises an interesting point.

Suppose the evidence really supports the claim that there is a 50% likelihood that some sort of global catastophe will happen if we don't control greenhouse gas emissions. (I take it this is a vastly weaker clam than what the scientists are actually claiming.) If we change to "green" energies, we eliminate our dependence on foreign oil, which effectively prevents us from being taken seriously as a benefactor in the Middle East. It looks as if a shift to different energy sources might encourage capitalism of a healthy sort, with many energy providers competing to do it the best, as opposed to the unhealthy capitalism where the primary energy sources are controlled by a few huge companies. Those are my initial reflections on the situation, and I am sure there are many other considerations.

Now, I suspect that conservatives are going to give us a very different cost-benefit analysis, and I would like to see what that looks like.

How likely does global tragedy caused by global warming have to be in order for it to be in our interest to try to prevent it. What if there's a 10% chance that things will go horribly wrong because of climate change? Then should we do something, or not?

Who has the burden of proof here, the GW skeptic or the GW defender? On the face of things, I say the skeptic. Can anyone prove me wrong?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Wesley's argument that preaching is vain if Calvinism is true

John Wesley's classic statement of the objection goes like this:

But if this be so, then is all preaching vain? It is needless to them that are elected; for they, whether with preaching or without, will infallibly be saved. Therefore, the end of preaching -- to save should -- is void with regard to them; and it is useless to them that are not elected, for they cannot possibly be saved: They, whether with preaching or without, will infallibly be damned. The end of preaching is therefore void with regard to them likewise; so that in either case our preaching is vain, as you hearing is also vain.

The main thrust of my response to this objection is to argue that while Wesley's argument gets at something that seems to me correct, for in the sense that I don't think the counterfactual relationship between preaching and salvation quite works the same way as it might under Arminianism, but nevertheless the Calvinists have two motivations for evangelism intact: the obedience to command motivation, and the instrumental role motivation.

So I think I've actually done more to undercut Wesley's argument than I have to help it. Sorry, JW, gotta follow the argument where it leads.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

AP's verdict on the Global Warming science

Lots of ugly stuff, but no fraud.

What do you guys think of this?

Why I considered determinism unnatural

What did I have in mind when I said that determinism is an unnatural belief? . Looking at what I was trying to say when I said it, it looks to me as if I wasn't thinking about naive student attitudes toward free will, but simply the fact that in the course of decision-making there are different possibilities that are open to us, one of which we select. Further, it does seem that we consider both choices that we make to be genuine possibilities. But if determinism is true, then the alternative possibility wasn't a real possibility after all. What we did was determined. It's hard to imagine making a difficult decision and asking "Hmmm. What was I predestined to do in this situation?"

I was thinking about the idea we seem to presume that there are possible futures depending on how we act, that become more or less likely depending on what we do. If God has predestined everything, and is determined to do so based on his own nature, then it looks as if there are no possible worlds except alpha.

There does seem to be an at least an illusion of free will when we deliberate and decide. It could be just that, an illusion.

Calvinism, salvation, and possible worlds

My position on the role of what motivation we might have to evangelize if Calvinism is true has, admittedly, changed a bit since I first blogged about it.

My position is this:

1) Calvinists certainly have the motivation to evangelize based on the Great Commission.

2) Calvinists have the motivation to evangelize based on a desire they might have to play an instrumental role in someone's coming to receive saving faith. (This is what I had left out.)

3) It is not clear that Calvinists have the motivation to evanglize based on the truth of certain subjunctive-conditional claims concerning what the oucome will be if they do or do not evanglize.

The reason is that, given what God has predestined, the future is closed. Suppose Smith witnesses to Jones and Jones is saved. Smith, however, has struggled with getting up the courage to witness to Jones. He wonders if it will make a difference as to Jones' salvation whether he preaches or not. He knows that his preaching will not cause Jones to become one of the elect, since the elect were chosen unconditionally before the foundation of the world. Can the statement "If I don't witness to Jones, Jones won't be saved" be true if in fact Jones has either been unconditionally elected or unconditionally reprobated. What would make such a statement true or false? Any world in which Jones doesn't witness is a world which God did not predestine. Asking the counterfactual question is assume that there are other possible worlds, but there are no other possible worlds. Ultimately what you are asking if you are asking the counterfactual question of "What would have happened if I had not witnessed" is to ask "What would God have predestined to have happen to Jones if God hadn't predestined that I should witness to him?" I can't see how to make sense of the statement "In the nearest possible world in which I don't witness to Jones, Jones is reprobated." Is there even such a possible world?

It seems an Arminian can say that by sharing the Gospel with Jones, he makes it more likely that the actual world is a world in which Jones is saved. If Calvinism is true, I don't see how you can say that.

Should Calvinists care? I said earlier that Calvinists need not see this as a problem for their position. When I am making an argument against Calvinism, I will tell you.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Standard Materialism, Non-Standard Materialism, and Libertarian Free Will

I think there are standard and non-standard forms of materialism. I consider a form of materialism to be standard if it holds to three theses.

1) Reality at the basic level is mechanistic. There is no teleology, no intentionality, no subjectivity, and no normativity at the basic level.

2) The basic level (typically called physics) is causally closed.

3) Higher level states (such as the biological, the mental, or the sociological) supervene upon the physical. Given the physical, the higher level states must be exactly as they are.

It seems to me that if you accept this picture, nothing like libertarian free will can be coherently maintained. Now if one is trying to call oneself a materialist and reject part of this picture, in other words, if one adopts a non-standard form of materialism, in virtue of the fact that, say, everything in the mind has a spatial location, then you might be able to find room for libertarian free will.

Which always makes we wonder about Christians, like van Inwagen, who call themselves materialists. Do they really conform to the standard definition of materialism?

Moral Relativism and Global Warming

There is a raging debate going on about global warming. Sarah Palin and those who agree with her think the evidence has been trumped up and there is no good reason to believe in man-made global warming. Al Gore thinks the evidence for man-made global warming is clear and decisive.

I think we can all agree, whatever side we are on in this, that one of these groups of people has to be wrong. So why do people think that it follows from a diversity of moral opinions that moral judgments are neither true nor false?

What my master's thesis was about

Back in 1984, I wrote a master's thesis under Dr. Michael White at Arizona State University entitled "Moral Theories and Free Will."

I defended the claim that on the assumption that what we are utilitarians looking for ways to modify behavior, compatibilism makes some sense. Even if determinism is true, we might want to cause people to act in certain ways, and we might want to figure out who brought about an action, so that we can change a pattern of behavior. Thus, punishing criminals for various utilitarian reasons makes sense even if determinism is true.

However, if we are retributive deontologists, then compatibilism makes no sense. If we are not trying to modify behavior, but are asking whether someone is really to blame for what they did, then compatibilism doesn't make sense. The ultimate causes of our actions are beyond our control, and we are not responsible for those causes.

If you read many compatibilists, such as Moritz Schlick, and J. J. C. Smart (these were two that I mentioned in my thesis), you find that they have a concept of responsibility that is quite different from the concept of responsibility that is involved when we say that a person deserves to be punished in hell (or even in prison) for what he or she has done.

Is Determinism an Unnatural Belief?

Steve Hays has argued against my claim that determinism is an unnatural belief by appealing to a poll of professional philosophers. I replied as follows:

You go to professional philosophers to determine whether determinism is a natural belief? People who have had naturalistic determinism pounded into their brains from day one in grad school? You're kidding, aren't you.

Most of these people think there is no libertarian free will, because they think the mind is the brain, and since physical particles can't have libertarian free will, neither can we.

J. P. Moreland has an essay in Philosophy and Theology (1997) entitled "Naturalism and Libertarian Agency" in which he argues, quite successfully in my view, that libertarian agency simply doesn't fit at all well with a naturalistic world view.

The kind of compatibilism most philosophers they espouse is the kind espoused by people like Daniel Dennett in Elbow Room (MIT, 1984). That is, it's compatible with holding people responsible for their actions in a way that is aimed at modifying their behavior. I find out who's responsible for the action so that I can decide whose behavior I need to correct., or reinforce as the case might be. The kind of a free will that might justify eternal punishment is, on Dennett's view, not a variety of free will worth wanting.

The idea that we are, in some absolute sense, guilty before God for the things we have done, and liable to everlasting punishment for such misdeeds even though our actions are determined, ultimately, by divine choice, is a thesis that people like Dennett would find simply horrifying and barbaric.

You have to reconcile determinism with a very strong form of moral responsibility that most secular compatibilists would reject. You might want to try polling those philosophers on whether they accept the idea of retribution, period, much less eternal retribution.

As for Christian philosophers, well, I've seen discussions of foreknowledge and free will in which the Calvinistic alternative was not even considered. It was pretty much the Molinists and some other libertarians against the open theists.

The hoi polloi, as Vytautas would call them (including introductory philosophy students), invariably accept libertarian free will. They have to be exposed either to naturalism or to Calvinism before they will even consider the idea that our actions are all determined.

I think belief in free will comes naturally to us, while soft determinism seems really bizarre when most people first hear about it. I remember explaining it to a chess friend of mine who said "Didn't you just contradict yourself?" Of course, compatibilism might be true for all that. But most compatibilists are compatibilists because they don't want to bail out of moral responsibility, but can't accept libertarianism in virtue of their overall philosophical commitment to naturalism.

Friday, December 04, 2009

The Nicene Creed

The Church's great affirmation of the deity of Christ.

We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.
And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And we believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. And we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

A link to some C. S. Lewis recordings

Some articles on the historicity of the birth narratives

Just in time for Christmas, a thoughtful look at the historical reliability of the infancy narratives.

The virgin birth of Jesus is an insult to modern intelligence and should be abandoned. In addition, it is a pernicious doctrine that denigrates women.

Robert Funk, founder of the Jesus Seminar. Mark Roberts begs to differ.

Is atheism pretty obviously true?

Stephen Law thinks so. Wonder what his refutation of the AFR is?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

More depressing than you could have imagined: Feser's response to Rosenberg on Naturalism

In this piece by Ed Feser, he responds to a piece by Alex Rosenberg in which Rosenberg details some of the "depressing" nihilistic implications of naturalism, but claims that these must be accepted because the onward march of science shows that naturalism is true. Feser claim that these "depressing" conclusions on the basis of naturalism actually show the incoherence of naturalism.

Here are some of the great moments in the history of science.

1) Archimedes inferred from the principle of bouyancy that the King's crown wasn't solid gold.
2) Galileo calculates the orbits of the planets and shows that Copernicus was right, and the earth really does move.
3) Newton develops calculus and infers the three laws of motion.
4) Darwin infers natural selection as the explanation for different beak sizes in the finches on the Galapagos islands.
5) Einstein develops his Theory of Relativity, based on Maxwell's equations.

Yes, science marches on. But if there no propositional mental states that cause other propositional mental states, none of the above statements are literally true! If it is a consequence of naturalism, and I think it is, that none of these statements is literally true, then these events don't support the case for naturalism, they undercut it decisively.

Youtube Audio of C. S. Lewis on Charles Williams

HT: Bob Prokop

Calvinism and the two motivations for evangelism

Arminians like John Wesley have sometimes charged that Calvinism undercuts the motivation to evangelize. I think this charge is half true. It seems to me that evangelism is motivated both by Christ's command to evangelize, and out desire that others be saved.

I see the point of evangelism based on obeying a commandment, predestination or no predestination. What I don't see is why our evangelizing makes any difference with respect to the outcome. If I preach the gospel, then God, before the foundation of the world, sovereignly chose that I would do so. If I fail to preach, then God, before the foundation of the world, sovereignly chose that I would not preach. So my choice affects what God sovereignly chose before the foundation of the world? That's called Molinism, and it's a version of Arminianism.

So I think the motivation based on outcome is dissipated once you accept the idea that you can't change who is and who is not elect. Thank God I'm not a Calvinist, so I can accept the outcome-based motivation as well as the command-based motivation.

Calvinists need not see this as a problem for their view.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Is the God of Sikhism personal?

This turns out to be a difficult question. I looked at Wikipedia and it said

One God: - There is only one God who has infinite qualities and names (pantheism). God is Creator and Sustainer - all that you see around you is His creation. He is everywhere, in everything. He is without birth or death, and has existed before Creation and will exist forever. Sikhism does not acknowledge an anthropomorphic God. This is true to the extent than one can interpret Him as the Universe Itself. Sikhism also does not acknowledge the belief of a Personal God, as does Christianity. Instead, God is usually interpreted as being unfathomable, yet not unknowable.

The Sikh Missionary Society's website said:

Sikhism believes in a personal God. The devotee is compared to a bride yearning for union with her husband and waiting on his pleasure to do his bidding. 

Can anyone who knows a litte more about this than I do shed some light on this?