Friday, April 30, 2010

From an Amazon Review of Pro-Life 101

A redated post.

How would the discussion begin in response to a position like this? This is body autonomy with a vengeance. For this guy, the principle of body autonomy trumps the right to life.

1. I'm entitled to kill anything, and anyone, which is located inside my body, no matter what or who it is. If all the people in the whole world--innocent and guilty, unborn and already-born, great and small, rich and poor, smart and stupid--were assembled somewhere inside my body, along with Baby Jesus, Almighty God, and The Flying Spaghetti Monster, then I'd be entitled to holocaust 'em at will. That's part of the meaning of the word "my" in the phrase "my body".

2. If something or someone is living by means of my body's life-support functions, on food I eat and digest and on air I breathe, I'm entitled to stop that anytime. The life-support machine is part of my body, so it's mine to switch off.

3. If someone is getting ready to subject me to major medical/surgical trauma, I'm entitled to prevent that by killing the someone. You know, just as a man would be. Even if they're doing so unintentionally. It's not punishment; it's protection.

Which are the moral judgments?

How do were determine which of these are moral judgments?

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

2) It is rude to belch after dinner.

3) Eat lots of fruits and vegetables.

4) Drive on the right side of the road.

5) Don't lie under oath.

6) Buy low, sell high.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Objectivity and Contradiction

One way of testing whether something is objective is whether the law of noncontradiction applies to it. For example, if I say "The cat is on the mat" and you say "the cat is not on the mat:, once we figure out which cat and which mat, only one of us can be right, and the other has to be wrong. However if I say "McDonalds has better burgers than BK," and you say "No, BK's are better," we haven't really contradicted one another, because each is making truthful claims aboout our own taste buds. We can't apply the law of non-contradiction.

What about

"Abortion is always wrong, except in cases where the mother's life is in danger."

If one person asserts that, and the other denies it, does one person have to be wrong? Can we apply the law of non-contradicion?

Reply To Vallicella on SB 1070

I argued that SB 1070 isn’t viable because there are no sensible criteria for “reasonable suspicion” that a person is here illegally that are non-racial. Vallicella responds that there is a clause in the bill about stops made "during any legitimate contact made by an official . . . ." I take it what he is getting at here is that the officer has to be going about legitimate police business of some kind other than what is related to checking immigration status. I take it he is interpreting that clause to mean that, pace Obama, the law wouldn’t permit the official to stop someone who was walking their dog and looked Hispanic. The trouble is that the law actually made being here illegally itself a state crime, so it would seem to me that any attempt to determine whether the crime of being here illegally had been committed would constitute a legitimate contact.

In the example Vallicella uses, the person has been pulled over for a missing tail light, and is, as a matter of routine, is asked for his driver’s license. At that point, if the person fails to produce a license, speaks no English, and can’t produce registration or proof of insurance, the officer might then have reasonable suspicion for checking papers and attempting to determine immigration status. Now he doesn’t mention the role of skin color in determining whether the inquiry is made, nor does he mention whether or not he thinks I should be expected to produce immigration papers if I were similarly stopped, although, of course, I can speak English. Or, what if a German were stopped, who doesn’t speak English but only German?

Now this is somewhat different from his example of RICO statutes and Italians, in the sense that it does seem to involve the use of race or ethnicity as a criterion for determining whether an immigration investigation commences or not. Is it OK so long as it isn’t the only criterion, or even the primary criterion?

Notice also that Vallicella has chosen an example where the officer, as a matter of routine, checks for a driver’s license. In some cases of police activity, checking the DL is not involved. My example from the original post comes for experience living next to Hispanics who sometimes played their Spanish language music too loud late at night. We sometimes call the police when that happened. If the police were to come out and find that the people were Hispanic and playing music in Spanish, would this constitute “reasonable suspicion” that the people were here illegally?

So far, I have not had my suspicions allayed that the law has been crafted well enough to avoid either being a completely ineffective lawsuit magnet, or a racially prejudicial. My suspicion is that this will cause more trouble than it's worth to citizens and legal aliens who happen to be Hispanic.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Meditation in a toolshed

This is the link to Meditation in a Toolshed, which appears in God in the Dock. It prefigures a lot of what we find in Thomas Nagel's "What it is like to be a bat."

Friday, April 23, 2010

Driving While Mexican, or it's no fun being an illegal alien (or looking like one either)

All eyes are on Arizona today because Governor Brewer signed Senate Bill 1070, and I feel like putting a paper bag over my virtual head. Police in our state have now been given the authority to demand papers on anyone of whom they have a reasonable suspicion that they are illegal aliens. The trouble is, about the only reason for suspicion that I can think of that someone is in the country illegally is if they have brown skin, or speak Spanish instead of English, or English with an Mexican accent. Last I checked, that was called racial profiling, which is illegal. Supposedly they are going to come up with some guidelines for deciding when there is reasonable suspicion. Good luck with that.

On every police force there are some Mark Fuhrmans. (One of them is our county sheriff). And what will they do if they get a call about loud music late at night, and that music turns out to be Spanish language music? Do you think they're going to resist the temptation to ask for papers?

Illegal immigration is a serious problem. This is a preposterous way to go about stopping it.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

On The Necessity of Mental Causation

This is from my reply to Keith Parsons in essay "Some Supernatural Reasons Why My Critics are Wrong" (a title that was given to my essay by someone else), in Philosophia Christi (Volume 5, no. 1, 2003).

But think for a moment about wjhat it is to be persuaded by an argument. If we are thinking in common-sense terms, we would hve to say that what goes one when we are persuaded by Parsons's argument that Arizona State will not be in the BCS this year is that we conisder the epistemic strength of the premises, the grounding relation between the premises and the conclusion, and then accept the conclusion as a result of conisdering the evidence presented in the argument. To be convinced by an argument is for the reasons presented in the to play a causal role in the production of the belief. If the argumetn is causally irrelevant to the belief, then we cannot say that the argument was persuasive. This can often be cashed out counterfactually: If I really am persuaded by Parsons's arugment, then it cannot be the case that I am such a partisan of the Arizona Wildcats that I would think the worst of the Sun Devils' prospects even if the Sun Devils had a Heisman trophy candidate at quarterback, oustanding and experienced running backs and wide receivers, a rock-solid offensive line, and was returning everyone from what had been the stingiest defense in the Pac-10 the previous year.

On the one hand, the reasons have to persuade me in virtue of their being reasons. The logical force of the argument has to have a causal impact on belief. It has to make a difference as to whether I form the belief or fail to form the belief in question. And that, by the way, is bound to make a difference as to what I do with my body. I am going to behave differently if I think the Devils have a good chance to take the Pac-10 title than if I don't. And that is going to affect what the particles in the physical world do. But if the physical is causally closed, that means that only the physical can affect where the particles in the physical world go, and, the physical is defined as lacking, at the basic level of analysis, the central features of the mental. So the only way this kind of causal relation could possibly exist, would be if we could analyze the mental in physical terms as a kind of macro-state of the physical. Just as the word "planet" is absent from physical vocabulary, but a whole bunch of particle-states add up to there being a planet, perhaps "S's belief that P" can be added up  from a set of physical states. But that seems to me to be just impossible. Add up the physical all you like, and you aren't going to get "S's belief that P." The physical leaves the mental indeterminate. Yet, if science is to be possible, is has to be determinate whether, for example, Einstein is plussing or quussing when he is adding numbers in the course of developing his theory.

So, I argue that you need mental causation for the possibility of science, but you can't get that without affirming what seems to be an implausible reductionism, that conflicts with the indeterminacy of the physical.

Neutral Monism

Neutral monism was described in my comment box as follows:

1. the world is composed of just one kind of substance, and its essence has both physical and phenomenological or proto-phenomenal attributes (alternatively: the one kind of substance is neither physical nor mental, but but the physical and mental are composed of it).

I'm just not sure this position hangs together. It looks like your explanatory chain has to terminate with a reason, or else it has to terminate wtih something that is not a reason.

I found an interesting Edward Feser blog post on this.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Physicalism, mental causation, and the AFR

There are, of course, several versions of the AFR. If the opponent is advocating some kind of reductionism, then all the difficulties in providing a naturalistic account of intentionality come into play.

If the opponent is a non-reductivist, they are basically giving up on the idea of coming up with an analysis of intentionality in physical terms. Instead, they guarantee intentionality through a supervenience relation. Now, this doesn't explain intentionality, because we apparently are not told why this relation exists. It strikes me as a kind of necessity-of-the-gaps response, a kind of mystery maneuver. To the question "why are there genuine intentional states, and real conscious persons, as opposed to just behavior that looks intentional or conscious" the nonreductivist really isn't providing any answer.

I think a physicalist has to be bothered by the fact that they are positing a supervenience relation as an ultimate brute fact, even though it isn't a physical brute fact. So, I wanted to pose some problems for the ontological status of supervenience itself, which strikes me as questionable.

But, there has always been a recognized problem for the nonreductivist in the area of mental causation. If they physical is causally closed, that means nothing non-physical can cause anything. Now cause-and-effect relations between mental states seem to me to be necessary for the possibility of science. Einstein has to do the math, and his doing the math has to cause him to propose his theory. Without mental causation, it cannot be true of us that we literally add, subtract, multiply, and divide numbers, much less analyze Maxwell's equations. And yet physical states, not mental states, do the causal work in the materialist's universe.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

On trying to get things right: Why I think the New Atheism is bound to backfire

A redated post.

When I was a young Christian I read some anti-religious writings like those of Bertrand Russell, and I found that as brilliant as he might have been in other respects, he made no attempt to get anything right about his believing opponents.

Dawkins seems to be proud of not taking his opponents seriously. See here.

I went onto the Dawkins site and found that people who write books critical of the New Atheists referred to as fleas, and my book was mentioned as one of Dennett's fleas.

Look, I went through an entire Ph.D level education in philosophy from undergrad on up in secular philosophy departments. I can tell you that the failure to take theistic perspectives seriously in response to them left me unimpressed with the religious skepticism of many of my professors. Some, of course, were notable exception. When you read a book by Russell on why he isn't a Christian and he can't get Aquinas' cosmological argument even close to right, it makes you think that a lot of unbelief is fueled by personal hostility rather than careful evaluation. In some classes the impression I got was everyone was supposed to assume that the case against religious belief was made on the day you were absent. "Well, of course, we've grown up." "Everybody is a materialist." Etc. Etc. Etc.

At the same time, I encountered Christian after Christian of undeniable intellect and intellectual fairness. They may not be right, but I found it hard to believe that refuting them was a slam dunk.

Going around saying that the emperor has no clothes on is quite different from providing real arguments. For this reason I think the New Atheists' strategy is bound to backfire. They don't have to be nice, they do have to take the time and effort to understand positions they don't like.

People who take completely opposed positions to my own have praised my fairness. How many Dawkins opponents have said that about him?

P. S. I put the link on the title.

Reply to some questions from J on the AFR

Why can't matter...think, or possess intentionality of some type, to varying degrees ? (widely varying).

The problem is that something can count as material only if, at the basic level, there is no intentionality, no purpose, no normativity, and no subjectivity. If you want to tamper with that definition of matter, be my guest, but that seems to be built into the very idea. Remember Dennett's "no skyhooks" rule? Yet, somehow the truths about thinking have to follow necessarily from truths about what by definition MUST be nonmental. Such entailments, in my view, are bound to break down logically. We can hide the breakdown in pages and pages of neuroscientific analysis, but at the end of the day there is no entailment, no metaphysical glue that binds the mental and the physical together. Whatever glue we come up with, if we analyze it closely enough, has to come from a mind of some sort, and materialism fails.

In comparison to say, ants, rats seem nearly conscious.

Which of the four relevant properties do they have, or do they lack them all?

Does a rose bush think? It does know when to bloom... At least a rose follows a routine (even if genetically determined).

Does the thermostat in my house know how hot or cold it is?

either way the mere fact of intentional processes--or consciousness-- does not suffice as proof of monotheism...

Monotheism is one of a few options left over once naturalism is eliminated. As Lewis recognized, it is not the only one.

Russell's Syndrome

This is an excellent piece of terminology, from Janes Hannam.

Blair’s conversion led to one columnist making a fool of himself. Matthew Parris, who is usually quite sensible, has a bad case of Russell’s syndrome. Regular readers will know that this condition afflicts men and women of high intelligence who are, in most respects, indistinguishable from their fellow members of the academic elite. However, the sufferer of Russell’s Syndrome (first identified in the third Earl [Bertrand] Russell), looses (sic) all his common sense, discrimination and reason when his mind turns to religion.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

C. S. Lewis, Intellectual Honesty, and Christian Apologetics

 Ed Babinski wrote:

Oh, and here are some C. S. Lewis quotations too, since he is well known for copying the "reversal" statement from Chesterton and carrying on about how "atheists can't be too careful" when it comes to the "books they read."

But read these statements from Lewis himself . . .

"Even more disturbing as you say, is the ghastly record of Christian persecution. It had begun in Our Lord's time--'Ye know not what spirit ye are of' (John of all people!). I think we must fully face the fact that when Christianity does not make a man very much better, it makes him very much worse... Conversion may make of one who was, if no better, no worse than an animal, something like a devil."

--C. S. Lewis in a letter to Bede Griffiths, dated Dec. 20, 1961, not long before Lewis' death, The Letters of C. S. Lewis, ed., W. H. Lewis, (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1966), p. 301.

"I envy you not having to think any more about Christian apologetics. My correspondents force the subject on me again and again. It is very wearing, and not v. good for one's own faith. A Christian doctrine never seems less real to me than when I have just (even if successfully) been defending it. It is particularly tormenting when those who were converted by my books begin to relapse and raise new difficulties."

--C. S. Lewis to Mary Van Deusen, June 18, 1956 [1]

"One of the things Christians are disagreed about is the importance of their disagreements. When two Christians of different denominations start arguing, it is usually not long before one asks whether such-and-such a point 'really matters' and the other replies: 'Matter? Why, it's absolutely essential.'"

--C. S. Lewis, Preface to Mere Christianity

One of Lewis's most compelling traits was his intellectual honesty in facing difficult issues for Christianity.

I often notice the contrast between someone like Lewis, who wrote a few works of Christian apologetics upon request, and was the President of the Oxford Socratic Club because he thought it good to encourage open dialogue on these issues pertaining to the credibility of Christianity, and a professional apologist like Bill Craig. Lewis was a Medieval and Renaissance Literature scholar who had done a lot of philosophical thinking on his way to becoming a Christian, although that thinking was conditioned by the philosophical scene in Oxford in the early part of the century. His philosophical journey led him to Christianity, and he thought he should explain why he was a Christian.

Sometimes Lewis's writing resounds with a lot of intellectual confidence, and if you quote those passages alone (and more recent apologists love to quote them) you might be left with the idea that Lewis thinks the task of apologetics is a slam dunk you can pull off on your lunch hour. But at other times he comes across as someone who knows how to pose very tough questions to his own beliefs.
I talked about this some in the second chapter of CSLDI, in which I maintained that a fully developed perspective on Lewis's apologetics has to include both the Confident Apologist and the Christian Agnostic. Nobody seems to have picked up on that part of my discussion, something I find somewhat disappointing.

On a completely different matter, when you combine Lewis's exposition of the problems with Welfarism in "Is Progress Possible: Willing Slaves of the Welfare State" with his eventual acceptance of the single-payer British National Health Service, it makes his overall position stronger, not weaker. It is the same with Christianity. Lewis can see the apologetical difficulties he faces, he is honest about them, but he allows you to see how his faith and intellectual honesty can be combined. That makes his apologetics more compelling to me than the kind of apologetics (both theistic and anti-theistic) that attempts to relentlessly smash doubt at every turn, even when those apologetics are done by professional philosophers, and contain more a more polished response to philosophical issues of the day than we find in Lewis. I can always polish Lewis's philosophy. I can't impart intellectual honesty where it is missing.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The argument from reason and theism

Someone asked me why I thought that AFR supported theism. My response.

Although I mention the Wikipedia argument on my site, it's not exactly my argument. What the argument from reason shows is that the fundamental causes of the universe are mental as opposed to non-mental. This is something that It doesn't get you theism per se, and when C. S. Lewis himself accepted it, he turned, not to theism but to Absolute Idealism. In Surprised by Joy, and in Miracles chapter 11, Lewis provides independent reasons for rejecting the Absolute Idealist or the Pantheist position. He does not simply regurgitate the argument from reason.

I also emphasize this in my essay for the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology.

At the same time, if successful, it supports theism in that one it shows that one feature of a theistic world-view, namely that the source of all reality is mental and not physical, is true, and that the most popular alternative to theism, scientific naturalism, is inconsistent with the very possibility of science. I think if that can be pulled off, it's a good days' work for a philosopher.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Does Mathematical Beauty Pose Problems for Naturalism

A redated post.

Westmont College mathematiciam Russell Howell thinks that it does. This is an interesting offshoot of the argument from reason.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dembski reviews Steiner on Mathematics

This concerns the problems mathematics poses for naturalism.

Monday, April 12, 2010

C. S. Lewis on Health Care: The Rest of the Story

What would C. S. Lewis say about Obamacare? The linked piece by David Theroux, with references to Lewis's essay "Is Progress Possible: Willing Slaves of the Welfare State," shows that he would have had some concerns about it. Indeed these are the kinds of concerns that conservatives have about the effort on the part of government to help people. But that is only one side of the story. Lewis never says that governmental economic assistance is bad, only that we should count its cost.  The other side of the story is that he concluded, as a result of his correspondence with an American woman about her difficulties in getting health care in our country, that in spite of the hard things to say about the British single payer health care system, (a system that is, of course, far more socialistic than anything Obama has proposed) that it was, in the last analysis, a good idea.

In a 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."

I covered this earlier, and of course one of my commentators said that Lewis just went soft in the head. My own view is that he had a balanced perspective: he could see that the British health care system was a mixed blessing, but a blessing nevertheless. I think this is a view that is shared by British conservatives today, who never propose dismantling it, just as American conservatives never say they want to do away with Medicare. Margaret Thatcher, Reagan's counterpart in Britain, didn't try to dismantle it during her administration, in spite of her own conservatism.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

What's wrong with death panels, anyway?

The Democrats promise that a government health care system will reduce the cost of health care, but as the economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out, government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost. And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.- Sarah Palin.

Most people begin the discussion of all of this by claiming that Obama's bill isn't committed to this, and I agree. But let's pose a philosophical question. Why is such a system evil? Exactly? By what moral principles do we condemn it? Utilitarianism? Rawlsianism? Kant's theory? Relativism? Divine Command Theory?

Isn't this just like triage on MASH? 

An Internet Infidels' Review of Dawes' Theism and Explanation

Concerning an issue that I find very interesting.

Darwinian Ethics?

People who are resistant to the theory of biological evolution tend to also be those who like capitalism a lot. It didn't used to be like that. As I understand it, William Jennings Bryan, the onetime Democratic candidate for President who prosecuted John Scopes, was as concerned about the ethical implications of Darwinism as he was the religious implications, and his primary concern was precisely the kind of Darwinian reasoning that Don Blankenship, of the Massey Coal company, uses to justify blowing the tops of off mountains and smashing unions.

Lucy Van Pelt locks the doors of hell from the inside.

Have to distinguish her from Lucy Pevensie of Narnia and Lucy Ricardo of, well, you know.

HT: Bob Prokop. 

What would Chesterton say now? A passage from Orthodoxy

All I had hitherto heard of Christian theology had alienated me from it.

I was a pagan at the age of twelve, and a complete agnostic by the
age of sixteen; and I cannot understand any one passing the age
of seventeen without having asked himself so simple a question.
I did, indeed, retain a cloudy reverence for a cosmic deity
and a great historical interest in the Founder of Christianity.
But I certainly regarded Him as a man; though perhaps I thought that,
even in that point, He had an advantage over some of His modern critics.
I read the scientific and sceptical literature of my time--all of it,
at least, that I could find written in English and lying about;
and I read nothing else; I mean I read nothing else on any other
note of philosophy. The penny dreadfuls which I also read
were indeed in a healthy and heroic tradition of Christianity;
but I did not know this at the time. I never read a line of
Christian apologetics. I read as little as I can of them now.
It was Huxley and Herbert Spencer and Bradlaugh who brought me
back to orthodox theology. They sowed in my mind my first wild
doubts of doubt. Our grandmothers were quite right when they said
that Tom Paine and the free-thinkers unsettled the mind. They do.
They unsettled mine horribly. The rationalist made me question
whether reason was of any use whatever; and when I had finished
Herbert Spencer I had got as far as doubting (for the first time)
whether evolution had occurred at all. As I laid down the last of
Colonel Ingersoll's atheistic lectures the dreadful thought broke
across my mind, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian." I was
in a desperate way.
What would Chesterton say now?
It was P. Z Myers and Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris who brought me
back to orthodox theology. They sowed in my mind my first wild
doubts of doubt. Our grandmothers were quite right when they said
that Richard Carrier and the free-thinkers unsettled the mind. They do.
They unsettled mine horribly. The rationalist made me question
whether reason was of any use whatever; and when I had finished
Richard Dawkins I had got as far as doubting (for the first time)
whether evolution had occurred at all. As I laid down the last of
John W. Loftus' atheistic lectures the dreadful thought broke
across my mind, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian." I was
in a desperate way.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The black, Satanic wish

"In the world as we now know it, the problem is how to recover this self-surrender. We are not merely imperfect creatures who must be improved: we are, as Newman said, rebels who must lay down our arms. The first answer, then, to the question why our cure should be painful, is that to render back the will which we have so long claimed for our own, is in itself, wherever and however it is done, a grievous pain. Even in Paradise I have supposed a minimal self-adherence to be overcome, though the overcoming, and the yielding, would there be rapturous. But to surrender a self-will inflamed and swollen with years of usurpation is a kind of death. We all remember this self-will as it was in childhood: the bitter, prolonged rage at every thwarting, the burst of passionate tears, the black, Satanic wish to kill or die rather than to give in. Hence the older type of nurse or parent was quite right in thinking that the first step in education is 'to break the child's will'. Their methods were often wrong: but not to see the necessity is, I think, to cut oneself off from all understanding of spiritual laws. And if, now that we are grown up, we do not howl and stamp quite so much, that is partly because our elders began the process of breaking or killing our self-will in the nursery, and partly because the same passions now take more subtle forms and have grown clever at avoiding death by various 'compensations'. Hence the necessity to die daily: however often we think we have broken the rebellious self we shall still find it alive. That this process cannot be without pain is sufficiently witnessed by the very history of the word 'Mortification'…" (from Chapter 6, The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis)

Friday, April 09, 2010

Making sense of reprobation

There are a few aspects of Calvinist justifications for the doctrine of hell that deserve to be elaborated. First, Calvinists think we need to kneel before our creator and submit out moral judgments, or, as they like to say, intuitions, to Scripture. Scripture, they claim, is inerrant, and teaches both predestination and the doctrine of hell. There's an exegetical catfight involved in the Calvinist debate. They offer exegeses if 2 Pet 3:9, John 3:16, and a host of other verses which are consistent with Calvinism. Opponents of Calvinism offer explanations of Eph 1:12, Romans 9, etc.

By they way, I do not think universalism is a nonstarter from a biblical perspective. I think Tom Talbott and other evangelical universalists have a case. Maybe not a winning case, but a case.

But a mere appeal to Scripture will not provide us with elucidation or explanation as to why God might do this. Lewis's Great Divorce defense of hell makes hell at least somewhat understandable, but it requires us to have libertarian free will that God must eternally respect.

Calvinists will readily admit that God could save everyone but chooses not to.

Calvinists, so far as I can see, make three moves in defense of reprobation:

1) Hell is what everyone deserves. In fact in federal theology, we can retributively deserve hell because of the actions of Adam. But, setting that aside, we perform sinful actions which fail to give God the glory he merits by being God, and we perform these actions with compatibilist free will. We aren't forced to do them, we want to do them, therefore we do them. OK, we want to do them because God predestined that we should want to do them, but that doesn't matter, we're still guilty and deserving of punishment.

I don't think compatibilist free will is sufficient for retributive punishment, and retributive punishment by the person whose actions guaranteed that the action being punished was performed in the first place strikes me as morally perverse in the extreme. So this response doesn't make hell at all understandable to me, and I don't think my intuitions are idiosyncratic here. So, even if true, this defense doesn't provide any comprehensibility to divine reprobation.

Second, Calvinists argue that the good is ultimately God's glory, and what that amounts to is God's expression of all of his attributes. He has the attribute of lovingness, which he expresses toward the elect, and he has the attribute of wrath, which he exercises toward the lost. If God were to decree universal salvation, he would be impoverishing his own glory, since he would be exercising fewer of his attributes.

But I don't see that it gives God any glory to give him a split personality. When you love, there are certain circumstances under which wrath is an appropriate expression of love. Every parent knows that. Making wrath a separate attribute that requires "expression" in order for God to receive sufficient "glory" makes absolutely no sense to me.

Third, Calvinists argue, using the "vessels of wrath" passage in Romans 9, that God creates reprobates so that the elect can appreciate the graciousness of their own salvation. It's a little bit like the story of young John Wesley's rescue from a burning house. His mother said he was a brand plucked from the burning, and he saw himself as someone with a special mission because of that. But again, I don't see that people who have face-to-face knowledge of God would need eternally suffering object lessons. How this increases the total balance of pleasure over pain in the universe strikes me as completely unclear, and why that would be justified even if we set utiltarianism aside is also completely obscure to me. It is hard to me to think that I am any less of a Christian if, in imagining myself perceiving the sufferings of the predestined reprobate, my first response is "Why couldn't God's grace have been extended to them?" as opposed to "Praise God. There but for the grace of God go I."

Yes, yes I know. Calvinists have responded to these points. Obviously their explanations make sense to them. They make absolutely no sense to me.

So, there is no basis that I can see that makes hell at all understandable, if God could have chosen a universalist world, but didn't.

A final response I have heard is the fact that God could have a reason for reprobating people that as a human I don't understand. After all, any theist has to accept the existence of apparently unredeemed evils. But with temporal evils, we can at least conceive of a future story that redeems those evils. In the case of reprobates, the evils are irreversible. They won't be redeemed in the future history of the world.

Karl Barth once said "Belief cannot argue with non-belief, it can only preach to it." Maybe that's the situation with Calvinism and their opponents.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Thomas Talbott's case for universalism

A redated post.

This is a preview of Thomas Talbott's book The Inescapable Love of God.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

C. S. Lewis on Hell: Successful Rebels to the End

I would pay any price to be able to say truthfully "All will be saved." But my reason retorts, "Without their will, or with it?" If I say "Without their will" I at once perceive a contradiction; how can the supreme voluntary act of self-surrender be involuntary If I say "With their will," my reason replies "How if they will not give in?"

I'll tell you how. God knocks them over the head with irresistible grace, and changes their desires. Then they are going to want to commit that act of self-surrender, with perfect compatibilist freedom. But since God can do that for everybody, he will, and therefore universalism is surely true. No?  

Bible-pounding atheists

Here is a typical argument used by many atheists, the argument against Scripture.

Is this just proof-texting and bad hermeneutics? Or is there some substance to this line of argumentation?

Rewriting History and Ignoring Facts

HT: Keith Parsons.

This essay accuses the right wing of just this. Hmmm, let's see how conservatives are going to respond. I know! With a tu quoque! We can produce a litany of where liberals have rewritten history and ignored facts. That will show that there is nothing wrong with what these conservatives have done.

Well, I really do think facts matter, so it does matter to me when facts are ignored, whether by Republicans or Democrats.

After 9/11 I was willing to cut the Bush administration quite a lot of slack. I was willing to concede that if Saddam really did have WMDs, and if there was any likelihood of handing those off to al-Qaeda, that a pre-emptive war might be justified. What infuriated me was that after a search of Iraq and WMDs were not found, the Bush administration didn't say "Well, OK, we thought, based on our best evidence, that there were WMDs, but there weren't. We were mistaken, but it was an honest error, based on probable cause." I could have respected that. But what we got was a bunch of stuff about what an awful dictator Saddam was, and that "freedom is on the march." In fact, Bush shot a video mocking the fact that there were no WMDs found. It was as if the WMDs mattered, and mattered profoundly, when we were justifying the invasion, but somehow didn't matter once we actually invaded.

I think it is a besetting temptation of anyone who believes in some particular ideology to put ideology over facts and information. This can happen on both sides of the debates in theistic and Christian apologetics. I'm going to leave it open as to whether Democrats or liberals are just as guilty as Republicans and conservatives in this matter. What I am going to contend, is that this is a temptation that has to be fought.

This is from the Wikipedia entry on Reagan's Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop. Koop was an opponent of abortion who co-authored books like Whatever Happened to the Human Race with Francis Schaeffer. However,

Though Koop was philosophically opposed to abortion on personal and religious grounds, he declined to state that abortion procedures performed by qualified medical professionals posed a substantial health risk to the women whose pregnancies were being terminated, despite political pressure to endorse such a position.

In other words, facts and evidence mattered to C. Everett Koop, and he refused to subordinate them to ideology. What we need are more Koops on both sides of the aisle.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Does I Cor 15 Undercut Mind-Body Dualism

This blogger thinks so.

Are we smarter than our forbears? Emerson on Chronological Snobbery (before C. S. Lewis called it that)

Bob Prokop writes:

I found a good quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson who anticipates Lewis' condemnation of "chronological snobbery". This is from his essay "Self Reliance" (1841):

No greater men are now than ever were. A singular equality may be observed between the great men of the first and of the last ages; nor can all the science, art, religion, and philosophy of the nineteenth century avail to educate greater men than Plutarch's heroes, three or four and twenty centuries ago. Not in time is the race progressive.

Is this a first-hand report of a raising from the dead?

One of the complaints about the case for Jesus' resurrection is that none of the Gospel writers were there on the scene.

But what about this report? It certainly sounds as if Luke was there.

Acts 20: 7-12.

7On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. 8There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. 9Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. 10Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. "Don't be alarmed," he said. "He's alive!" 11Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. 12The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.

Moody on the seeing heaven and hell

Very often religious experiences are dismissed because people who have them bring expectations based on what they believed to begin with. So, Catholics see the Virgin Mary, Protestants see Jesus, Hindus see Krishna, etc. However, Raymond Moody suggests that NDEs have many elements that seem independent from the religious beliefs of those who have them.

“I have not heard a single reference to a heaven or a hell anything like the customary picture to which we are exposed in this society. Indeed, many persons have stressed how unlike their experiences were to what they had been led to expect in the course of their religious training.” Raymond Moody, Life After Life, New York: Bantam, 1976), p. 140.

Supervenience, selfhood, and physicalism

The supervenience principle (a central principle of minimal materialism) says there is no difference between possible worlds without a physical difference. But it seems to me that the world could be physically identical to this one, but the person in it who is the psychological center of it, the "me", as it were, could be living in the White House instead of in Glendale, Arizona. Or indeed, I could have lived 1000 years ago and be dead by now. There is a contingent truth that I am Victor Reppert and not some other person. For every person there seems to be a contingent fact that they happen to be in that inner world and not some other inner world. And if that is the case, then it looks to be as if there are truths about the world that are not explained by the set of physical truths.

This does seem explicable if what is at the base of reality is more like a mind than anything else. But if what is at the base of reality is more like a rock than anything else, how do these contingent facts emerge? It looks logically impossible to me.

The zombie-world

Imagine a possible world physically identical to this one in which no one is having any thoughts. Particles just move the way they move, but none of the first-person mental states that go with those physical states exist. There are no inner states, just behavior of various kinds that someone might interpret from the outside as being “mental.”

If they are just like us physically, what do we have that zombies don’t have? A soul???

Congratulations, Duke, and Butler too

This is a Final Four everyone will remember.

Monday, April 05, 2010

An argument from the Privacy of Mental States

1. Mental states are immediate, first-hand, and private.

2. Physical states are public, and available to multiple observers.

3. Therefore, mental states and physical states cannot be identical.

Allah said it, I believe it, that settles it. Or does it?

In 1994 I taught a dedicated Muslim woman who came to class every day in a hijab. I never so much as commented on her clothing. She was covered head to foot in the middle of the summer in Phoenix, Arizona. Later on that same year I had another student who was also a Muslim, from Iran. I told her about my previous student, and she told me that Muhammad taught that women should wear the hijab in order not to draw attention to themselves. However, in our culture, wearing a hijab would have the opposite effect, it would draw attention to herself. So, for the very reason that Muhammad gave for wearing the hijab, she would not wear one.

I think this illustrates a basic difference in the way revealed texts are interpreted. But which of these do you think was most faithful to Islam?

Looks like I covered this in '08, see the link.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Is being a constitutional law professor a liability for a President?

Sarah Palin thinks so.

 In these volatile times when we are a nation at war, now more than ever is when we need a commander-in-chief, not a constitutional law professor lecturing us from a lectern.

This looks like anti-intellectualism to me. Dang those pointy-headed academics.

Could I have been Obama? An argument against materialism

1. If everything is material, then all true statements about reality should follow necessarily from the set of true statements describing the physical world.

2. However, there are some statements about the world, such as “I am Dr. Reppert,” which do not follow necessarily from the set of physical world. There is a world physically identical to this one in which I am Barack Obama, not Dr. Reppert.

Therefore, not everything is material.

The Violinst Thought Experiment

This thought experiment ranks up there with the Chinese Room and the Frankfurt cases as a gift to philosophy that keeps on giving. How many philosophers have tenure today who wouldn't have it if these experiments had not been invented?

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The SLED argument against abortion

This  is an attempt to argue that humans have the right to life from conception. I would call it the No Morally Relevant Difference argument. The idea is that once conception occurs, fetuses and born infants differ in four ways: born infants are larger in size, they are at a higher level of development, they have moved from the environment of the womb to the environment outside the womb, and they move from a greater degree of dependency to a lesser degree of dependency. However, all of these differences are a matter of degree, and none of them provides a basis for treating the fetus as lacking a right to life while affirming the born infant's right to life. Therefore, unless we want to draw the line on the basis of convenience, we have to draw the line at conception.

I don't know if this works or not. One commentator noted that at the beginning there is no brain activity and therefore, presumably, no sentience, and that should make a difference as to whether a fetus has the right to life.We should also be hearing music from that famous violinist right about now.

It is remarkable, in spite of the demographic tendency of pro-lifers to come primarily from conservative religions, and pro-choicers to come from religious liberals or secularists, the secular character of the central arguments in the abortion controversy.