Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Difference between Christianity and Islam

Governments in the West, even when the leaders are devout believers, accept some for of the separation of church and state. This has not always been the case, of course. But Christianity never tells you how to run the government. The New Testament was written when Christians had no political power whatsoever. With Islam, however, it's different. That is a religion that is written for people in power.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Does the End (of Faith) Justify the Means? It could for some people

People do turn atheism in to a cause for which they could potentially be willing to kill or die for. People can have the same kind of devotion to atheism that they have to any religion. They can believe that "the end of faith" is a goal worth pursuing. They can conclude that this end (of faith) justifies the means. People sometimes assume that heaven and hell make fanaticism possible, and since they are missing on atheism, it isn't possible to be a fanatical atheist. In Communism there was an equivalent to heaven, it was the socialist paradise promised by Marx, and people did kill and die for that. Hell for some atheists seems to be the obstruction of scientific progress, or religious taboos against certain types of sex behavior.

It is also possible for atheists to disregard solid evidence because of their anti-religious convictions. I see little difference between Todd Akin's refusal to accept the existence of pregnancies produced by rape and Richard Dawkins' claim that a religious upbringing does more harm that child sexual abuse. In both cases, the evidence against these claims is overwhelming, but ideology trumps inconvenient facts in both cases.

I do think that the Columbine case underscores another point, that the abandonment of traditional religious belief will not necessarily produce cheerful humanists. I remember when I was growing up there was a 18-year-old boy who killed 5 women with a knife at a beauty parlor, and what people could remember of him from high school was that he was an atheist. Now, there's nothing inevitable about this, but there is a route from atheism to nihilism to murder, and there is also the possibility of crimes of fanaticism to serve the end of faith and the advancement and glorification of science. Of course, there is also the religious justification for the 9/11 attacks, and for the crusades and wars of religion, but these are also not inevitable.

Monday, August 27, 2012

A critique of Lewis's "Why I am not a Pacifist"

Although Lewis was not a pacifist, Stanley Hauerwas thinks he should have been.

HT: Bob Prokop

Why couldn't there be mass killings in the name of atheism?

When atheists were in control of governments, in the Communist world, there was plenty of mass killing. You can certainly be a racist with or without religion. (Hitler didn't exterminate Jews for religious reasons, for examples). Human nature, not religion, seems to be the reason why we do evil things to one another. Ideologies, religious or otherwise, can serve as a pretext. But at least with Christianity, killing without justification is against one of the Ten Commandments.

If you  thought that the worst thing in the world was religion, you thought the end justified the means, and you had the power to do something to get rid of it, you could decide to commit atrocities to free the world of religion. Why couldn't this happen? What is there about the rejection of religion that would prevent this? Doesn't all the evidence point the other way? Why think atheism would give us all nothing to kill or die for? 

No one has ever come close to explaining to me how the abandonment of religion would do anything to eliminate man's humanity to man. 

Were the Robber Barons a myth

A lot of people look at the late 19th Century as a time when out of control capitalism led to the exploitation of the common people. This essay suggests that this is am myth.

Does religion require commitment to the supernatural?

Apparently not. 

These are the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism:   

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Hasker on Dennett's Dangerous Dogmatic Presupposition

A redated post. 

William Hasker, in the preface to The Emergent Self,(Cornell, 1999) x, wrote:

But there is one kind of approach to these issues that is unlikely to be affected by the views and arguments contained in this book. As an example of this approach, (though by no means not the only one) we may take Daniel Dennett, as he presents himself in his essay in A Companion to the Philosophy of Mind (Blackwell, 1995). He tells us that, having come to distrust the methods employed by other philosophers, he decided that "before I could trust my intuitions about the mind, I had to figure out how the brain could possibly accomplish the mind's work." This means accepting, right from the outset that the brain is a "syntactic engine" that mimics the competence of "semantic engines. (How we mere syntactic engines could ever know what a semantic engine might be is not addressed). All this is dictated by an "initial the physical sciences and the third-person point of view," an allegiance which in turn is justified by appeal to an evolutionary perspective. The foundational commitment to mechanistic materialism is unmistakable. This commitment is subsequently refined and elaborated, but it is never subjected to a fundamental re-evaluation; rather, data that conflict with it are dismissed as illusory. ("This conviction that I, on the inside, deal directly with meanings turns out to be something rather like a benign 'user illusion.'") In view of this, it seems appropriate to characterize Dennett's physicalism as a dogmatic presupposition--and such dogmatism is hardly rendered benign by the fact that it is fairly widespread in the philosophy-of-mind community.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Can atheists and believers both be right?

 Let's take a simple case where most people would want to avoid being relativists. Let's take the claim that the world is round. If someone thought the earth was flat, and then went around the world on a ship, it looks as if the sensible conclusion would be that they were in error about that, that the thought the earth was flat, but it turns out to be round.

Now, let's try something else. We may be unsure as to who committed the Jack the Ripper murders, since the case was never solved. But we do know that someone did. That seems to suggest to me that even in cases where we don't have sufficient evidence that something is true, sufficient to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt, we still believe that someone is right about it. Thus, many people believe that O. J. Simpson killed Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, even though the jury didn't think there was enough evidence for a conviction.

Of course, being right doesn't mean being justified in one's belief. Thus, I can get the right answer to a math problem by guessing. It's still the right answer, even if the teacher doesn't give me credit for it because I didn't show my work.

Now let's consider a scenario in the matter of religious belief. Suppose a person were to be an atheist throughout their lives, and a person who does not believe in life after death (as almost all atheists do). Suppose this atheist were to die, but continue to exist, and were then to experience the presence of a very powerful being on a white throne (let's say), and that being on the throne were to ask the atheist why he did not believe in his existence during his lifetime. (We can imagine this atheist being sent to overheated living quarters thereafter). Wouldn't the sensible think for this atheist to say be that those darned Christians were right after all?

The problem of prior time

Here is Graham Oppys response to some Craig's claims about the Kalam argument.

Grünbaum (1990) (1991) worries about the propriety of the claim, that the universe began to exist, in the context of classical Big Bang models of the origins of the universe. In particular, he considers two cases: (i) models which are closed at the Big Bang instant t=0, in which t=0 is the location of a singular, temporally first event in the history of the universe; and (ii) models which are open at the Big Bang instant t=0, in which there is no singular, temporally first event in the history of the universe.
In connection with the first type of model, Grünbaum observes that it is misleading to say that in these models the universe began because this suggests that there were moments of time before t=0. Craig (1992:237f.) objects that "x begins to exist" should not be analysed as "x exists at time t and there are times immediately prior to t at which x does not exist", but rather as "x exists at t and there is no time immediately prior to t at which x exists." Of course, this analysis would commit Craig to the unwanted claim that God began to exist--since, on the theistic version of this model, there is no time immediately prior to t=0 at which God exists--so Craig further suggests that, within a theistic context, the analysis should be amended to "x exists at t; there is no time immediately prior to t at which x exists; and the actual world contains no state of affairs involving x's timeless existence." But this amended suggestion invokes the extremely puzzling notion of "(God's) timeless existence." Moreover, even the unamended analysis naturally provokes the question whether anything which begins to exist in this sense must have a cause.

Here's a key issue that comes up in Kalam debates. Does the idea that everything that begins to exist must have a cause of its existence hold up if there is, as standard BBT postulates, that there is no time prior to the first event.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Why a Catholic secretly roots for atheists in theist/atheist debates


Why? Because he keeps hoping to see some real arguments.

What I was wholly unprepared for, however, was the way in which the Atheist team consistently abandons the effort to present logical arguments at all and simply reverts to name calling. As I said, when faced with worthy opponents, such as Dr. Craig or Dinesh D’Souza, many of the atheist debaters give up any effort to mount rational arguments and just start making snide remarks.

Never happens here at DI. :)

Now, I have heard theist-atheist debates in which atheists have produced real arguments.

HT: Bob Prokop

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Stanford Encyclopedia Entry on Modal Logic

Here is the Stanford Encyclopedia entry on Modal Logic. There is no mention that I can see that it is even used in theology or philosophy of religion.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sceptical non-theism

Apparently, it's hard to know what worlds are possible even without theism. See here, by Alexander Pruss.

HT: Crude

Friday, August 17, 2012

Human benevolence and the problem of evil

A redated post.

As for how it is possible to believe that humans ought to alleviate suffering but God may be justified in permitting it, it is to be remembered that humans have a far narrower purview of considerations than God does. We do the best we can with no knowledge, for example, of how our actions will affect the free choices of people living 50 years from now, but God knows how those choices will be affected and may choose to do something that seems bad now in order to improve the situation with respect to the situation 50 years from now and 100 years from now.

If we eliminate certain diseases, we cannot be absolutely sure that they will not make the world a worse place in the long run. But to the best of our knowledge, they will cause an improvement of human life. Would you cure smallpox if you knew that if you didn't cure it, Hitler's mother would die of smallpox and the world would be spared the Holocaust? You don't have those things to think about, because you are a human with limited knowledge. God's knowledge is not limited (unless you're an open theist, in which case God's knowledge is still a whole lot less limited than yours is!)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Is there an argument from beauty to God

A redated post.

Mark Wynn, following up on F. R. Tennant, thinks that this is so. It is a type of design argument.

Lewis, Secular Marriage and Christian Marriage

C. S. Lewis wrote:

“Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is the quite different question-how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mahommedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognise that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.”

This passage suggests that we should operate with two distinct conceptions of marriage, and that we should not be looking to the government to uphold the Christian conception. While this does not provide a case for same sex marriage, it does undercut certain ways of arguing against it. Some people argue that there is a univocal conception of marriage ordained by God when he created Adam and Eve (not Adam and Steve), and that that conception must be upheld by government. A person can start an affair, divorce his wife, and then marry the person he is having an affair with, and if he does so, the government asks only if the divorce was executed legally. Despite being the "guilty party" in the collapse of his prior marriage, he is free to marry again.  If we go with Lewis on this, government is free to decide who is married and who is not as it sees fit for its own purposes, and this may or may not fit with what Christian church might believe. So, opponents of gay marriage need to find another line of argument. 

I've always considered government to be a poor guardian of the sacred institution of marriage. I would expect that people who think government should be limited would recognize the limitations of government in this. 

Here is a blog post to the same effect. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Socrates in the Service of Christ

By Angus Menuge.

Argument has a life of its own: what believer-unbeliever dialogue should look like

Here is Lewis's essay on the founding of the Oxford Socratic Club. I am redating this post.

"We never claimed to be impartial. But argument is. It has a life of its own. We expose ourselves, and the weakest of our party, to your fire no less than you are exposed to ours... The arena is common to both parties and cannot finally be cheated." 

C. S. Lewis, "The Founding of the Oxford Socratic Club."

Engagement in real dialogue about matters of religious faith is an act of faith. One must be so sincerely convinced of what one believes that one is prepared to trust one's ideas to the forum of open intellectual dialogue, playing as fair as it is possible to play. We have to trust that dialogue will be rational even if the people who engage in it are not. Honest philosophy and theology has to come first, the conversions have to be a by-product. Though I like seeing people embrace the positions I embrace as much as the next person.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Attention Gnus (you too Loftus): The appeal to ridicule is a fallacy

See here.

Hambourger's design argument

Hambourger argues that even if there is no evidence of interference by a designer in the course of evolution, we have to consider the fact that living creatures are made up of genetic material that reproduces after its kind, but not exactly. We could have reproduction that only produces exact duplicates, in which case evolution would be impossible, since there would be no variation. We could also have genetic material that changes very rapidly, in which case speciation would be chaotic, and evolution would also be impossible. That fact that genetic material changes gradually is the only scenario that makes evolution possible. But why did we happen to have genetic material that mutates at just the right pace? Doesn't that imply a background designer?

For some critical comment, see here. 

C. S. Lewis was never a real atheist

A redated post.

According to this essay from an online secular humanist site, which indulges extensively in the "horse laugh" fallacy.

This reminds me of something. Oh I know. Those Christians who say that if you deconvert, you never were a Christian to begin with.

Monday, August 06, 2012

An old AFR interview

Here's an interview I did on the AFR way back in 2006. My segment starts aroung minute 48.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

A sound argument for the unmoved mover?

Here. Someone was asking if the First Way was still alive. But no one paid attention to this post I did a few weeks back.

Friday, August 03, 2012

More on reductios and the AFe

I'm Skeptical wrote: 

If I understand Victor's position, a skeptic can't defend the argument from evil unless he concedes that there are objective moral values. This is a parlor trick. It's equivalent to saying that if I want to make the statement "If A then B" I must first concede that A is true.

If you accept Victor's position, why not take the same logic one step further and demand that the skeptic concede that God exists before he can defend AE?

VR: No, you don't understand my position. I admitted that reductio versions of the argument from evil are possible, even for those who don't believe in moral objectivity.  The problem is going to arise when the atheist/subjectivist tries to defend the moral premise of the argument. The subjectivist can't appeal to his own value theory to argue about what it is for God to be good. 

Let's take this statement from Rowe:

An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

Now, does  theist necessarily have to believe this? And if they do believe it, do they have to agree with the atheist about what would be a greater good or the prevention of some evil equally bad or worse? If there are any value-theoretic conflicts, someone committed to objective moral values can argue that the theist's value system is faulty. They can argue that the theist has some misplaced values, and in particular, perhaps, undervalues the prevention of intense suffering and makes inflates the legitimacy of other values which, he argues, are not sufficient justifiers for intense suffering. A subjectivist can't do that. The logic of his argument forces him to concede the value-theoretic position of his theist opponent at every turn, since he cannot

The most serious objection to this line of argument comes in the Mark Nelson  post, from Thrasymachus. I will need a separate post to respond to that. 

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Reductios and the argument from evil

This links to a bunch of posts I did on the topic of the argument from evil as a reductio. What happens when someone who doesn't believe in moral objectivity defends the argument from evil?

The problem arises when the argument requires are fairly finely tuned moral claim. Someone might say "If God is good, then he can't allow gratuitous suffering. The theist answers "Why? What's wrong with permitting gratuitous suffering?" The atheist can't say that it's objectively wrong for God to do that, so he has to argue that the theist believes that it is wrong for God to do that? The atheist then has to work from inside the moral belief system of the person with whom he is arguing. But moral belief-systems amongst theists, and even Christians differ from one another.

Calvinists think that God is justified in creating people for the sake of reprobating them in hell forever, for the sake of God's own glory. I happen to disagree with them, but I believe in objective moral values. How can a subjectivist argue with them?