Sunday, October 12, 2014

Political Action by Atheists: Why Gnus are Different

Apparently, it is having an impact over in England. For example, Christian couples have been denied the right to adopt on grounds that the children might be brainwashed. Here. 

Being told you can't adopt a child because of what you believe about religions strikes me as an extreme form of anti-religious discrimination.  Jim Crow returns in the name of reason and science.

One would have to wonder what would happen if Richard Dawkins had a son or daughter who, say, decided to be received into the Catholic Church. Would he say "Well, we taught you to think for yourself, and this is what you have decided. I don't agree personally, but far be it from me to brainwash you and make your decision for you."


A lot of Christians on this site respond differently to New Atheists than they do to other atheists, I think there is a reason for this. New Atheism is socially divisive in a way that Old Atheism is not. Even in discussions with some passionate atheists, I always had the feeling that there was a common purpose underlying the exchange, a desire to understand our differences better. I think that common purpose is lost with New Atheism.

Even strongly atheistic philosophy professors would tell me that the presence of Christians like Plantinga, Swinburne, and Robert and Marilyn Adams were good for philosophy.

I think that New Atheists have contributed nothing of substance to argumentation for and against the existence of God. So, in one sense, a successful critique of New Atheist arguments shouldn't be confused with a successful critique of atheist arguments in general. But New Atheism has to be recognized for what it is as a social phenomenon, and I find very harmful.

If I stopped believing in God tomorrow.....

I would certainly NOT become a humanist. 

I think I'd probably agree with Albert Camus, when he said 

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest — whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories — comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer. And if it is true, as Nietzsche claims, that a philosopher, to deserve our respect, must preach by example, you can appreciate the importance of that reply, for it will precede the definitive act. These are facts the heart can feel; yet they call for careful study before they become clear to the intellect.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

On the suppression of religion

What I implied, I-S, is that Stenger has a motivation for using force to suppress religious belief, not that he has an advocated using it. Christianity doesn't teach that violence should be used to suppress opposing beliefs, but it is quite true that people who think that there is a great deal of stake in maintaining a particular religion have a motive for using force if the opportunity presents itself. 

Christianity also, it seems to me provides the basis for arguments against using force on its behalf. 

Of course, I can't be sure what people would do in a situation that they do not in fact find themselves in. Stenger seems to think unbelief is winning, so violence won't be necessary, as it was not necessary in the European countries that serve as his example. But I hear from people like him a kind of urgency about winning people for unbelief that goes like this: 

"We are on the cusp of history. We can either abandon faith and embrace science, or we can hold on to faith and retreat to a new dark age. Everything depends on which way we turn at this critical time in history. That is why we have to work hard to achieve the end of faith, so the new Golden Age can be inaugurated, as opposed to a retreat into the benighted past."

When someone talks like this, I have to wonder what they would NOT do to make sure we turn the right way, if they were given the opportunity. On what basis would they refuse to use whatever power they had at their disposal to make sure we abandon faith. It seems to me that such people have the motive in spades. What would happen if they had the means and opportunity, to become the atheist equivalents of Grand Inquisitors? The fact that they don't advocate the use of force is not very comforting, since they don't have the means to use force if they wanted to. The fact that some of them already advocate treating those they disagree with in ways that remind me a lot of the schoolyard bullies I dealt with in grade school is even less reassuring. If the end is so important, what means will not be justified? 

Monday, October 06, 2014

Plantinga Reviews Dennett

Isn't that what we're all waiting for? Well, he hasn't reviewed the new one yet, but here is a Plantinga "golden oldie" while you wait.

Here's the interesting part of the paper, concerning Dennett's rebuttal to the fine tuning argument.

Dennett's rejoinder to the argument is that possibly, "there has been an evolution of worlds (in the sense of whole universes) and the world we find ourselves in is simply one among countless others that have existed throughout all eternity." And given infinitely many universes, Dennett thinks, all the possible distributions of values over the cosmological constants would have been tried out; [ 7 ] as it happens, we find ourselves in one of those universes where the constants are such as to allow for the development of intelligent life (where else?).

Well, perhaps all this is logically possible (and then again perhaps not). As a response to a probabilistic argument, however, it's pretty anemic. How would this kind of reply play in Tombstone, or Dodge City? "Waal, shore, Tex, I know it's a leetle mite suspicious that every time I deal I git four aces and a wild card, but have you considered the following? Possibly there is an infinite succession of universes, so that for any possible distribution of possible poker hands, there is a universe in which that possibility is realized; we just happen to find ourselves in one where someone like me always deals himself only aces and wild cards without ever cheating. So put up that shootin' arn and set down 'n shet yore yap, ya dumb galoot." Dennett's reply shows at most ('at most', because that story about infinitely many universes is doubtfully coherent) what was never in question: that the premises of this argument from apparent design do not entail its conclusion. But of course that was conceded from the beginning: it is presented as a probabilistic argument, not one that is deductive valid. Furthermore, since an argument can be good even if it is not deductively valid, you can't refute it just by pointing out that it isn't deductively valid. You might as well reject the argument for evolution by pointing out that the evidence for evolution doesn't entail that it ever took place, but only makes that fact likely. You might as well reject the evidence for the earth's being round by pointing out that there are possible worlds in which we have all the evidence we do have for the earth's being round, but in fact the earth is flat. Whatever the worth of this argument from design, Dennett really fails to address it.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A review of Adam Barkmans "C. S. Lewis and Philosophy as a Way of Life"

C. S. Lewis’s work is certainly varied, from children’s fantasy fiction, to science fiction, to scholarly writings in English literature, to Christian apologetics, and of course this is only the beginning. Most of this work has philosophical relevance to a greater or lesser extent. While some attention has been paid to Lewis as a philosopher in recent years, in general I would have to say that, for the most part, Lewis has been neglected even by Christian philosophers.
Some of Lewis’s critics would attribute this to the fact that while Lewis was capable of powerful rhetoric, the philosophical thinking underlying his writings is shallow, superficial, and prone to fallacy. Such is the verdict of John Beversluis’s C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion. Now, Beversluis apparently considers the Christian theism that Lewis defends to be in error. But other philosophers who indeed embrace Lewis’s overall philosophical perspective often find him difficult to bring into contemporary philosophical debate. This is partly because Lewis’s writings are not typically written for an audience of philosophers, and also because philosophical style and terminology is subject to change. A professional philosophical culture has developed in the Anglo-American world that was not present when Lewis was getting his philosophical training, and Lewis didn’t consider it has calling to address that culture. This makes Lewis something of a misfit from the point of view of present-day philosophy. He is, I believe, closer to what we today would call analytic philosophy than he is to Continental philosophy, and yet his work doesn’t fit the framework of contemporary analytic philosophy either.
People who want to make use of Lewis’s work in the context of contemporary philosophy have to do a certain amount of translating. Lewis’s argument from reason, for example, today meets with objections based on cognitive science, or supervenience theory, or functionalism, or eliminativism, all concepts that Lewis would not have known about in his time. Hence, in my work defending the argument, Lewis provides the basic idea and the starting point, but I have to develop the argument to make it responsive to current philosophical developments.
Some critical readers of Lewis’s apologetics focus on certain sharply-worded passages which seem to make Christian apologetics look easy, indeed easier than it really is. Yet an acquaintance with Lewis’s overall work leaves us firmly convinced that his convictions were reached at the end of a long, hard process. That process seems indeed to have been a process of long philosophical reflection. While philosophers such as myself have concentrated on bringing Lewis’s arguments into play in contemporary philosophy, Adam Barkman has taken a different path, and that path primarily involves tracing out Lewis’s philosophical journey, and trying to understand the philosophical positions he takes through the lens of that journey.
The first step in that process is to replace a narrowly professional conception of philosophy with the idea of philosophy as a way of life. It is this concept of philosophy that Plato would have understood, as opposed to the idea that a philosopher is someone who has a job with a philosophy department and delivers papers to APA meetings on a regular basis.
Barkman’s second step is to trace out Lewis’s philosophical journey leading up to his conversion to Christianity, a conversion he frequently described as an almost purely philosophical conversion. We now have access to a comprehensive set of Lewis letters, and other biographical material that Lewis scholars of previous generations could only dream about, and Barkman makes good use of them to reconstruct this story. Barkman claims that Lewis’s own account of his conversion story in Surprised by Joy actually downplays the philosophical content of his conversion for the sake of his audience. (I should note that, in spite of this, you can see Lewis’s philosophical wheels turning even in that book. For example, in Lewis’s account of his rejection of what he there calls Realism we see the biographical basis of his Argument from Reason). The starting point for Barkman’s study is from an account of Lewis’s own development found in his preface to Pilgrim’s Regress, he offers an account of the philosophical content of the stages of his conversion:
'On the intellectual side my own progress had been from 'popular realism' to Philosophical Idealism; from Idealism to Pantheism; from Pantheism to Theism; and from Theism to Christianity.1

However, Barkman finds this summary somewhat incomplete. “Popular realism” has to be identified as a metaphysical materialism. Barkman also identifies a “metaphysical dualist” phase in 1918 which is left out of this account. Third, a distinction has to be drawn between Lucretian materialism and Stoical materialism. When Lewis became an idealist, he oscillated between subjective idealism and absolute idealism, identifying only absolute idealism with pantheism. In fact, he thinks there were seven stages on Lewis’s way: Lucretian Materialism, Pseudo-Manichean Dualism, Stoical Materialism, Subjective Idealism, Absolute Idealism, Theism, and Neoplatonic Christianity.
At this point it pays to pause and consider how different the philosophical climate is today than it was in this time. Many debates in philosophy or religion are conducted between people who accept some version of materialism and those who accept some kind of theism, and idealisms of whatever sort are not currently on the map. When Lewis rejected materialism, he became, not a theist, but an idealist, and then after that found reasons for becoming a theist.
Once the template of these various positions is laid out, he proceeds to use them to trace Lewis’s development as it concerns various ideas, such as heavenly desire, myth, culture, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and politics. The insights he provides from a chronological perspective are worthwhile certainly. Sometimes, he defends Lewis’s central claims, such as when he defends the argument from desire. And sometimes, he is critical, as when he discusses the so-called “trilemma” argument, where he takes the view that the argument is at best very incomplete, since it merely assumes that Jesus made claims to his own divinity.
The book is long, (611 pages) and it takes work to get something out of it. But it will reward those who study it carefully.

1 C. S. Lewis, the preface to the third edition of The Pilgrim’s Regress, in C. S. Lewis: Selected Books (Short Edition) (1933 reprint; London, Harper Collins, 2002), 5.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Why Lewis Wouldn't Buy the Computer Argument From Peter S. Williams' "Why Naturalists Should Mind about Physicalism, and Vice Versa

A redated post.

C. S. Lewis lived before computers became the major force that they are now. I think he would not be impressed by the argument that
1) We know that computers are purely material systems.
2) We know that computers reason.
3) Therefore we know that material systems are capable of reasoning.

The reason he would not be impressed is that while computers do the "ratio" part of rational inference very well, the "intellectus" aspect is not to be found in the computer system itself, but is rather a "put in" by human programmers and builders.

I presented Lewis description of the reasoning process in another post, about what he presents in "Why I am Not a Pacifist." It puzzles me somewhat that Lewis didn't spell out exactly what he thought was involved in a rational inference when we was using rational inference to attack naturalism.

The following is from Peter Williams' essay presenting an argument from mind against materialism. See the Lewis quote, which connects to footnote 35 below.

Being Rational

A computer can mimic certain aspects of what scholastic philosophy dubbed "the third act of the mind" [29] ; that is "reasoning, calculating." [30] This "third act" is the whole of what people today tend to mean by "reason", and this corresponds to the old French "Raisoner", meaning "to think connectedly or logically". [31] We can define "the third act of the mind", reason in the French sense, as:

‘The manipulation in thought of beliefs and premises according to the principles of logic, by virtue of which they may be seen in their logical connections, and conclusions may be reached.’

Raisoner is subsumed under the broader Latin definition of "reason" (from the Latin ‘ratio, - on’, meaning "reckoning, judgement, understanding. . ." [32] ), which corresponds to the scholastic taxonomy of three "acts of the mind":

a) "simple apprehension",

b) judgement, and

c) reasoning [i.e. raisoner]. [33]

It is the first act of the mind that constitutes intellectus: "intellect (intelligere) is the simple (i.e. indivisible, uncompounded) grasp of an intelligible truth, whereas reasoning (ratiocinari) is the progression towards an intelligible truth by going from one understood (intellecto) point to another." [34] Thus:

"We are enjoying intellectus when we ‘just see’ a self-evident [basic] truth; we are exercising ratio when we proceed step by step to prove a truth which is not self-evident. A cognitive life in which all truth can be simply ‘seen’ would be the life of an intelligentia, an angel. A life of unmitigated ratio where nothing was simply ‘seen’ and all had to be proved, would presumably be impossible; for nothing can be proved if nothing is self-evident. Man’s mental life is spent labouriously connecting those frequent, but momentary, flashes of intelligentia which constitute intelluctus." [35]

The first act of the mind, simple apprehension or understanding, contains a subset that has been termed the sapiential sense:

"It is our ability to know these indemonstrable but indisputable truths that, for want of a "cleaner" phrase, we call sapiential sense. Sapiential sense is the mind’s ability to "see" the truths that constitute reality, grasp things as they are in themselves. The "seeing" of these truths transcends the scope of the scientific method (which is limited to the data of the senses) and of logic (which is limited to "unpacking" the conclusions already contained in premises). "Knowledge," writes Illtyd Trethowan, "is basically a matter of seeing things. . . arguments, reasoning processes, are of secondary importance and this not only because without direct awareness or apprehension no process of thought could get underway at all, but also because the point of these processes is to promote further apprehensions."’ [36]

Each act of the mind builds upon and includes the one before. For, "Knowledge supposes a judgement, explicit or implicit." [37] Judgement involves the "simple apprehension" [38] of understanding; and reasoning requires judgement, and thus understanding, which includes "apprehension, intellectual intuition, understanding, "seeing", insight, contemplation." [39] Rational beings are therefore beings capable of employing all three acts of the mind, for "What we cannot understand we cannot believe; and what we cannot believe we cannot know." [40] I therefore define reason, in its widest, Latin sense, as:

‘The discerning apprehension of truths which may be manipulated according to the principles of logic, by virtue of which they may be seen in their logical connections, and conclusions may be reached.’

Reason is thus: ‘the combined operation of understanding, judgement, and raisoner in search of truth.’ It is my claim that all three acts of the mind are immaterial and that the human mind is therefore more than material.

While a computer manipulates propositions according to the principles of logic, it does not, I suggest, do this "in thought", as is necessary to the possession of the third act of the mind as defined above. Nor does it posses either the first act, "understanding", or the second act, "judgement". In other words, while computers undoubtedly posses part of the abilities of mind, it is my belief that they do not have mind. Thus I do not think a computer can have beliefs, or, consequently, knowledge. In this I agree with John Polkinghorne who writes that, "The human mind is indeed a computer. . . but it is much more than that - we can also "see", or understand.", and thus that, "The exercise of reason is the activity of persons and it cannot be delegated to computers, however cleverly programmed." [41] This means that it is impossible to view the human mind as nothing but a biological computer.

As Aristotle argued, "Seeing is an act of the eye, but understanding is not an act of our brain. It is an act of our mind – an immaterial element in our makeup that may be related to, but is distinct from, the brain as a material organ." [42]

Determinism, Free Will and Moral Responsibility

Physicalism implies determinism, in that the mind is seen as being identical with the brain, which is a natural, physical system running according to the laws of nature. As C.S.Lewis wrote:

"If Naturalism is true, every finite thing or event must be (in principle) explicable in terms of the Total System. . . If any one thing should be such that we see in advance the impossibility of ever giving it that kind of explanation, then Naturalism would be in ruins. . . For by Naturalism we mean the doctrine that only Nature – the whole interlocking system – exists. And if that were true, every thing and event would, if we knew enough, be explicable without remainder. . . as a necessary product of the system." [43]

Reasons to doubt the truth of determinism are therefore also reasons to doubt the truth of naturalism and physicalism.

One reason to doubt determinism (and thus physicalism) is that it causes severe problems for our concepts of morality. It is not up to the stone whether or not it falls to earth if I throw it into the air. Given certain conditions (being thrown into the air, gravity, etc.) the stone will fall back to earth. The stone has no freedom to do anything other than what it is caused to do; its activity is determined by causes over which it has no control. If humans lack free will, then our actions fall into exactly the same category as the action of a falling stone. We would have no freedom to do otherwise than we are caused to do by causes outside of our control (indeed, we would have no ‘control’ at all). If we are thus determined, does it make any sense to retain belief in moral obligation? A moral obligation is something you ought to do, something you should do; but what use is there for concepts like ‘he ought to do this’ and ‘she should do that’ in a world where every human action is a ‘has to do’? [44]

We face a choice: either to accept determinism and dump moral obligation, or to retain belief in moral obligation and dump determinism. If we dump determinism, then we must also dump naturalism and physicalism, because naturalism and physicalism entail determinism: "It is safe to say that physicalism requires a radical revision of our common-sense notions of freedom, moral obligation, responsibility, and punishment. On the other hand, if these common-sense notions are true, physicalism is false." [45]

[29] Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, (Monarch, 1995).

[30] ibid.

[31] T.F.Hoad, Dictionary of Etymology. "When ratio is. . . distinguished from intellectus, it is, I take it, very much what we mean by ‘reason’ today; that is, as Johnson defines it, ‘The power by which man deduces one proposition from another, or proceeds from premises to consequences’." – C.S.Lewis, The Discarded Image, (Cambridge), p157-158.

[32] ibid.

[33] Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, op cit.

[34] Thomas Aquinas, quoted by C.S.Lewis, The Discarded Image, p157.

[35] C.S.Lewis, The Discarded Image, p157.

[36] Roy Abraham Varghese, Great Thinkers On Great Questions, (OneWorld), Introduction, p5-6.

[37] ‘Knowledge’, The Catholic Encyclopaedia @

[38] Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, op cit.

[39] ibid: "We just "see" (in a nonvisual sense of the term) that certain things are true, or that one thing follows from another." (Everitt & Fisher, Modern Epistemology, p4)

[40] Robert Audi, Epistemology – a contemporary introduction, (Routledge), p183.

[41] John Polkinghorne, Reason and Reality, (SPCK), p10.

[42] Mortimer J. Adler, Aristotle for Everybody, (Simon & Schuster, 1997), p183-184.

[43] C.S.Lewis, Miracles, (Fount), p16, my italics.

[44] The existence of objective moral obligations forms one premise of the moral argument for the existence of God as the only possible source of such obligations, a conclusion that contradicts naturalism.

[45] Habermas & Moreland, op cit, p60.
This is the passage from "Why I am Not a Pacifist"

C. S. Lewis's Description of Rational Inference
VR: Although C. S. Lewis criticized naturalism by arguing that it is inconsistent with the possibility of rational inference, he didn't give the kind of full description of rational inference that he gives in an essay entitled "Why I am Not a Pacifist," which contains no argument against naturalism at all. It is found in The Weight of Glory, p. 34.

"Now any concrete train of reasoning involves three elements: Firstly, there is the reception of facts to reason about. These facts are received either from our own senses, or from the report of other minds; that is, either experience or authority supplies us with our material. But each man’s experience is so limited that the second source is the more usual; of every hundred facts upon which to reason, ninety-nine depend on authority. Secondly, there is the direct, simple act of the mind perceiving self-evident truth, as when we see that if A and B both equal C, then they equal each other. This act I call intuition. Thirdly, there is an art or skill of arranging the facts so as to yield a series of such intuitions, which linked together produce, a proof of the truth of the propositions we are considering. This in a geometrical proof each step is seen by intuition, and to fail to see it is to be not a bad geometrician but an idiot. The skill comes in arranging the material into a series of intuitable “steps”. Failure to do this does not mean idiocy, but only lack of ingenuity or invention. Failure to follow it need not mean idiocy, but either inattention or a defect of memory which forbids us to hold all the intuitions together.”

The power of intuition, the second step, seems to be the most difficult to account for in naturalistic terms.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The inventor of the Courtier's Reply Cancels his Dawkins Fan Club Membership


The humanist delusion: denying the cat

People often maintain that atheists are necessarily going to be humanists. Atheist Luke Muehlhauser disagrees, but his complaint seems to be about the implied speciesism. 

I have a different kind of issue. I think that, historically, when people cease to believe in God, they often come to accept a kind of unjustified confidence in humans and human nature. The best example I can think of is Marx. Marx somehow thought that, in a godless world, the"dialectic of matter" would lead naturally, without divine interference, to the human race evolving a perfect classless and stateless society. It was like a replacement for the Christian Kingdom of God, but with no God to bring it in. 

Or let's look at Humanist Manifesto II, which supposedly was the chastened replacement for the original Humanist Manifesto, after Hitler and Stalin had wreaked enormous damage on the world. But in that Manifesto they wrote: 

TWELFTH: We deplore the division of humankind on nationalistic grounds. We have reached a turning point in human history where the best option is to transcend the limits of national sovereignty and to move toward the building of a world community in which all sectors of the human family can participate. Thus we look to the development of a system of world law and a world order based upon transnational federal government.  (Italics mine) This would appreciate cultural pluralism and diversity. It would not exclude pride in national origins and accomplishments nor the handling of regional problems on a regional basis. Human progress, however, can no longer be achieved by focusing on one section of the world, Western or Eastern, developed or underdeveloped. For the first time in human history, no part of humankind can be isolated from any other. Each person's future is in some way linked to all. We thus reaffirm a commitment to the building of world community, at the same time recognizing that this commits us to some hard choices.

And that would mean the advent to TRS, the Transnational Revenue Service, to fund the transnational federal government? Good luck with that!

This kind of humanistic gullibility deserves the Strait answer: 

I got some ocean front property in Arizona.
From my front porch you can see the sea.
I got some ocean front property in Arizona.
If you'll buy that, I'll throw the golden gate in free.

If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat.
-- G.K Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Wednesday, September 17, 2014