Saturday, October 29, 2005

An attack on Lewis from Austin Cline

These comments are from Austin Cline, on his atheism website. He seems a little out of touch with the most recent scholarship on the Argument from Reason. Cline's comments are in bold, my responses are not.

AC: C.S. Lewis wanted to explain nature on the basis of his supernatural god; as a consequence, naturalistic explanations for nature represented a major threat — just as it does for contemporary apologists. Lewis argued against naturalism in a variety of contexts. It plays an important role not just in his discussions about morality, but also in his arguments about the nature of reason.

VR: No, Lewis did not think naturalistic explanations for nature constituted a threat. It is only when these explanations are claimed to excluded a theistic explanation that they become at threat. There is no problem with Christians believing in, say, the law of gravity.

AC: In his book Miracles, Lewis argues against naturalism by saying “If Naturalism is true, every finite thing or event must be (in principle) explicable in terms of the Total System.” This isn’t necessarily true. Lewis was aware of advances in physics which revealed that events on the quantum level were probabilistic rather than deterministic, but he regarded this as a reason to think that there exists something more than “Nature” rather than as a reason to think that maybe nature isn’t quite what he (like others) assumed it to be. He rejected the findings of science because they conflicted with his assumptions.

VR: The difference between Quantum and Classical mechanics are irrelevant to the Argument from Reason, since on most interpretations quantum activity is pure blind chance and nothing more. If QM opens the door for ground-level teleology (which seems to be what Wiest was suggesting on this blog a few months back), then we have something that is not naturalism in the sense that Lewis was trying to criticize.

AC: Lewis appears not to have understood that some events and systems are, even in principle, not explainable despite being entirely natural. No one disputes that the weather is completely natural, but while weather events can be predicted to varying degrees of accuracy, it’s not possible even in principle to explain every facet of them because they are too complex, chaotic, and probabilistic.

VR: Meaning not explainable in principle, or beyond out powers of explanation? Cline seems not to understand the difference between inexplicability due to temporary human limitations, and inexplicability due to the absence of determining causes. In any event I see no reason to believe that Lewis was guilty of this lack of understanding, and if he did it is irrelevant to the argument.

AC: Part of the problem is that Lewis adopts a very limited, narrow understanding of naturalism. For Lewis, naturalism is the same as determinism. Thus, what we encounter is a tactic which Lewis uses continually: the construction of a false dilemma fallacy in which he presents the “wrong” option in an unfavorable and incorrectly defined way against the “right” option which, he hopes, will seem more reasonable against his straw man. The idea of a third option, like rejecting both extreme determinism and supernaturalism, is never entertained.

VR: Again the question is not determinism, it is the question of whether, at the most basic level of analysis, nature in non-purposive. Since believing something for a reason needs to be explained purposively in order for it to be regarded as reasoning, this is the basis for a prima facie incompatibility. Replacing blind determination with blind chaos does not help account for reason.

AC: From this inauspicious beginning, things only go down hill. Lewis argues that nature cannot explain the existence of Reason:

“A strict materialism refutes itself for the reason given long ago by Professor Haldane: ‘If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true...and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.’ (Possible Worlds, p. 209)”
In other words, because atoms are not themselves rational, then they alone cannot be responsible for rationality because such an irrational foundation cannot be a reliable basis for rational thinking. This absurd reasoning would preclude atoms being responsible for anything at all — atoms aren’t visible to the naked eye, so how could they produce anything visible? It’s known as the fallacy of composition and is just one more example of Lewis constructing fallacious arguments in the apparent hope that no one would notice.

VR: Lewis makes a distinction between "strict materialism," which can be refuted in one sentence, and naturalism, which requires a much longer treatment. Lewis was praised by his most famous opponent, Anscombe, for "honesty and seriousness" in his revised chapter. Shouldn't this tip anyone off that a "quick and dirty" refutation of Lewis is not in the cards? The real question is how logical relationships between proposition can play any role in some event in the physical world being caused. I'm really not sure what Lewis meant by "strict materialism;" however I would not give that simple of an argument against more contemporary kinds of materialism. But I think a some versions of Lewis's arguments against naturalism are telling arguments against contemporary materialism.

AC: On February 2, 1948, G.E.M. Anscombe read a paper to the Oxford Socratic Club criticizing this section of C.S Lewis’ book, identifying several serious weaknesses. According to George Sayer, a friend of Lewis, he recognized that his position was soundly refuted:

“He told me that he had been proved wrong, and that his argument for the existence of God had been demolished. ...The debate had been a humiliating experience, but perhaps it was ultimately good for him. In the past, he had been too proud of his logical ability. Now he was humbled ....’I can never write another book of that sort’ he said to me of Miracles. And he never did. He also never wrote another theological book. Reflections on the Psalms is really devotional and literary; Letters to Malcolm is also a devotional book, a series of reflections on prayer, without contentious arguments.”
VR: Here we go again with the Anscombe Legend. Sayer was basically a high school English teacher, and he fails to draw the all-important distinction between thinking oneself really proved wrong, and thinking the someone has shown one's argument to be inadequately formulated. Lewis probably thought he had performed poorly in the exchange; he probably thought that there were problems with the formulation of his argument, but there is no reason to suppose that he thought his argument shown to be a bad one.

John Beversluis, on whom Cline seems to be relying for his critique of Lewis, had this to say in a subsequent paper:

First, the Anscombe debate was by no means Lewis's first exposure to a professional philosopher: he lived among them all his adult life, read the Greats, and even taught philosophy. Second, it is simply untrue that the post-Anscombe Lewis abandoned Christian apologetics. In 1960 he published a second edition of Miracles in which he revised the third chapter and thereby replied to Anscombe. Third, most printed discussions of the debate, mine included, fail to mention that Anscombe herself complimented Lewis's revised argument on the grounds that it is deeper and far more serious than the original version. Finally, the myth that Lewis abandoned Christian apologetics overlooks several post-Anscombe articles, among them "Is Theism Important?" (1952)—a discussion of Christianity and theism which touches on philosophical proofs for God's existence—and "On Obstinacy of Belief"—in which Lewis defends the rationality of belief in God in the face of apparently contrary evidence (the issue in philosophical theology during the late 1950s and early 60s). It is rhetorically effective to announce that the post-Anscombe Lewis wrote no further books on Christian apologetics, but it is pure fiction. Even if it were true, what would this Argument from Abandoned Subjects prove? He wrote no further books on Paradise Lost or courtly love either.1

AC: Lewis never publicly acknowledged his defeat, but he did respond. The relevant chapter was renamed from “Naturalism is Self-Refuting” to “The Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism.” Some statements were revised and he removed the egregious claim that “We may state it as a rule that no thought is valid if it can be fully explained as the result of irrational causes.”

These revisions are not enough to salvage his argument because its flaws are fundamental. Lewis relied, for example, on a bizarre epistemology, according to which knowledge can only be attained indirectly by inferring from sensory perception to the objects supposedly lying behind them. Because of this, he felt that reliable knowledge depends upon logical reasoning — that we cannot come to have true, justified beliefs about the world without it. This is a peculiar and extreme form of rationalism, but it’s not an epistemology which is compatible with modern science and thinking. It doesn’t enjoy wide currency today, even among Christians who ostensibly accept Lewis’ apologetics. If they do not accept the epistemological assumptions he uses, though, they cannot also accept his theological conclusions which they find so appealing.

VR: This is a criticism that Cline is borrowing from John Beversluis, whose book C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion, is taken by many in freethought circles to be the definitive refutation of Lewis, in spite of the fact that numerous articles effectively criticizing it have been published. Lewis did say that all possible knowledge, then, depends on the validity of reasoning. But depends in what way? Is he actually saying that what we are immediately aware of are "sense data" and that we recognize physical objects only by performing inferences? This is a philosophical theory that still exists, and it is probably more defensible than most people think it is, but it is true that today the mainstream position is a some kind of direct realism, according to which we perceive physical objects directly.

But would a good case for direct realism refute Lewis's argument? No. First, did Lewis really say we infer physical objects? What he said was:

"It is clear that everything we know, beyond out own sensations, in inferred from those sensations. I do not mean that we begin as children, by regarding out sensations as "evidence" and thence arguing consciously to the existence of space, matter and other people. I mean that if, after we are old enough to understand the question, our confidence in the existence of anything else (say, the solar system or the Spanish Armada) is questioned, our argument in defence of it will have to take the form of arguments from our immediate sensations."

So it is not that we perform inferences in order to know physical objects; it is that we use inferences to defend out beliefs in those objects that makes perceptual knowledge depend on inference. This I consider to be perfectly compatible with the claim that we perceive physical objects directly and noninferentially.

In any event, if Lewis exaggerated the role of inference in knowledge, so what? His argument is that if naturalism is true, then there are no inferences. Maybe my knowledge that the wall in front of me is purple can remain as knowledge under these circumstances, but if there are no inferences, then no one ever proved the Pythagorean theorem, Darwin didn't really provide arguments for evolution by natural selection, and no one ever inferred that e=mc squared, and no one ever inferred atheism from the existence of evil in the world.

In other words, whether or not Lewis used the "epistemological assumptions" in his argument, the argument does not need them, and will can do just fine without them. Whether one can explain the existence of rational inference naturalistically--well, I could write a book about that subject. In any event, if there is something wrong with Lewis's argument, Cline has failed to take the argument seriously enough to find out what it is.

1 John Beversluis, "Surprised by Freud: A Critical Appraisal of A. N. Wilson's Biography of C. S. Lewis," Christianity and Literature, Vol. 41, No. 2 (1992), pp. 179-95

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A note from Matt Jordan

Matt Jordan wrote:

So we're not meeting for the philosophy group right now. But I can still pontificate at you, can't I? I'm TA-ing for a philosophy of religion class this quarter, and one of the issues that keeps coming up (or at least, one of the issues that I can't stop thinking about) concerns the highly speculative nature of much advanced physics these days. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm pro-science. But I find it a bit irritating that if someone in a white lab coat says something, it's taken as gospel truth by so many in our culture, even though some of it is far more contentious than some of what the philosophers (and, dare I suggest, theologians) say. The nature of theoretical science suggests that greater humility than is usually displayed would be appropriate.

My point may not be especially clear. The World Series is on behind me, and I'm having trouble focusing my thoughts. Basically, I just wanted an excuse to introduce the following quote from my favorite weekly sports column, Tuesday Morning Quarterback (on

Tuesday Morning Quarterback regularly notes the "dark energy" puzzle -- cosmologists believe the galaxies move as if acted upon by far more matter and energy than can be detected in the firmament. For the last decade or so, physicists have posited the explanation is mysterious "dark energy" that defies detection. Last year's common estimates used by astrophysicists was that 85 percent of the content of the cosmos is undetectable. As yours truly said in this space, "We can't find 85 percent of the universe. But trust us, we're experts." This year many researchers have endorsed the idea that an incredible 96 percent of the universe is exotic "dark" stuff that cannot be located.

Comes now these words from the frontiers of science. First, Edward Kolb, a researcher at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, declared the whole dark-energy concept may be nonsense . That still leaves the problem of explaining the movement of the galaxies. Kolb's proposal? The galaxies move as they do because they are following "perturbations" in space-time, extremely large-scale structures created during the Big Bang. Why can't we discover the perturbations? They, um, are undetectable, Kolb thinks. Back to Square One. But wait! Consider this recent paper by two researchers at the University of Victoria in Canada, pointed out by Bobby Schmidt of Bellevue, Washington. The paper posits the galaxies do, in fact, move as if acted upon solely by the matter and energy accounted for; it's just that scientists haven't realized the equations of general relativity already explain galactic motion. So we fell for the notion that 96 percent of the universe is concealed in mysterious forces, and now it turns everything was directly in front of our eyes the whole time. But trust us, we're experts!

A couple more references on the argument from desire

I'm going to be attending more to the Argument from Desire in the future. Also see this from John DePoe.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

In Defense of Natural Theology

Doug Groothuis, one of the co-editors of the book, has a blog entry about the new book on natural theology. As you can see, I have an essay in there, on guess what argument.

I just received the book today and it looks really good. It is a response to the charge that Hume destroyed natural theology once and for all. But I was slightly disappointed that the book never mentioned the Dennett Lexicon entry for Hume:

hume, pron. (1) Indefinite personal and relative pronoun, presupposing no referent. Useful esp. in writing solipsistic treatises, sc. "to hume it may concern." v. (2) To commit to the flames, bury, or otherwise destroy a philosophical position, as in "That theory was humed in the 1920s." Hence, exhume, v. to revive a position generally believed to humed.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

New book on Lewis's moral argument

This is a new book on Lewis's moral argument. It should be interesting.

A note from Don Jones on Bahnsen

This is rather belated, since I got this last September 21. However, I do have a thing or two to say in response:

Professor Reppert,

I really like your blog, however, I was somewhat curious as to your analysis of Michael Martin on TAG and that he showed serious problems with it (the blog on February 10, 2005).  Are you aware that he skipped out on the debate that he and Dr. Bahnsen had scheduled on the issue?  I know his excuse was that he didn't want it taped but I think that is somewhat lame given the fact that he loves to critique the Christian worldview in front of the entire world in his books.   Gary North pointed it out quite right when he said that now that Bahnsen's dead, everyone will be trying to debate him.  I also think it was after Bahnsen died that Martin finally did a critique of the argument, however, Scott Oliphint, John Frame, and Michael Butler (among others) have both pointed out the absolute absurdity of Dr. Martin's TANG (Transcendental Argument for the Nonexistence of God).  Dr. Martin does not even touch TAG much less the Christian worldview.  Dr. Bahnsen did a devasting critique of Dr. Martin in 12 lectures that can be found at (mp3 or tape).  When Dr. Martin decided to skip the debate, Bahnsen showed up and critiqued Martin in two or three lecture series that can also be found at the same website.  

Reppert: What I really had in mind was the debate between Theodore Drange and Douglas Wilson on Internet Infidels. I thought Wilson got slaughtered in that one, and insofar as he was being faithful to presuppositionalism, the debate demonstrates the weaknesses of presuppositonalism. I probably should not have included Michael Martin. When it comes to debating presuppositionalism, I don't think anyone else is in the same league with Bahnsen, so maybe that is what happened in the Drange-Wilson debate (linked below). On the other hand, there never was a real collision between Bahnsen and a real atheist philosopher, and I think that's unfortunate.

By the way, I am getting your book on C.S. Lewis for my birthday and really look forward to reading it.  I've heard some really good things about it!  Do you also recommend Angus Menuge's book Agents Under Fire?  

Reppert: I strongly recommend Dr. Menuge's book, as you can see from my review of it on Amazon. If you want to "go deep," then my book should be read in tandem with Hasker's The Emergent Self and Menuge's Agents Under Fire.



A New York Times article on science and religion

Hat tip: amstar

Agreeing Only to Disagree on God's Place in Science

Published: September 27, 2005

It was on the second day at Cambridge that enlightenment dawned in the form of a testy exchange between a zoologist and a paleontologist, Richard Dawkins and Simon Conway Morris. Their bone of contention was one that scholars have been gnawing on since the days of Aquinas: whether an understanding of the universe and its glories requires the hypothesis of a God.

The speakers had been invited, along with a dozen other scientists and theologians, to address the 10 recipients of the first Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellowships in Science and Religion. Each morning for two weeks in June, we walked across the Mathematical Bridge, spanning the River Cam, and through the medieval courtyards of Queens College to the seminar room.

We were there courtesy of the John Templeton Foundation, whose mission is "to pursue new insights at the boundary between theology and science," overcoming what it calls "the flatness of a purely naturalistic, secularized view of reality."

On matters scientific, Dr. Dawkins, who came from Oxford, and Dr. Conway Morris, a Cambridge man, agreed: The richness of the biosphere, humanity included, could be explained through natural selection.

They also agreed, contrary to the writings of Stephen Jay Gould, that evolution is not a crapshoot. If earth's history could be replayed like a video cassette, the outcome would be somewhat different, but certain physical constraints would favor the eventual appearance of warm-blooded creatures something like us, with eyes, ears, noses and brains.

Then, just millimeters from complete accord, they forked in orthogonal directions. For Dr. Dawkins, an atheist, the creative power of evolution reinforced his conviction that we live in a purely material world. For Dr. Conway Morris, a Christian, nature's "uncanny ability" to converge on moral, loving creatures like ourselves testified that evolution itself was the handiwork of God.

Dr. Dawkins seemed as puzzled by this leap as he was exasperated. "We agree on almost everything," he said. Why insist on adding in a deity? When it came to science, Dr. Dawkins exclaimed, Dr. Conway Morris's God was "gratuitous."

Momentarily flummoxed, the paleontologist muttered to himself, and some of the fellows murmured their disapproval. But however abrupt Dr. Dawkins may have sounded, he had scored a crucial point.

Science is the name we give to the practice of finding physical explanations about the universe. Anything spiritual you bring to the table is extraneous, a matter of personal belief.

Scientists can study religion as a neurological or anthropological phenomenon, and religious leaders are free to offer opinions on the moral implications of new technologies. But the Templeton people are after something far more ambitious and volatile: "to join science with faith," as the philosopher Boethius put it. Fifteen centuries later, amid the gothic spires of Cambridge, the debate was smoldering on.

A Foundation With a Mission

There is a journalistic tradition of biting the hand that feeds you. A few days earlier, in the van from Heathrow Airport to Cambridge, several jet-lagged reporters spoke skeptically about our host and its well-publicized agenda. The creation of Sir John Marks Templeton, a 92-year-old Presbyterian investor and billionaire who lives in the Bahamas, the Templeton Foundation is said to earn so much from its endowment that it struggles to give it all away.

By financing programs like "Science, Theology and the Ontological Quest" and "The Origin of the Laws of Nature and the Existence of God," Templeton almost single-handedly sustains the modern movement to reconcile science and religion - or, as some see it, he is keeping it alive on its death bed with extraordinary means of support.

This is not about intelligent design. While the foundation assumes the existence of a deity, it rejects biblical literalism as much as it does New Age fuzziness; no "crystals and faeries," it admonishes grant seekers.

While the winner of the annual Templeton Prize "for progress in religion" has almost always been a Christian, the award has occasionally gone to a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Hindu or a Jew. The name of the honor, currently worth $1.5 million, was recently broadened to recognize research on "spiritual realities," a term that many scientists, Dr. Dawkins surely among them, would consider an oxymoron.

In its guidelines, the foundation says it is unlikely to sponsor projects that would bring together science and religion by letting one subsume the other. Nor is it interested in "approaches that erect walls between religion and science and begin with the assumption that they should never have anything to do with each other."

That, at least tacitly, is how many scientists approach the divide - by compartmentalizing, treating science and religion as what Dr. Gould called nonoverlapping magisteria ("noma" for short). Michael Faraday, a Christian and one of the premier scientists of the 19th century, put it like this: "I do not think it at all necessary to tie the study of the natural sciences and religion together, and in my intercourse with my fellow creatures that which is religious and that which is philosophical have ever been two distinct things."

Even Isaac Newton, whose obsession with alchemy and biblical prophecy bordered on fanaticism, called for a strict distinction between religion and "philosophy," as science was called in his day: "We are not to introduce divine revelations into philosophy, nor philosophical opinions into religion."

For the reconcilers, noma is considered a nonstarter. Accepting it would mean that the centuries-old divergence between these two domains would continue unopposed. It would also mean the end of the Templeton grants.

God, the Fine-Tuner

Modern science is sometimes said to have grown from the Christian belief in a single supreme being who created and sustains an orderly cosmos. Since he could have written the laws any way he wanted, it follows that they can only be discovered empirically, not deduced from first principles as Aristotle tried to do. The Book of Nature must be studied as assiduously as the Book of God.

Historians go on to describe how science shed its theological chrysalis and went its separate way. The result is what the Templeton people call "flat science." Early in the seminars, Denis Alexander, a Cambridge immunologist and Christian, made the radical suggestion that science reclaim its theistic roots, taking as its deepest premise the existence of God.

Another speaker, John Polkinghorne, a Cambridge physicist turned Anglican priest, saw profound significance in the fact that humans - rational, conscious creatures endowed with intentionality and free will - find themselves in a universe with laws they can understand. In "The Faith of a Physicist," he gives his take on the big bang theory with God stepping in to ensure a chemistry "fine tuned" to generate life.

Listening to the reconcilers and reading their books, even an agnostic could appreciate how the beauty of the cosmos might compel one to believe in something transcendent. But what writers like Dr. Alexander and Dr. Polkinghorne are talking about is not just the awe one feels hiking above the timberline or inhaling the ocean air. They are looking to science for something far more specific - the constant, hovering presence of the kind of God described in Sunday school, who watches over us and responds to our prayers.

This is not the God of deism, who cranked up the universe and let it run. In drafting the principles of physics he left trapdoors - what Dr. Polkinghorne calls "causal joints" - through which to intervene, placing the earth in a hospitable orbit or unleashing the cascade of mutations needed for a microbe to evolve into a man. The trick is to do this without appearing to violate his own laws.

Some theologians speculate that this happens on the subatomic level, when a particle appears to dart probabilistically, with a roll of the quantum dice. Maybe it is God doing the shuffling, and what appears to mortals as quantum indeterminacy is divine intervention in disguise.

Others propose that God acts through nonlinear dynamics, in which microscopic fluctuations give rise to potentially earthshaking results - chaos theory's "butterfly effect." Here too the influence would be undetectable. With or without the guiding hand of the creator, reality would appear the same.

An Elusive Common Ground

Dr. Dawkins has written that "a universe with a supernatural presence would be a fundamentally and qualitatively different kind of universe from one without." If the God hypothesis is meaningful, it should be subject to a test. But the theistic gloss Dr. Polkinghorne and others give to science is immune to this kind of scrutiny. It has, by design, no observable consequences.

The reconcilers insist that the same is true for the belief that there is nothing but matter and energy, that you can be either a materialist or a theist and still do good research. But for many scientists, entertaining supernatural explanations is a violation of the craft. A study reported in Nature in 1998 found that only 7 percent of the members of the elite National Academy of Sciences believed in God. For biologists the figure was just 5.5 percent.

"You clearly can be a scientist and have religious beliefs," Peter Atkins, an Oxford University chemist, has said. "But I don't think you can be a real scientist in the deepest sense of the word because they are such alien categories of knowledge."

Cloistered inside the walls of Cambridge, we listened as a theologian wondered whether Christ's powers of healing might be quantum mechanical, and a physicist considered whether Jesus would appear on other planets in extraterrestrial form. Trying their best to collide, Dr. Gould's nonoverlapping magisteria seemed farther apart than ever, two great ships passing in the night, pointed in opposite directions.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Plantinga's argument from evil for theism

This is also from the essay "A Christian Life Partly Lived," from IVP's Philosophers who Believe.
Second, it is indeed true that suffering and evil can occasion spiritual perplexity and discouragement; and of all the antitheistic arguments, only the argument from evil deserves to be taken really seriously. But I also believe, paradoxically enough, that there is a theistic argument from evil, and it is at least as strong as the atheistic argument. (Here I can only sketch the argument on an intuitive level). What is so deeply distrubing about horrifying kkinds of evil? The most appalling kinds of evil involve human cruelty and wickedness: Stalin and Pol Pot, Hitler and his henchmen, and the thousands of small vignettes of evil that make up sucha whole. What is genuinely abhorrent is the callousness and perversion and cruelty of the concentration camp guard taking pleasure in the sufferings of others; what is really odious is taking advantage of trust (a parent or a counselor, perhaps) in order to betray and corrupt someone. What is genuine appalling, in other words, is not really human suffering as such so much as human wickedness. The wickedness strikes us as deeply perverse, wholly wrong, warranting not just quarantine and the attempt to overcome it, but blame and punishment.

But could there be any such thing as horrifying wickedness if naturalism were true? i don't see how. A naturalistic way of looking at the world, so it seems to me, has not placce for genuine moral obligation of any sort; a fortiori, then it has not place for such a category as horrifying wickedness. It is hard enough, from a naturalistic perspective, to see how it could be that we human beings can be so related to propositions (contents) that we believe them, and harder yet, as I said above, to explain how that content could enter into a causal explanation of someone's actions. But these difficulties are as nothing compared to seeing how, in a naturalistic universe, there could be such a thing as genuine and appalling wickedness. There can be such a things only if there is a way raitonal creatures are supposed to live; and the force of that normativity--its strength, so to speak--is such that the appalling and horrifying nature of its its inverse. But naturalism cannot make room for that kind of normativity; that requires a divine lawgiver, one whose very nature it is to abhor wickedness. Naturalism can perhaps accomodate foolishness and irrationality, acting contrary to what you take to be your own interests; it can't accomdate appalling wickedness. Accordingly, if you think there really is such a thing as horrifying wickedness (that our sense that there is, is not a mere illusion of some sort), and if you also think the main options are theism and naturalism, then you have a powerful theistic argument from evil.

Robert Price's critique of Craig

This is Robert Price's critique of Craig on the resurrection. Ad hominem perhaps?

Aristotle, Bush, Rational Inference, and Richard Carrier

This is an old post that I am bringing up to the present.

Jason in his comment on a previous entry says that Carrier is making a mistake when he claims that our current political dialogue shows that we do a lot of things without making rational inferences. I think Jason is right, and I think I can illustrate his point by explaining one of the great intellectual discoveries that philosophy has ever produced, and that is the Aristotle's distintion between the form and the content of rational arguments.

Consider the following argument:

1. If Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, the we ought to invade Iraq.
2. Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction.
3.Therefore, we should invade Iraq.

The argument is valid, and even Michael Moore ought to recognize that if the premises are true the conclusion must be true. Anyone who recognizes that the conclusion follows from the premises performs a rational inference. If we couldn't perform inferences like these, we couldn't have political dialogue at all. An argument is valid just in case, if the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. It has nothing to do with whether or not the premises are true, or whether or not we are rational in believing the premises.

Now we can ask whether the premises were true (in 2003), or whether people were rational in believing them. Maybe the people who not only drew this inference but also accepted the premises and hence the conclusion are guilty of various kinds of irrationality, perhaps suffering from Halliburton bias, or Bush bias. And we can ask how rational people really are in the way in which they make their political choices. I happen to think, with Carrier, there's plenty of irrationality in political belief-formation. Nevertheless they do draw inferences. The argument from reason says that if naturalism is true, we will not find people performing rational inferences at all.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Fundamentalism as an intellectual vice

Frank Walton wrote:

With all due respect, Victor, I think you're exhibiting an attitude that comes close to fundamentalism itself:

Lewis agrees with them on several important points and has numerous valuable apologetical and spiritucal insights, but, because he doesn't fully agree with them, he is to be denounced. Intellectual opponents aren't just mistaken, there is something really wrong with them, they are enemies, intellectual frauds to be demolished at all costs.

"Intellectual frauds?" "Demolished at all costs?" I think words like this are apt at use with fundamentalists. I don't think being a fundamentalist is equivalent to being a Christian either. Having read a score of apologetical and philosophical works by would be "conservatives" or "fundamentalists" I can tell you that the majority of them look highly upon C. S. Lewis. I have only read but a few who think Lewis should not be elicited as a great apologist. But that's a very very very very few. You'll definitely have a harder time finding C. S. Lewis bashers than C. S. Lewis praisers within the Christian community. Also, JP Holding is politically mixed; so, by definition I don't think it would be fair to call him an ideologue or fundamentalist. Anyway, that's how I see it.

I think there is some confusion going on here. I wrote that there are a couple of uses of the term fundamentalist. One is as a term of abuse directed at people theologically more conservative than oneself. See Plantinga's hilarious discussion in Warrented Christian belief. Second, one can be an adherent of the Five Fundamentals: the verbal inspiration of the Bible, the virgin birth of Christ, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ, and the return of Christ. Lewis, as I noted defended three of these claims in the course of his apologetics. But there is a third way in which the concept can be used, and that is to define some kind of ideologue who looks at everything through a "are you for us or against us" lens. Some people who did refer to themselves as "Fundamental Baptists" have attacked C. S. Lewis for his theological deviances. I've even seen an article by someone arguing that C. S. Lewis almost certainly did not go to heaven. This kind of ideological attitude is, I maintained, an intellectual vice, but it is not an intellectual vice that can be found only among conservative Protestant Christians. The Scribes and Pharisees in their response to Jesus seem to exhibit it in spades. And, the Holding list saying "You might be a fundamentalist atheist if..." suggests that it is possible to be a fundamentalist atheist or a fundmentalist evolutionist. Even though I don't completely agree with everything on that list, I think he does show that it is very possible to be possess the vice of fundamentalism as an atheist. In fact, so long as we understand clearly that we are talking abotu this kind of intellectual vice, it seems to me that at least some former fundamentalists have merely changed their brand of fundamentalism.

Reductio ad absurdum versions of the argument from evil

Earlier I posed the question of whether a naturalist could use the argument from evil, if that naturalist was not a moral realist. Some commentators have pointed out that the argument could be advanced by someone who rejected moral realism used moral realism as a reductio ad absurdum argument against theism.

Let's look at the argument from evil again.

1) Gratuitous evils probably exist.
(2) Gratuitous evils are incompatible with the God of theism (omnipotent, omniscient, all-good).
(3) Therefore, the God of theism probably does not exist.

If the defender of the argument from evil is unwilling to argue that 2 is true, she must at least argue that 2 is entailed by theism. In other words the defender of the reductio must do more than show that theism entails moral realism. I am personally inclined to think that that is true. A theist who believes that God gives commandments cannot maintain that one person's opinion is just as good as another's where conduct is concerned, if one of the persons is God.

But all you need to be a moral realist is to hold that there are at least some moral truths. It's perfectly possible to be a moral realist and to deny 2. An atheist using this version of the problem of evil must show that someone who is a theist and a moral realist but denies to is contradicting herself. That's a tall order.

Moreland's review of Kim

Bill Vallicella has a link to J. P. Moreland's review of Jaegwon's Kim's Physicalism or something near enough.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A little fun at my own expense

A long time ago I came up with an entry to the philosopher's lexicon on myself.

reppert v. To enhance the reputation of a popular apologist by "finding" sophisticated arguments in his writings. "Who are they going to reppert next, Francis Schaeffer, or Josh McDowell?"

Monday, October 10, 2005

Moral Realism and the Problem of Evil

Here is that version of the problem of evil again:

(1) Gratuitous evils probably exist.
(2) Gratuitous evils are incompatible with the God of theism (omnipotent, omniscient, all-good).
(3) Therefore, the God of theism probably does not exist.

Now it seems on its face that only atheists who are moral realists can use this argument. Without believing that there are some truths about what is right and wrong, and therefore some non-relative truths about what act a good being should be expected not to do, premise 2 cannot be affirmed. But even one of the naturalist commentators on this blog accepted the conclusion that if naturalism is true, then a non-realist ethical philosophy follows. So if it can be argued that naturalism entails non-realism about ethics, then it follows that naturalists can't use the argument from evil against theism, because they cannot affirm (2).

No true Scotsman

Antony Flew used to be fond of this example:

A: No true Scotsman puts sugar in his porridge.
B. But what about Mr. Campbell here. He's as Scottish as can be, surely.
A: He's not a true Scotsman.
B: Why not?
A. He puts sugar in his porridge.

Sometimes I could swear that I hear this line of argument:

A: No true scientist accepts intelligent design.

You fill in the rest of the dialogue.

Tell me this isn't so.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

I made it into the Wikipedia

See the entry on naturalism in the Wikipedia.

Peter S Williams' blog

This is Peter S. Williams blog on ID.


A Catholic Cardinal on Darwin and design

Op-Ed Contributor
Finding Design in Nature
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Published: July 7, 2005

EVER since 1996, when Pope John Paul II said that evolution (a term he did not define) was "more than just a hypothesis," defenders of neo-Darwinian dogma have often invoked the supposed acceptance - or at least acquiescence - of the Roman Catholic Church when they defend their theory as somehow compatible with Christian faith.

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But this is not true. The Catholic Church, while leaving to science many details about the history of life on earth, proclaims that by the light of reason the human intellect can readily and clearly discern purpose and design in the natural world, including the world of living things.

Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection - is not. Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science.

Consider the real teaching of our beloved John Paul. While his rather vague and unimportant 1996 letter about evolution is always and everywhere cited, we see no one discussing these comments from a 1985 general audience that represents his robust teaching on nature:

"All the observations concerning the development of life lead to a similar conclusion. The evolution of living beings, of which science seeks to determine the stages and to discern the mechanism, presents an internal finality which arouses admiration. This finality which directs beings in a direction for which they are not responsible or in charge, obliges one to suppose a Mind which is its inventor, its creator."

He went on: "To all these indications of the existence of God the Creator, some oppose the power of chance or of the proper mechanisms of matter. To speak of chance for a universe which presents such a complex organization in its elements and such marvelous finality in its life would be equivalent to giving up the search for an explanation of the world as it appears to us. In fact, this would be equivalent to admitting effects without a cause. It would be to abdicate human intelligence, which would thus refuse to think and to seek a solution for its problems."

Note that in this quotation the word "finality" is a philosophical term synonymous with final cause, purpose or design. In comments at another general audience a year later, John Paul concludes, "It is clear that the truth of faith about creation is radically opposed to the theories of materialistic philosophy. These view the cosmos as the result of an evolution of matter reducible to pure chance and necessity."

Naturally, the authoritative Catechism of the Catholic Church agrees: "Human intelligence is surely already capable of finding a response to the question of origins. The existence of God the Creator can be known with certainty through his works, by the light of human reason." It adds: "We believe that God created the world according to his wisdom. It is not the product of any necessity whatever, nor of blind fate or chance."

In an unfortunate new twist on this old controversy, neo-Darwinists recently have sought to portray our new pope, Benedict XVI, as a satisfied evolutionist. They have quoted a sentence about common ancestry from a 2004 document of the International Theological Commission, pointed out that Benedict was at the time head of the commission, and concluded that the Catholic Church has no problem with the notion of "evolution" as used by mainstream biologists - that is, synonymous with neo-Darwinism.

The commission's document, however, reaffirms the perennial teaching of the Catholic Church about the reality of design in nature. Commenting on the widespread abuse of John Paul's 1996 letter on evolution, the commission cautions that "the letter cannot be read as a blanket approbation of all theories of evolution, including those of a neo-Darwinian provenance which explicitly deny to divine providence any truly causal role in the development of life in the universe."

Furthermore, according to the commission, "An unguided evolutionary process - one that falls outside the bounds of divine providence - simply cannot exist."

Indeed, in the homily at his installation just a few weeks ago, Benedict proclaimed: "We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary."

Throughout history the church has defended the truths of faith given by Jesus Christ. But in the modern era, the Catholic Church is in the odd position of standing in firm defense of reason as well. In the 19th century, the First Vatican Council taught a world newly enthralled by the "death of God" that by the use of reason alone mankind could come to know the reality of the Uncaused Cause, the First Mover, the God of the philosophers.

Now at the beginning of the 21st century, faced with scientific claims like neo-Darwinism and the multiverse hypothesis in cosmology invented to avoid the overwhelming evidence for purpose and design found in modern science, the Catholic Church will again defend human reason by proclaiming that the immanent design evident in nature is real. Scientific theories that try to explain away the appearance of design as the result of "chance and necessity" are not scientific at all, but, as John Paul put it, an abdication of human intelligence.

Christoph Schönborn, the Roman Catholic cardinal archbishop of Vienna, was the lead editor of the official 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church.

A paper Russell Howell presented at the Lewis conference

This is an interesting offshoot of the argument from reason.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

William Lane Craig's defense of the moral argument

This is Bill Craig's defense of the moral argument for God's existence.